Flamingos are one of the more recognized avian species in popular culture. Whereas the bald eagle is synonymous with courage and nobility, the flamingo is a bit more mysterious and is often associated much less stoic characteristics.
The Flamingo hotel, for example, is the longest standing (and probably cheesiest) hotel on the famed Las Vegas strip. Afterall, it is decorated with pink shag carpets and a live wildlife habitat featuring the namesake birds.
“Pink Flamingos” was a low budget movie directed by John Waters, the odd director who brought us the original cult classics “Hairspray” and “Serial Mom” was notorious for working with even stranger actors and actresses like Divine, Traci Lords and Ricki Lake.
Although not entirely related, when I heard the name of the restaurant I couldn’t help of think of Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs . In what I would argue is the most famous Tarantino restaurant scene after the five-dollar milkshake in Pulp Fiction, Mr. Pink, played by Steve Buscemi, goes on a rant about the concept of tipping, arguing that it should not be an automatic gesture (he must have visited a few places in Toronto’s west end along his travels).
On the small screen, flamingos, along with other Florida vestiges such as fancy cars, jai alai, dog racing, beaches and boobs were prominent in the iconic opening credits of Miami Vice. Speaking of televisions shows, the short lived prime-time soap opera called Flamingo Road starred Morgan Fairchild and Mark Harmon dealt with the frantic and fast-paced lives of elite Floridians.
All of this said, perhaps the most recognizable use of the pink flamingo in popular culture is the plastic lawn ornament. Primarily used to signify key life events (like a 50th birthday let’s say), this tacky accessory was first produced by Don Featherstone , an employee of the union plastic company in Massachusetts. This achievment was significant enough to have him recognized in a New York times obituary the day after his June 22, 2015 death. Here are a few interesting facts about the pink flamingo:
- They were initially offered in the late 50’s sold for $2.76/pair in the Sears catalog.
- In 1999, the city council of Madison, Wisconsin voted the plastic flamingo, coined Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus by Featherstone himself, as the city’s official bird.
- In the 2011 Disney film “Gnomeo and Juliet”, there is a flamingo named Featherstone which is an interesting twist given the well- established competition between the gnome and the pink bird for cheesy lawn ornament supremacy.
Probably the oddest use the Flamingo is the Quebec food company whose catch line is “an excellent source of fun”. First, the primary foodstuffs produced by the Flamingo company are poultry products which is just weird. Second, I don’t equate the consumption of chicken burgers as fun, yet alone an excellent source of it.
All of this said, I can only speculate as to the rationale behind Mr. Flamingo’s name. I think some would speculate that the bird symbolizes the simple yet swanky theme of the restaurant. The menu consists of small plates which in many cases contain upper echelon foods such as oysters, fois gras and truffles.
Although, I would almost expect a cocktail to be named after Mr. Featherstone ,I couldn’t find one so I ordered the bourbon based Ms. Sitherwood ($14) instead. The first page of a google search identified Ms. Sitherwood as the Chief Executive Officer of The Laclede Group although I have no idea if that’s relevant at all. It was served in a dainty glass adorned with mint leaves. The general vibe of the drink was a sophisticated but not mind-blowing long island ice tea ($14).
Before I go into the food choices, let me say that the staff were extremely accommodating. The menu prices listed on the web are for a specific portion but they were more than happy to modify the portions and prices in some cases (eg. oysters and scallops) so that everybody had at least one piece. Futhermore, they split the bill in 5 and printed one out for each of us. These things seem simple but can be surprisingly hard to find among many Toronto eateries.
Since we had a fairly large table, we were able to order most of the menu. First on the list was the steak tartare ($14) served with a quail egg and chips. It had a symmetrical and pretty appearance and its moderate spice was driven more by pepper than other heat sources.
The burrata ($16) was served with a gorgeous tomato salad. The cheese was seasoned nicely and had a beautiful texture similar to that of a soft boiled egg; firm on the outside and runny in the middle.
The lobster based oysters ($3.50/piece) wouldn’t have been my first choice but they fit the swanky theme of the place. The lobster hollandiase had a sweetness and creaminess which nicely offset the salty and not over-cooked oyster, making it a decent bite.
Based on other reviews, the scallops with popcorn puree and sea asparagus ($22.50 as shown) could very well be their signature dish. It hit all the elements of such a dish; the scallops were cooked properly, the puree was divine and the sea asparagus added the colour, texture and taste needed to balance everything out.
The trout was another tasty dish but at this point the menu was getting a bit monotonous as many of it’s elements were near identical to the previous two (oysters and scallops), adhereing to the theme of well cooked protein plus rich sauce plus green vegetable.
On paper, the mushroom risotto topped with shaved truffle may have been the pinnacle of Mr. Flamingo’s swanky small plate experience. Although I’m not generally a risotto fan, I appreciated the avoidance of truffle oil as an excuse for fancy flavoring. It was a nicely prepared dish but was still highlighted by rich flavours similar to many other items on the menu.
The duck and steak were both nicely prepared but not unlike anything you can get at any other restaurant in the area. It seems almost mandatory that these dishes appear on menus, prepared and seasoned the same way and served alongside the rather predictable sides.
After a meal in a place named after a suave and sexy bird serving oysters and truffles, I expected some kind of lavish desert. Instead, the sole offering was a donut with a sparkler in it. It was a rather carnival ending to an otherwise posh meal.
I may have missed my calling as an ornithologist so I’m never upset when I can eat at a place named after a feathered friend (yes I must admit I like eating some of them as much as I like watching them). After my dining experience, I can’t say I was as excited as the majestic flamingo during its mating ritual but it was still a decent meal.
Mr. Flamingo offers a mix of the standard sharing plates seen in a lot of the area’s eateries with the addition of a few unique ones, in particular the scallops with popcorn puree. In general, the majority of the menu is a bit monotonous in flavour though. Overall, it was a good experience, highlighted by above average service starting with the fact they will actually split a bill, a fact that may even convince Mr. Pink to throw a few bucks on the table after all is said and done.