Hard to believe that The Citizen has been open for more than three years in Toronto’s crowded King and Spadina restaurant zone. The sports-bar-meets-urban-saloon is outfitted in a leather-and-wood, 1930s inspired look — hardwood floors, big-screen TVs, leather couches, sports memorabilia, large wooden bar, wooden pillars, painted brick walls. Near the front, a comfy lounge welcomes with padded, overstuffed sofas.
But don’t let the casual setting fool you: Making everything from scratch, this kitchen turns out some seriously good, Canadian-influenced comfort food, courtesy of executive chef Binh An Nguyen.
For instance, chef stuffs greaseless, shatteringly crunchy zucchini fritters with mild minced lamb. A perfectly balanced sauce that strikes a perfect balance between sweetness and chili heat adorns crispy General Tso’s cauliflower.
The Citizen’s dining area.
A clever mix of flavours and textures — sweet/tart, crunchy/soft, elevates a salad of kale, puffed quinoa, goat cheese, pomegranate, grapes and walnuts. Cleverly built on radicchio and romaine, Caesar salad delights with its anchovy-tinged vinaigrette.
Mains show a kitchen fully in command of technique. Pickled ginger and shiitake mushrooms garnish generous, and moist, seared duck breast and confit leg set atop a mound of fluffy rice. Black sesame seeds crust chunks of seared albacore tuna alongside bok choy and stellar Japanese-style shrimp/vegetable dumplings.
Seared albacore tune.
A new menu item, fish and chips, made with expertly fried cod cheek nuggets garnished with extra-thick cut fries and emerald green mushy peas, are like a trip to England without the airfare.
Pistachio crumble animates very tender and mild roasted lamb rack.
The three desserts really bring it. Deconstructed key lime tart brings a slab of curd sided with graham cracker crumbs and torched meringue. A scattering of diced apple complements, and cuts the richness of, cinnamon buns served warm and accessorized with cream cheese glaze and caramel.
Three-tier birthday cake.
But for sheer theatrics, opt for the three-tier birthday cake adorned with a sparkler that shoots a brightly burning flame at least three feet into the air, turning heads throughout the dining room. It’s the most fun dessert I’ve eaten in a good long while.
Group options include a private dining area that seats 66 people. The restaurant is available for corporate buyout, and can seat 100 or accommodate 590, cocktail-style. In the warm weather, the patio accommodates 120, standing.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,400 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.