This past summer saw Bar One — a veritable pioneer of the West Queen West strip — close its doors after 11 years of service to the neighbourhood. But rather than mourn the loss of the one-time forward thinking spot, Toronto's fickle foodies simply look to the future for the proverbial other door.
This time around, the door has a slightly better shot at staying open, since the area has largely dominated Toronto's restaurant and bar industry in the last decade. No surprise then that the new spot to infiltrate the former Bar One space is aptly named Ursa and that the men behind the new establishment are quite established themselves.
Having spent over 13 years in Toronto’s kitchens — from Terroni to Centro to Prime at the Windsor Arms — executive chef and co-owner, Jacob Sharkey Pearce brings with him some heavy culinary artillery: reputation, skill and, perhaps most auspiciously, the silent partnership of Terroni's Cosimo Mammoliti.
In Ursa’s repertoire, however, Italian cuisine is not going to be at the forefront. Mammoliti is strictly a friend with a shared history and a belief in his talent, says Sharkey Pearce.
"We've been close for over a decade," adds the chef. "We've helped each other through various stages of development personally and professionally but there is not any direct association with Terroni."
Instead, the design of the menu is based in part on Sharkey Pearce's Canadian heritage but it also incorporates ideas from a recent business venture with his brother/business partner, Lucas Sharkey Pearce.
"About four years ago we started doing some health and wellness work with a focus on nutrition," says Jacob Sharkey Pearce. "We've worked with many professional athletes here and down in the States to provide them with optimal performance."
But with incredibly popular joints like new entry The County General and trendy Porchetta, the Bellwoods culinary scene is a far cry from health conscious. Still, fashionable as it may be, fried chicken will not be making an appearance on Ursa’s card.
Helmed by former Woodlot sous-chef Robbie Hojilla, Ursa's kitchen composes contemporary Canadian plates with a quiet spin toward nutrition and balance.
“Everything we make will be in-house — from the bread to the cheese — so that we can control all aspects of preparation," says Sharkey Pearce. "So much science goes into the work of chefs without them even realizing that cooking is largely elemental. At Ursa we will be playing with temperature levels, ratios, etc. so that when the customer leaves satisfied, s/he will not also leave sluggish and ready for bed.”
Not to be confused with molecular gastronomy, the science behind Ursa's approach is meant to fade into the background. The menu is built with an intelligent awareness of nutrients and chemistry, concentrating on local prebiotic and probiotic foods, as well as vibrant live foods, whole grains, legumes and vegetables. That said, however methodical the compositions may be, chef Sharkey Pearce promises the food won't read as overly finessed once it reaches the plate.
Though the team behind Ursa seems to be well equipped for the experiment of owning a restaurant, its success heavily depends on a complicated balance of many elements. Whether the new spot is minor or major is a hypothesis only to be proven through the test of time.
924 Queen Street West