Seared Tuna, Apple Cider & Gingerbread Men Wreaths – A Wintery Weekend Lunch at Bannock

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When I think of winter and the holiday season, I think of Christmas, yes, but I also think of the ultimate cozy, winter comfort scene: gingerbread and spices, snow, Christmas greenery, hot drinks, and a comforting plate of food, all in a warm and peaceful ski house.  A place where you can sit back and relax and watch the snow gently fall outside a window, all the while noshing on good eats.  Bannock, located at the corner of Queen and Bay Street on the ground floor of the city’s iconic Hudson’s Bay Company flagship store, may not be a ski house, but it does offer us foodies everything cozy and comforting in a wine bar, bistro type of atmosphere.  Think warm woods and browns, rustic accents, and a wine rack to boot!  I love the window seats that look out onto Queen West and I’m smitten with their seasonal holiday decorations: ice cream and candy cane trees, and gingerbread man wreaths!

Bannock is part of what I call the Oliver & Bonacini restaurant collection.  Partners Michael Bonacini and Peter Oliver have been putting their culinary, business, and restaurant management expertise to work for over 20 years, opening 8 different restaurants, each with a different look, feel, and menu.  Oliver & Bonacini restaurants have a little bit of French, some Italian, some Parisian, and some classic northern Canadian among a number of other cuisines.  One thing each and every O&B dining establishment has in common though is the intent of making every dining experience a fine dining one, even the most casual eateries!

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Bannock falls under O&B’s ‘Canadian comfort food’ umbrella.  Aside from the food and menu itself, its Canadian connection?  Bannock’s name.  Bannock, as a food, is a type of flat, biscuit-type quick bread common in Aboriginal and Inuit cuisine and this type of bread is incorporated into a number of Bannock’s dishes including their sandwiches, pizzas, and garlic and herb bannock appetizer.  The unique thing about Bannock is its dine-in and take-out components.  It fuses both the casual and fine dining experiences together under one roof.  On one side you can hop in during your busy lunch hour and grab a sweet treat, a sandwich on artisan bread, or a soup or salad (or some of everything!), or sit down for a quick drink with a book or newspaper.  On the other side, you can relax with a glass of wine and enjoy fresh fish, hearty meat dishes, grain salads and more with twinkling lights sparkling above you.

In order for an eatery to live up to its promise of Canadian comfort food, it obviously has to demonstrate this through its dishes and menu selection.  Bannock offers Monforte dairy and Canadian cheeses, Atlantic fish, Ontario venison, Alberta ground brisket, west coast tuna and more and goodness is their menu ever delightful!  My boyfriend and I counted at LEAST ten menu items that we wanted to try and come back for the next time around.  And that time after that.  And then the time after that.  I can tell we’ll be eating here a lot over the next year or two.  On my Bannock wishlist: mac and cheese with wilted spinach; crooked spinach salad with taro sticks, mixed pickles, and goat feta; salt cod donuts; Atlantic haddock and shrimp cake with chips and dill pickle tartar, vegetable cobb with avocado, barley, deviled egg, thunder oak gouda, and living sprouts; tofurkey scallopini with mozzarella, roasted garlic, squash mostarda (an Italian condiment that comes in the form of mustard married with syrup) and quinoa; and biff’s fried bologna and eggs with bannock, smoky tomato, and duck fat potatoes.  Prices come in at around $13-$22 for mains with most ringing in at $14-$16

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And this is just their lunch and dinner menu – they have a Sunday brunch service!  BRING IT ON.

Despite all the menu items I wanted to stuff my face in, I had to choose one so I chose Bannock’s seared BC albacore tuna ($19) with wax beans, smashed fingerling potatoes, root crudités (whole, small vegetables), and bagna cauda, a warm dip that is typically served with the vegetables and that is made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter.  Oh!  And fresh apple cider ($5) with a cinnamon stick!  I am so, SO in love with their apple cider.  I love apple cider but it’s tricky to get that perfect balance of sweetness, warmth, and  fruitiness without the overpowering acidic tang and sourness from the apple.  Either that or that slightly rubbery taste you get when you drink apple or grape juice.  Their apple cider is perfect though.  It didn’t make me pucker and it was just really crisp and refreshing in a warm and cozy kind of way!

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And the tuna is delicious!  There were five thick pieces of tuna (like little tuna steaks) and they were so fresh and meaty.  What I really loved about it, aside from the smooth texture, was the tiny bit of fat on each piece.  It made it that much more savoury and soft and flavourful.  I was also a really big fan of the smashed fingerlings (they were really flattened which was really cute!) and the bagna cauda sauce that I used for the tuna, cauliflower crudités and potatoes.  I’m a huge fan of beans and I love it when I get both green and yellow ones, so I was a happy camper in that department; the only thing I wish was different was more beans!  That and maybe some more fingerlings.  But truly, I was full afterward and was really satisfied with my meal and how everything complemented each other.  The vegetables cut through the meatiness of the tuna while the tuna itself gave the whole dish its heartiness.

There’s so much to try here at Bannock and there’s so much to love!  It’s right across the street from the Eaton Centre, they serve Sunday brunch, and there’s about half a menu waiting for me every other day.  You know I’ll be back.

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*****

Bannock is located at 401 Bay Street at the corner of Bay and Queen Street West, on the ground floor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  It is located across the street from Old City Hall and the Eaton Centre and is open for 7 days a week.  Their grab-and-go coffee shop hours are 7:30am-8pm Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm on Saturday, and 9am-4pm on Sundays.  Their dining room hours are as follows: 11:30am-10pm Monday to Friday, 11am-10pm on Saturdays, and 11am-4pm for Sunday brunch service.