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Per Se/Alinea 'like' restaurant in Toronto?

Chris Nutall-Smith asked a question on Twitter yesterday.

The question was:

"The most ambitious cooks I know always say that a Per Se -type resto could never survive in Toronto. True?"

Curious to know what other "Chowhounders" think?

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  1. If the food and service is good and the price is right, people will come!!! However, before that, the chef who decide to pursue this venture must have 'star appeal'!!

    Eigensinn Farm, which I found over-rated for the price they charge and the food they serve, not to mention the long drive, managed to survive after all these years and still attracting patrons! And Stadtlander, though a great chef by Ontario standard, is no Keller, Achatz, Robouchon or Ducasse

    1. Shoto is still doing fine right? I mean its not exactly the same as Per Se but its definitely a high end conceptual approach that would be in contention for Michelin stars if the publication came here.

      9 Replies
      1. re: themiguel

        I think he means über-high end. Shoto is fine dining,but is still reasonably priced and isn't that over the top in terms of atmosphere.

        1. re: justxpete

          We are venturing into un-chartered territory??!!

          Apart from the 'old' David Lee Splendido, I cannot recall a single restaurant in town that has provided the 'whole package' ( food, wine, service, ambiance ). And even the old Splendido is far from Per Se or any of the US Michelin 3*!

          In my book, the old Splendido is more like the 1* Cafe Boulud on NYC's upper East side.

          1. re: Charles Yu

            I've had meals at the new Splendido that I'd consider 2*... But they don't wear white gloves anymore and are a lot less expensive. And those are just one-off meals. But yes, Per Se et al are on a different level than anything we have in TO.

            And Charles, don't forget who was cooking your food at the old Splendido.

            I think even if a place like Grace opened in TO it would be the best restaurant we'd have.

            1. re: justxpete

              Sure miss David Lee's tasting menu!! Masterful!!

            2. re: Charles Yu

              I think Perigee tried pretty hard to deliver the 'whole package'. Location and ambience were problematic, however.

            3. re: justxpete

              Reasonably priced? Two people aren't getting out of there for less than $600 with drinks. Agreed that its not traditional fine dining atmosphere. You would have to think it would get a star though.

              1. re: themiguel

                Per Se/Alinea start at around $550 w/o drinks. Supplimental menu items can bring a single meal up to $600+ (at Per Se, anywho). By the time you factor in a bottle or two of wine or wine pairings, the bill gets pretty steep.

                1. re: justxpete

                  Yup!! It sure can get pretty expensive with supplements of $75 Osetra Caviar and $40 Perigold Duck Foie Gras added onto the $295 Chef's Tasting Menu!! At least service is included!! Ha!

              2. re: justxpete

                I don't know that I would consider $150 pp -- current price at Shoto -- "reasonably priced."

                Current menu price at Alinea is $210 pp, and $195 at Eleven Madison Park.

                These are all pretty high end places, I'd say.

            4. There seems to be plenty of wealth and a kind of insane level of conspicuous consumption in TO, so on the surface it seems possible.

              Perhaps the reservation is that while there are a number of places in TO that have prix fixe menus in the $100+ range, and lots of places that feel comfortable charging $40-50 for an entree, I gather most of these places focus on (in comparison) relatively traditional cooking -- North 44, Scaramouche, Canoe, George, etc..

              I haven't been to all of these places personally, so perhaps my impression here is off. If not, though, perhaps the thought is that TO high end diners are a bit too conservative to support a place like this?

              I did try Colborne Lane once (albeit during Restaurant Week), and thought it was kind of lame.

              1. A place that no one seems to talk about, and I have never been, is Hashimoto. They charge $300 a head without drinks. If Per Se type restaurant means this price point and doing small numbers each night, then the answer to the question is yes this type of restaurant could survive because here is an example of one.

                2 Replies
                1. re: dubchild

                  I now see in the "most expensive" post that people do talk about Hashimoto.

