On Saturday night Bernard and I took his niece, Laurel, and her boyfriend, Thomas, out for a grown-up dinner. They are in their twenties and have been living with us since September and providing childcare for our 2 1/2 year old. As they are departing soon, we wanted to take them someplace we knew they, two students, would not take themselves.
We were, as often we are, somewhat last minute about the whole thing and not wanting to eat late we took advantage of the 'no reservations for parties under 8' policy at Stage Small Plates Wine Bar to eat around six. The weather was appalling which meant that we easily got seats - and more miraculously, given this is Fernwood (1307 Gladstone), we are talking about, got parking right across the street. The first thing I noted as different from my last visit was the addition of a small curtained off area around the door. This was a great addition as it preventsthe frigid breeze every time the door opens (one of the low points of my previous visit). Constructed out of a wrought iron frame and some heavy felt-ish fabric curtains that appeared removable, it was a simple solution to a problem that plagues many a small restaurant. They may want to consider a light over the area though as it is a bit dim within the curtain.
On to the actual food! Stage, for me, offers one of my favorite ways to eat - small plates of wonderful, flavourful food. The menu changes over time, though some things seem quite eternal - including the only pate I have ever eaten - their "chicken liver parfait". I was lucky enough to get all the fun of picking our food.
I could go on in great detail about each dish but I am going to try to be more efficient. First, a list: two orders of fried langoes (potato bread) with garlic, seared tuna salad, haloumi and tomato salad, gnocchi with butternut squash and boar pancetta, pomme frites with lemon aioli, pork sausage with mashed potato and a roast garlic reduction and an oso buccho with risotto Milanese. Those were are mains courses. Though we had nary a bad things for me some of the highlights were the light, melt-in-your mouth gnocchi, the langoes ('cuz deep-fried dough is unbeatable!),the lemon aioli that came with the frites, and the incredibly rich and tender meat of the oso bucho (which came with a big bone full of roast marrow).
We then had dessert. We got two orders of the dessert langoes (these with cinnamon sugar, creme fraiche and caramel sauce), a creme brulee and a chocolate pate with raspberry coulee and creme fraiche. On this course I we had some division of opinion. For me the creme fraiche with both the chocolate and the langoes provided a lovely acidic punch cut throught the delicious richness of the dishes. For Laurel and Thomas the caramel sauce was the langoes accompaniment of choice, Laurel also could have passed on the raspberry with the chocolate but the rest of us thought it was divine. Laurel and Thomas had never had creme brulee though so I suppose the winner with all spoons in was that creamy pudding with the perfectly golden crust that gave a thoroughly satisfying crack when broken.
In line with the general yea/nay rule for Bernard and I - Could we have done this at home? NOPE. Some of it we could have, some I know we couldn't (we still can't get our aioli to the right thickness, and our gnocchi, while improving, don't even come close!)and overall trying to produce the variety and scope of what we had would have been impossible. That is always one of the draws for me with Stage and similarly styled places - I get to have many wonderful all at once and not work for hours and then go crazy trying to get them all out hot, or cold, in order, looking beautiful. The co-ordination factor should always be part of a restaurants charm but the small plate/Tapas style places bring that benefit to new heights.
I get to go back later this week for drinks with my sister - I might just have to try something new too. There were many choices I turned from that had appeal.