One of the most treasured stories in Canadian folklore is that of Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. It’s the coming of age story of a determined redhead who was mistakenly adopted into a farming family in PEI and has been told and retold through books and other media such as film, television and even live productions. Over a hundred years later, numerous Toronto restaurants are writing their own stories in an effort to capture the essence of Canadiana. Montgomery’s is one of these. Although I can’t attest to the origin of the name (it certainly isn’t that of the owners), I could use my creative licence and suggest that it is may be named after the famed author. So, although I’m sure she could pen a much better story than I, I’ll attempt to summarize the experience in my own literary style:
There’s a restaurant called Montgomery’s. It’s a modest place and apparently purposely so. One could easy walk past the meager storefront searching for a place to dine. The interior is a bit meager highlighted by a rather large and seemingly cozy rug/tapestry hanging along one wall and tables and chairs that looked like hand me downs from an estate sale. With the plain white walls it looks a bit like a prison visitation room. Once seated, you may hear a fable from the waitstaff justifying a thirty dollar price tag for an Italian beer. If you are really lucky, in surroundings lit only by the small candle flickering on the table you may hear the tale of Snackies the Omish cow. Snackies was aptly named by a 2 year old on a farm that, despite, her tender age, was a bovine clairvoyant who knew that one day, her farmyard friend would adorn a plate in downtown Toronto served medium rare. In the original story, the name of the cow remained a secret, only to be shared with those who were curious or wanted to know the name needed to canonize this cow into culinary sainthood.
The trout, sadly, did not receive the same attention. It was simply called trout, named in a fashion much like the majority of the characters (ie. bear, skunk and muskrat) in the Franklin cartoon. Perhaps the two year oracle would have named it Fishy or Swimmy but alas one will never know. The only other protein of mention was an small egg custard who’s bite was bigger than its bark in that it was full of sweet, salt and unami flavours. The bread took a dip in the lentils or camouflaged itself behind vibrant green butter. The chain gang of vegetables were housed on white plates and bowls as bleak as the walls themselves. The lettuce drowned in its sorrows and the beans, carrots and potatoes were particularly sour to be there. The tarte tatin, however, was the apple of everybody eye. The entire group, when together, made for a fun and eventful adventure despite being housed in a concrete tundra. The end.
Butter and Lentil \dip
I’m a bit behind in my reviews so the menu has changed often since I went a couple of months ago. That said, the concept seems to have remained the same; seasonal vegetables with a few proteins served in a fashion (ie. plain) which forces the food to do the talking. That said, the cup of lettuce seems to be a consistent character in this story and is worth a try although you probably won’t dream of bathing in the broth at night. All in all, the food was not mind blowing but it was good. The custard was divine and Snackies represented. The vegetables were a bit hit and miss but all around good.
The concept of the restaurant, from the shabby store front to the ugly floors and odd rug/tapestry thing on the wall, bothered me. Some people have told me this is purposeful and if it is I apologize for not understanding. Maybe it’s like that painting at a museum I stare at thinking “WTF”, but I perceive more as “we couldn’t be bothered so let’s pretend like we meant to do it”. From a decor perspective, to me there is a difference between industrial and correctional.
I’m a bit perplexed at the lack of social media coverage. Sure, the opening was covered by Toronto life and Blogto but other than that the normal review sites have been as barren as Montgomery’s walls. There are only 9 yelp reviews and zomato hasn’t registered enough voters to even have a rating. This is not always indicative of overall noise but it’s a bit odd. I do, however, notice that they do take time to respond to many of the reviews, good or bad. They are also closed on Sunday and Monday now which could be interpreted in a number of ways. I guess we have to wait and see if this place will turn out more like Anne of Green Gables or the Pat of Silver Bush.
Given the story of Snackies the cow as the lead character among a diverse cast of plain, misunderstood and diverse characters all set in a drab decor, if I was a literary critic I would say Montgomery’s can best be described as a tale in which AA Milne meets Orange is the new Black.