                  1. re: dubchild

                    Hashimoto is truly extraordinary, exquisite, and every meal includes improvisation with the freshest ingredients. I have never been served the same dish twice. It is perfectly comparable to the same type of highly refined, complex cuisine in Japan. However, it is rather...inaccessible? esoteric? if you do not have a strong background in Japanese culture, and it is a ghastly value unless money has no meaning for you and unless Japan (not food) is one of your great joys in life. The more you know about Japan, the better the value.

                    A dish there may reference not only season and locale, but also art, religion, literature.

                    The closest I have come to the Hashimoto experience in a western restaurant was not in the US but at La Madia in Sicily. Each plate laden with metaphor as well as with fabulous food.

                    The US does not have the same cultural depth or historical perspective available for its kitchens. And I say that as an American native. Great regional diversity, but no poetry.

                    Canada? Toronto? And I choose to say no more as a Canadian by choice.

                    But +1 for Stadtlander , and he does try harder.

                  2. Many of the world's top restaurants are by home grown chefs. Toronto has Susur Lee and David Lee as 2 of the best but they're just not in the class of a Thomas Keller.

                    If not home grown, I don't think Toronto can attract foreign top chefs. They go where the money is and it's not here. I've had better "European" fine dining in wealth-rich Asian places like Hong Kong and Singapore than in Toronto. Daniel Boulud opened up here but only the cheaper Bistro.

                    Hashimoto-san's Kaiseki restaurant has 2 tables, if I recall correctly in my last visit. And I'm not sure that Stadtlander would survive if he had to pay downtown Toronto lease rates. Both are uniquely niche and neither of them are representative to be an indication that Per Se could survive in Toronto.

                    1. We don't have the market for a Per Se. The fact Yannick decided to stick with Nota Bene, with a lower pricepoint, and Splendido then revamped as slightly less expensive and more casual, are good indicators that there isn't much of a market for fine dining in TO. Restos charge what the market will bear.

                      16 Replies
                      1. re: prima

                        I think these days, it doesn't have as much to do with the location but with economy. Even restaurants like Per Se and the French Laundry dropped their prices down and offered reduced price fixed menus in accordance with the market.

                        So I dunno if people can say that Toronto just doesn't have the market to support a upscale fine dining 3 star restaurant like the French Laundry or Per Se? If you look at the history of Thomas Keller, when he opened his first restaurant Rakel in New York, it closed due to the stock market bottoming out and not because of the location. His business partner wanted to a more casual style bistro and Keller parted company to later open the French Laundry.

                        When Keller opened up the French Laundry, the economy had improved, but it was located in the middle of nowhere in Napa Valley. His restaurant eventually became a destination restaurant, due to it's reputation in adherence to excellence in both food, and service.

                        Imo there will always be a market for upscale, fine dining Michelin starred restaurants, but whether the Canadian market can supply one of this caliber is a different story.

                        1. re: asagiri

                          i'd say it's market but in a broader sense of the term, not just disposable income but attitude.

                          toronto likes hip. toronto likes hot. toronto doesn't like formal dining, jackets required. if you want to make money here, you can't be per se or the french laundry. chang got it right with his focus being on noodle bar and daisho... that's where the money is going to roll in from.

                          1. re: asagiri

                            I wouldn't compare the market in Northern California to the market in TO. What Keller can do (and charge) in Napa, located within a 2 h drive of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto and Mountain View, is completely different than what someone could do (and charge) in the Golden Horseshoe.
                            YMMV

                          2. re: prima

                            It hasn't been tried before. So I don't know if what Splendido and NB have done is a fair indicator.

                            Also, the average income in Toronto is $20k higher than the average in Chicago, and we're now a bigger city as well. If they can have 3-4 places in Chicago, how is it that we don't think we can support one?

                            Also, as others have pointed out, if we can support a place like Hashimoto at $300 head, how is it that we think a Per Se-like restaurant will fail?

