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Foodie Friday: Jill Zmud and Alan Neal enjoy a hot date at The Rex

By Apartment613 on April 18, 2014

Throughout the year, Apt613 is partnering with the National Arts Centre to bring you restaurant reviews by musicians who are part of the  all-Canadian NAC Presents concert series. A couple of weeks ago, we sent a very pregnant Jill Zmud with hubby Alan Neal out to review The Rex, a small homie restaurant off the main drag in Little Italy.

JILL:  First of all, let’s just say what excellent timing Apt613 and the National Arts Centre had in giving us this assignment.

ALAN: It’s like our last hot date before the baby comes.

JILL: Well, we don’t know that.

ALAN: Okay, fair enough. One of many hot dates before the baby comes.

JILL: Ha! I didn’t say that either. But we’re almost at 40 weeks now.

ALAN: So it was amazing to have this opportunity to go out at a time when there was so much preparing for the baby, in the midst of a home renovation, and of course you finishing your album on deadline…

JILL: A lot going on. So when Apt613 said ‘can you review The Rex’, and we found out that we had to go on a Friday…

ALAN …Because they’re only open on Friday and Saturday for dinner. The rest of the time it’s lunch.

JILL: Right. And you can’t leave CBC to go for lunch in the middle of the day. But, let’s just say going out on a Friday and having neither of us cook was very exciting. Except…  should I describe my outfit for going to The Rex?

ALAN: You should.

JILL: When Alan came to pick me up at home after work for our date at The Rex, I was in the hallway trying to find a pair of boots that would fit over my very pregnant feet that look like roast beef slabs right now, in a pair of leggings that were like the only things I’m fitting into these days, leggings that were covered in pug hair…

ALAN: …from our pug. That’s not like an intentional fashion thing.

JILL: Yes. I was so breathless trying to get rubber boots on (which didn’t end up fitting me anyway) that I didn’t even have the energy to roll the pug hair off my leggings.

ALAN: You looked great. Hot mama.

JILL: But as we were headed over I was suddenly frazzled, out of breath and thinking “Great, what if The Rex is super fancy or something?”  So I was very relieved when we walked in that it had a pretty casual, relaxed and cozy vibe.

ALAN: It is casual, but you still feel like you’re going somewhere special… it’s welcoming though and unpretentious. Friendly, well-lit…

JILL: But not well-lit enough that people can see the pug hair on your leggings.

ALAN: Right. It’s in a small house off Rochester, on Adeline, and it almost feels like you’re showing up in someone’s home, if they had really amazing taste in furniture and lighting and a well-stocked bar when you first walk in and the bistro-style chalkboard hanging over the bar…

JILL: Well, when you first walk in there’s the main room. Which was a little loud because there was a huge party at the main harvest table. But what’s great is the way the place is divided, they sat us in the backroom where there were more tables for two’s.

ALAN: The Hot Date area.

JILL: That’s us. Hot Date, roast beef feet and leggings with pug hair. But it was more romantique. Candlelight and all.

ALAN: And the sound from the front didn’t travel to the back… except there was that weird thing with the music…

JILL: You’re not going to bring this up in the review, are you?

ALAN: Well, it wasn’t a big deal.

JILL: It wasn’t an anything. I didn’t even hear it.

ALAN: It was just there was a song playing on the sound system, and we were under the speaker, and then I could hear this other song playing…

JILL: Which I still never heard.

ALAN: And so I thought two different songs were playing in the restaurant. Which could get annoying after a while. But then I checked with one of the servers and he said he thought it was maybe the music from the kitchen that we’d been hearing.

JILL: There is no “we” in that statement. You are the only one who heard the alleged double music playing.

ALAN:  All right. So I hallucinated music. In any case, it’s not the kind of place where you’re yelling over loud music to be heard, but there’s enough of a soundtrack so no one has to be self-conscious. It’s a little bistro where they put effort and care into presentation without making you feel like you have to be part of the presentation. What do you think of that description?

JILL:  I think at some point we should get to the food here.

ALAN: Right. Well, first there were drinks. We had a great server, Angele… who was fun and engaging and knew her stuff.

