Foreplay with Eric Wood even though Susur Lee thinks he’s “Chopped” liver

I went to the Beverley hotel yet again for lunch with a colleague. I was going to blog it right away until I heard that chef Eric Wood was going to be on Chopped Canada.  I figure I’d wait to see if I could boast that I dined at the restaurant of a Chopped champion.

Ironically enough was the fact that Wood was taking on Bryan Birch from Barque, another place I managed to hit in the last year.  With two very different styles and figured it would come down to the ingredients and the moods of the judges. What I didn’t expect is how moody they could be…

I’ve reviewed the Beverley twice already. I like it because it’s relatively quiet, has a nice ambiance, takes reservations and has a menu that can appeal to the masses.  I started with the Butternut and Tarro salad.  I enjoyed the balance of the sweetness of the squash and dates with the flirt of acid in the dressing.  The tarro and beans offered a great textural contrast and an earthiness to this unique salad.

Butternut and Farro Salad $9
Butternut and Farro Salad $9

Eric Wood is know for his 4 play; a structural sound square meal; a snapshot of his id and ego on any given day.  Typically, it’s an appetizer, salad, main and dessert.  On this particular day, it was shrimp and mussels in a coconut broth, a sage and sunchoke gnocchi, an heirloom tomato salad with pressed ricotta and a sea buckthorn cheesecake with grape jelly.  Foreplay like this makes me want to put out.  The shrimp were delicious and were cooked to perfection.  The gnocchi was nicely caramelized and was far from boring. Although I’m not a huge tomato fan, the cheese compensated  and I really liked the dressing.  The dessert hit the spot as well although it was a little sweeter than expected.  I wanted to be totally overcome by the delicious tartness of the fruit especially in the midst of the super sweet jelly.

4 Play lunch $16
4 Play lunch $16

My Take

Chopped Canada is a double edged sword.  In one sense it can assign subjective culinary supremacy to any of a number  of aspiring and established chefs.  On the other hand it can be a shot to the ego and reputation if one were to lose.

Eric Wood’s appearance on Chopped Canada was consistent with his restaurant philosophy: respect for ingredients  highlighted with bold flavours. Despite this, Susur Lee couldn’t see the forest (in particular morel) mushrooms through the peas.  From the minute Eric missed the infamous snack cake on the plate, Susur had it out for him.  Perhaps it was some kind of king vs queen street rivalry or maybe a textbook  example of workplace bullying, but it struck me as odd.  After sulking about the snack cake, Susur went off on Eric’s blue rare duck, his accusations of making excuses, missing tahini, roasted morels that had the texture of leather and the inappropriate use of cardamom dust with key lime pie. Meanwhile, he turned a relative blind eye to things like overcooked salmon offered by other competitors.

Three’s a charm at the Beverley. In a sense, it has become my go to for a reliable place with a relevant and diverse menu in a beckoning environment.  In particular, the 4 play is a fun spin on a lunch special, featuring the freshest ingredients used to construct  a tongue-tickling portrait of a complete meal. There is a wide diversity of appetizers including the tasty butternut and farro salad.  Perhaps chef Lee should drop by the Beverley hotel for a little 4 play and if  he’s still grumpy after that, maybe he should just get Bent.

Review:Toronto:Entertainment District:Beverley Hotel

There has been much anticipation over the opening of The Beverley, a boutique hotel on Queen just west of university,   Ever since leaving Hawthorne earlier in the year, Chef Eric Wood’s twitter account has counted down to the opening of the inn which features a restaurant and rooftop patio.  I decided to give it a whirl despite the fact it still seems to be in the soft opening phase.

I was greeted outside by a smiling young lady who asked if I wanted some lunch.  It was a little later in the day so seating was ample.  I was seated at a shaky table adjacent to the bar.  Almost immediately a friendly waitress dressed in black came by and asked me if I wanted a drink. There are choices from a snug list of new and traditional cocktails featuring no alcohol in particular.  There’s cognac, bourbon, rye, gin, vodka, tequila, rum and pimm’s. There’s even sangria. I went “Old School” with a Pimm’s cup 335 selling, like most of the other cocktails on the menu, for $12.  It was well done. As I was sipping away, it was apparent I was crashing  a meeting with many of the hotel’s stakeholders (no worries, I had no inclination to listen in and heard nothing other than the occasional bellow of laughter).  Shortly after, one of the gents got up and walked toward me in the bar area.  For a second I pictured a scene from the Sopranos and figured he may throw me out ass over tea kettle.  Well….not really. Instead, he gave me one of those “uncle Fred at Christmas” shots in the arm and said “get the burger”.  Shortly after well…I ordered the burger.

