Though it can be frustrating, it’s ultimately a sign of a healthy restaurant scene when there are a number of restaurants that are near impossible to get into without advance notice. Corso 32, RGE RD and Tavern 1903 seem to be at the top of the “most wanted” dining list at the moment. Mack and I finally made it into the latter on our third try, squeezing into a table for two early on a Friday evening.
It was, as expected, a packed house on both sides of Tavern 1903. On that night, winding down from a stressful week at work, I was a little grateful to be on the more casual lounge side, full of character from the fully restored Alberta Hotel bar, details ranging from the gorgeous coffered ceiling to the antique cash register on the counter. I will say the music choices did seem dissonant considering the surroundings, and included both Psy and Pink that night.
We noticed quite an age spread in both rooms, but the younger set definitely made up the majority of our co-diners in the lounge. Given Hardware Grill’s typical baby boomer clientele, it was great to see that Larry Stewart’s new restaurant has been able to attract a more diverse crowd.
Mack at Tavern 1903
I have to think that part of the wide appeal of Tavern 1903 relates to their menu. It’s more approachable, in terms of price and range of dishes, when compared to its sister restaurant. I had heard about their mozzarella bar, which presents a variety of flavour combinations to highlight fresh cheese, but I didn’t know that Tavern also offers a wonderful array of share plates, as well as more traditional entrees for those seeking solitary dishes. Mack and I had a difficult time paring down our choices, but knew we had to order at least one dish featuring mozzarella.
We didn’t regret it – smeared on crostini, along with bacon and fennel marmalade ($15), they were a delicious appetizer that set the tone for the meal. Mack particularly enjoyed the heavy hand that dealt the bacon.
KFC (or Korean Fried Cauliflower) is quickly becoming known as Tavern 1903’s signature dish ($9). It not only plays into the idea that “cauliflower is the new kale”, but also demonstrates the rise of Korean flavours onto mainstream menus. Tavern’s KFC renders cauliflower almost unrecognizable – florets are battered, deep fried, then tossed in a sweet-spicy sauce. It was unique, satisfying, and wholly addictive.
Korean fried cauliflower
I wasn’t prepared for the heat of the duck confit tacos ($15). I inhaled a few chili seeds on my first two bites, so Mack ended up finishing the plate. They were beautifully presented, garnished with sour cherries, pickled carrots, cucumber and radish and featured a healthy serving of duck. These were definitely not roadside tacos, and we appreciated Tavern’s upscale interpretation of a street staple.
Duck confit tacos
We couldn’t resist sharing a bowl of truffled mac n cheese with baby lobster and shiitakes ($20). The price may have seemed steep at first, but given the amount of lobster we unearthed, it was right on the money. The sauce was delightfully creamy (my preference for mac and cheese), but what was apparent in the dish was the attention to detail – everything from the pasta shells to the mushrooms to the pieces of lobster were of uniform size.
Truffled mac n cheese
Our server was friendly and very pleasant, and our only minor complaint was that she disappeared for lengthy stretches of time. Overall, I have to say it was one of the most consistent meals we’ve had in some time. With so many more dishes to try, I can see us returning again soon.
9802 Jasper Avenue