The Gerrard Street strip is growing and seems to be transforming into Toronto’s next culinary destination. Last year I wrote about Maple Leaf Tavern and now the latest, Lake Inez opened this past December at 1471 Gerrard Street East near Coxwell. It’s right in the heart of Little India, and is the brainchild of three partners, Patrick Ciappara, Dennis Kimeda and Zac Schwartz. As a matter of fact, Zac summered at Lake Inez, in Michigan, during his childhood and he liked it so much, he named a restaurant after it. They hired Chef Robbie Hojilla, formerly of the Harbord Room (now closed). The focus here is on Asian street food and eighteen rotations of craft beers on tap. The pan-Asian flavours are reflective of the chef’s Filipino background and from cuisines that he loves, using French techniques. That includes showcasing Thai, Malaysian, Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese food.
The restaurant has no signage out front except a discreet etching of the name on the front door glass. It is a decent size, dimly lit room that holds about 60 people. The floors are a herringbone parquet, with wooden tables and chairs and some black banquets. At the far end of the room near the bar is a glass mosaic wall of Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf, who are Zac Schwartz’s literary angels. The place is vintage casual with a cool vibe. The music is loud, and so is the conversation. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Once we got through the large beer, wine and cocktail list, we were ready to order. The menu is divided into snacks, small share plates, and larger share plates, but everyone is encouraged to share.
Deviled eggs have made a huge comeback, and I like their version here, done Japanese style with kewpie mayo and yuzu kosho, topped with arare crackers and roe, on a nori strip. The cauliflower Katsu is breaded and deep fried with sliced cabbage, in a tonkatsu sauce with Japanese mayo. We also had some sunchokes on a skewer, grilled over Japanese charcoal with a teriyaki glaze, bacon, and a sunflower seed dressing. The asparagus and egg dish, had grilled asparagus, fried bread, almond nahm prik and a fried egg on top. A standout share plate were the Brussels sprouts flavored with a chili jam, oyster sauce, lime and crispy anchovy. One of our mains was a housemade tagliatelle in a miso butter, with smoked eggplant, maitake mushrooms, sorrel, hazelnuts and Parmesan cheese. This was a nice vegetarian main course option. You don’t see skate wing often in Toronto, and I was pleased to see this beautifully presented dish served on a banana leaf, cooked in a Malaysian sambal curry, topped with a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, cilantro, and Thai basil in a chili coconut vinaigrette. It had a nice kick to it. Our market fish curry was a snapper. The grilled fish was in a Thai style curry with squash, Savoy cabbage, cilantro, and peanuts. We ordered two starches to go with this dish, the Jasmine rice and a Malaysian style roti, which were great.
They had two desserts to offer, a Filipino style cheesecake or a Filipino chocolate rice pudding, with a mango sorbet and toasted coconut. We went for the latter.
One of the reasons I think the place is jam packed and so popular is the hands on approach of the owners, who constantly come by to see how everything is going. They also train their staff to be friendly, helpful and passionate about the food they are describing. I for one am glad to see the changes going on in this part of Toronto. The food may not be at the same level as a place like Dailo which I adore, but, it still offers great choices in a laid back, moderately priced, and fun atmosphere.