JILL:  And Angele, I want to note, waited until I mentioned I was pregnant to say ‘congratulations’, which is much appreciated, and then made a great drink suggestion for me, the Harvey and Vern’s Old Fashioned Root Beer, which was tasty, even though you’re looking at a fantastic drink menu full of other things you’d like to be having.

ALAN: An impressive beer selection too: Beyond The Pale, Beau’s, Hogsback,…but I always want to try a beer I haven’t had before, so Angele wisely recommended Goose Island Sophie (it’s spelled with a “ph” on the menu, but I think it’s “Sofie” on the bottle), a Chicago citrusy Belgiany beer which I hadn’t had elsewhere.  Great pick thanks to her.

JILL: Did you just say Belgiany?

ALAN: I did.

JILL: All right. And then it was time to pick food, and I have never been so grateful for there being so few options.

ALAN Yeah, this is a menu where you’ve got two choices for apps, two choices for mains, and two choices for dessert. Nice and simple. I respect that.

JILL: And at this stage of pregnancy, keeping it simple was such a lovely thing. So for the app, I picked the Caramelized Onion Soup with Balderson Cheddar and grilled herb and garlic croutons. It was very comforting on a chilly night (read: melty cheese was my favourite part). The broth was tasty though I was craving something a touch saltier (which could be the Baby talking).

ALAN: And I had the crispy fried triple cream brie with arugula, cranberry and red wine chutney. I don’t think you’re going to go wrong with anything that says “triple cream brie”, so you know what you’re getting into. It was rich and runny… more than I had expected, actually but the golden buttery sauce poured out on to your plate, and the tangy chutney balanced that off beautifully. Delish.

JILL: And then even though Angele had recommended we each do something different for each course…

ALAN: We both needed to have the steak. The other option was rabbit and sausage with carrots and brussel sprouts, which also looked great, but it was a steak night.

JILL: And steak did not disappoint. I had to have mine well done, because of the Baby inside me, and that meat was well done to perfection. It had tons of flavour and was one of the best steaks I’ve had in a really long time (and that’s coming from a prairie girl).

ALAN And mine was medium rare… and it was truly tasty, juicy and flawlessly cooked. What really made it sing was the sides: the Yukon gold potato frites, the sautéed oyster mushrooms, leeks and baby spinach. The oyster mushrooms in particular were used in just the right amount, because it’s a tricky texture to work in a plate as it can overpower all else, not in taste but in feel.

JILL: And the garlic aioli was creamy and perfect for dipping those shoestring potato frites. I think I even stole some of your aioli from your plate.

ALAN :  In a shocking twist, yes. And then there was dessert.

JILL And a girl has to have crème brulée… in this case on a dark chocolate shortbread cookie. It had a hint of coffee in it and was a perfect balance between creamy and sweet. Also, I really enjoyed cracking the sugary top with my spoon. It was the perfect amount of crunchiness (because no one wants a flaccid crème brulée top).

ALAN: And I got the poached pear tarte tatin  (that’s a lot of alliteration) with caramel and vanilla ice cream. This was a delicious finish to the night too. It didn’t flake as easily as I’d expected… you kind of had to eat the whole thing in a few bites because it didn’t cut apart on your plate, or the pear part came off it, but that’s kind of quibbling when it tasted so good.

JILL: And the damage was $35 per person plus drinks. Which was pretty reasonable for what we got.

ALAN: Completely! I would absolutely return to The Rex. For one thing, our server Angele was right on cue with asking how things were. We felt paid attention to without feeling over-monitored, and she was listening to us as well. The food was great, and the portions were generous, and I tend to eat a lot when I love the food.

JILL: As do I these days.

ALAN: It’s great to see these new places opening up and doing things their own way and on their own terms. So I think The Rex would be a welcome choice any time.

JILL: For our next hot date.

ALAN: New parents have them all the time, right?

The Rex is located at 40 Adeline Street. They are open for lunch, Monday – Friday from 11am – 2pm, and for dinner on Friday and Saturday from 5:30 – 10:00pm. For reservations, please call 613-695-9739. Jill Zmud is at the NAC on May 23 at 7:30. Tickets can be purchased online.