Don’t go to Fidel Gastro aka the King of the Pop-Up aka Matt Basile’s new restaurant, Lisa Marie. You wouldn’t like it. The food is robust and rich, and a total bargain. But you wouldn’t like it. The cocktail list is refreshing, and starts where any good cocktail menu should – with premium spirits. But you wouldn’t like it. And the service is friendly and attentive and just slightly quirky. Again, you wouldn’t like it.
Alright, so maybe I’m simply trying to deter the inevitable ’round the block lineups that will ensue once Lisa Marie opens in the coming days. Selfish, perhaps. But after trying out such addictive dishes like perfect pork belly atop a melted cheese crisp, a deep-fried cheeseburger with fried quail egg, and pastrami and cured sardine sitting prettily on a potato latke, can you blame me…?
On Sunday night, Nicki and I headed over to a li’l preview of the new resto/bar/retail concept from the mind of Fidel Gastro himself. Operating almost as a new headquarters for his blossoming food empire, Lisa Marie is the perfect mix of trendy yet functional – with high-top wood tables, corrugated steel paneling, industrial lighting, black walls. (And yes, you’ll even find it a bit of an homage to the King of Rock n’ Roll, from the restaurant’s name to the Elvis bust watching the action from the bar.) To the back you’ll find a makeshift market with house-made sauces, house-pickled everything, marinated meats, soups, and soon, Fidel Gastro’s famous sandwiches.
To execute the vision for Lisa Marie, Matt Basile tapped Chef Kris Topping (formerly of McEwan Group restaurant Fabbrica) to help run the kitchen and work on the whimsically decadent menu.
And what a menu it is. For a former fat kid such as myself, the food pumping out of the kitchen is the stuff of adolescent wet dreams. Alabama Tailgaters see beef carpaccio, cilantro, a little aged cheddar, and some house-made kimchi being bundled up by bacon. While chicken wings are always a favourite, at Lisa Marie they’re prehistoric in size thanks to the sub-in of massive turkey wings the size of one’s forearm in lieu of the itty bitty bites chicken wings afford. (And they’re saucy as all hell, to boot!)
One of the most sought after dishes will undoubtedly be the Mozzarella and Marrow Sangweech, comprised of Buffalo mozza and roasted bone marrow sandwiched between two slices of focaccia bread that’s deep fried and served with a lemon wedge to add some acidity to the stupidly rich plate.
The earlier mentioned Pork Belly Cheese Thang really needs no explanation (though I’ll give you one anyways). It’s smoked pork belly resting with some cilantro cherry tomato salsa on a malleable disc of melted Havarti cheese. In a city stunned by the taco revolution, this has to be one of the most inventive twists out there.
There was also the Short Rib Polenta Patty that sees beer braised short rib on a smoked tomato and Parmesan charred polenta cake. We tried our best to scoff this down before the massive meatball hanging out on some deep-fried pizza dough showed up – the closest derivations of Fidel Gastro’s beginnings we tried Sunday evening.
And, finally, to show a flex in the menu, there were the Fresh Tuna Puttanesca Rolls that were better than any fresh salad roll to pass my lips thus far. The puttanesca-marinated ahi tuna is rolled in rice paper with bean sprouts, red pepper, purple cabbage, carrot, basil and cilantro – kind of an Italy meets Japan one-bite-wonder. It’s fresh and vibrant and tangy thanks to a sweet and sour mango sauce. This one’s for the ladies…
While we sat at the bar and slowly felt the tension on our pants’ buttons increase, we were also treated to some exceptional cocktails shaken and stirred up by bartender Mitchell Stern. The Aperol Spritz started us off before the Malocchio Sour graced us with lemon-tinged rum. And then the Testa Dura arrived to dole out some subdued sweetness.
Lisa Marie is set to open up on Friday… but you shouldn’t go. There will be lineups; patrons will be jovial; food porn will reach epidemic levels thanks to Twitter and Instagram; and anyone who’s yet to embrace the dogma of Fidel Gastro‘s food will be converted in public revery.
But mark my words… you wouldn’t like it.
Lisa Marie will be open for dinner during its launch, but will be adding lunch and brunch hours in the coming weeks. We’ve also been informed that some tables will indeed be made available for reservations. Lisa Marie is located at 638 Queen Street West.