With the exponential increase in eateries across the country, it’s not surprising that many have similar names. For example, whether you go to St. Thomas or Toronto you are sure to come across Harry’s Grill or something describing a view of a lake, a river of some other body of water. So it’s not surprising that Salt, one of the world’s most popular and coveting seasonings (and its misuse is the reason 80 percent of people are kicked off Top Chef), has resulted in namesake restaurants in cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa. In the last couple of months, I have visited the latter two establishments. Despite the similar names, they are markedly different. Toronto’s Salt features taps from the Iberian peninsula. Salt Dining and Lounge in Ottawa, on the other hand, is a little more Canadiana, with a strong focus on music, wine and steak. In particular, they boast a steady stream of Waygu A5 100 day steaks for up to a cool $150 for an 8 oz strip.
Over the past number of months, I managed to hit both locations during my travels. With a steady flow of Portuguese Qunita Das Maias white wine in the background (which was a significant upgrade from the Mateus I used to sneak sips of from my mother’s single bottle wine cellar on the top shelf of the fridge), we feasted on an array of small plates. The jamon serrano ($12) and 5 cheese tray ($28) was a safe start. The cheese was an array of manchego among others. This was followed up with my absolute go to when it comes to anything tapas…patatas bravas. Their rendition was reminiscent of my time in Barcelona..simple but delicious. Not surprisingly, most of the remainder of the meal was seafood heavy including a delicious sea bream ceviche (freshened with cucumber, avocado and pineapple) ($14), crab cakes with avocado and piri piri aoili ($17), prawns with a corn salsa ($15) and grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes and romesco sauce ($18). The transition to land was facilitated by a unique surf and turf starring lobster and pork belly. Although it was good, I was really excited and was a little let down. The transition to land was completed with meatballs and BBQ ribs both of which were decent.
Jamon Serrano $12
Patatas Bravas $9
Crab Cakes $17
Lobster and Belly $19
5 Cheeses $28
Sea Bream Ceviche $14
Ottawa’s Salt, on the other hand, was quite a bit different. Instead of rustic and woody, this Salt was roomy and elegant and adorned with large marble tables. In fact, the table we were seated at was quite large and almost made for difficult conversation. For the appetizers, the favorites were the tomato tartare ($15) and root vegetable salad $14). They were polar opposites; the tartare was fresh and elegant and the salad was sweet and earthy. Both were delicious. I’m a scientist by nature and I was intrigued to compare (in a non-blinded way unfortunately) a $39 filet with a $125 waygu strip.I also had 4 other dinner guests to help me. The waygu was beyond rich and the one or so ounce I had was more than enough. Most of the table agreed and in the end, although the waygu was quite satisfying, most agreed they would be happy with a filet at a third of the price. I was also intrigued by the chicken and pork belly served with rice. I normally steer clear of rice heavy dishes but I was promised that this rice was of incredible quality and actually worth more than the proteins. In the end, it was still rice and there was a lot of it.
Tomato Tartare $15
Root Vegetable Salad $14
Chicken and Belly $28
Waygu Beef Closeup
Filet $39 plus side
For dessert, we stuck with savory and ordered a busy cheese tray served with compotes, fruit and pickled veg. It was a little odd for a dessert course…I would have thought that an omission of pickled onions would have prudent post meal but it was easy enough, although wasteful to leave them there.
As mentioned, Salt Toronto vs Salt Ottawa are two different experiences. Salt Toronto has managed to stay alive in the turnstile that is Ossington Avenue for well over half a decade. Salt Ottawa, on the other hand, is still in it’s infancy with a birth along Preston Street in 2014. Toronto will offer you a pseudo-Iberian experience complete with traditional tapas dished modernized from both a taste and visual perspective. Ottawa, on the other hand, is more a regal destination complete with large, spacious tables and hunks of steak including the pricey and legendary waygu from Japan. Both destinations might run you a pretty penny (remember salt was as valuable as gold at one point in history) depending on your affinity for alcohol and whether past encounters with Mateus haven’t permanently scarred you into indulging on Portuguese wine. The need to do behavioral science experiments based on a $125 steak may play a role as well.
I suppose having numerous restaurants named salt across the company is in line with the ubiquitous use of sodium in the same establishments. Although far from a franchise, I am compelled to seek other eateries with NaCl nomenclature for at minimum a covalent comparison.
It was the best of prime, it was the worst of prime…. it was aged and toothsome, it was aged and scrumptious….
