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Let's talk about Frank and the AGO!

I'm suspicious of: A) restaurants in art museums; and B) large beautiful restaurants in Toronto with furnishings that cost more than my home and have menus that sound like they come from the NYTimes food review. Even so, my partner and I tried Frank tonight. I'd had brunch there (good, but brunch?), but was leery. However, we were really impressed by the meal. A prix fixe meal at that! Am I missing something? I don't see much on chowhound about this place.

We gingerly went for the prix fixe that complemented the Chagall exhibit. There were two or three choices per course - we chose gravlax, sturgeon, and apple charlotte. The other contenders were borscht (appetizer), brisket or barley cabbage rolls (main), and chocolate cake (the waiter warned us away from this). The service was excellent and friendly, and the room itself was cozy.

It was fabulous. Every item, from the chocolate-espresso pumpernickel bread (which sounds gimmicky, but was delicious), to the roasted carrots, was fabulous. The main--Canadian sturgeon--was meaty, moist and delicious. The portion was HUGE, really too huge, but the quality was great. The carrots and sturgeon were accompanied by a potato-onion latke and a mustard hollandaise.

Is this place reliable? I have to say, it was one of the best meals I've had in this city. It's at the high end of our price point, but I think we'll go back. The only caveat: their decaf was a little sour. But still a great place.

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FRANK @ The Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5T I4G, CA

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  1. shhhh...you're letting the secret out!

    1. it's a highly under-rated restaurant in the city. the prices are a bit high but i have a membership which offsets the prices by about 10%.

      they have a fantastic seafood chef, that's always my go to there. the less conventional desserts always rock. my only complaint is that they used to have a menu that was approachable but had touches of unique and interesting cooking, they've gone more basic the past few months. i have had much higher highs at frank than at nota bene and much lower lows at nota bene, but to me they're quite equivalent otherwise.

      15 Replies
      1. re: pinstripeprincess

        What seafood dishes have you ordered at Nota Bene and how do they compare to Frank's? I've found the seafood dishes to be exceptionally executed and the housemade pasta is the best in the city.

        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

          I was there a couple of years ago and the food was excellent. I had the liver and it was probably the best I have ever had outside my own kitchen.

          1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

            i've never had pasta at Frank because i don't even think they offer it often if at all, maybe sometimes gnocchi but that's something i've started avoiding at restaurants. the pasta that i've had at nota bene, while nice never wowed me and i'd get bored about halfway through because it all tasted the same. i suffer from fullness-by-disinterest.

            it's been a while since i've been at nota bene, i've had a fish dish and their tuna tartare before. they were finely executed but utterly boring. at frank i've usually had seafood apps - octopus, crab cakes, etc and they're fantastic and interesting. texture spot on. as margieev mentions... i'm always swayed by items like liver or tongue at frank so the fish doesn't make it to the main section.

            i know you have a fondness for david lee, but nota bene never makes it on my list of suggestions. they don't do anything wrong, but i don't feel like they do enough right at their price point.

          2. re: pinstripeprincess

            I found it interesting that you brought up Nota Bene as a comparable restaurant, pinstripeprincess.

            I like the food at Frank, and visit every couple months, but my last 2 meals at Nota Bene have been more inspired and more delicious than my last 2 meals at Frank.

            I've occasionally found the kitchen at Nota Bene a little heavy handed with the salt, and I've occasionally found the kitchen at Frank to underseason or undersalt the soups and salads. I guess I'm a little bit like Goldilocks when it comes to salt.

            If I was looking to order seafood at Nota Bene or Frank, I'd choose Nota Bene over Frank. I tried the octopus & merguez, and scallop dish on the Frank menu on my second last visit. Both were quite good, but I prefer the scallop preparations I've ordered at Nota Bene. For octopus, I prefer the traditional grilled version at Volos to any of the octopus preparations I've had at Nota Bene or Frank.

            I enjoyed the blood orange & fennel salad on the current menu at Frank, but I thought their new-fangled Waldorf was missing something.

