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Keriwa Cafe

by Ross Bruniges on July 8th, 2012

At a glance

Keriwa Cafe

Chef: Aaron Joseph Bear Robe

Reservations: 416.533.2552

Rating: 6 out of 10

Cost : £50-£75

Location

1690 Queen Street West

Toronto

M6R 1B3

Map

Location map

Don't just take my word for it

Keriwa Cafe on Urbanspoon

In photos

Keriwa Cafe

Foraged mushroom tortellini

More pictures

Whenever I go on trips abroad I want to try and eat the food that the locals eat and have dishes that I can’t really get while back home. I work with a lot of Torontoians at the moment so find myself making many a trip over there and while they’ve got poutine I’m guessing they wouldn’t be too happy in pronouncing it the number 1 taste in town. So when someone (thanks Mari) recommended me an aboriginal restaurant I thought this might be something worth checking out.

Now quite stupidly I was expecting Australian aboriginal cooking, meaning that I was a bit confused by the clearly Canadian dishes on the menu. A bit of research has enlightened me that aboriginal in Canadian terms are descendants of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. I’m not sure if going with this knowledge would have left me feeling less confused and had me enjoy the meal more, but unfortunately my ignorance might have tripped me up. It certainly gives me a better understanding of ‘proper’ Canadian ingredients though. Regardless of the history of the dishes the menu was seasonal, local and rather short (5 starters, 5 mains and 2 puddings); from what I can tell it changes daily/weekly.

I started off with something that looks a bit of a mainstay on the menu (with varying accompaniments), bison tongue. I had it served in thin slices on top of a thick and rather juicy piece of fried bread topped with pickles, huckleberries and some wild salad leaves. The tongue was very similar to cows tongue in taste, very irony but from what I could taste given a bit of extra by being flash fried which gave it the texture of a thinly sliced steak. The sour pickles and sweet berries cut through the iron taste of the meat and the fried bread underneath soaked up the juices perfectly. A good starter.

Bison tongue

Next up I got what I think was a freebie and something that wouldn’t have been out of place at somewhere like Restaurant Sat Baines or Roganic, a locally foraged wild mushroom tortellini with wild leaves and edible flowers in a mushroom broth. The mushroom filling in the pasta was lovely and earthy, clearly some good mushrooms. However something in the broth, possibly one of the leaves was as bitter as a losing Australian rugby team beaten on their own turf, not a very nice taste at all. A 50/50 dish that on another day or season would likely be much tastier. It came for free though so not too much of a blemish.

Pork shoulder in a cold asparagus soup

Unfortunately the main was a bit of a let down in so much that it sounded pretty good on the menu but what I got was just a bit weird. Pork shoulder and asparagus with pumpkin seeds is what I ordered and indeed what I got but I certainly hadn’t imagined cooked hot meat in a luke warm, nearly cold, asparagus soup with slices of cooked spears topped with pumpkin seeds and lettuce. The pork was actually pretty good, a couple of nice thick slabs and cooked juicy pink but it needed a nice thick sauce to coat it, not a watery asparagus soup. I don’t know if this was intended or a cock-up but I didn’t like it as you may have guessed. Rather a shame.

Saskatoon chocolate cake

Pudding was good though, and at the time thinking this was Australian inspired cooking confused me as to why it was on the menu as Saskatoon Chocolate cake sounded as far away from Australia as possible; now knowing the food was Canadian in heritage (which to be fair makes total sense now I think more about it) it slotted in perfectly with the rest of the meal. A thick slab of rich chocolate cake with a ice-cream and topped with huckleberries – not normally a fan of berries and chocolate but the dark chocolate cake and sour berries were spot on here and cheered me up after the dodgy main course.

So this was a 50/50 meal – two winners and two rather big fails. I liked the atmosphere of the restaurant, started out quiet but got nice and buzzy a bit later and the service staff were all helpful, young and chatty. I would go back, hopefully the pork dish isn’t going to be a mainstay of the menu (it’s not on there anymore from what I can see) and the cooking of the starter and pudding showed a good understanding of ingredients and skill. I still don’t feel any closer to finding any more traditional Canadian dishes but (while sober) I enjoyed some of it a load more than I would a bowl of poutine.

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