Pimm's Cup #335 $12
Pimm’s Cup #335 $12

Before the burger, however, I ordered the caesar salad which is something I rarely do. What intrigued me, however, was the fact it was made with dinosaur kale instead of romaine lettuce (although I suspect it was in fact baby kale).  It was a good size and served with asiago cheese, smoked tomato chips and rye croutons.  It like a traditional Caesar salad except was a little less crispy because of the kale.  That said, the flavour was better and the risk of sogginess was missing.  The tomato chips were amazing and adequately dobbleganged the traditional bacon.  One suggestion (in my best Obi Wan-Kenobi voice): USE THE LEMON. One squirt of the wedge gave it the acid needed  to cut through the sulphur of the kale.

Kale Caesar $9
Kale Caesar $9 (Dinosaur or baby?)

At first I misread the description of the burger to say “pickled watermelon” instead of “pickle and watermelon”.  One I noticed my error..well it didn’t matter because I ordered it anyway. I’ve told a few people since and they look at me like I’m a nuts. Well, it worked.  Unlike a lot of other burgers, the patty was seasoned very well.  It was a tad tough to eat given the large watermelon and pickle slices and the latter was the prominent taste,  What made the watermelon work was it’s contrast against the tangy cheese (Guernsey is great on a burger) in both taste and texture. In the end, I pictured it as a juicy monstrosity in which the act of biting  would squeeze Bordelaise sauce out of the patty like a sponge, forcing it to drip down my hands with mudpuddle messiness .   Instead, it was a bit overdone, so I missed out on the adventure although it tasted damn good, The fries made me wonder if Eric’s recent trip to the West Coast had an influence on the menu.  Kennebec fries are a staple out there and in my opinion, truly make the best fries.  They also had a shot of crispy garlic chips but surprisingly were not served with any sort of dipping sauce. A house ketchup is available with the starter order, so I’m not sure if the omission with the burger was an oversight or planned that way.  I actually think the house ketchup would have helped the burger too.  Hey, it makes me wonder if the Bordelaise sauce would of worked on the side as an au jus for the fries as well.

Beverley Burger $17
Beverley Burger $17

Dessert seems to be a work in progress. There is no menu as of yet, but the kind waitress provided me with three options: a choice of two homemade ice creams (orange szechuan and malted barley), a couple of in house popsicles (I think pineapple jalapeno was one) and a smores dessert.  With no concept of portion size or price, I asked if I could sample both types of ice cream. She said she would check with the kitchen.  A few minutes later she returned with a defeated look on her face and informed me it was not possible because the ice cream was proportioned when prepared.  A little perplexed, I opted for the orange Szechuan and realized I would have to satisfy my craving for malted barley over a pint later in the day. The ice cream was fantastic.  It had the texture of silk, a rich taste but not an overwhelming heaviness.  The brownie was decent but wasn’t needed because it wasn’t as good as the ice cream itself.

Orange Szechuan Ice Cream. $3.  Charge me $6 and give me two!
Orange Szechuan Ice Cream. $3. Charge me $6 and give me two!

My Take

Eric Wood is a chef who, in my opinion, is very friendly and open with his customers.  He comments on blogs, answers tweets and is not afraid to make recommendations for other restaurants among other things. His new endevour is a little boutique mixed with a hint of hipster, sprinkled with a bit of West coast and dusted  with a scent of his old gig at Hawthorne. It’s boutique in that it delves into cuisine which is veggie-centric and focuses on choices that include raw and gluten free dishes.  The kennebec fries are very west coast.  With his Hawthorne exodus, he brought the “4 Play for lunch” concept (app, salad, main, dessert) for $16.  Both the drink and food menus have no defined focus which I find highly acceptable in an environment which has been populated with ramen, snack food and  bourbon or tequila bars.  That said, it’s far from a traditional menu as indicated by a watermelon topped burger and steak and potatoes made with beef cheeks.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out.  Will the menu be sophisticated enough to attract a boutique hotel crowd and yet be hip enough to draw in the curmudgeon foodies, especially given the fact they tend to stray away from pretty decor and gravitate toward tiny rooms that look like their parent’s basement apartment or a janitor’s broom closet?  Maybe the rooftop will become the foodie haven as it appears to be focused on grilled meats a la izakaya (although it’s still Paleo I suppose). This paradox even resonates with the waitstaff.  I saw a couple of staff drop in with back-size tattoos, presumably only to jump into sheer black dresses and assume an old school service model free of angst and pretension. Bravo!

In the end, I think the menu hiccups are growing pains associated with any new franchise.  A tweak of the burger, a little ketchup with the fries and an extra scoop of ice cream would make me a happy boy. I know I can say this knowing that next time I drop by, the shot in the arm won’t turn into a punch in the face from anybody from the board of directors, especially uncle Fred.

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