Entering CKTL & Co. on a Tuesday for an early dinner is like walking into the centre of the exchange. The sound track is at its highest decibel. The downtown after-work crowd is having a great time. Our friendly waiter, Kevin, welcomes us and shakes our hand. I see his lips moving, but I can’t hear a word he is saying. I’m reminded of the times I’d be reprimanding my kids to please, turn the music down. Kevin agrees with me, and genially complies with a degree or two of down turn.
Cocktails are prime in this stylish lounge. From classic “Old Money” and signature “Initial Product Offering” cocktails to “Counterfeit” mocktails, many of their carefully selected tinctures, bitters and syrups are made in-house and presented to impress. CKTL & Co.’s “Manhattan Menu” features classic and contemporary takes on the Manhattan, including their Black Market, with house-made coffee liqueur presented in a smoky treasure chest, and the Toronto-centric Bay Street, featuring rye, sweet vermouth, amaro and angostura bitters. Alongside the cocktails are wine and on-tap beer selection.
Sipping an icy Martini and nibbling spicy edamame and almonds, I survey my surroundings. The ticker symbol for cocktail is CKTL & Co. A unique software designed to mimic the stock exchange and create a market pricing system that allows us to observe the prices of drinks rise and fall with the interest of our fellow patrons (or “traders”) in real-time. Ticker boards are creatively located throughout the room, updating the price of beverage items based on current popularity.
It’s 7:00 p.m. and we’re checking the status of our cocktails on the ticker tape: Adelaide Sour $16.25. Vesper Martini. $14.00. Old Fashioned $15.50 and these prices do not change during our stay. I call the next day, Wednesday at 12:52 p.m. to check on the price of our drinks: Adelaide Sour $17.75. Vesper Martini $14.25. Old Fashioned. $14.00. I wonder what the analysts will have to say about the Bulls and Bears at play.
“CKTL & Co. was born out of a passion for the stock market and exceptional food and drink,” said Kushal Shah, CTKL & Co.’s director of business development. “Our team is excited to bring something new and exciting to the Toronto market and offer a one-of-a-kind experience.”
The kitchen dearly loves spice and it seems that so does their clientele. But I am wondering, as I pop edamame into my mouth, are these simple legumes enhanced by turmeric, chilies, lots of pretty pink sea salt and olive oil, or are they being suffocated. Oiled almonds in a small bowl are coated with sweet and spicy condiment as well. A heaping plate of deep-fried wonton chips are topped with diced ponzu marinated tuna and avocado and laced with a frivolous pattern of chili-lime mayo. With Cocktail glasses empty, and with no change on the ticker tape, we take a break and stroll over to the facilities to wash the oil and spices off of our hands with soap before picking up a fresh set of cutlery.
My eyes do not mind their own business scan other people’s plates at surrounding tables. Burgers of beef, lamb and vegie look popular, and nearby, a diner is enjoying a dish of pan seared Arctic Char, but the most popular seem to be the flatbreads.
Kudos to Kevin, our congenial server who seems to genuinely enjoy our company and makes excellent recommendations. Calamari with tamarind chili sauce is dusted with chickpea flour and a scattering of crispy onions. The menu offers an intriguing variety of flatbreads with luxurious toppings, and I am torn between the Mushroom Flatbread—a quartet of Cremini, Portabello, Oyster and Enoki mushrooms, drizzled with truffle oil and fresh herbs, melting Mozzarella and a cap of whipped Mascarpone, and Kevin’s suggestion, grilled lamb chops with potato puree, pomegranate juice and roasted root vegetables. I will go with the lamb chops and I’m so happy with the choice. Not surprisingly, the lamb chops are tender, tasty and generously seasoned. I even catch a hint of coriander seeds.
We need dessert after all this flavour, and no decision making is required. There is only one weekly special. Light and fluffy cheese cake in a dark wild blueberry sauce is a perfect ending.
Stepping out into the traffic snarl of Bay Street, the Uber makes a daring U-Turn to take us home. I wonder where everyone is going on a Tuesday in our busy city.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.