[REVIEW] Loose Moose Toronto Restaurant Review
Let me tell you a little story about the last time I went to the Loose Moose on Front. Well, about 6 or 7 years ago, back when the LM was just another sports-bar-tourist-trap on the sport and entertainment strip, my best friend and I had tickets to see Madonna and were in search of a pre-Material-Girl bite. He came to visit me from Peterborough, we both spent $450 a piece on a-maz-ing seats, and we sang “Holiday” all the way downtown. Deciding we would opt for an easy and inexpensive pub meal, we stopped in at the LM. The meal was as expected- palatable but boring- a bit of a wash considering the devastating events that were to soon follow. Let me make this as descriptive as I can so you can relive my sorrow with me. We arrived with tickets in hand. We waited in line. We wiggled in excitement as we reached the front of the line. A red beam scanned over our bar codes. Beep, beep, beep. “Oh, sorry, folks,” the clerk started, “these Madonna tickets were for last night’s show.” WHAT! I feel ill just recalling the tragedy. Well, to summarize the events that followed: I cried a lot, w ended up spending another $250 per person for nose bleeds to at least see the show, and I later kicked myself for not even opening the letter containing the tickets. Nowadays, I pull a major OCD with tickets and check, check, check them a million times just to make sure.
Fast forward to today, and I haven’t been going to see many concerts. I definitely haven’t been going to sports games or anything else really that would bring me down to the Union station area. As you all know, my weekends are almost strictly devoted to chow-hounding, which at first glance may make you question the reason for this post at all.
But believe it or not, since Signature Restaurants (the folks behind Far Niente, Four, and Reds) relaunched the LM in January, I’d been hearing some pretty good things about the food. And no, my sources are not merely a handful of sports-bar groupies. These were legit foodie recommendations so I was certainly intrigued. So with the boy away, the girls were going to play, and Saturday night was all about food, drinks and sister-time at the new LM.
Well, first of all, you’d never know this is the same Moose space. Gone are the drab dark surroundings, and in are eclectic and Canadiana aesthetic. There are hockey skates, bowling balls, boxing gloves- tons of items I have little experience with myself, but I can appreciate their appropriateness here. There are long communal tables, mismatched chairs, exposed piping on the ceiling, and bare-filament light fixtures. Obviously, there are an abundance of flat screen televisions lining the walls, but they’re not as intrusive as I’m seen in other sports-bar destinations. Here, it seemed to me that most groups in the room were simultaneously engaged in conversation, eating, and drinking, while keeping an eye on the score. The vibe is casual, young and buzzing with energy - especially on that Saturday night when the Leafs were playing the Habs. There’s no way around the noise level on a game night- partially from the volume of people, partially from the game on the screen, and largely from the cheering (or booing) when someone gets a score. I did have to strain myself just a bit to chat with my sister, but undoubtedly, no one goes to a sports bar expecting a quiet and private night out. Here, I actually liked that my neighbour struck up a friendly Habs- related conversation with my sister, and that we both joked about our failure to make a dent on our fried potato “loaf”. I liked the sense of friendly competition amongst the room when either team scored a goal. So even though I’m admittedly not “into” the whole sports scene going on around me, I can appreciate the vibe for what it is and for those who are (aka. Everyone else in the room).
Well, despite the massive turn out that night, service at LM was friendly and attentive. The meal moved at an enjoyable pace without long lapses between dishes (we received our “appetizers” separately from our “share plates” as requested) and without any obvious pressure from our server to turn the table at the end of our meal. Our server also removed one of the cocktails from the bill that we really did not enjoy without a prompt, which I definitely appreciated from a customer service perspective.
Speaking of cocktails, one of the main revisions with the LM overhaul was enhancing and improving the booze offerings. For beer drinkers (which is clearly their demographic here), there’s 27 bottles and 54 draught beer options to choose from- the largest beer draught selection in the downtown core! Go for your tried and true Canadian or Coors, or try one of the unique craft varieties like Sawdust City Gateway Kolsch (try saying that 10 times fast) and Lake of Bays Crosswind Pale Ale. And with all of those exciting choices, it’s easily to be undecisive, but that’s exactly the purpose of LM’s 3-oz sampler pours ($1.11-1.33). For those of us (um, me) who are not so enthusiastic on the beer front, there is also a small list of VQA & International wine (4 red, 4 white), 7 cocktails (including a few with beer), and 3 different varieties of Caesars. Caesars are my go-to drink, so obviously I was going there first. Over the course of the night we sampled:
The Caesar & The Snapper (Clamato, Spices, Extreme Bean with Vodka and Gin, respectively, $7.50)
Randypandyshandy (Leifmans Fruit Beer, Gordans Gin, Lime, Simple Syrup, $8)
Big Booty (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Lychee, Passion Fruit, Vanilla Sugar, Ginger Beer, $12)
Stormy Weather (Rum, Pineapple, Orange, Granadine, Sirop D’Orgeat, Bitters, $9)
Beaus Pale Ale ($6.42 for a Pint)
Black Oak Nut Brown Ale ($1.11 for 3 oz)
The Caesar and Snapper were standard Caesars 101- no bacon rim or smoke infused vodka or fancy pants garnish. But I don’t necessarily need bells and whistles when they’re pretty much exactly how I like them. I would definitely return for Caesars on Sundays when they’re only $3 each! In contrast, the Randy et al., as I will call it, and the Stormy Weather, were definitely not our style. The former tasted a bit like a sweet candy had melted in light beer, and the latter, while certainly better, was still a little too sweet and flat. Thankfully, we both loved the Big Booty (we each got one) as it had a nice balance of sweet, sour, and a little peppery on the tongue from the ginger beer. I didn’t even taste the beers myself, but my sister seemed to enjoy them.
