In a city brimming with restaurants that would satisfy the culinary exploits of any foodie or food-bewildered Schmo, it's hard to set yourself apart from the cobbled web. This doesn't seem to be an issue for The Combine Eatery – which opened yesterday – with their unique California-influenced menu and old school meets new school charm.
Owned by sister and brother Amy and Albert Chow, The Combine Eatery is a welcome entry on Toronto's food scene. Amy, who comes from a fashion background, and Albert, hailing from the hospitality industry, laboured for two years over the small but sophisticated menu, making sure every detail and ingredient that went into their dishes reflected their vision of a California meets Canada eatery with Southwestern-flare. They even enlisted Matthew Barber, formerly of Terroni's Osteria, as exec chef.
The Combine Eatery's name is an obvious choice: Amy wanted to combine classic California shore dishes with Canadian comfort food. The result is a carefully-honed menu that'll satisfy the pickiest and the most nonchalant of diners – not to mention Toronto's bevy of discerning young professionals who are looking for a joint that boasts both amazing food and a warm atmosphere.
Over-polished – that's a good thing – hardwood floors, exposed brick, and white ceilings with revealed piping lay the foundation for The Combine Eatery's space, a mix of homey charm and modern industrial. The tables, including a centre-house communal setup that easily seats 10, are custom-built beauties by a local carpenter. Century-old pews from a church in Norfolk line and separate the room, with brown leather stools providing an appropriate accent.
The great atmosphere aside, The Combine Eatery's menu is what will keep patrons coming back, if only for the expertly-stocked bourbon bar – why aren't there more of those in Toronto? The star dish is the So-Cal Fish Tacos, a recipe Amy honed while working alongside the chefs at the South Beach Bar and Grille in San Diego. Listen up: They are spectacular. We tried them fried, and the Basa was buttery and melt-in-your-mouth good, folded into house-made corn tortillas topped with lime crema – think sour cream, only creamier, and with a hint of citrus.
Other notable dishes are the Lobster Fritters – bite-sized pieces of happy – the Adobo Marinated Steak Burrito, and the Chicken Quesadillas, made from pulled chicken (trust us, that's a definite rarity as far as restaurants go). The meats in The Combine Eatery's dishes are dry-rubbed and marinated with bourbon, so you know they're going to be tender and moist with rich flavours.
Amy and Albert, along with Chef Barber, have done a noteworthy job of creating a space and commitment to prime ingredients that will undoubtedly have you headed back for more. Did we mention there's a double-smoked bacon-rimmed bourbon margarita...? The Combine Eatery, 162 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, 416-792-8088.