Winterlicious is a spark that ignites our dining out desires.
We scroll down the list of 200 restos, their costs and menus. Yes. No. Maybe. Looking for the perfect restaurant is like swiping through Tinder for Mr. Right. And here it is. BLACK + BLUE.
First thoughts? I’m glad I dressed up a notch. From my curved leather booth, I give the room a 360-degree once-over: the gold-gilded ceiling, dramatic lighting and a mezzanine floor with its private dining rooms, the inlaid design of the floor, a mural of duelling bulls composed of steak knives, and a handsome clientele. The gorgeous “Winter Wonderland” glassed-in heated patio is closed tonight in the frigid weather. Settled in, I peruse the Winterlicious $75 Dinner Menu and say a silent “good-girl” to myself for choosing well. This is the Toronto style—unpretentious with sophisticated good taste.
To drink? Well, a vodka Martini goes with every appetizer on the list. But first, ordering outside of the Winterlicious box, a kitchen specialty, the brioche, which is the most decadent bread served in this city. A round loaf, freshly-baked, is laminated with butter for wholesome, pull-apart goodness. Topped with a rich blend of gruyere and mozzarella, and accompanied by a scoop of sundried tomato butter, this is the mic-drop of bread service.
Of the appetizers, Beef Carpaccio is tempting, with its splash of horseradish crema, the lushness of shimeji mushrooms, flavour burst of fried capers and crispy shallots, and a shower of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Or maybe the Boston Bibb salad tossed with the usual vegies as well as unexpected goodies like candied pecans and house-made Boursin cheese dressed with Honey-Mustard dressing. But in the end, the choices we make are offerings we can’t refuse. Bluefin tuna roll is a sumptuous circle of snuggly packed morsels, gently spiced with a relish of sesame and ginger chili.
There are no cutting corners here: soy sauce is made in house, and the wasabi is grated from the root. Once you taste the real wasabi, you can’t go back. It’s such a feel-good sweet heat. Lobster Bisque. This is the most wonderful bisque in recent memory. Not merely lobster-flavoured, this melange of textures from the thick soup to the cool truffle foam, toasty crouton and mound of lobster meat, is so beautifully luxurious, I could lick the bowl, head back to the kitchen and say, “Please sir, I want some more.”
A delectable beginning leads to even more exciting main courses. We’re aware that the server in our section, Matthew, keeps an eye on all his tables. The slightest raise of a hand or an eyebrow, and he’s right there with a smile.
The selection of Mains rounds all the bases for a home run, but in a steakhouse, I order the steak. Aged up to 45 days in a one-of-a-kind Himalayan salt-lined meat locker, our juicy striploin is brushed with wagyu tallow. This is what gives the steak that extra edge. Rather than butter, the wagyu trimmings provide that elevated essence that lifts a robust steak to a heightened opulence. The kitchen happily accommodates dietary restrictions with a symphony of carrots, gently laid on a carrot puree with fresh herbs and crispy sage.
With a steak generous enough to share, we trade half portions and I enjoy an eloquent wild mushroom risotto. Perfectly cooked rice is lavished with an unusually savoury and complex flavour profile. Sophisticated and hearty, and chock full of cèpes, chanterelles, shitake and oyster mushrooms, this lush woodsy dish is pure comfort by the forkful.
At an adjacent family table, our server is causing quite a stir while he flambés Cherries Jubilee (from the standard menu.) His culinary performance-art, done so well, is worthy of a standing ovation! Generous to a fault, there are three dessert choices from which we select Butter Cake with salted caramel sauce, white Chantilly cream and fresh berries. This is so seductively rich that with each bite I say, “okay, that’s it,” until I succumb to another. A second dessert of Profiteroles, crisp balls of choux pastry filled with cream cheese icing and vanilla ice cream, are sweet confection that pair harmoniously with an espresso.
Winterlicious is a splendid program to introduce diners to new restaurants at an “introductory” price. This is the perfect opportunity to enjoy Black & Blue.
Winterlicious runs from January 26 to February 8.
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.