By definition, a speakeasy is an illegal establishment which housed alcohol during prohibition. Since then, it is often included in the lexicon of terms used to make words like restaurant, drink and food sound cooler. Speakeasy 21 has recently opened in Toronto’s financial district and according to the webiste “is a Resto-Bar serving Contemporary Bistro fare with a large selection of custom crafted cocktails and spirits.” It sounded like an interesting concept so I coaxed a colleague into joining me for dinner.
Any difficulty finding the place among the concrete jungle of Adelaide St. was negated by the loud music which emulated from the smallish confines of the bistro. The tunes were audible from the sidewalk and got louder as we approached the front door. After checking in using my reservation, only remnants of the after work business crowd remained along with a spattering of random people including some creepy guy who sat by himself drinking what looked like diet coke while scoping the crowd. We were seated near creepy guy at a small bar table close to the open kitchen. The waitstaff consisted of a mosiac of men and woman who obviously took various lengths to mimic the retro looks of the 20’s and 30’s. For example, one waitress was sporting the curly blonde locks and make-up reminiscent of Mae West. Others wore the same outfit but looked more like they were attending a Jersey Shore prohibition party.
The music continued pounding which even made ordering difficult. Nonethesless, I started with a libation. Whether you want a martini, a mason jar or a drink on the rocks, it will run you $15.04. I opted for the Brown Derby and the result was a mediocre attempt at this bourbon based drink.
From the menu I started with the Bulgogi taco for $6. My first thought was that this better be a damn good taco, especially if you have the balls to charge me $6 for it. It didn’t live up to the price. It was seasoned nicely but was pretty safe. Although served with house made hot sauce, the small amount of condiments were a bit of a let down.
Next was the foodie mix salad (aka kale and arugula) for $14. It was James Bond at a McDonald’s….tasty and nicely but over dressed. There could have been a few more treasures hidden within the forest of greens although I liked the radish.
The tuna crudo ($14) was seasoned nicely with citrus and heat. It was arguably the best dish of the evening. The grapefruit, jalapeno and coconut atop the buttery fish created a bit of an orchestra in the mouth.
I was interested in the construction of the shrimp and chorizo sandwich so I ordered it. It was a $17 filet-o-fish topped with a hot dog. I don’t know what possessed me to order a sandwich with cheese on top of a formed shrimp patty but it really wasn’t appealing.
Finally, we ordered the butter chicken balls for $14. A bowl of three meatballs arrived swimming in a delicious gravy. I enjoyed the coriander and mango flavours as well.
Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of Boardwalk Empire, but my impression of a speakeasy does not consist of overpriced food and blasting music. Sure the show is set in New Jersey but I don’t think it means that your waitstaff can look and act like Snooky or Bow-Wow (or whatever her name is). The $6 taco, $15 cocktail and $17 dollar sandwich were disappointing. The butter chicken balls and tuna crudo were decent but still priced in the echelon of Steve Buscemi’s pocketbook. This place needs to decide what it wants to be; a retro hangout for overpaid suits with classic cocktails or a loud Moxie’s rip-off with half ass food served by pretty girls . Right now, it’s the latter. Perhaps it should be called Speakloud 21 because it’s the only way you can hear a damn thing.