Ok..that is an atrocious parody of one of the most recognizable paragraphs in the history of British literature but it may be the closest I will ever get to literary beauty of Charles Dickens. I read an interesting blog post from Tori Avey, who did a beautiful job summarizing the attention to detail that Dickens penned in many of his famous works, especially when it came to his description of scenes in which food and drink were the central theme.
The steakhouse has a long tradition in dining folklore. Although a steak is a ubiquitous item on restaurant menus, making it the focal point of an eatery has a history as old as Dickens himself. Traditionally, there are number of key and consistent characteristics which make a steakhouse what it is:
Mandatory dim lights and oversized tables, presumably to create a more relaxing environment and help with ugly dates. In all seriousness, an interesting study was done by Cornell university in 2012 that demonstrated that dim lighting, white table cloths and soft music resulted in patrons ordering just as much, rating the food higher, eating less and taking longer to finish which could mean more booze.. which can also help with the ugly date.
A staff trained to remind you everytime…like a stewardess showing you how to buckle a seatbelt, when you order a steak that medium rare is bright pink in middle…every time.
A menu which includes sleepy items for those who go to a steakhouse and don’t order steak. This usually means chicken, some kind of fish and a token meatless dish in event a hapless vegetarian is in the mix.
A steak menu which typically doesn’t include anything with the steak (except maybe one of those roasted tomatoes with the bread crumbs on top).
Sides which include asparagus, mushrooms, creamed spinach and if you’re lucky…brussel sprouts.
A place where shrimp cocktails and wedge salads never go out of style.
Despite this blueprint, there exists a huge spectrum ranging from old school to modern. In the last month I have gone to two steakhouses which represent both ends of the gamut. On one side is La Castile, the Mississauga landmark which describes itself as “the place to see..the place to be seen”. Toronto’s Jacobs on the other hand, is probably actually the place to see…the place to be seen. Let’s review:
When you go to the La Castile website, you will be serenaded by “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller while watching a slide show highlighting every nook and cranny of the large and twisted mansion. Jacobs on the other hand, offers a silent review of its modernized menu without the need for background music from 1940.
The Piano Bar
Both have a piano bar tab. La Castile offers plush red velvet, dimly lit chandeliers, private alcoves and stained glass windows. This creates a mystical ambiance offering live music from Wednesday to Saturday complemented by rumours of the odd Russian “escort”. Jacobs, on the other hand, simply lists the Tuesday to Saturday lineup on the website and adhere to a bring your own escort policy.
La Castile is quite easy to find. Located along Dundas St East near the 427, the best instruction is to “follow the light” as it next to impossible to miss the flames shooting out of the brick structure surrounding the restaurant. Parking is abundant. Jacobs, on the other hand, is in downtown Toronto on Brant Street right off of King. It’s grey, boxy exterior is rather subtle which is a sharp contrast to the fireworks of its suburban counterpart. Parking is scarce although you could opt for $20 valet parking if you don’t want the hassle.
La Castile has the classic steakhouse setup. Walking in, you’re not sure whether or not you are at church, a funeral home or a museum. Dated carpets, stained glass and plush chairs let people experience what first class in the Titanic would feel like. A dress code is in effect of course which probably includes chain mail armour since I would not have been a bit surprised if I was seated at a table next to Peter Dinklage and served wine in a metal goblet. Jacobs is a lot sleeker, abandoning the white table clothes in lieu of bare modern wood tables and sleek chairs which omit the royal red plush. The concept is much more open and much less distracting. As the dress code, they don’t have to announce it…people just know.
La Castile opened in 1968 and I would be very surprised if the staff weren’t exactly the same as back then. Of course, they have aged since Woodstock but can now easily be referred to as grumpy old men in tuxedos instead of grumpy young ones. Jacobs, on the other hand, has a much younger staff who, instead of looking like they are in a wedding party. are dressed a bit more casually but still quite chic. They were far less grumpy as well.
Steakhouses are like brunch; there is a unwritten permission to elevate prices slightly to much higher than the norm. This is somewhat the case with La Castile but the ceiling is somewhat limited by its stingy suburban patrons and the fact that most of the regular clientele still think it’s the 1970s. Jacobs, on the other hand, takes advantage of its urban locale to price things in the stratosphere. Twenty dollar Caesar salads and fifteen dollar sides surround steaks that are often $100 and can hit $700 if you want the really good stuff.
