Friday, April 29, 2011

INTERSTEER RESTAURANT: 361 Roncesvalles Avenue - (416) 588-8054

The menu at the Intersteer
When I first moved to the Roncesvalles area years ago, the Intersteer was this notorious bar/restaurant that was filled with smoke & booze stained tables and patrons.  It was loud, raucous, and always fun.  A few years ago the Intersteer decided to move a couple of shops south of its original location and basically recreated the exact same bar, minus the stains.  It reintroduced itself to the neighbourhood with new and glorious shinny wood, clean brass, but kept the same old patrons and jukebox.

The chef at the Intersteer was Bart Murawieki, a Susur Lee trained chef.  He has apparently moved on and been replaced by Mike Cross, an old sous chef from Rain.  To me this was the most intriguing part of the Intersteer.  It appeared to be a kind of seedy old Polish bar but, if you braved its harsh veneer, it would reward you with some truly amazing food.

So with this in mind I invited a couple of friends out for a bite at the Intersteer.  Everyone, meet Daniel Neuhaus and Vanessa Heins.  You'll really like em both!

Daniel Neuhaus and Vanessa Heins
Daniel Neuhaus is a wonderful photographer and the photo editor at Toronto Life Magazine.  We have been working together since pretty much his first day on the job.  Much like the Intersteer, Daniel is a man on contradictions.  You meet him and notice his very boyish face, his sweet calm demeanor, and his almost childlike exuberance for just about any subject that comes up in conversation.  Basically he reminds you of that nerdy kid from the band room in high school. However, if you get a chance to listen to some of his stories, you find out that, for fun, he sometimes drops himself in the middle of the Australian outback with nothing but some bananas and cashews just to see, you know, how it'll all turn out!  The guy blows my mind!

Photographer Vanessa Heins is a Ryerson alumni who's name seems to appear all over the place.  A favourite photographer amongst musicians and photo editors alike, she is an incredible talent who also seems to be completely devoid of any ego whatsoever.  She makes the most wonderful and subtle photographs that have an airy and effortless quality to them.  She's a doll!

Nacho pierogi
Ok on to the food.  We arrived!  The cute waitress told me repeatedly how good I smelled.  It got to the point where she almost hugged me.  So far soooooo good!

We started off with the most intriguing sounding dish on the menu, the "nacho pierogi" which are pierogi with "the works".  Both Daniel and Vanessa ordered the crispy chicken sandwich with avocado and Thai bail, Daniel got his with fries and Vanessa got hers with salad, and I ordered the pan-fried fish and chips.  The pierogi arrived first and they were great.  They were topped with cheddar cheese, jalapenos, tomatoes, peppers, sour cream, and guacamole.  Never did I ever think you could properly fuse together Polish and Mexican foods but the Intersteer has found a way.  They tasted pretty good.  I mean its the kind of a novelty dish that I enjoyed but probably wouldn't order again.  Kind of like every single dish at a "Poutinery".  Nevertheless we gobbled them up real quick.  Even Vanessa had a bite and she's lactose intolerant!  So speaks the power of the pierogi nachos.

Vanessa looking cute
with her chicken sandwich
Our meals arrived looking, well, Polish.  Which usually means unpretentious.  I appreciate that!  It speaks to my eastern European Jewish heritage.  Vanessa and Daniel chomped down on their sandwiches and were pretty unimpressed.  According to them there was nothing wrong with em.  They were perhaps little dry but really they were fine.  Flavours were ok but nothing particularly special.  Fries were kind standard.  So was the salad.  Not really something you would expect from a supposedly high-end pub kitchen.

My fish tasted good but I could see what Dan and Vanessa were saying.  The accompanying homemade tartar sauce was great but the fish itself wasn't particularly special.  Perhaps I was being unfairly influenced by Intersteer's reputation, or perhaps I was expecting too much, but really the fish was entirely average pub fare. 

My pan-fried fish and chips
As I continue into this blog I'm starting to realize that reputations and expectations are an inextricable power in the world of restaurant reviews.  Thinking about a restaurant as a completely blank slate without any pretensions is pretty much impossible.  And to be honest, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.  There's something to be said about singing the praises of a five dollar dinner served from the back of a truck and tearing to shreds a five hundred dollar dinner served in a chic Mark McEwan-esque boutique restaurant.  I'm sure the whole process would work out entirely different if every review I wrote was from a blind taste test.  But that's for another blog.

In the meantime, Intersteer you disappointed us.  I think I would go back but only for the drinks, the patrons, the jukebox, and the waitresses who say I smell really good, not for the food.

Rating:  2.5

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