Wine bars are not generally known for great food. Sure, they can be a great place to swill back fermented grape juice, but the menu is often perfunctory: a convenient excuse to linger and drink more without having to trek elsewhere to eat. I know this because I don’t drink and have frequently been forced to slog through saggy nachos while my booze-swilling friends argue over which wine is the most impudent. Happily, Reds Midtown Tavern is not only an exception to this norm, it is downright exceptional.
Having recently opened their spiffy new home at the bottom of the Aura Building on Gerrard at Yonge, Reds is clearly gunning for more than just the after-work banking crowd that made their Adelaide location such a hit. The new space is warm and spacious, with chandeliers made of upturned wine or beer bottles, exposed brick walls and rustic wooden tables and countertops that have a great hand-hewn look to them.
Things are buzzing nicely on the Thursday evening my dining companion and I visit, a blend of toffs in business drag rubbing elbows with those of us in jeans and sweaters. We’re greeted by two friendly hostesses, both cheerful and welcoming without seeming artificial or practised. Our server is no different, a bubbly gal with an irreverent sense of humour that makes ordering entertaining. The menu is full of interesting appetizers and mains that are far beyond traditional pub grub.
We start with a wickedly spicy lobster guacamole, thick and rich in a wooden bowl and served with warm, crackling-fresh tortilla chips. The guajillo chilis are perfectly balanced with lime juice in this delightful dip, adding just enough tingle to the tongue. Carrying on the lime theme is the Yucatan ceviche, the fish “cooked” by the lime juice along with avocado and more chilis. I could eat this delicate and fresh dish daily.
We follow with Reds’ signature potato flatbread, which is nearly a meal in itself. Dressed with parmesan, arugula, garlic and aioli, this large appetizer is perfect when dipped into the guacamole or with a spoonful of ceviche on top. I’m forced to skip the suggested kale and quinoa salad, as I have a virulent allergy to faddish grains that have no flavour and stick in your teeth, but my dining companion raves about the smoked cheese and citrus dressing.
Now more than a little full, we decide to split the main dish, choosing the Mediterranean lamb shank raved about by our adorable server. She’s not wrong. This slow-cooked shank is falling-off-the-bone tender, served with polenta and a fantastic orange and olive relish that is zingy without being too bright. The only false note here is the polenta, which seems overcooked and a little runny.
For dessert I suggest the carrot cake, with its rich molasses icing. It’s not overly sweet, and if I were a drinker I would imagine this the perfect complement to a warm brandy. That being said, it was downright delicious with the restaurant’s l’eau du robinet.
That’s French for tap water, by the way.
Prices here are quite reasonable, particularly given the calibre of food. We cleared $70 for our meal, which included some fruity non-alcoholic cocktails for me and several glasses of wine for my boozy companion. Highly recommended.