La Castile welcomes you with a sectioned silver tray filled with feta, dills and olives (and lots of water poured by Mr. Chucklelopolous to wash down the accompanying sodium).
At La Castile, I had to go for the french onion soup ($9) which fittingly came in a fitting medieval metal goblet/urn atop the same doily I used to slap on side plates when I worked in the restaurant industry in the late 80’s and early 90s. There was no shortage of cheese and the broth was thick with onions. All in all, it wasn’t bad but after the pickles and the soup, I was desperately searching for a diuretic which I was confident one of the many waiters would have had in their pockets along with a nitro pill and maybe a Cialis.
For the main, I resisted the urge to insist to share the Chateaubriand with my table mates and instead opted for the peppercorn steak, which was “deliciously sharp and served with wine sauce”. Now, I’m unclear as to the sharpness but it was nicely seasoned and cooked a tad above a proper medium rare but as a bonus also served with a California mix of vegetables also reminiscent on my 1980’s doily days.
Jacobs, on the other hand, started with their famous complimentary popovers, which are a mild twist on the classic yorkshire pudding (and set the stage for the general theme of a steakhouse with a modern twist). They hardly needed the butter given the fact they had a really rich flavour.
Now, I missed the table side assembly of the $19 caesar salad (I was a bit late getting to dinner) but it was waiting when I got there. I’m missing the picture but I assure you it looked, smelled and tasted like a caesar salad. I will go as far as saying it was one of the best one I’ve had in a long while. The double smoked bacon was thick and delicious and the dressing was heavy with garlic.
The steaks are about quality, not quantity (not to mention the fact most are triple digits in price) so the table shared a local Ontario 12 oz Ribeye ($60) and an 18oz Nebraska bone-in striploin ($81) complemented with sides which included brussel sprouts and walnuts, duck fat fries, mushrooms and sauteed rapini (~$15 each). Upon request, they will slice the steak for you to avoid butchery or fights at the table. I failed to get a picture since there was a mad rush once the steak was placed on the table. I did, however, snap the cornucopia once it was on the plate. The steak was cooked perfectly and was exceptional in flavour. The sides were well prepared as well but I would hope so for the staggering price.
Even the offerings at the end of the meal are indicative of the differences between the two restaurants. While Jacobs brings a small plate of after dinner confections (cookies and chocolates) as well as a sinfully delicious packaged muffin for later to the table, La Castile sets a bowl of jelly beans (reminiscent of the ones I used to beg for out of the vending machine at a grocery store when I was 6 years old) by the door so one can grab a spoonful on the way out.
Although steakhouses across the board share numerous similarities, I think La Castile and Jacobs represent both ends of the spectrum. La Castile comes in with a “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” mentality even though nothing has been fixed since 1968. Whereas some may call the decor nostalgic (of medieval times perhaps), I call it tired but I suppose it works well for suburban johns with a fetish for Eastern Europeans. Jacobs, on the other hand, focuses on aged steaks as opposed to aged decor, offering sleek surroundings in the heart of downtown Toronto and a variety of special occasions steaks that fall well outside a lot of standard dinner budgets.
In the end, any steak house across the board including the many chains including the Keg, Ruth’s Chris, Hy’s, Chop etc, will follow a similar blueprint and inevitably cost you a small fortune. That said, if you want to experience the extremes of this cuisine, I think La Castile and Jacobs represent opposite ends of the spectrum whether it be urban vs. suburban, modern vs. traditional or a desire to hobnob with the cool kids vs cosplaying as Robb Stark in the red wedding scene from Game of Thrones. Something tells me if Dickens wrote “A Storm of Swords” instead of George R.R. Martin, then the description of the butchery of the meal would have been much more detailed than that of King Robb Stark and his ill-fated army.
My job allows me to attend a number of group dinners. I’m often reluctant to write reviews of these experiences since they are a bit artificial and may not apply to somebody looking to grab dinner for two on a Saturday night. That said, I imagine smooth execution of a delicious dinner for 100 people would speak highly of the quality of the food and the service. This was the case during a recent visit to Bymark. I wasn’t involved in planning this dinner so I can’t comment on the price per head as part of this review.
