So, on Tuesday, after spending a very frustrating nine weeks in a cast, my boyfriend finally got the all-clear from his ortho doctor. Since I’d been looking for a good reason to visit The Bicycle Thief, and a gift certificate for the Bertossi group has been burning a serious hole in my pocket, we decided to celebrate the liberation of Kevin’s leg from his lime-green cast in style!
Now, Tuesday is a bit of a strange night to go out for a nice meal (let’s face it, Friday and Saturday evening are the conventional go-to date nights), but we figured we’d head down anyways and hope to enjoy a semi-quiet meal at what is supposed to be quite the happening culinary hotspot.
We arrived at the same time as a pair of dolled-up older ladies who were all smiles and perfume, and obviously were already acquainted with the maitre d’. After deftly taking their coats and escorting them to a table, he returned to greet us. We hadn’t made a reservation (I had assumed a table for two on a Tuesday wouldn’t be an issue, and as it turned out, it wasn’t), and he showed us to a small two-seater near the fireplace.
When we arrived, the dining room was almost half-full, and running at a low hum; there was lots of animated chatter and laughter intermingling with jazzy tunes. By the time we’re finished our meal, there isn’t an empty seat in the room and the low hum has escalated to a healthy buzz. In terms of ambiance and atmosphere, The Bicycle Thief certainly seems to have come up with a formula that is working for them: wine + food + tunes + good company = a great time! They’ve also clearly put a lot of time and effort into their design and aesthetic: the room is riddled with lovely little touches, like the whimsical bicycle thief character etched onto dinnerware, charming photographs and a very cool, quirky chandelier made of etched glassware illuminating the bar.
One thing I wasn’t a fan of: their massive menus. Our little two-seater was overwhelmed with glassware and cumbersome menus, and even after ordering our drinks, we had to ask for the wine list to be taken away, as there simply wasn’t room to keep it for perusing, without risking a glassware catastrophe.
Still, I was happy to trade the menu for the drink itself, a lovely, lively Bicycle Thief Bellini. This concoction is anything but your average bellini — no blended, sugary-sweet cocktails here, my friend! No, this beverage is a blend of Aperol (an Italian apertif), Cointreau and puréed peaches, topped with Prosecco and served with a skewer of fresh blueberries ($10). Kev’s not really a cocktail guy, so he opted for an ice-cold Heineken. We dug into a few slices of their fresh focaccia bread, which was riddled with rosemary and garlic and served with a red pepper hummus, rather than butter or the traditional olive oil and balsamic. I liked this departure; it was something of a “Middle East meets Italy” approach to a very traditional start to a meal.
Now, onto the food: As advertised, The Bicycle Thief’s menu is Italian Soul to a T. Rustic traditional Italian dishes with a contemporary twist, they offer a selection of familiar favourites and the slightly unexpected. We kick off in “First Gear” (a nice themed touch, by the way) with their salumi board, a selection of Italian cured meats — Pancetta, Porchetta, Sopressata, Prosciutto and Bresaola, served with Italian grissini, marinated olives and Giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables), for $12. The presentation is simple, portions generous, and the spread is frankly delicious, a perfect way to whet our appetites. But, I must say I was quite disappointed that the beautiful platter was just plunked down on our table, without any explanation or background. Now, I had done my homework, so I knew that they cure their own meats in the kitchen at The Bicycle Thief, but their wait staff really should make a point of sharing that fact with diners (it earns you some serious bragging rights, in my humble opinion). Also, on a practical level, it’s really nice if people are able to identify what they are eating, especially when sampling an assortment of goodies, so they’re able to pinpoint their favourites! I managed to get our server’s attention and ask him for a quick rundown, but that really should have been done without a special request.
After polishing off our salumi plate, our mains arrived. Kevin, strangely enough, had agonized over his choice, which really isn’t his style, but the menu is fairly extensive. He ended up selecting their filet mignon, which is served with a bordelaise sauce and topped with Cognac-laced garlic butter-roasted half-lobster; $27. Mmmmm… sounds pretty decadent to me! What the filet lacked in size, it made up for in flavour and tenderness, and Kevin made short work of the lobster, which had a nice char on the tail, and came with all of the necessary accoutrements to remove the rich, sweet flesh from the claws and legs. I didn’t manage to steal any, but he assured me between bites that everything was more than satisfactory.
I wasn’t really in the mood for anything overly rich (so most of their stuffed pastas and lasagna were out), and ended up selecting one of two chef’s specials. These were presented on cards at each table, rather than being written on a specials’ board, or recited by the server. I like this no-nonsense approach, because it ensures that everyone is informed of the chef’s creations, without needing to rely on the memory of the wait-staff (hey, we’re all human!)
The fresh papparadelle pasta with sauteed onions, crimini mushrooms and tomato sauce, topped with a basil pesto and buffalo mozzarella ($14), was the perfect choice: the tomato sauce was rich and buttery, and the basil pesto added a fresh element to the profile of the dish. The buffalo mozzarella in the centre was a gooey, creamy treat, as well. A delightfully simple, filling dish.
We perused the dessert menu, but honestly, our appetites were already pretty sated, and it took so long for the server to return to take our order, that we decided to skip it this time ’round. It was a tough call, though, because their pastry chef clearly knows what’s up: the profiteroles filled with espresso gelato and the peanut butter gelato sundae, topped with hot fudge, peanut brittle, and whipped cream, are two dishes that are definitely on my hit list for my next visit!
The Bicycle Thief seems to have nailed two of three key elements required to be a long-term success: great food and an amazing atmosphere. However, I wasn’t wowed by their service. Perhaps we caught them on an off night (they were slammed on a Tuesday, which is slightly odd). Nonetheless, a true fine dining establishment should strive to offer consistent, graceful service under any conditions…
Dinner for two, with drinks but no dessert, came to $105 with tax and tip. Cin cin!