Let’s talk about Monday: it could be the new Friday when it comes to dining out. More and more restaurants are finding creative ways of filling seats on the long-considered most-wretched day of the week.
When I think of chefs who first started shaking things up on Mondays, I think of Arup Jana of Allium. A fire above his Holland Avenue restaurant forced him to close and renovate. That was 10 years ago. When he reopened, he made Monday nights tapas-only. Snacks, nibbles, mezze — whatever you want to call small plates of anything goes: a bit of this, a bite of that. Rock shrimp on brioche toast, with peas and radish, say. It caught on instantly. And Monday night tables are still tough to nab at Allium.
Many restaurants quietly offer BYOW – Gezellig comes to mind – where corkage fees are waived on Mondays. Kitchen takeovers are often Monday things. The new Citizen restaurant (Town’s sib) gives up to guest chef Mike Frank, ex of Mellos Diner. Supply & Demand on Wellington West is typically closed Monday, but last Monday it handed over the kitchen to the high school kids from chef Kent Van Dyk’s culinary program at Longfields Davidson Heights, who cooked from the new Canadian cookbook Feast, in support of the Parkdale Food Centre.
The latest addition to Mondays – at least the one that’s come to my attention – is at Fairouz, chef Walid El-Tawel’s one-year-old Middle Eastern restaurant in the Somerset Village. I popped in with some friends on a warm, sunny evening (remember those?) to sample Mezze Mondays. (They offer mezze on Sundays as well, but the alliteration isn’t as good.)
Two months ago, Fairouz made the decision to open daily, allowing Turkish-born sous chef Aydin Canatar to create a Sunday-Monday mezze feast. Along with a featured cocktail and wine, the menu lists small plates of good food.
Here are the highlights: Canatar replaced walnuts with cashews in the classic Levantine dip called Muhammara — it was balanced and delicious. The labneh with preserved lemon and fresh mint, punched with zaatar, was silky, bracing and gentle in equal measure. Warm pita bread (at $1.50 each, a steal) is what you’ll want to ferry dips to mouth. From the ‘Grazing’ section, the halloumi stood out, a lanky tranche of the wonderful sheep’s milk cheese from Ruth Klahsen’s Montforte Dairy fried to brown, and smothered with ‘seasonal accompaniments.’ On our night, a compote of apricot piqued with mustard seed, fresh green almonds and a shiny date purée. This dish stopped conversation — not easy to do with these pals.
A second visit – on a Sunday – it was the salmon that stood out, cured in the vibrant citrus of sumac and hit with the aromatic Turkish spice blend called çemen, its chili-heat softened when mixed in an aioli piped overtop in pretty orange blobs. It shared the fish blanket with rings of pickled shallot, green olives, and wisps of kataifi, dipped in anchovy oil, then fried to brittle bits of pungent crunch.
Traditionally made with lamb or beef, the golf ball croquettes called kibbeh were filled with braised rabbit. Plopped in a red puddle of harissa-spiked red pepper purée, tart with tamarind, their richness was cut with a rhubarb-cucumber salad. In a delightful ode to lahmajoun (Armenian minced meat pizza pies) Canatar tops sesame crackers with a disk of well seasoned raw tartare, moistened with argan oil and dobbed with spiced yogurt.
If you aren’t halloumi’d out, you might try the house cheesecake, supported by a buttery pistachio shortcrust, iced with a hibiscus gelée, scattered with candied pistachio and very good.
Yes, dear ones, it’s a snowy, soggy Monday in May, but there are ways to find comfort in this city. Fairouz is now one of them.