Due to some financial issues, Jamie Kennedy sold his popular and eponymous wine bar in late 2009 to Scott Vivian, his (then) sous. Loping the JK off of the title, Vivian has since re-dubbed it Wine Bar. While not very creative, Vivian wasn’t trying to establish a new world order, instead, he wanted to keep the Kennedy legacy – and successful restaurant – afloat.
So, having had many wonderful evenings with delicious food at the old JKWB, I was a bit loathe to return to this new incarnation, not knowing if disappointment was lying in wait, ready to pounce on my treasured memories and tear them apart. But curiosity calls, and I make an opportunity out of catching up with friends to find out if Wine Bar measures up to memory.
Walking in, the first thing that hits you is that nothing has changed. Jars are where they should be, the room has a familiar buzz, and the wide glossy bars give off that warm comforting glow. Luckily, we get seated at my favourite spot in the place – the corner of the bar overlooking the open kitchen.
We began with the house-made charcuterie, with a familiar chicken liver pâté, cured venison sausage, and some pickled vegetables from the venerable wall-o-jars. The sausage was tasty, as was the pâté (it’s still really good and worth mentioning), and it made for a nice starter for my group. Still, I can’t help but find the well-plated dish a bit light, considering the past.
Of course, there’s the poutine - another old mainstay. Today’s was a braised brisket with Ontario cheese curds and crème fraîche. The first thing that I noticed was that there was a distinct lack of salt – but in the good way. I usually found JK’s sauces to be really, really, salty. Sometimes to the point of making a face because it was so strong. A point in Wine Bar‘s favour. However, I’ve had better combinations in previous visits.
Beer-battered Yellow Perch happened to be my sleeper favourite. I might not have ordered it had I been on my own, so it was good I had some dining companions with me to steer me in different directions. I thought this had some great flavour and textures. Tender pieces of fish lightly battered and just shy of crispy, this sat on an equally delicious slaw. I would strongly consider this to be a re-order for me on another visit.
We also opted for the Dingo Farms Beef with a northern woods mushroom ragù. This was well executed, but I think it lacked some punch. One of those middle-of-the-road dishes.
Here we have Qualicum Bay scallops with a chickpea stew and Luis Suarez Chorizo. Again, nicely cooked and lovely plating. The chickpea stew bulked this dish up.
I got all excited about an ice cream sandwich with nougat. Sadly, I found this too sweet and while I liked what nougat I ate, I had imagined an ice cream with nougat in it, despite the logistical problems of trying to keep nougat soft in something frozen!
However, since we were a little sad after finishing the ice cream sandwich, we decided to roll the dice and order the maple panna cotta with wild blueberry preserve. And were we ever glad we did! This was an excellent dessert, and yes, in that lick-it-clean way. Never mind being uncouth. Creamier than what I would expect panna cotta to be (I like mine slightly more gelatinous), it had the perfect hint of maple to it. A good finish.
Familiar surroundings, familiar food, familiar faces. And they’ve tried pretty hard to keep it that way – from the wall of jars, right down to the dishware. It’s a good set-up. To those pining for the old days – Wine Bar may or may not meet up with expectations (bring your own salt), but while it’s not what JKWB used to be (especially at its peak) – it’s pretty close.
And you can now make reservations.
- Wine Bar 9 Church Street, Toronto