By Anne DesBrisay
I had been meaning to check out Sidedoor’s new lunch service for some time now. Particularly since it is no longer new. But when it first opened for the noon crowd, last December, it was big news for a little time, and it reminded me of memorable lunches at its big brother restaurant, just around the corner.
Restaurant E18hteen used to be my go-to for out of town guests in need of a satisfying lunch in a signature setting. The food (then orchestrated by chef Matthew Carmichael) was of a very high quality, the service was impeccable and the place simply gorgeous.
But E18hteen stopped its noon service a few years ago because nobody came. I think nobody came because lunch was pretty expensive and $$$$ lunches in a government town sobered with austerity were a thing of the past.
These days, the reliably-good downtown restaurants busy at noon tend to offer weekday specials, designed to get you in and out, well fed, and for not much. (Play Food & Wine’s any-two-small-plates-for-twenty-bucks formula comes to mind.)
Sidedoor offers something called its ‘lunch box’. Soup + salad + choice of taco for $14. That’s the box I was planning to tick. But turns out neither the soup (something carrot, if memory serves) nor the salad of the day (greens with a sesame dressing) particularly appealed, and the server (who was a class act) suggested noodles instead. Sidedoor (head chef Jonathan Korecki) makes its own ramen and she assured me the ‘sustainable seafood laksa’ was ‘delightful’.
Laksa is a south east Asian coconut curry noodle dish with serious chilli heat. The day was raw: hot soup seemed just the thing. This one delivered in every way except for the dearth of fire. And possibly for the lack of seafood other than shrimp. If it had been called a coconut curry noodle soup with shrimp, rather than a seafood laksa, I’d be telling you it was pretty near perfect.
The coconut broth had comfortingly complex flavour — rich and herby, sour and sweet — the noodles had bite and taste, and slipped down happily, and the bowl was plump with a generous number of meaty BC prawns (only slightly tinged with iodine) filled in with shredded Chinese cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, and topped with crunchy fried shallots. There was a dribble of red oil on the creamy yellow surface, but it didn’t deliver any detonation. Granted, there was spicy sauce in a white pot on the table, but still, I would have liked a bit more authentic punch from the kitchen.
Still, I enjoyed it. And sitting in comfort in that light filled solarium space surrounded with window and old stone walls, I wished more Market beauties were open for lunch, with prices designed to get bums in booths.
Hours: Open Monday to Friday for lunch and ‘happy hour’; dinner daily; ‘all day happy hour’ on Sunday.
Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar, 20 York St., 613-562-9331.