I’m used to standard set menus which offer soup or salad as a starter, fish, chicken or steak as he entree and some dessert which usually includes a cheesecake and something chocolaty. Bymark’s options blew my mind. There were five starters that included butter braised lobster poutine, fois gras, yellow fin tuna with yuzu, buffalo mozzerella and mixed greens. I sat staring blankly at the menu as I had to reprogram my brain think outside the soup/salad binary code I’m so used to. I’ve been in a fish mood lately and I’m quite sure “yuzu” is Japanese for “tasty little bastard”, so I went for the tuna. It was seared and served beautifully . I would have liked a bit more of both heat and acid to tear into the richness of the tuna but it was fresh and clean and the pop from the odd ginger crisp was memorable.
My colleague opted for the lobster poutine. It was a modest portion served on a circular lobster shell and topped with bernaise sauce. I think I saw him cry a little bit. I managed to score a few frites and thought it was greasy sweetness…literally and figuratively. I cried a little too.
Another colleague of mine from Quebec stuck to her roots and ordered the fois gras. As a disclaimer, I am not wacky over fois gras. I enjoy a think slice of torchon as opposed to a hunk of liver on a plate. This appetizer was the latter. Maybe it was the garnish which was a bile-looking sage puree coupled with a bloody looking compote and swimming in a pool chocolate jus. It might have been the fact that the fois gras itself was not served cooked throughout. Either way, it looked like aftermath of the red wedding scene from Game of Thrones. Since I am not a savage medieval warrior or Hannibal Lecter, it wasn’t my thing and wouldn’t have been any better even if there were a few fava beans thrown on the plate.
The selection of entrees were equally as impressive. There was the choice of steak, lamb, black cod, chicken and vegetable risotto Black cod is one of my favorite fish and I was particularly intrigued with the octopus and crab cakes, so my choice was a no brainer. To me, the key to good black cod is to achieve the same silky mouthfeel as if you were eating a pound of butter but without the probable ill-filled aftermath. Mission accomplished. The citrus butter balanced the sweetness of the cod and with the help of the coriander crust and subtle broth enhanced it at the same time. The crab cakes were delightful morsels and the eggplant and zucchini strands brought some earthiness to the dish.
For the most part, dessert adhered to the group dinner blueprint in offering chocolate something and cheesecake. They did, however, offer a delightful selection of cheese (including a killer blue) served with honey, grapes and bread. It was a nice way to finish the evening.
There is something to be said for a restaurant’s ability to execute a large group dinner. Although it cannot always be compared to the service required for a smaller, more intimate dinner, there is a standard which includes ensuring 100 wine glasses are never empty and that everybody gets their meals within a short window of time. The service was flawless other than a few hiccups regarding coffee service at the end of the meal. That said, maybe we scared them off given the fact that our table looked like a bunch of adolescence watching Porky’s for the first time. One of my single colleagues decided to open her tinder app and demonstrate the concept to a bunch of us. Essentially, you scroll through pictures of people within a defined radius of where you are sitting, squatting, drinking etc. You either like or dislike them based on a few pictures and whatever witty (or ridiculous) banter they include in their profile. A yes means if that person also approves of your posted resume, an “It’s a match!” flashes on your screen and the happy couple can be begin a chat which may or may not lead to other things including a walk in the park or a deep discussion about existentialism. A no means great big red letters are stamped over the unsuspecting dude’s picture and the girl can smirk with the satisfaction that she temporarily ended somebody’s hopes and dreams. During the lesson and in the presence of the opposite sex, there were a couple of quick observations I made about this phenomenon called tinder:
1. Guys should not put pictures of cats on their photo roll. Cat guys seem to be a turn off to women (although I can think of a few guys that really like pus…never mind).
2. Guys should not post pictures of themselves hanging with their buddies, especially if it’s every picture. There were a few cases where we actually wagered who the actual guy was. Plus, it may lead one to believe that you either need your buddies in a picture look better or you are into threesomes, foursomes or frat parties.
3. Girls and guys differ on the definition of witty and/or funny. For example, one guy’s status was “My mom says she likes me”. The girls at the table thought that he was clever; the guys thought he was a putz.
