Yes, Brad Pitt supped here during TIFF, but it’s the food at Hudson Kitchen that should really leave you starry-eyed.
When Hudson Kitchen opened for dinner (and after-parties) during this past TIFF, the restaurant made plenty of headlines. Unfortunately for chef Robbie Hojilla, the news wasn’t exactly about the food—instead, this Dundas West spot became known as the place that hosted both demigod Brad Pitt and his ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston. Yes, it happened on separate nights, but we’re pretty sure Jen burned an effigy of Angie between courses.
Four months have passed and with the stars long gone, it’s up to Hojilla’s new winter menu to keep diners coming in. On a blustery Tuesday night, the 70-seat restaurant was full of Instagramming young couples and small groups of middle-agers on double dates. Plates of crispy broccoli salad with Serrano ham ($13) and silky tuna crudo ($15) made their way from the red-lit kitchen pass to the candlelit tables. Wine glasses clinked and chairs shuffled to make way for passing parkas. It’s been years since this building has seen so much life.
The corner space had stood empty for nearly two years as the rest of the block welcomed the arrival of new restaurants and shops. “Pretty much every chef I know looked here when they were trying to open a restaurant,” said Hojilla, 31, about the prime location, steps away from culinary destinations like Porchetta and Co. and The Black Hoof. The problem was that the landlord wanted the incoming tenant to take over the entire ground floor, which included a gallery, a café, and Jamie Kennedy’s failed grocery shop. First-time restaurateurs would have trouble affording it, but last winter, in came Borys Chabursky and Vince Antonacci, the owners of King West’s Brassaii restaurant and lounge. They had the finances, but they needed a chef.
Since he began cooking professionally at age 22, Hojilla has quickly ascended the fine-dining ranks. He started under Bruce Woods at the now-closed Centro; worked at Bistro and Bakery Thuet under Marc Thuet, who sent him overseas to study Italian cuisine; and returned to Lucien to learn the molecular side of cooking under Scot Woods. It was there that Hojilla met David Haman and followed him to open the Canadiana-cool Woodlot in 2010. After that, he was off to Ursa, that shrine to foraged finds.
Given his classic French and Italian training, his familiarity with modern Canadian cuisine, and a childhood spent in his Filipino mom’s kitchen (he stole her recipe for chicken adobo), it’s tricky to find one word to describe Hojilla’s menu. “You grow up here and you have friends eating things like oxtail and Chinese food, so I get inspired by all these cuisines,” he said.
A dish that first came to him at Ursa has been realized at Hudson Kitchen: the rye berry salad ($14) with a mix of seared and pickled mushrooms, including cinnamon cap, hen of the woods, honey, king oyster, and shiitake. The vinegar glaze makes the mushrooms’ earthiness pop, and the rye berries (a grain similar to barley) are tossed in a miso-marmite dressing to balance the acidity.
More conventional is the hearty veal pot au feu ($27), with chunks of braised tongue and brisket in a warm broth made from simmering marrow, calf’s foot, and wintery spices like cinnamon and cloves. The meat is buttery and tender, but the dish is worth trying for the broth alone. Those with large appetites should heed their server’s advice and opt for the eight-ounce hanger steak ($28), rubbed in fennel seeds and pollen, then cooked sous vide and seared. The chimichurri sauce dotted on top cuts through the beefy richness. For dessert, Hojilla makes a panna cotta that’s a quintuple almond threat: He infuses almond milk with almond oil, almond paste, and toasted almonds overnight. It’s then layered with grape jelly, almond butter, and sliced grapes, resulting in a grown-up take on the PB&J.
“I don’t want to be the Filipino guy just doing Italian food,” Hojilla said. “I like a mix of everything. The loose concept here is to put a spin on classic dishes and not be like anyone else. It’s good North American food.”
Dishes on Hojilla’s country-crossing menu
Italy: Risotto with mozzarella and pepperoni
China: Almond and grape panna cotta (inspired by almond tofu)
Spain: Omelet with sofrito and crushed potato chips
Philippines: Chicken adobo with charred eggplant and quinoa
France: Veal pot au feu
800 Dundas St. W., 416-644-8839.