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.

The Beverley Hotel on Urbanspoon

Review:Toronto:Downtown:Hawthorne Food and Drink

Hawthorne recently opened in downtown with a bit of a mysterious aura.  It has no website and relays all its information, including its menu, through its facebook page. The about tab describes the food as:

American (New)
American (Traditional)
Barbeque
Brunch
Hawaiian
Moroccan
Singaporean
Soul Food
Vegan
Vegetarian

It takes up the street level corner of 60 Richmond St which sits about a block southeast of the Eaton Centre. It has the layout out of a old school diner but with chic furniture, shelves of  mason jars full of colourful pickled vegetables and on-table dessert menus  held up with used wine corks.  The menu is highlighted by a signature foursquare tasting meal offering small plates (literally presented on a single square plate) featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients.

Must

Beef brisket is available everywhere and Hawthorne’s offering ($13) competes with some of the best southern joints in the city.   Sliced a tad thinner than most, the abundant use of whiskey BBQ sauce and the fattiness of the cut made the sandwich rich and moist and the brioche bun was able to withstand  the drippy-goodness.  The fries were cut slightly thick and served hot. The homemade ketchup was tasty although quite unorthodox, highlighted by a predominant smoky flavour.

Brisket Sandwich and Kennebec Fries ($13)
Brisket Sandwich and Kennebec Fries ($13)

I’m a sucker for homemade soda and was pleased to see the  Hawthorne offering.  I opted for pear-cardamom and quite enjoyed its delicate and refreshing taste. It was not sickly sweet and was as refreshing a a cold Steamwhistle pilsner, the only other drink I’ve ever been served in a glass boot.  A shot of gin from the well stocked bar would have made it a neat spin on a gin and tonic if I was in the mood and position for a potent potable.

Housemade Pear-Cardamom Soda
Housemade Pear-Cardamom Soda

Maybe

The soup of the day was the unique combination of collard green and lentil which was served in a clear glass pot.  Although it was a bit thick, it had consistent texture and a freshness reminding me that the phenols would do their best to protect me from cardiac assault of  the upcoming brisket.

Hawthorne Collard Green and Lentil Soup
Hawthorne Collard Green and Lentil Soup

I was intrigued by the paella bombs which were described as crispy rice cake, sausage, crab and tomato pepper relish.  They were presented beautifully but were covered with mussels and clams which I found odd given the description on the menu.The flavours were great although it taste more like a jambalaya or a pot of mussels  and less like  a paella. The biggest issue is they were presented cold.  I addressed this with the waitress who checked with the kitchen and confirmed they should have been hot. She did offer to heat them up but by then I was almost done.

Paella Bombs ($9)
Paella Bombs ($9)

Mundane

I was told the menu was new so I can understand a few items being lost in translation. However, mussels and clams on a paella is a pretty significant oversight.  In addition, the menu indicated that the brisket came with housemade pickles.  As a diner who will sometimes order an entree to get such pickles, I was irritated to see their absence.  At first the waitress ensured me they were on the sandwich.  A surgical dissection of the brisket confirmed otherwise and she went to the kitchen to inquire.  The explanation was a typo on the menu and her peace offering was a rather dismal display of a few pickled carrots and sunchokes despite the wide array of options surrounding me.

Hawthorne Pickles
Hawthorne Pickles

My Take

There are obvious execution errors (temperature and menu descriptions) and waitstaff who seem a bit uninformed and disorganized.  Both should be ironed out with time and practice.  That said, the food is tasty and the environment is fresh and vibrant.  I left generally satisfied despite a minor case of pickle envy.

Hawthorne is a bit confusing to the point where it lacks identity.  It is designed like a high-end diner. The staff are dressed in foodie plaid.  Some of the dishes are presented in fine dining style.   The location (Richmond and Church) would mainly appeal to business folk and downtown dwellers.  It’s a place that a larger group may all be alright with but you wouldn’t  choose for any particular reason.

A famous author once wrote:

“Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world , individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever”.

Although I’m quite sure this 19th century quote was not meant to predict the Toronto dining scene in 2013, I think there are certain elements which are highly applicable. Today’s restaurants cannot be everything to everybody.  You can’t be farm to table, nose to tail, organic,  foodie-friendly, fine dining and a speakeasy (mentioned on their twitter account  and a term coined in 1889 referring to an illegal alcohol establishment) all in one.  If you don’t identify who you are, you will be forgettable amongst the many eateries lining the surrounding streets.  Hawthorne’s success will hinge on its ability to fit in, without confusion, to a diverse and  finicky Toronto dining crowd,  a concept ironically penned in 1835 by American author and namesake Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Hawthorne Food and Drink on Urbanspoon