When one of the best meals you’ve had this year happens at a soft opening, you know we’re all in for a good thing.
Bar Accanto is right next door to Nola (hence, accanto, meaning “next to”), the celebrated restaurant by Mike Del Buono’s Burnley Place Hospitality Group (BPH) and multiple award-winning chef and Top Chef Canada alum Emily Butcher.
The small 32-seat room, which used to house Second Spot, an outlet of King + Bannatyne sandwich shop, has been transformed into a bright little space that Del Buono designed with his brother, architect Jeff Del Buono of Lola Construction Management.
The design started off with a green leather banquette that they just had to have, which they then built the space around balancing it with white tiles; blonde woods for the tabletops, bar, and wine displays (there’s a piece composed of parallel wood slats on the ceiling that’s super cool), and black accents courtesy of the light fixtures and tiles underneath the bar. The black and white art adorning the walls is by Zephra Vun, a long-time collaborator with Del Buono who created all the art at King + Bann along with the mural above the hallway bathrooms that connects the two separate concepts.
The plush seats too are black and brown (and so comfortable) while there’s two slate four-top tables in the middle of the room made from the same material as the bar, along with an open kitchen on the east side of the room where you can watch head chef Colin Naylor and the team present alluring little plates.
The all-natural wine list was created by Casey Holder, the new director of wines for BPH who will expertly recommend pairings with her charming Melbourne accent. Holder is relatively new to the city (she met her husband in Australia, whom is from Winnipeg) and was working at Kenaston Wine Market when she first met Mike. She became the person he would always look for when shopping there, as her knowledge and picks were always on point. She was also our server, and by the end of the evening we just wanted to be her friend.
Holder’s list at Bar Accanto spans the globe with plenty of interesting bottles (including many by the glass) that complement the kitchen, particularly when it comes to whites, rosé and orange wines where the acidity will enhance the vegetable-forward offerings.
On tap it’s all locals–including Dead Horse Cider, Kilter’s Vintage pilsner, Barn Hammer’s Lumberjack double IPA, and Good Neighbour’s amber lager–plus, you can get Low Life Barrel House’s ‘Stride’ Riesling, which you’ll find in the "bubble" section.
Like the wine list, chef Naylor’s menu progresses from light to more robust fare. There’s a celebration of acidity and textures in the opening dishes, while the bottom third of the menu leans toward richness, with two fresh pastas, a pork belly dish I need to try on my next visit, and the pan-seared walleye* that chef Butcher–who is now the executive chef of BPH–says you have to order because, “it’s like a warm hug.”
We started with oysters on the half shell that was topped off with an apple and wasabi granita (a coarse, icy puree) and lemon top oil. What a start. The granita cools the oyster that much more, while the flavour ran almost smoky to citrusy with a super clean finish.
Next was a delightful tuna crudo topped with pickled red chilis that provided just enough heat, dabs of avocado mousse for added richness to the fish, a preserved citrus vinaigrette and orange segments for sweetness and acidity, and sesame seeds for texture.
The vegetable bonbon was as precious as it sounds, featuring carrots and radish that have been braised then wrapped in super thin slices of turnip to represent the candy. It came with baby turnips roasted to an al dente texture, torn pieces of mint, radish slices, and a fermented carrot brown butter sauce that we angled our spoon in every way possible to get to.
Beef tartare produced audible moans (apologies to the table next to us), topped with a bone marrow and lemon emulsion, mustard yolk, and microplaned Grana Padano and white anchovy for just the right amount of saltiness and umami. After mashing it together you use sturdy potato chips (with plenty of airy bubbles) to scoop it up, making it the ultimate chips and dip.
A kiwi and cucumber salad was a fun surprise. It came with a hemp seed dressing, a hidden funky cheese, and pickled daikon for added texture. The pea and ricotta tortellini was a study in expert pasta making. The egg yolk-rich noodle (it has a hollandaise-like hue) had that ideal texture, even where the folds met, with the cute little hidden baby bums containing a light ricotta mix. They were knee-deep in a veg-forward fermented kohlrabi butter sauce accompanied by crunchy peas, radish slices, purple and green basil and little smatterings of shiitake prosciutto xo sauce.
The walleye (sorry, but I’m from Ontario), was one of the best variations I’ve ever had of this mild, sweet fish. It was pan-seared to a beautiful golden hue and placed on top of slices of potato pavé along with some roasted pickled fennel. Underneath this was a soubise (a creamy onion sauce) while a second sauce was poured over it all tableside. This second sauce was a yuzo koshu (a fermented Japanese condiment made with chilis and yuzu) enhanced with buttermilk, fresh dill and mustard seeds, which made it so luxurious while affirming chef Butcher's 'warm hug' description.
The two desserts we tried were both playful and delicious.
First was a bowl of affogato, with the espresso again poured tableside onto a silky cardamom ice cream. This came with two graham crumb ginger cookies that were crisp at the edges, still chewy in the centre, so you could dunk or make your own ice cream sandwiches.
The house-made mochi (we were told the kitchen does in fact pound the rice with little wooden hammers, which I’d love to see) was super fun, with the chewy little cubes accompanied by a pineapple sorbet and a fermented genmaicha caramel (a green tea made with toasted brown rice; don’t worry, I totally googled that too) that has such a complex, nutty flavour.
If you are counting at home, there indeed that many fermented elements on the menu, meaning surely this place is good for your gut health, right? As well, vegetarians and pescatarians can rejoice given all the non-meat options.
For the final couple dishes we were drinking the Longaví “Glup” Rosado that is now a new favourite rose, being both crisp, dry and rounded out with flavours of dark cherries and tart fruit. It’s available at Jones & Company, while the rest of Holder’s list is sourced from wine merchants across the city, including Ellement Wine + Spirits and Kenaston Wine Merchants.
After three soft opening nights this weekend Bar Accanto is set to open to the public on April 27.
Bar Accanto is located at 300 Tache Ave Unit 102 and is open Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday & Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight. In order to accommodate walk-ins, limited reservations can be made by calling 204.505.0761. Follow @bar.accanto on Instagram for the latest.
*We write walleye on PCG which dates back to an ice fishing segment with an ichthyologist Mike did years ago when he was a CBC Radio columnist. If you see pickerel on the website it’s usually the result of us receiving a terse email telling us to switch walleye back to pickerel, in which case we will be polite and relent.