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The WIndup Bird Cafe - Much More Than Just a Restaurant

After taking The Kid to his high school for afternoon parent teacher meetings, I left the east end and ventured back out to attend the media launch for The Windup Bird Cafe at 382 College St, just west of Caplansky's. Even though this area of the city is my old stomping grounds, I couldn't picture where the restaurant was in my head and as I walked up to it, I almost walked right by. I realized that I could not, for the life of me, recall what had been in the space previously. All I knew was that whatever resided at this address before was NEVER this bright, cheerful and warm. Once inside, my table mates and I wracked our brains in an attempt to recall any of the actual businesses that might have occupied this spot and all we could remember were fuzzy recollections of sketchy coffee shops and eateries of unknown origin. This place is something new and fresh, more than just a place to grab a bite and I am looking forward to watching where they take it over time. 

Owner, Sang Kim, is no stranger to the restaurant world. He brought us restaurants like Blowfish, Ki and more recently, Yakatori Bar on Baldwin and it's take out stand in the back, Seoul Food. He also just happens to be an award winning writer and playwright and at this new venue, he is going to fuse those two worlds as he and chef Yumiko Kobayashi attempt to not only feed us, but to educate us. They want tot each people how to grow, cook and share nourishment for not only the body but for the soul. The very name of the cafe is an homage to The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, a book written by Japanese author, Haruki Murakami.
Those are some pretty lofty aspirations.

I will say that after spending an evening getting a taste of what they have in store, I drank the koolaid and I am kind of expecting them to succeed. The first thing I noticed upon entry, apart from the bright, cheery space itself, was the music. A trio was playing classical music that was not intrusive but didn't disappear either. I have to tell you, as much as I love music, I am kind of getting tired of not being able to hear myself think, never mind my dinner companion talking, when I am out having a meal. There are places that serve food we really love but that we actively avoid because poor Shack can't deal with the blaring music. At the Windup Bird, Kim plans to give a revolving group of UofT music students a place to play and do their thing and I am down with that. 
big kids sharing their stuff with little kids is near and dear to my cold, dark heart

One of the most charming programs he has come up with is called Kid-Chen where older kids will teach younger kids how to cook. Toronto's ProTeen Queen, a 15 year old - sorry almost 16 year old- blogger, Leah Honiball, was on hand to teach Chef Yumiko's daughter, Kiki, how to make tofu burgers. As a hard core Montessori parent, I can't tell you how much I love seeing older kids mentor younger kids so I am all over this idea and I hope that neighbourhood families will get on board.

Kim also introduced a chef/cuisine series he is calling Cook Slash Book where he will interview a writer while the writer cooks his/her favourite dish. The restaurant will then create a three course meal around that dish and serve it to the guests in attendance. As a writer/chef himself, this is clearly something that means a lot to him and watching him interview writer, Joyce Wayne while she made her favourite mango cheesecake, was very endearing and engaging.

There are future plans for a community garden on their huge patio this spring  and many other fun community based projects on the horizon. I am only sad that, once again, this is happening far from my beaches home.  It sort of feels a bit like The Depanneur with the same community mindedness, the sharing of food and of ideas etc but the space itself is much more refined and really very pretty. 

Chef Yumiko Kobayashi helps teen blogger,  Pro Teen Queen, prep for her cooking demo

Kim said he had grown tired of the all male kitchen stadium environment and so for this place, he has decided to surround himself only with women, from the kitchen to the front of house and the place really does feel like a serene port in the storm where you can just relax, have some great food and learn something new. Honestly, I left there feeling almost like I wanted to wrap my arms around everyone and give them all a big group hug which, if you know me, is actually ridiculous because I am not a group hug kind of gal. They have that effect on you though.

Walter Caesar was there serving what they are calling a Umami Caesar featuring, obviously, Walter Caesar mix but with the addition of a new to me, magical ingredient called "Umami Bitters". If you are looking to get me the perfect gift, find me these bitters and I will love you forever. When I said I drank the koolaid, by koolaid I mean the Umami Caesars.

I had sampled Kobayashi's signature dish, a vegan tofu-avocado gratin, at Recipe for Change and it was this dish that intrigued me enough to want to venture out to the west end to see what was going on. I don't usually gravitate towards vegan food because almost everything I enjoy eating has some element of meat/meat broth/cheese/butter/dairy to it and apart from salads, I don't think I would make a very good vegan at all. I tried this gratin out of politeness, expecting to put it down after that bite but I surprised myself by polishing off the whole bowl.

asian style ceviche featuring one tender ring of squid, one shrimp and one succulent scallop 
The same gratin was Chef Kobayashi's vegan offering this night but we also had a really nice little asian ceviche and a totally delicious lamb chop in a jar. As tired as I am of dessert in a jar, I am now all about meat in a jar. One perfectly cooked lamb chop perched atop a little mound of mustardy watercress and a couple of paper thin slices of green apple.
You could actually hear all of the moans and groans in a room full of jaded food bloggers and journalists as we attempted to scrape every last morsel of meat off of the bone so if you are not vegan, you will still find something to take you to your happy place.

The menu will never be set in stone, instead revolving around what is seasonally available - her official stance that she takes the  "as-much-as-possible approach to her locally sourced international cuisine"
They do brunch on the weekend, and lunch and dinner service during the week and I look forward to stopping by for more food and maybe a group hug.

Windup  Bird Cafe
382 College St
Toronto, Ontario

closed Monday
Tuesday to Friday 11am to 10pm
Saturday 10am to 10pm (brunch, dinner)
Sunday 10am to 3pm (brunch only)

Windup Bird Cafe on Urbanspoon

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