4. Girls want to see the whole package. Close-ups of a bicep or upper abs along with a shot from distance demonstrating a dude’s love of barbecuing veggie skewers in bad lighting doesn’t work. It’s a hook-up app, not a 100 piece puzzle.
5. I suspect that pseudonyms are acceptable if not encouraged. Let’s face it…if your name is Marvin or Randy you don’t have a chance. The brown guys have no problem changing their names to Richard or Jacob (I had an Indian guy beside at dinner who confirmed that Richard was actually his cousin Ashok). That said, some white guys have figured it out. Take Roberge for example. This french prince (whose name is likely Bob) was sleek and suave and would likely want to any girl to roll the “R’ and extend his name to a 3 second ROOOOOBBBEEERRRRRRRRRRGGGGGEEEE!
As mentioned, I am reluctant to suggest that a good group dinner means that a table for two will have the same experience. What I can say is that the execution of dinner at Bymark was close to flawless. Although the fois gras was a bloody mess, the other starters, including the lobster poutine and the seared tuna were delicious. The entrees were served hot and I heard no complaints (whether it was the steak, fish, lamb or risotto) across our table. For the most part, the service was prompt and professional. In the end, I think both the guys and girls agreed that the pieces of meat served on the plate were much better than those offered on tinder. Sorry Bob.
A colleague of mine asked me a simple question the other day. “Where can I get a good steak in Toronto?”. There seems to be a few answers:
1. A steak house with cuts of beef as pricy as buying half a heifer at an auction not to mention the fact that the creamed spinach is extra.
2. A chain offering AAA cut steak which inevitably ends up being generic like the rest of the menu.
3. A few bistros which pair it with frites and douse it in some kind of butter so they can call it French cuisine.
This got me thinking about my recent visit to Bestellen and why it didn’t come top of mind. The showcase of the rather large dining room is a transparent meat locker housing steaks of all shapes and sizes. One of the features is a $98, 32 oz steak with marrow and sides. Otherwise, they offer a daily cut in the $30 range. Add the fact it’s the brain child of Top Chef contestant Rob Rossi and it sounds like a slam dunk, right?
You can’t go wrong with “buck a shuck” oysters, which were fresh and addictive. Although not served with fancy mignonette, they had the essentials; a lemon wedge, horseradish and a bottle of Tabasco.
The “toad in the hole” was a current spin on a old favorite. The batter had a yorkie lightness which surrounded dense and delicious black pudding. The eggs were a good medium to blend the contrasting textures and flavours. The spattering of scallions added a bit of colour and and freshness.
Opting for the small charcuterie option for $13, I was treated to 3 house-made meats complete with a few pickles, some mustard and some toasted bread drenched in olive oil which was absolutely fantastic. The meats themselves were thinly sliced and cured beautifully. It was a pleasure to eat.
Although a little skimpy on the condiments, the steak tartare was delicious. Half a quail egg and a few jalapenos were nothing more than decorations. The chips were alright but weren’t the tastiest vehicle for scooping the tender meat.
Why do I order deviled eggs in a restaurant? They were tasty enough but not worth 6 buck and shuck oysters (see picture above…with the charcuterie).
The Budino dessert and olive oil cake were reasonably priced at $7 and a good example of Rob Rossi’s Italian heritage although they did not elevate to the level of Lutheran grace. The ice cream was splendid, an apparent reflection of a new machine just installed in the kitchen.
On this particular night, the feature was flank steak for $28. I envisioned a slice of a magical beast taken from the locker adorning the centre of the restaurant. Instead I received a few overcooked slices of tough, overdone meat served on a rather bland puree. Even the presentation was rather lame. It looked a bit like leftovers.
Given it wasn’t a really busy night, the service was rather slow. The wine list is set up by offering $45, $65 and $85 bottles. I opted for a mediocre Pigeoulet Provence at the middle price. The waiter did not seem overly concerned that I didn’t enjoy it, assuring me it was “the type of grape”.
Bestellen is a German named pseudo-steakhouse run by an Italian on the edge of Little Italy. It’s atypically large compared to other eateries in the area, so one can argue it lacks a bit of coziness, especially if it’s not busy. It has a bistro feel in the front, with tall, wooden tables and a window view. Toward the back is an open kitchen with long, communal seating for larger parties. The above mentioned meat locker divides the two concepts.