            1. re: prima

              it's been a few months since i've been to frank, i'm no longer in a position to throw money at meals that i'm not excited about and unfortunately they've tamed down the menu that i cannot make them a priority. if they ever brought back the crab cakes, the tongue, etc even for one day i'd run over to them in a heartbeat. i check their website menu every couple of weeks...

              i am a low salt person.... perhaps that's one of the appeals.

              unfortunately nota bene has been meh for me, through and through, after a handful of visits. the one thing i really enjoyed was a panna cotta dessert w/ grapefruit. all the raved about dishes didn't get me. even the kobe beef burger, i enjoyed significantly more at toronto taste in a mini version than when i plunked down a hefty fee to have a full sized one at the bar. it's probably been about a year now since i was last at nota bene, and unless someone takes me there i've got little reason to go back... well maybe if the ramen shows up ever again.

              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                Fair enough. My best meals at Nota Bene have been over the last year. If someone takes you there, I recommend the fish dishes and the seasonal vegetable dishes. Nota Bene has the best "continental restaurant" vegetable side dishes I've tasted in TO. I probably wouldn't order their burger again, but I will return any time I need a contemporary/continental meal near Osgoode Station. I actually wished I had gone to Nota Bene for supper last Wed, after an underwhelming meal at another restaurant nearby.

                1. re: prima

                  Agreed-of all the things on the menu, the burger would be the last thing I would order at Nota Bene-or anywhere for that matter.

                  1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                    i'm with you...restaurant burgers always disappoint and are never the true test of the kitchens

                    1. re: ingloriouseater

                      I know it's fashionable to hate on haute burgers nowadays but blanket statements always come back to bite you in the ass.

                      I would certainly rate the Bymark burger as top 10 dish of Toronto, of all foods. I would kill to have a Minetta Tavern burger available here.

                      To stick to the topic, the nota bene burger was a snoozefest for me.

                      1. re: aser

                        Of course a haute burger can be good, but generally speaking I avoid ordering them at restaurants. But I'm off to Minetta next month and will definitely be ordering the Black label.

                        To get back to the topic of Frank, have you eaten there Aser?

                        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                          I replied but for some reason it was deleted.

                          no I haven't eaten at frank but generally pay a little more to eat at splendido in this price range. Personal preference, their menu is more interesting to me.

                          maybe it'll get deleted again.

                    2. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                      are we talking about the kobe burger or the regular burger?

                      i have had more than the burger, so if that's what you want to read into it fine. the vegetable side dishes, while nice have been quite plain for me. charcuterie hard and boring. pastas fine, duck salad an ok riff on a viet version, fish crudo nice but unexceptional... i could go on.

                      sws, have we established if you have eaten at frank or not?

                      1. re: pinstripeprincess

                        Not reading into anything RE: burger at NB-it's what you referred to eating there recently in your post.

                        I have not dined at Frank but have been curious about it. You seem pretty bored with the restaurant scene lately, as nothing seems to ever be quite exciting enough for you. Since you mentioned good seafood at Frank I wanted to get an idea of how those dishes compared to the seafood dishes at NB, which for me, have been well executed and far from boring. The charcuterie that I've had at NB on 3 separate visits has never been 'hard' or boring. The pasta is incredible in my books but really I think we just have completely different palates and/or expectations dining out.

                        And yes I do indeed have a fondness for David Lee but still miss many of his wonderful creations at the old Splendido.

                        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                          the only reason i ordered the kobe burger is because i have had a prior good experience in a different context. one that was memorable. so i thought i'd try it out.

                          my dining budget has been drastically cut, so heading out to eat these days requires something memorable regardless of being unique. several places make me quite happy and i return to them. i have also mentioned that Frank's menu is has been less intriguing the past few months and so its been a while.