While the old-LM was always a decent place for beer, their previous food offerings read more like a food “program” (aka. sustenance to soak up the booze required to get through a typical Jays game) than what Matt “Rosie” Rosen (Four, Reds) is offering today. With dish descriptions spanning Asia (Pork Belly & Ginger Slaw), Mexico (Tacos & Quesadillas), American (Fried Chicken), Italian (Meatball & Basil Bocconcini), and of course, Canada (Bacon and Bison Meatloaf), it’s clearly an international spread. So rather than LM cuisine being limited by location, it seems more based off of an underlying comfort food theme and a sharable style of ordering. Yes, it’s still bar fare- there are a lot of fried foods on offer served in mountainous portions coming out of the kitchen, but the menu certainly reads more inspired than most other establishments playing the game. So, in an interest to try as much as we could, we shied away from the “Big Plates” (like the crazy huge platter of fried chicken on a sprawling bed of fries), burgers and sandwiches, and stuck to the share plates on the menu. Lesson learned: Shareable- oh yes. Think, hockey team shareable. We sampled (and I say sampled because despite our best efforts, we hardly put a dent in the spread, it was just so much food):
Sweet Potato Thing- Sweet Potato Fries, French Fries, Onions, with Coconut Chili Dipping Sauce, $7.95)
When we saw this fried “loaf” as we called it, come to our deuce, I think we both felt a brief bout of panic. It was larger than a newborn, and likely a dollar per pound! The “loaf” was remarkably crispy and well seasoned- even in the innerds of the loaf, somehow! I definitely liked the balance of sweetness from the sweet potato fries with the more mellow regular potatoes and the mild bite of the onion. The best part for me, however, was the delicious coconut chili sauce. It was creamy, aromatic, and had a touch of heat to help elevate the fried veg. As tasty as it was, we probably ate about 1/8th or less of it between the two of us, so I’d say this really should not be attempted without at least 6 people for sharing.
Carney Dogs- Jalapeno Batter, Spiced Ketchup and Mustard ($8.50)
Again, crazy generous portion but a little more manageable (still, I think we only had 2 each). The batter was seasoned nicely- not cakey or excessive- and offered a nice mild kick of heat. The ketchup and the grainy mustard had a bit of inherent sweetness and acid, which helped offset some of its richness.
Pescado Tacos ($8.95)
The fish tasted fresh and the batter was light and crispy. I also loved the heat of the chipotle sauce on top to balance out the fried-food factor. I would say, however, that these need to be eaten fast in order to enjoy them. The one I ate immediately was good, but after letting the remaining two sit for even 3-5 minutes, the tortilla (which seemed to have been lightly fried, for some unnecessary reason) had become a little stale and hard to eat. I’d opt for the quesadilla next time.
Pork Belly Sliders with Gingered Asian Slaw ($11.25)
These were really good, though heavy (in theme with everything else). The pork was well rendered so that it was crispy and caramelized with a nice sweet Asian glaze. While I liked the buns because they were cute looking, I found them a little bit on the dry side. I think if chef “Rosie” wants to make this dish even better (and a little lighter feeling), steamed buns would take this to the next level.
Antler Room Donuts- Salted Caramel, Bacon, Hickory Dust ($5.95)
As a supreme donut lover, this was my favourite dish of the night. I loved that the caramel not only brought a sticky sweetness on the surface, but that it soaked into the dough to yield more sweet chewy juices each time I bit in. Obviously, the bacon was a plus, but I didn’t actually detect any prominent hickory flavour. Mind you I didn’t particularly miss it, these donuts were remarkably addictive as they are.
So for 6 cocktails (one comped), a pint, a 3 oz draught, 4 shareables and a dessert, the bill came to $130 including tax and tip. Honestly, we drank a good amount of booze, packed in an un-G-dly amount of food, and still took 4 boxes of food home. Pretty good value considering my usual Saturday night bill. Obviously we can’t really compare apples to oranges here- the LM isn’t by any means haute cuisine, and it doesn’t try to be. And yes, everything we ate was fried and heavy, and served in “sports bar” portions. But considering it’s sports-fan demographic and their likely main objective (watch the game, drink some beer, grab a satisfying tasty bite), I’d say the LM exceeded it’s dining purposes. The food was tasty (as fried food should be), the menu was a creative upgrade from similar establishments, but for what it was, everything was executed quite successfully. And while the beer and the atmosphere are certainly not my cup of tea (or bourbon, preferably), I can certainly appreciate them on behalf of those who subscribe to this sports-fan “culture”. Overall, an obviously significant improvement from the old dingy basement sports bar that I once associated with paying $700 for Madonna nosebleeds. Thanks Loose Moose for a fun gab-fest with my sister, an indulgent yet tasty meal, and for shaking up the previously laughable concept of sports bar dining.