A colleague of mine asked me a simple question the other day. “Where can I get a good steak in Toronto?”. There seems to be a few answers:
1. A steak house with cuts of beef as pricy as buying half a heifer at an auction not to mention the fact that the creamed spinach is extra.
2. A chain offering AAA cut steak which inevitably ends up being generic like the rest of the menu.
3. A few bistros which pair it with frites and douse it in some kind of butter so they can call it French cuisine.
This got me thinking about my recent visit to Bestellen and why it didn’t come top of mind. The showcase of the rather large dining room is a transparent meat locker housing steaks of all shapes and sizes. One of the features is a $98, 32 oz steak with marrow and sides. Otherwise, they offer a daily cut in the $30 range. Add the fact it’s the brain child of Top Chef contestant Rob Rossi and it sounds like a slam dunk, right?
You can’t go wrong with “buck a shuck” oysters, which were fresh and addictive. Although not served with fancy mignonette, they had the essentials; a lemon wedge, horseradish and a bottle of Tabasco.
The “toad in the hole” was a current spin on a old favorite. The batter had a yorkie lightness which surrounded dense and delicious black pudding. The eggs were a good medium to blend the contrasting textures and flavours. The spattering of scallions added a bit of colour and and freshness.
Opting for the small charcuterie option for $13, I was treated to 3 house-made meats complete with a few pickles, some mustard and some toasted bread drenched in olive oil which was absolutely fantastic. The meats themselves were thinly sliced and cured beautifully. It was a pleasure to eat.
Although a little skimpy on the condiments, the steak tartare was delicious. Half a quail egg and a few jalapenos were nothing more than decorations. The chips were alright but weren’t the tastiest vehicle for scooping the tender meat.
Why do I order deviled eggs in a restaurant? They were tasty enough but not worth 6 buck and shuck oysters (see picture above…with the charcuterie).
The Budino dessert and olive oil cake were reasonably priced at $7 and a good example of Rob Rossi’s Italian heritage although they did not elevate to the level of Lutheran grace. The ice cream was splendid, an apparent reflection of a new machine just installed in the kitchen.
On this particular night, the feature was flank steak for $28. I envisioned a slice of a magical beast taken from the locker adorning the centre of the restaurant. Instead I received a few overcooked slices of tough, overdone meat served on a rather bland puree. Even the presentation was rather lame. It looked a bit like leftovers.
Given it wasn’t a really busy night, the service was rather slow. The wine list is set up by offering $45, $65 and $85 bottles. I opted for a mediocre Pigeoulet Provence at the middle price. The waiter did not seem overly concerned that I didn’t enjoy it, assuring me it was “the type of grape”.
Bestellen is a German named pseudo-steakhouse run by an Italian on the edge of Little Italy. It’s atypically large compared to other eateries in the area, so one can argue it lacks a bit of coziness, especially if it’s not busy. It has a bistro feel in the front, with tall, wooden tables and a window view. Toward the back is an open kitchen with long, communal seating for larger parties. The above mentioned meat locker divides the two concepts.
At the time, the menu offered a spattering of cultures but since, the menu has evolved and now seems to offer at whole lot of Italy, minus the ubiquitous pizza and pasta peppering the rest of College street. The toad in the hole and deviled eggs has disappeared, leaving polenta, octopus and fritto misto on the forefront. A little over a year ago, the Globe and Mail review referred to Bestellen as a steak house. Yes, you can get a $100 steak with all the fixings but the daily cut was disappointing. It’s a bit of a tease that you’re 15 feet away from tenderloins, porterhouses and skirt steaks but have no access to most of the choices on a nightly basis.
I can sum up Bestellen with one word…awkward. Traveling to the suburbs of Little Italy for buck a shuck oysters but questionable service and suboptimal steak leaves me undecided. Maybe delving into a suckling pig or indulging on a full charcuterie plate would make me feel better. As far as recommendations for my colleagues…I suggested the following advice by Buddy Black and Leroy Van Dyke:
Forty-five dollar bidja now, fifty dollar fifty wouldja make it fifty biddle
Onna fifty dolla fifty dolla. Wouldja gimme fifty, wouldja gimme fifty dolla
Bill? I gotta fifty dolla bidja now, five, wouldja biddle onna fifty-five,
Biddle onna fifty-five, fifty-five. Who’s gonna bitta the fifty five dollar
-The Auctioneer (1956)