An enchanting small restaurant that you need to look for to notice in the busy Yorkville streets. I first stumbled upon it about five years ago, and I have learned to respect this place more and more with every passing visit. A restaurant specializing in wine and cheese, what else can you ask for?
From the street, the inconspicuous sign is hard to miss. There is a small wooden patio with yellow umbrellas which adds a lot though. Once inside there is a huge bar area and some tables. It is a narrow space with a second floor and lovely enclosed backyard patio. That private patio was our pick for the evening. We were seduced with wooden clad, brass wordmark and white hanging lanterns which seemed almost paper-cut. There were also heater lamps (we cozied under one of them) and a canopy high above us, in case mother nature became unhappy. They now even had coloured blankets, for the many of us ladies who have trouble sustaining our own heat.
The two menus have lessons of their own. Caren's has a special page dedicated to the art of marrying the enjoyment of wine with cheese. I am glad to see a restaurant that promotes it's ideals throughout our experience.
Looking through their elaborate wine list divided by countries, we started off with their Merlot and Pinot Gris, from Veneto. They were both very easy-going. We had Manchego Curado, which was presented on a wooden plate with some baguette and Granny Smith apple slices. The sheep cheese had a buttery texture and unevenly distributed air pockets. It didn't have that sharp sheep-cheese smell, I occasionally dislike.
And so came our appetizers. We asked for their Soup Du Jour and a side of Carens House Salad. The soup was a lobster, clear soup a tad spicy but with hints of cilantro to cool my palate off. The house salad was lovely - greens, feta, avocado, cucumber as well as a curious flax seed, honey mustard dressing.
We enjoyed having about five-ten minutes in between the dishes. It helped us relax, chat and submerge in the ambiance. It was a bit of a chilly evening, but with the heater and after a glass of wine, we were more than alright.
For our main dishes, we asked for their Beef Bourginon and Seared European Seabass. To go with them, we ordered a glass of Ripasso from Verona and a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, NZ. The Ripasso was typical and pronounced, so Cheri was quite content. The glass of Sauvignon Blanc was unique and herbaceous, which I really enjoyed but secretly hoped for a bit more ( based on its price).
The Beef Bourginon was almost like a spruced up french onion soup. It came in a similar container with a gruyere melted cap and crostini to follow inside. In the broth were chunks of slow cooked beef, cremini mushrooms, and pearl onions. I was unlucky enough to stumble upon a few pieces of fatty meat which were delightful but made me feel quite awful after. The Seared European Seabass had no obvious cheese flour, surprisingly (perhaps a hint in the purée). It was presented on a butternut squash puree - artistically spread as if using a spatula. Followed by a layer of green beans, and purple potatoes. The seabas was on top with a beautiful crust and a spoonful of sundered tomato pesto. No doubt it was cooked to perfection, I enjoyed every moment of it.
We ended our lovely evening with a couple of desserts - chocolate mousse and caramel cheesecake. The chocolate mousse was orgasmic - light, smooth with real raspberry syrup and mint leaves. It was an ideal match to finish off our Ripasso. The cheesecake was also incredible, not overly sweet and just right in its texture. A glass of buttery, nutty Chardonnay with it would have only made it better.
I chatted up our waitress about the way Caren's wine and cheese bar started off. The owner had been in the restaurant industry for quite some time before acquiring this old building and re-inventing it. Rumor has it they are considering opening another location.