We counted them. There are indeed exactly 17 steps down to the charming little eatery called 17 Steps. A sign says, “Home is where Greek people feed you.” Owner Daniel Kanelos is clearly proud of his heritage. But the question is, what do they feed you?
As soon as we are seated, the waiter brings a plate of really good olives and little glasses of Prosecco — a delightful welcome. There’s a tapas menu and given that good tapas is woefully nonexistent in Bloor West, we decide to go with the small plates. Besides, it gives us a chance to see what Chef Remy Turrin can really do. The waiter suggests four or five dishes. We choose six.
To go with our predominantly fishy choices, we ask for glasses of Pinot Grigio ($6 each).
Our first dish, Portuguese pasteis of bacalhau with piri piri aioli ($7), is disappointing. The cod cakes don’t have much flavour but the aioli makes up for this lack in spades. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough aioli for three cod cakes. But things look up from here on.
Our next dish is French — truffle frites ($7). My guest is in raptures over this one, “Who knew you could put blue cheese and truffle oil on French fries?” The combination is earthy, tangy and absolutely spot on. When I run out of steam, she actually finishes every bite — need I say more?
We move on to Mama Effie’s Greek dolmades ($5). Five small stuffed grape leaves are bursting with a gorgeous blend of meat and rice. While they don’t look as elegant as the perfect cigar rolls in some spots, these are, without a doubt, the best dolmades I’ve ever eaten. And my guest chooses this as her favourite dish of the evening.
Here’s a tip: The waiter informs us that Effie is mama Kanelos and she comes in once a week — on Wednesday — to make about 90 orders of these. You have to get there by Friday or they’re all gone.
[attach]4770[/attach]Things keep getting better. We move on to sea scallops with bacon lime vinaigrette ($10). Two large scallops are kissed with just enough flame, not a hint of rubbery overcooking. We both love the lime dressing but I wonder if there isn’t a touch too much bacon. It’s a strong flavour and detracts a little from the delicate scallop. But I admit to being overly finicky here.
A plate of mussels done in a spicy tomato and tarragon sauce ($9) is rich and zesty with a real bite. And we finish with a salad of summer greens with fresh radish ($5). The dressing on a blend of fresh red leaf lettuce, chopped tomatoes and nippy radish slices is light and refreshing. It makes a crisp finish to a fascinating tour of the Mediterranean.
From the dessert menu (everything is $5) I choose lime and mint panna cotta — the unusual flavours put together are what intrigue me. They blend amazingly well in a velvety smooth pudding. My guest chooses cinnamon and allspice semi freddo. Turrin is not afraid of experimenting with different flavours. The result is a frosty dessert that tastes a bit like Christmas cake. Yummy.
We finish with cappuccino ($2.21) for my guest and a decaf Americano ($1.99) for me, both excellent.
Now it will not have escaped your notice that the prices here are remarkably reasonable. Indeed, it’s hard to understand how a restaurant in the heart of Bloor West can manage to be so inexpensive. What isn’t hard to understand is why it’s so full — to the point of being a little noisy. Great food and reasonable prices are a hard-to-beat combination. Mama Effie would be proud.
17 Steps, 2241A Bloor St. West. 647-349-2341. Reservations strongly recommended, especially on weekends.