At the time, the menu offered a spattering of cultures but since, the menu has evolved and now seems to offer at whole lot of Italy, minus the ubiquitous pizza and pasta peppering the rest of College street. The toad in the hole and deviled eggs has disappeared, leaving polenta, octopus and fritto misto on the forefront. A little over a year ago, the Globe and Mail review referred to Bestellen as a steak house. Yes, you can get a $100 steak with all the fixings but the daily cut was disappointing. It’s a bit of a tease that you’re 15 feet away from tenderloins, porterhouses and skirt steaks but have no access to most of the choices on a nightly basis.
I can sum up Bestellen with one word…awkward. Traveling to the suburbs of Little Italy for buck a shuck oysters but questionable service and suboptimal steak leaves me undecided. Maybe delving into a suckling pig or indulging on a full charcuterie plate would make me feel better. As far as recommendations for my colleagues…I suggested the following advice by Buddy Black and Leroy Van Dyke:
Forty-five dollar bidja now, fifty dollar fifty wouldja make it fifty biddle
Onna fifty dolla fifty dolla. Wouldja gimme fifty, wouldja gimme fifty dolla
Bill? I gotta fifty dolla bidja now, five, wouldja biddle onna fifty-five,
Biddle onna fifty-five, fifty-five. Who’s gonna bitta the fifty five dollar
I have developed a stereotype toward steak houses. Whether it is Hy’s, Morton’s, Ruths’ Chris or the Keg, you can count on a few things:
A dim, stuffy, cigar lounge type environment.
A detailed description of the difference between rare, medium-rare, medium, medium-well and well done (followed by the fact that the chef recommends medium rare) from the tie-wearing, perma-smiling waitstaff.
A price tag suggesting that cows are an endangered species, especially when reminded that “sides are extra” but can be shared with the table.
For these reasons I don’t frequent them often. I can purchase my preferred cut of meat, season and prepare it my way for a fraction of the price. I was curious to see how Vancouver’s trendy Glowbal group would alter my expectations.
Well…they have cooler music.
I opted for a terrific 12 oz striploin ($39). Perhaps I was mesmerized by the clearly visible, ceiling high, salt-brick, dry aging vault that sat 12 feet from me. It was seasoned beautifully, cooked to a perfect medium-rare, was bursting with flavour and served with a single green onion. I did appreciate the array of sauces served with the steak. Whether you like a rich peppercorn, fresh chimichurri or tangy steak sauce (my favorite of the three), the variety was appreciated with each choosing its own way to catalyze the beef’s rich flavour.
I opted for a crab louie salad ($17). It had an aggressive garlic dressing which balanced the decent amount of sweet dungeness crab in the full-leafed salad which was garnished with a few cucumbers, slices of really ripe avocado, some shredded egg and one or two cherry tomatoes.
I was told by a colleague that the brussel sprouts were to die for, so perhaps there were stars in my eyes. In the end, they were a bit acid and salt happy, thrown out of balance by a little too much lemon and clumpy Parmesan respectively . A little sweet or heat would have made them more elite but in the end they were kind of neat.
Another over promise/under deliver item (this time from the waitress) was the “signature” Black + Blue butter cake. The cake was moist but it was a lot of the same with the imbalance favouring sweet and rich. Either some salted caramel or fresh berries for tartness would have been a welcome addition to this dessert from both a taste and aesthetic perspective.
When I read Mac and Cheese with truffled cheese sauce as a side, I hardly expected four deep fried fish-stick-looking things served with a ramekin of over-truffled cream sauce. They tasted like they looked; greasy and boring.
Black + Blue is another example of a stereotypical steakhouse but adds a bit of flare with an upbeat and sleek ambiance. Did I mention the cool music? The steak was fantastic..the rest was ok. If I went back I’d have two choices. One would be to roll the dice on the oysters or the spinach salad (prepared tableside) or maybe the frites and broccoli. The other may be to stare lustfully at the salt cavern, order a steak as is, indulge in the sauces, chew on the flaccid green onion and grab a fry and a gelato on the way back to the hotel.