I wonder why it took me 7-years to finally make it to Antler Kitchen and Bar!
Located in the west end of Toronto at 1454 Dundas St. West, it had always gotten great reviews, but perhaps I was timid to go to a restaurant known for serving wild game meats and foraged vegetables. Maybe, also because chef Michael Hunter (what a perfect name) was serving Canadian cuisine. Boy was I foolish. I ended up having an incredibly delicious meal, with warm hospitality, and am now a big fan. I’ve heard about all the press with vegans protesting outside his restaurant, but if you do not want to eat meat, that is your prerogative, but leave us carnivores alone. Each to their own.
We ate at Chef’s table, right in front of the open kitchen of this cozy, rustic restaurant, and we thought we had the perfect seats in this tiny kitchen, where the staff was working their magic.
The narrow restaurant holds about 40 seats, and the seasonal patio out back an additional 20 seats. I don’t know how the micro kitchen manages to cook each dish to perfection, but they do. You feel like you are eating in someone’s cabin, with exposed brick walls, antlers mounted on the wall, and pictures of forest scenes and mushrooms. We mistakenly thought our reservation was 30 minutes later, but the front of the house was gracious when we apologized for being late.
Heather, our server, was engaging and helpful and I was surprised at how many items I liked on the menu, again my preconceived notions. We started with wonderful homemade focaccia served with maple honey truffle butter. The roasted hen of the woods mushroom salad with a frisée, endive, and crispy shiitake in an amazing honey and white wine vinaigrette (that I would love the recipe for), with pickled cipollini and grated pecorino, was fabulous. I also enjoyed the East Coast Canadian scallop crudo in lemon aioli, basil oil, radish, and salmon caviar. The menu does feature foraged ingredients, but you are not eating tree branches and leaves. For the meat choices, the chef says, and I agree “that there is more to meat than chicken, beef, and pork”. My Ontario venison loin on a bed of sweet potato rutabaga mash, with fried Brussel sprouts and topped with quince apple mustards and game jus, was lean, tender, and perfectly cooked. My husband’s confit of duck leg, surrounded by butternut squash purée and a mushroom barley risotto was another standout. There were also about four homemade pasta choices, three with game, and one vegetarian selection. I hear the Alberta bison rib eye is the number one most requested menu item, so I’ll have to try that another time. I also want to return for the game burger, a wild boar, bison, and deer served with hot mustard, duck egg aioli, house-smoked cheddar, and fresh-cut crispy French fries. We did enjoy those as a side dish with a selection of sauces. If you’re not a meat eater there was an Ontario pickerel. The menu does change seasonally, so don’t yell at me if something I mentioned is not on the menu.
They also excel at desserts at Antler. We had a lovely clementine cheesecake with mascarpone, clementine glaze, and sweet fern shortbread crust. There was also an apple tart Tatin and a smoked chocolate mousse that I was told is a favorite and, a cedar ice granita with meringue.
There was a nice size global wine list on offer as well as cocktails, and a large size selection of whiskey, digestifs, tequila, mezcal, and rums.
I have learned that when you are more open-minded, you can discover a gem like Antler that exceeded my expectations and was unique, creative, comforting, delicious, and insanely satisfying. Antler is certainly worth visiting and I will be returning.