Located in the St. Lawrence Market area of downtown Toronto, Woods restaurant is the culinary namesake of Chef Bruce Woods (whose resume includes stints at Modus, Brassai and Centro) and his partners, Byron Messier and Robin Singh. It's located at 45 Colborne Street, a thruway notable for several historic buildings built during the reign of Queen Victoria. The site was formerly occupied by Colborne Lane, which served up modernist cuisine and was run by Chef Claudo Aprile.
Woods Restaurant opened its doors in 2013. Chef Woods is no longer with the eatery that bears his name, and is now Executive Chef at C Prime in the Century Plaza hotel in Vancouver. The Chef now in residence is Carlos De Veyra, previously the Sous Chef at Modus before coming to Woods.
The decor has a distinctive woodland theme, from the thick wood beams to the hardwood floors to the tree branch designs on the booth cushions along the walls. The tables and chairs are all made from handsome medium toned wood, adding to the rustic and earthy flavour of the establishment. Parties of up to 12 people can be accommodated in the dining area, while you can also opt to enjoy a drink and/or your meal at the spacious bar area.
This enormous bar dominates the front area of the restaurant as you come in, with several branches punctuating the back wall that has an almost mesmerizing undulating texture. The front and back windows offer up plenty of natural light, while the myriad hanging light fixtures help out with the lighting duties when the sun retreats below the horizon.
Woods has a bright and airy atmosphere which fits perfectly with the name. The smell of the wood and the rousing aromas of the food make for a memorable visit. They also only play Canadian music, which is audible but not overpoweringly so, to permit pleasant dinner conversation. Everyone from the maitre'd to the servers were exceedingly friendly and helpful, even taking our coats when we arrived and helping us put them back on when we departed.
Woods' tagline is "Local, Sustainable, Canadian." And indeed it is. Locally sourced and prepared foods figure largely in their menu offerings. For example, the sockeye salmon comes from British Columbia, Alberta provides their bison stock, their lobster comes by way of Nova Scotia and their dairy products are procured from all across Ontario. They also seed and grow their own lettuce and sprouts in house, the only restaurant in Canada to do so.
Their appetizers range from $10 for the Soup of the Day to $11 for the Organic Ontario Green Salad, which comes with Icewine vinaigrette, semi-dry tomato, watermelon radish, pecans and toscano, all the way up to $120 for the Sustainable Canadian Sturgeon Caviar, served with buckwheat blinis and traditional garnishes.
The entrees go from $22 for the 6 oz. Prime Beef Burger, which comes on a sesame milk bun, with aged cheddar, onion jam, and house condiments, to the Bison Shortrib, with mashed potato and roasted root vegetables, for $39. For an additional $8, you can add on sides of Crispy Kale or Frites to your meal.
Desserts will cost you $11, except for the Artisanal Cheese Plate, which is $15 for three pieces to $20 for 5 pieces of cheese.
The meal was also supplemented by freshly baked slices of bread at the beginning and some fantastic homemade peppermint marshmallows at the end, that almost took the place of an after-dinner mint.
For the appetizer, I decided to sample the Wild Digby Scallops, which come with roasted corn, tomato, cilantro and salsa verde, and was a feast for the taste buds for $21.
My dinner companions had the Soup of the Day, which was a Cauliflower cream soup for $10, and the Oysters, which cost $3 per oyster. Both of them were thoroughly delighted with their choices.
For the main course, I tried the Yellowfin tuna, which was delicious and expertly prepared medium rare. It was dressed with potatoes, french beans, taggiasche olives, quail egg, and a delectable anchovy black olive aioli. Quite a treat for $28. My fellow diners ordered the Roasted Everspring Farms Muscovy Duck Breast for $28, which came with tatsoi, shallot, sourdough, crispy confit, dried cherries and duck egg bearnaise, and the Pacific Halibut, with creamed leek, wild mushroom, sweet peas, confit potato and basil butter, for $32. A hearty two thumbs up from both of them on their entree choices.
For dessert, my companions ordered the Espresso Creme Brulee, with milk chocolate cremeux, roasted chestnuts and crystallized white chocolate crumb, and the Apricot Tart, with saffron mascarpone, almonds, honey and cardamom ice cream.
While I'm usually a die-hard chocolate guy, and the Woods Smore featuring Chocolate Mousse, Graham crumb, chocolate streusel and meringue chocolate ganache caught my eye, I decided to go a different route and went for the Carrot Cake, topped with whipped cream and a side scoop of cardamom ice cream. The cake was moist and flavourful, while the icing wasn't too sweet. The whipped cream and ice cream added a nice sweeter contrast to the cake. I'm glad I changed my mind. All desserts are handcrafted by pastry chef Nicole Douglas.
Since I was driving, I had a couple of Coca Colas, which set me back the sum of $4 each, along with the copious amount of ice cold water on offer throughout the evening.
Their wine list features primarily VQA wines, and their many of their cocktails contain Canadian rye. My friends ordered the Woods Caesar and the Canadian Manhattan, drinks that they both raved about. In a nice touch, the latter drink, the Manhattan, had a touch of maple syrup in it, thus making it a "Canadian" version of this tried and true bar staple. Both drinks cost $10.
The service was very attentive and friendly. Our server, Lorne, was very knowledgeable about the menu items on offer and was quite cordial throughout the meal. Our every culinary want and need was attended to promptly and with a smile. Great job, Lorne, and all the wait staff at Woods.
A thoroughly delicious and well-prepared meal, without feeling overstuffed or bloated afterward. My only gripe might be that the portions were a little small, but otherwise, I can't complain. Everything else gets a big thumbs up from my friends who joined me for dinner and myself. A great place for an afternoon or evening/late night meal on Colborne Street.
For groups or private functions, they have a lovely room downstairs that one can book in advance. This area can accommodate up to 15 people and has a flat screen TV and computer. For a smaller party, you can also opt for the Chef's table, located right in the kitchen.
For a group larger than 15 people, the entire restaurant can also be reserved for a minimum spend. For any of these options, just contact the restaurant directly.