Note: Some of my pictures mysteriously disappeared from my media card.
About a year ago, the Royal Ontario museum announced Corbin Tomaszeski, best known for appearances on the Food Network’s Dinner Party Wars, as the new executive chef of C5, a lunch spot right in the museum which over looks the Toronto skyline. The space is almost uncomfortably vast and a bit industrial despite attempts to offer an upscale dining experience. The open kitchen is awkwardly placed and seems more institutional than it does inviting. I arrived for my 130 reservation (hours are 11-3) and had to wait 15 minutes to be seated due to what I was told was a busy lunch rush. You cannot see the restaurant from the entrance, so I was surprised (and slightly annoyed) to see the restaurant less than half full when I was finally seated.
Nothing beats a hearty, well-seasoned soup and C5 didn’t disappoint. The chicken soup was served hot, full of vegetables and with a perfectly salted broth fragrant with thyme. It was served with a cheddar biscuit, the first of many examples of the delicious baked goods to come.
The dessert sampler for 2 was a great finish to the meal. It offered four different tastes on one plate: something baked, something chocolate, something fruity and something creamy. In this case it was pumpkin pie with whipped cream, a chocolate fudge square , a fruit cobbler and a custard flan. Each of the desserts were prepared nicely and demonstrated yet another example of a commitment to preserve the fading art of baking from scratch.
The resounding theme of baked goods was evident again with the chicken pot pie. A flaky puff pastry surrounded a hearty bowl of rich chicken stew. The pastry was wonderfully browned and tasty but the filling was underseasoned. I would have liked more thyme or even salt but all I tasted was a bland cream sauce.
The highlight of salmon tart was also the crust. It had a buttery taste but was very light and not t oo overbearing. There were abundant chunks of potato and salmon but, like the pot pie, just seemed to be missing a little something. It was a large portion but just a lot of the same, although I did enjoy the salad.
There was a feature menu featuring food from around the world. I opted for an appetizer dish featuring hummus and a roasted eggplant spread served with not enough pitas. The hummus was unimpressive but the eggplant was nicely spiced and was not mushy like some other eggplant spreads.
I made the mistake of talking myself into ordering the classic frites after seeing them delivered to a few other tables. They were overcooked, served with a less than impressive aioli and hardly worth the 6 bucks.
As mentioned, the service was not impressive. Perhaps it’s set up to appeal to a slow-moving, pretentious subset of the museum-dwelling artisans next door but it won’t appeal to the masses who are looking for efficient service with a smile.
C5 is a decent lunch choice despite the difficulty parking and getting into the restaurant itself (the signage is bad and you need to venture through the museum itself to find the right elevator). The service was a little stuffy and the decor too cold and cavernous which is a bit ironic for an art museum. Some may like the roominess but I felt a bit lost. I wish the open kitchen was more of a highlight but it is relatively inaccessible and unimportant in the scheme of things.
This menu was changed shortly after I went for lunch and the new menu offers a appealing fall/winter menu with dishes including classic dishes such as Sheppard’s pie, poutine, coq au vin and an expanded side collection including a variety of fall vegetables. It looks good enough for another try. There also appears to be an expansion of vegetarian options including corn cakes, flatbreads and dinner salads. I’m just leery that decor and service won’t match the warm appeal of the menu. If this was dinner party wars, it would be decent food and great baking served in a garage by your mother-in-law, but with a really nice view.