Another addition to the Yonge and Gerrard hotspot is Reds Midtown Tavern; the younger sister of Reds Wine Tavern in the financial district. The decor and set-up is similar. It has a classy interior, boasting a fresh decor and a large bar as the centrepiece. There is less emphasis on wine and more on cocktails and craft beer. The first time I went to Red’s other location, it was shortly after the re-opening when Ryan Gallagher was still at the helm. The menu was heavy on fresh fish and seafood but this concept seems to be on the backburner now in favour of more traditional fare. You can still get a pan-roasted salmon and a cioppino, but the focus now seems to be on a generic mix of favourites such as pan-roasted salmon, steak frites and lamb shank as well as a daily curry hand-crafted by the chef.
For the first little while I felt like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day”. There was a repetitive nature of the evening as per the Bill Murray classic. There was a bit of confusion around the service strategy. As soon as I was seated some crispy potato flatbread arrived. Wrong table. Then a couple of beer came by. Wrong table. Finally, a runner carrying a vat of mussels walked toward me. I just pointed to the adjacent table and said “It’s for them”. In fact, I thought I felt Punxsutawney Phil rub up against my leg once or twice. There has been a surge of bubbly waitresses in Toronto as of late and this was no exception. She arrived happy and informed me without breaking a smile that they were out of the double dip and that “Sri Lankan beef” was the curry of the night. Come to think of it, she did remind me a bit of Andie MacDowell. I put in a drink order and she skipped away. Sure enough, not two minutes later, I think I felt Phil again as another waiter arrived and told me they were out of double dip and the curry was Sri Lankan beef.
The cocktail list leans toward traditional with many priced at $10 or less. I asked for a highland old fashioned which came with scotch instead of one of the other traditional whiskies. An orange slice lined the bottom of the glass, held down by a large ice cube. It was well balanced, tasty and wouldn’t have been disappointed if I had to drink one over and over again.
The second cocktail I tried was another classic; the Negroni. To me, a good Negroni should taste like cough medicine…and not the crappy generic stuff either. I mean extra-strength, cherry flavoured Benylin DM. Red’s hit the mark with a decent $9 offering, made with gin and enough Campari to give it the taste and colour of a real good expectorant.
I’m a sucker for a good New England clam chowder, so I started with a cup of their North Atlantic Seafood for $6. There are a thousand interpretations on this classic dish. I quite enjoyed the flavour although it was thin for a chowder, there was more fish than clams and it was a bit on the sweet side.
Intrigued by the earlier attempt to give me some crispy flatbread, I decided to give it a try. It was an interesting spin on a traditional flatbread, topped with an array of popular flavours like argula, balsamic and whole cloves of roasted garlic. I loved the crunchiness of the “bread”. It was like a huge crouton underneath a standard Mediterranean salad. I was more than content with one or two small pieces and definitely would recommend as something you share.
I decided to venture into Asia and ordered the Thai slaw and the Sri Lankan beef curry, going against my cardinal rule of eating out…”if you’re not in a Thai restuarant don’t order Thai”. Now I can add “if you’re not in a Sri Lankan restaurant, don’t order Sri Lankan”. Neither dish was bad but just lacked that punch of intense South Asian flavours, especially the slaw which was rather boring. At $18.95, I’m convinced I could get a better curry somewhere else for half the price.
The roast chicken was a safer choice. It had all the fundamentals of a good roast chicken..crispy skin, moist meat and a flavourful au jus. What lacked were the sides. There was literally one fingerling potato (cut in half), a few pieces of asparagus and a few mushrooms. For $18.70, I’ll let you decide.
Red’s midtown is a great place to grab a drink after work or meet a buddy for a few apps. It’s fun but also loud and chaotic. They have decent shareables, trendy yet traditional cocktails and a good beer list. I have to say it’s less appealing as a dinner destination given the generic nature of the main courses I sampled. In other words, it’s like a Moxie’s or an Earl’s or a Joey’s. Good atmosphere with average, overpriced food.
I’m reminded of a famous line from groundhog day in a conversation between Bill Murray’s character Phil and MacDowell’s Rita:
Phil: Something is… different.
Rita: Good or bad?
Phil: Anything different is good.
It’s not about whether Red’s is good or bad….it’s just not different.