District Eatery, on King Street’s crowded, west-of-John-Street restaurant row, in Toronto’s Entertainment District, dishes up a menu focused on healthy, clean food, rounded out by a handful of deep-fried items, for those in the mood for something else.
The restaurant, which celebrates its first anniversary in late May, fills up early on a Saturday night — no surprise, given the reasonably priced menu and quirky, relaxed décor.
Indeed, the bi-level room (peek-a-boo kitchen and dining area in front and, down a few steps, the back bar area) draws a younger crowd thanks to a cheery, bright-blue palette, up-to-the-minute light fixtures, eye-grabbing, painted-on-barnboard wall murals, and acres of hard surfaces.
To its great credit, the kitchen, led by executive chef Ricardo McLean, sends out healthy food that hits all the right sensory notes — bold on flavour and big on mouth-pleasing textures.
Winter spices — turmeric and ginger among them — scent sweet-potato soup that’s thick and intense with the flavour of that lovable root veg. Wild mushrooms, brightly flavoured after a quick sauté in umeboshi (salt plum) vinaigrette, are piled to overflowing atop a trio of thick-cut toasts, each spread with one of the kitchen’s three iterations of hummus (garlic; carrot; beet). Crunchy bread, smooth hummus, earthy funghi — it’s all there.
An intensely fragrant curry, enriched with coconut milk, bathes soft roasted cauliflower, eggplant, peppers and onions crowned with crunchy toasted almonds. Underneath lies a bed of nutty quinoa.
Zucchini, cut with a spiralizer into spaghetti-like noodles, gets a big flavour boost from herb-strong basil pesto, sweet roasted red peppers, oven-dried tomatoes and spinach, and chunks of moist chicken. I didn’t miss the pasta one bit!
And then there’s the generous Bowl of Zen. Into a deep bowl go the following: Ancient grains and kale blend topped with cubes of translucent ahi tuna tossed in sesame oil, tamari and lime; buttery avocado, cucumber, fresh Thai chilies, carrots, radish and green onion. It’s a riot of textures — crunchy veg; pillow-soft ahi tuna — all tied together wonderfully by a sesame-intense, Japanese-style goma vinaigrette.
Terrifically moist and tender slow-roasted chicken jazzed by piri-piri sauce rivals any rotisserie bird served up at Toronto’s Portuguese churrasco joints.
District’s desserts include icy and refreshing vegan, organic ice creams — gingerbread, matcha, chai tea and passion fruit.
But the showstopper is the Campfire S’mores. As advertised, it comes complete with campfire (a tabletop open-flame grill) and the requisite s’mores ingredients: marshmallows, graham crackers and shards of dark chocolate. Spear a marshmallow with a metal skewer. Roast marshmallow over tabletop grill until toasty and molten. Layer marshmallow with dark chocolate and sandwich between graham crackers. Inhale. Repeat.
Throughout the evening, general manager Harry Guloien is the consummate host and keeps a watchful eye on every aspect of the restaurant’s operation.
District Eatery is available for full buyouts. Total capacity inside is 266 people; on the rooftop patio, 68. Seated capacity on the patio is 50 and inside the restaurant, 90, not including bar seating or the eight seats on the front street-level patio.
Booked by groups that do want some space to themselves, a sectioned-off area of the bar features two long six-top tables and five high, round four-tops, as well as bar seating. This area can host up to 85 people, cocktail-style.
District Eatery can cater onsite meetings and events, but does not have a means of delivery.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,500 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.