                            1. re: justxpete

                              I don't think it tends to be the average Chicago home owner who is dining out at Alinea. I think you'd have to compare the restaurant spending of the superwealthy, expense accounts, foodie locals and foodie visitors in TO and Chicago to get a better idea of why Chicago has able to support so many top restaurants/why TO hasn't been able to support so many top restaurants (pricewise).

                              This is purely anecdotal, but most Chowhounds I have met do not own homes, and most homeowners I know do not spend nearly as much on restaurants as the Chowhounds I have met. I think using the average price of a home as a measure to gauge whether a city can support a Per Se level restaurant is problematic.

                              I realize you're talking about entire cities supporting an Alinea-type restaurant, but if we took this idea to the smaller scale, looking at suburbs and tony neighbourhoods, Oakville, Forest Hill and Rosedale have pretty lame restaurant offerings considering the price of their real estate.

                              1. re: prima

                                I said average income, not the price of homes. Anyway, it's just one factor among thousands, for comparisons sake. And the fact that Stock is still open despite serving, by all accounts, horrible food means that we have visitors that are willing to spend money.

                                Also, most mid-range places here are creeping up to $150-200 for dinner for two. Do we not think those same consumers will 'splurge' once in a while, given the opportunity?

                                1. re: prima

                                  Re: income
                                  My mistake. Sorry I missed the edit window!
                                  Either way, I don't think the average income earner would be the person going to Alinea, even for special occasions. I think most average income earners in Chicago and in TO would be in the $100-150/2 range for special occasion dinners.

                                  1. re: prima

                                    The point was that since the average income is $20k higher than in Chicago (which is very significant) there are more people make more money in Toronto, at the top of the spectrum. It's not that the average income earner would be going, it's what the average tells us.

                                    1. re: justxpete

                                      I understand what you're saying.

                                      What I'm saying is, is that the average income earner's salary is not a good indicator to consider whether a city can support an Alinea.

                                      Chicago's top of the spectrum is much wealthier than our top of the spectrum, even if our average is paid better.

                                      1. re: prima

                                        Then one percent of the one percent isn't the target demographic. Average income is a relevant measure.

                                        1. re: prima

                                          "Chicago's top of the spectrum is much wealthier than our top of the spectrum, even if our average is paid better."

                                          Actually, that's not true either.

                                          Toronto has 118,000 millionaires. Chicago has 107,000.
                                          Toronto has 1200 multi-millionaires. Chicago has 804.

                                          The only demographic in terms of wealth that Chicago beats Toronto is Billionaires - Chicago has 15 vs. 5 in Toronto. But do we really think 10 (literally) people will make a difference?

                                          1. re: justxpete

                                            I would think you should be including the wealthy from the area within a 2 h drive of Chicago in that count (such as Milwaukee, Evanston, etc), not just the wealthy living in Chicago proper.

                                            1. re: prima

                                              I don't know if it's included or not - but now I think we're just splitting hairs.

                                              1. re: justxpete

                                                Yeah I mean the Toronto figure probably doesn't include Markham/Newmarket/aurora er al

                                  2. re: justxpete

                                    Chicago, with over 30 Fortune 500 companies headquartered there, including the likes of Boeing, Allstate, Statefarm, McDonalds, Caterpillar, Motorola, Kraft, United/Continental airlines, Sears Holding....etc should provide ample 'business expense accounts' for entertaining purposes...etc. I can see Boeing alone, with buyers coming from all over the world to buy aircraft, can easily saturate a lot of the Michelin restaurants' table availability!!
                                    Comparatively speaking, Toronto's crop of high profile companies are relatively anemic. Just not enough big fat corporate accounts!!

                                    1. re: Charles Yu

                                      Toronto has 11, but i think average income is a better indicator.

                                      Regardless, when I go to these types of restaurants (including in Chicago) I don't see many business types. They are typically a minority.