Reds Wine Tavern recently underwent a metamorphosis in an attempt to appeal to a crowd outside of the confines of the financial district. With a 2-million dollar renovation and the recruitment of Top Chef Canada favorite Ryan Gallagher from Ruby Watchco, the new Reds promises an upscale yet casual environment to appeal to the Bay street traditionalist and the nomadic foodie alike. One of the highlights of Reds is the availability of over 75 wines by the glass in addition to the over 350 bottles.
I took a chance and asked for the chef’s table via open table with a few days notice knowing the chances were slim to none that I would succeed. However, I found it a bit annoying to not have the request even acknowledged either in advance or when I checked in at the venue. In addition, I had to wait at the front door to be seated since the remainder of my party (2 of 4) had not arrived. They were stuck in a line of traffic on Adelaide which was being diverted around yet another falling glass disaster at the Trump tower two blocks away. We were finally seated at a rather large wooden table in the back corner of the second level overlooking the bar below. I quickly realized we were in for a noisy experience when I heard six or seven guys hollering obnoxiously over a game of table shuffleboard with ties undone and drinks in hand. I felt like I was an extra in a whisky commercial. Well…sort of. Based on the amount of time it took us to receive any sort of service, I could of watched the commercial plus half a sitcom as well. A round of drinks eventually arrived and the food was slowly delivered afterwards.
I must admit I was quite excited for a few menu items at Reds Wine. I’ve often imagined my own ideal restaurant menu and deviled eggs are definitely on the list. Better yet, it was a trio of deviled eggs ($11), each containing all sorts of add-ins such as crispy onion, seafood and even a delicious avacado and tender pea mixture. Based on menus I’ve seen online since, they may be like Cadbury Easter cream eggs; not around all the time but worth it when they are on the shelf.
The triple cooked smoked wings ($15) were braised with duck fat to facilitate a crispiness and flavourful skin while maintaining a tender and juicy flesh underneath. The two house made side sauces (especially the BBQ sauce) were a great match for both the crispy vegetables and the wings themselves.
There was a lack of consensus at the table over whether the chicken pot pie with fois gras gravy ($18) was a must or maybe but I’m writing the blog so I vote must. The pastry was light and baked golden-brown. The filling was brimming with flavour highlighted by the faint but evident taste of fois gras in a very distinct gravy and a array of fresh vegetables and tender chicken. The only issue was the scarcity of the stew compared to the abundant crust which I can forgive in lieu of the tremendous taste.
Another item on my imaginary dream menu is a variety of caesars, so I pleased to see a small variety here. I opted for the charcuterie caesar ($11.50) which is a classic vodka caesar served with cool things like Tabasco barrel-infused tomato-clam juice and housemade hot sauce with a small side bowl of meat, cheese, gherkins and olives. The complete package was fresh and fun but the drink itself was pretty bland. Perhaps a bacon and tomato jam would of helped…
The fish of the day items (around $25) appear to be to the foundation of the menu, likely influenced by Ryan himself. I ordered the grouper but they ran out so it gets no points. I tried the salmon which was moist but under seasoned and lost amongst the abundance of green lentils and apple fennel slaw (the latter was quite tasty). The New Bedford scallops were large , cooked nicely and served on a pleasant fresh carrot puree with smoky bacon and some pistachio pesto. The dish blended well and gets a resounding OK which is more than I can say for missing grouper and bland salmon swimming upstream in lentils.
Three types of mussels were available and we opted for the tavern caesar variety. The broth was top-notch and the mussels were fresh, hearty and flavorful. The $18.50 price is a bit high but they do provide a nice start to a good meal although I’m not sure about the bread sticks.
The dessert menu only offers three choices for $8 each. As a table, we opted for the grasshopper parfait (in a mason jar, of course) and an apple tart. I wouldn’t say it’s must have but it would appease a sweet tooth if you needed the boost.
My vision of an $18 lobster guacamole was a bit different than 15 upright nacho chips stuck in a scarce amount of lobster,a runny guacamole and a blob of sour cream. It’s not that the dish was terrible but if didn’t make me want to throw a flashy new $20 on the table and say thank you.
As mentioned above, the service started poorly and didn’t get a lot better. When we ordered wine to complement the entrees it just didn;t come and otherwise check-ins were infrequent. A chat with a member of the waitstaff afterwards left me even more confused as I was unable to determine from his comments if it was a bad night or if short-staffing is a general philosophy of the restaurant. It seemed both scatter-brained and laissez-faire and soured the overall experience.
The emergence of shows like Top Chef Canada and other food network shows have opened up diner’s eyes to some of the brilliant minds who define cuisine in Toronto and other metropolitan areas. This has allowed a flow of celebrity character into many of the establishments opening up across the country. Richmond Station in Toronto (Carl Heinrich), Sidedoor in Ottawa (JonathanKorecki) and Charcut in Calgary (Connie DeSousa) are all stamped with a hip, youthful flare, open kitchens and sophisticated menu which draws a diversity of clientele. Although the Reds menu synched with my imagination and met the grade, other than his name on the menu, Ryan’s presence seemed absent. The renovation to a relaxed environment has not trickled down to the waitstaff and service mentality. I will say that Reds realized their mistakes and offered a solution which, in the end, was satisfactory to our dinner party.
I was thinking….perhaps dousing the shuffleboard champion with a charcuterie ceasar from 20 feet up would draw in the resounding claps of the Wiser guys to provide a much needed personality boost to an otherwise stuffy environment. If anything, it would appease to the numerous patrons around me who felt like they were witnessing cantankerous behavior inside a glorified frat house….minus the copious and timely alcohol…at least upstairs anyway.