It was freezing this weekend. Freezing to the point where I wanted to hide in my house immediately upon leaving work, but JH and I had a reservation and date night at Grey Gardens.
Grey Gardens is a cute little restaurant and wine bar located at 199 Augusta Avenue in Kensington Avenue. The sign is a little inconspicuous in the dark, but the restaurant is not hard to find. It was recently opened by the same reputed owner – Jen Agg – of the absolutely wonderful Black Hoof (and I still have yet to try, Rhum Corner) . We went when the sun was pretty much down, so the restaurant was dark and romantic with sprinkles of tea lights everywhere. I want to try going there again when there is natural light as I want to see for myself the beautiful white and teal touches of the restaurant in daylight. I also want to see the food in daylight. The restaurant is divided into three sections that flow really well together – the wine bar at the front, an open concept kitchen where diners can watch the kitchen hustle and bustle, and then seated areas along the front, the side and back.
- Mood – Grateful for date night and time with JH.
- Focus – Date night.
- Craving – Grey Garden’s Gigli noodles.
- Feedback from the husband – He enjoyed the dinner, but he agreed with me that some of the dishes were too salty (read on).
JH and I sat at seats facing the kitchen. There are hooks for bags, and you just flip your coat over your chair. I love restaurants where you can watch the service. It is always amazing to see a well-oiled operation where everything seems to fall into place seamlessly, and the kitchen works really well together. The team at Grey Gardens appeared to have a great working dynamic and communication system, and it was nice seeing all the effort they put into their beautiful dishes.
The restaurant seems good for larger groups as the menu is not that small, and there are a number of plates that appear to be good for sharing or a family-style meal. The menu is divided into snacks, small, medium, and large plates, as well as an entire section devoted to noodles. I had a few dishes in mind that I wanted to order, but our waitress recommended we try to aim for between 4to 6 dishes.
We ended up opting for:
- Ricotta Dumplings – with turkey, sesame and scallion (Medium – $16)
- Sunchokes – with salt fish, chives, black olives (Medium – $22)
- Gigli (“gig”, not “jig”) Noodles– with cheddar, hot sauce and paprika ($21 without truffle, $36 with)
- Hand Torn Noodles – with lobster, garlic, and saffron ($26)
- Duck – with wild rice, sauerkraut and black trumpet (Large – $34)
- Sake-infused Pears – with fried Croissants, almond butter and ice cream (Dessert – $11)
At first, I thought the portions seemed pretty small for the two of us to share. However, as I continued to eat more and more, I became really full. So, at the end of the day, five dishes with desserts is pretty reasonable for two people. All and all, the meal was pretty satisfying. I think, our main complaint was that every dish was really salty. We drank a lot of water there, and went home feeling overwhelmingly thirsty still after.
The ricotta dumplings reminded me a bit of matzoh balls, and the complimenting soup reminded me a little of the broth from shark fin’s soup. As noted, this dish felt really salty, and that saltiness carried on to the rest of the dishes. I wish I could have seen this dish in light, as I imagine it would have been really pretty. The kitchen put careful attention to their plating. Their movements seemed incredibly delicate. I loved it.
The salt fish outshone the sun chokes a bit in this dish. For the most part, JH and I were both actually distracted by the fish. JH thought the fish was the sun chokes at first, but I said that was impossible. It all made sense when we looked at the menu again. This was probably the biggest portion out of all the dishes. JH found something strange in the dish mid-way that was hard and inedible. We showed one of the chefs, and he asked if we wanted another dish. We said we were okay (since the plate was almost finished), but the restaurant was really nice and ended up comping the dish on our bill.
JH and I both loved the Gigli, and it was collectively our favourite dish of the night. It was essentially a really good mac and cheese, with a good kick from the paprika and their home made hot sauce. The hot sauce came in cute little squeeze bottles. They also sprinkled some bacon bit (?) and chives on top, and it added a good texture to each bite. We each fought to have another bite and were a little sad when the bowl was finished. If we go back, we will definitely order this dish again.
The hand torn noodles were okay. We did not love this dish as much as the Gigli. The noodles were a little bit too soft for my liking, even though I loved the bites of lobster, and there were some fried garlic chips for texture. I am not sure though I really tasted the saffron or garlic. I also felt again that the portioning was a bit small for a $26 price tag.
Our last main course dish was the duck. The duck was really good. JH and I order duck often at restaurants, but we have never really tasted skin this crispy and delicious. The crispy skin made the dish, and beyond that the duck itself was just cooked really well. It was altogether nice with the sauerkraut even though the mushrooms were too salty again.
Admittedly, I was not completely full at this point, so when JH asked if I needed dessert, I asked to see the dessert menu. We ended up going with this pear dessert. I am not actually the hugest fan of sake so I thought the taste of sake on the pears (in a bite alone) was too overwhelming. However, when you eat it with the ice cream, almond butter and fried croissants, it works really well together, and the sweetness really comes through. It was a good dessert and a nice ending to the meal.
Even though it is a wine bar, and there were bunch of cocktails, JH and I decided to stick with food only, as we often do. In our minds, the cost of two cocktails can get us at least one or two more dishes of food. Because of the saltiness of the food, we drank a lot of water. However, service was really attentive, and every time we finished a glass of water, someone was immediately at our side re-filling our glasses discretely. JH noted that this was the best service of water we ever received. Our waitress was also really nice – friendly, but not overwhelming.
So, despite the saltiness, I really do want to go back, especially at a time where I can potentially get a window seat with natural light. All in all, it was fun though to watch the chefs cook, and we went home bellies full and satisfied.
Other little details:
- Parking – there is Green P parking located along the side of Augusta. We were lucky and got a spot 100 metres away from the restaurant.
- There is no dress code, and the vibe of the restaurant is casual and cozy. It’s equally romantic (with all the tea lights), but a good restaurant to catch up with friends. There is the big table at the front that can hypothetically be used for a large gathering, and a couple booth-like tables along the side and at the back.
- The atmosphere was buzzing, but I never felt like I had to scream at JH to talk to him, even with the kitchen in front of us.
- Reservations are available via Bookenda on their website. Given their popularity, it took me a little while and persistence to get a Friday night table at 6:30PM. When I last checked, Fridays/Saturdays appear to be booked out for awhile (at least for the 6-8PM range). Their wine bar does however open at 5, and it looks like from their website that you can order food from the regular menu. This would be great for a random walk-in (thoughts for our second visit).
- I never visited their washrooms, but JH said they were funky.
- Social Media – Instagram