                          i should make it completely clear then that NB did not live up to my expectations from the start and it's been open for a few years now. Frank opened at a similar time and more than worked for me so i made a decision to go in that direction. it's probably been nearly 2 years since i had a proper meal at NB so trying to give you detailed accounts as to why i think it is better is nigh impossible, unfortunately.

                        2. re: pinstripeprincess

                          What I've liked about the vegetable dishes at NB, over the past year, is that they have not been plain. Much more interesting than they were in NB's first year of business. I loved the caramelized spicy/sweet brussels sprouts in the fall of 2011, and I loved their white asparagus salad in the spring of 2011. I find the frites with parmesan boring, but many of their side dishes that I have ordered over my last 3 visits have not been plain.

                          When Nota Bene first opened, I found the menu a little too plain for my tastes, and I usually chose to eat at Nota Bene when I was eating with plain eaters, but over the last couple years, I always find a few interesting, inspired menu options at Nota Bene. They continue to offer a several plain options, so I can continue to dine there with plain eaters.

                          Re: charcuterie. I haven't tried NB's charcuterie, but my main complaint about charcuterie in restaurants is that it tends to be boring, so I rarely order it. ;-)

                          Dungeness crabcakes with avocado and coriander ($29) are listed as the current Wed night dinner special. Now I'm really wishing that's where I had dined last Wed. http://www.notabenerestaurant.com/menus/

                          I understand being hesitant or unwilling to give a restaurant another chance after having mediocre, underwhelming and/or disappointing visits. I'm extremely hesitant to return to Woodlot, even though a number of friends with great taste have loved it.

              2. My husband and I did the Chagall exhibit and dinner combo as well. We ordered each of the two options and shared everything except passed on the sturgeon. I found everything really well balanced in flavour except for the buckwheat cabbage rolls. i've had better at Future Bakery! Like alot of people, I am tired of paying exorbitant prices for so-so meals but found Frank to be consistently delicious! If I had to criticize anything, the service was very hot and cold. our server was at times aloof, then all of a sudden incredibly warm and thoughtful (offering us a better table, offering to hold on to our coats and bags as we went back into the exhibit for a bit, but when I asked to be reminded on the sauce for the cabbage rolls, she seemed bothered. Weird. Anyways, I used to eat out for dinner at least 4 times a week for years and Frank is currently on my shortlist of "consistent quality, delicious, one of the few places you get what you pay for".

                1. Can someone let me know whether dinner/lunch at Frank includes admission to the AGO? I know it won't include the special exhibits, but regular admission?

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: milhuas3

                    Lunch or dinner at Frank doesn't include admission to the AGO.

                      1. re: LidaK

                        The executive chef is Anne Yarymowich and chef de cuisine is Martha Wright.

                        http://www.ago.net/frank-food

                        1. re: Full tummy

                          Martha has left... creative differences with the chef...

                          1. re: ParkerQ

                            do you know where she went or is going and how long of a split? she was the main reason Frank got my attention in the first place. the menu has been a bit of dullsville lately but i really enjoyed their malt ice cream recently.

                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                              As far as I know she is exploring options right now... enjoying her time off... I think she has been gone about a month...

                  2. I'm biased because I was married in this restaurant in front of 4 friends, but I love the food. Every time. And the wine & service are amazing. ALWAYS want to go here. Always. Best design in the city, too. A breath of fresh air.

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                    FRANK @ The Art Gallery of Ontario
                    317 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5T I4G, CA

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: troublebunny

                      While the Frank may be an OK restaurant ( way too overpriced IMHO), the design of it is terrible. The room has no flow, and has a cold feeling to it. We got stuck at a table in the corner beside the wine cabinet, and were basically forgotten about. The restaurant was not very busy, which made us question why we were stuck in a corner. Can't even remember what we had - not a memorable experience.

                      1. re: phisherking

                        i agree that the design is not great. you really need to specify which table when you reserve, because some parts of the room are like being in a quiet cave, and some are so loud due to poor acoustics that you can barely think.

                        but i think the food & service are lovely.