By Michael Lowe
The downtown core of St. Catharines is still a work-in-progress but it has already spawned an influx of new eateries vying for diners’ dollars.
One of the recent openings is Krav Fine Grill & Bar, another restaurant hoping the transformation brings more traffic to the city centre.
Krav is a trendy, casual, fine dining restaurant that is looking to compete at the high-end of the spectrum. According to the restaurant web site, the mantra here is fresh and local.
That philosophy also carries over to a wine list featuring some good Niagara selections. The dinner menu features seven appetizers, with prices starting at $9 and going on up to $18. Mains, exclusive of the steak features, are priced from $24-$29. Steaks — from Ontario raised beef — depending on the cut, run you $35-$38. Chef de cuisine Greg Rennet, a grad of the culinary program at George Brown College, runs the kitchen (photos above).
Our first visit is just a couple of weeks after opening. Servers seem a bit nervous but plenty of eyes are on things as the ownership team mans the floor. Our dishes, thanks to the website menu, are ordered quickly. Appetizers of escargot and a salad of mixed organic greens are a fine start. Both dishes are nice compositions — textures, harmonious flavours are all tastefully presented.
Ingredients are good quality and very fresh. We select entrées of fettuccine with lobster, mussels and shrimp and braised beef cheek with sunchoke risotto (photos below).
The fettuccine is a near perfect dish — perfectly cooked pasta, well developed flavours in the rich sauce and big pieces of tender seafood. The risotto, however, scored lower in the taste profile. I found the risotto slightly watery which diluted the expected richness of the beef. There is a garnish of foie gras, which helps to compensate somewhat. I did like the concept of the dish, and any shortcoming can be easily rectified with a little care as the kitchen hits its stride.
During the first visit to Krav, I noticed the chef keeping an eye on the dining room. Nothing odd about that, I thought — the place wasn’t very busy at the time. But there was something familiar about him. After dinner, when I asked to see the kitchen, chef welcomed me with a friendly, “Hello Mike.”
It turned out that I had tasted Chef Greg Rennet’s food once before at another restaurant. He was new there at the time and, after a multi-course meal of exceptional quality and delicious flavours, I recall urging the owner to keep this guy in the kitchen. He didn’t — his loss is Krav’s gain.
A couple of months later we return to sample other dishes and check on the progress. This time starters are classic Caesar salad and house-made gnocchi with braised beef short ribs and gorgonzola cream (photos above).
The salad is a great rendition, not straying from the traditional in any sense, and constructed using excellent, fresh components. If you like gnocchi, Krav’s are soft, light pillows of delight. The complexity of the sauce and depth of flavour are perfectly balanced and seasoned — a winning dish.
Mains consist of sea scallops with pork belly and braised rabbit with fettuccine (photos above). Both dishes showcase the main stars on the plate with the other ingredients serving as complementary, supporting actors. It was hard to fault either dish — texture, colour, seasoning and integration of flavours all work together to express the chef’s style. Service is prompt and attentive and some of the nerves since the first visit have disappeared.
Opening a fine dining restaurant on St. Paul Street may seem like a long shot to some. Indeed, the area has had its ups and downs, and many are skeptical about its future. But there are some positive signs — new restaurants have opened, we have new entertainment and sports venues, and street beautification work is underway.
How many fine dining restaurants can downtown support? No one has that answer. I think Krav has the potential to survive, if they can hold on long enough for the growth in downtown to pay off.
Krav Fine Grill & Bar
259 St. Paul St., East