Red's - New Review (June 2007)
I’d always thought Red’s was just another boring, Bay Street restaurant. But when a fellow CH’er accused the chef of brilliance, Mr. Rabbit and I decided to check it out. This place was fantastic — one of our best Toronto restaurant meals in memory. Yes, it was “brilliant.”
We stopped by for impromptu dinner on a Thursday night. Bar was happening, and tapas menu looked interesting, but we were in for serious dinner, so opted for a table in the main dining room. Very affable host took us “upstairs” to a warm and spacious room with red wood and stone and tables nicely spaced for private and intimate conversation. The vibe was formal-ish, but not stuffy.
Breadbasket was a nice mix of breadsticks, French, flatbread and toasts. We were amuse-d with a little jellied marble of crab, along with a gorgeous spoonful of crab salad, all drizzled with olive oil and floating on cucumber foam — beautiful and flavourful. We started with the “special” appetizer of a green pea soup with lobster. The soup was lovely and tasted entirely of spring. Lobster chunks were generous (hello, claw!), and the overall effect was rich without being at all heavy. Also had a fantastic crab cake. Red’s take on the cake has great zest. There are lots of interesting flavours here — nut, curry, fruit — and the results are wonderful (so is the chutney). All of this went down with a Tuscan red, which their extremely gracious sommelier recommended from an extensive wine list (more on this later).
Mr. Rabbit had the venison special — tenderloin served with spinach and purple potatoes, along with crisp, fried sweetbreads and some sort of mushroom. His plate was beautiful, the meat was red and succulent, and the sweetbreads were good enough that he didn’t share. I had pork —a generous chop, juicy and pink, and a smoked pork shoulder that tasted straight-out-of-Memphis (probably the singularly most impressive thing we ate). The pork was well complimented by mix of root and succotash-y inspired veg.
For dessert, we went with the server’s recs. First, was a chocolate mousse cake served with the densest, most flavourful ball of chocolate ice cream this side of Soma. The cake was rich, but the serving size was perfect for sharing, and did not overwhelm. Also great was the “postre tres leches,” which we would have tragically overlooked, were it not for our server. Sous-vide rhubarb was served over sponge cake, with condensed milk/cream… seasonal and delicious. Someone commented on a previous thread that desserts at Red’s had let them down. Hopefully our experience shows that they’ve cleaned up their act, because both desserts were absolute winners.
The numbers: Total on our evening was $180, before tip. This does not include $30 in free appetizers. Entrees were $35ish, appetizers $15ish, and desserts were $10ish. Red’s has a carefully chosen, and wide variety of wines (10-ish) available by the glass, and which are value-priced by the bottle. There are interesting options here, and glasses are available in either 3 oz or 7 oz pours, so it would be a good place to “play” with wine tasting/pairings. One could get a very decent bottle for $60, although the sky’s the limit (our dream bottle was an $800 Margaux, the Parker-rated “100”).
Misc notes: Also potentially noteworthy was a private dining room for those sometimes in need of such functional space. Note also that the menu on the current web site is not entirely up-to-date, but I’m not sure how frequently they switch things up? The kitchen was obviously playing with seasonal ingredients— crab, rhubarb, peas — and with great results.
We had an initial problem with service, but the sommelier straightened things out and palliated us with comp-ed appetizers, and a couple glasses of bubbly. All subsequent service was wonderfully warm and attentive, including a table-visit from the chef.
We spent some time talking with the sommelier, and he suggested that Red’s has been in process of re-inventing itself over the past year. Apparently the restaurant is on a mission to distinguish itself as one of the best, and has acquired a new chef, new sommelier and much new staff. If the aim is excellence, this place is entirely delivering.
How busy is it on a Thursday night ? We checked out their food after M. Steh became the chef there. It is wonderful especially the steak I got is very well seasoned and grilled ! But the souffle and another dessert we had in there were very disappointing. Looks like we should visit them again as their dessert seems improve a lots.
We arrived about 8:30 - no reservation. Bar was hopping - and quite loud. But the upstairs dining room was not terribly busy (the host suggested it was a slower night for them). They did have a larger party in a private room.
And I read your other post indicating that your desserts had been not-so-good. I'm a big dessert fan, so that would have been a definite let-down for me. We did go with the server's recs (and not our own intuition), and I have to say, desserts were fab. Hope this is a trend and not just dumb luck on our part!