Bruce Woods brings Canadian ingredients, Italian technique, and a whole lot of duck to a restaurant that’s all his own.
Chef Bruce Woods’s first stab at restaurant ownership—the appropriately named Woods Restaurant, which opened in the former Colborne Lane space this May—is not quite the room’s return to fine dining. All right, the chiffon-thin venison carpaccio comes arranged in a grid of nine and delicately dotted with corn nuts like a game of tic-tac-toe. And, sure, the tuna tartar arrives with an ultra-luxurious-sounding dollop of saffron-apple purée. But this is also an 80-seat place where you’ll see someone eat spaghetti and meatballs ($22) at the bar, down a $10 Manhattan or Caesar, and split the rotund, juicy bison burger and fries ($20), where the six-ounce patty is bigger than the bun. Having spent 15 years running kitchens that walk the line between upscale and mass appeal (Centro, Modus, Brassaii), the 40-year-old Woods was pretty comfortable applying that vision to his own place.
“The Italian thing is to take a few ingredients and let them speak for themselves,” says Woods, who cooked his way through Italy after finishing chef school and landed his first executive-chef gig at Yorkville’s Il Posto at the age of 25. “I think my cooking style is that: clean, elegant, and with [chef de cuisine] Anthony Davis’s help, there’s a lot more attention to sourcing products”—they’ve got a forager in the Kawarthas—“and not having to manipulate them too much.”
The two chefs had never worked together, but they shared a sense of restlessness: At Modus Ristorante, Woods was looking for a new challenge, and Davis, then at Sidecar Bar and Grill, wanted to do something more refined, having previously cooked at the now-closed Perigee, known for its posh plates. After being introduced by a mutual restaurant friend in November, the pair set to work on a menu, finalized two weeks before opening. (Davis also showed Woods the benefits of using a sous-vide machine to ensure a medium-rare burger.)
The resulting dishes rely heavily on Canadian ingredients, like three luscious wild Digby scallops resting atop a creamy parsnip purée and little cubes of beef cheeks in a sweet maple mustard vinaigrette with roasted garlic ($17). There’s also the equally popular big, buttery lobe of seared foie gras on silky purple potato, accented with crispy duck confit ($19). A main of roasted pink Muscovy duck breast ($28) from Everspring Farms in London comes piled on top of crunchy sourdough croutons cooked in duck fat and foie gras, along with duck confit and a duck egg cooked in (of course) duck fat. For dessert, there’s duck. Kidding: It’s a velvety, warm chocolate brownie ($11) with white-chocolate ice cream and candied ginger to add some spice to the sweet.
The food is a departure from the kitchen’s previous occupant, chef Claudio Aprile, whose Colborne Lane popularized avant-garde cooking (liquid nitrogen ice cream, olive oil candy) when it opened in 2006. “My wife thought I was crazy when I took over the space, because it’s in the shadows of what Claudio has done here, which was something really special for the city,” says Woods. “Not many people looked at it. It could be one of those things where they didn’t see how the space would work for them or didn’t want to be the guy to step in after him.”
Given his culinary cred, Woods shrugs off the pressure, saying he’d be more worried if his food was closer to Aprile’s. In fact, he’s feeling nothing but confidence about making the restaurant work—which might explain why he inked a five-year lease.
45 Colborne St., 416-214-9918.