Review: Canoe (Valentines Day) - long
My wife and I went to Canoe for Valentines Day. Canoe was offering a limited prix fixe menu for the occasion. Neither my wife nor I had been to Canoe previously.
I must confess that we were a little bit disappointed by the menu selection as it seemed to be remarkably unadventurous (more on this later).
We were greeted and immediately shown to our table. We had the earlier seating at 6:30 but the restaurant was quite full when we arrived (I would guess approximately 90-95% full). The one good thing about the early seating time was that we were fortunate enough to have a clear day so caught the last little bit of the sunset. For those of who are not familiar with the restaurant, it is located on the fifty-fourth floor of the TD Bank Tower which is a sort of odd location for a restaurant.
My wife ordered the Digby lobster and Bay of Fundy scallop appetizer and, somewhat unusually for her, the filet mignon. I ordered the same appetizer and the roast pheasant.
We were brought our amuse bouche which was roasted Jerusalem artichokes with two coloured beets. I loved Jerusalem artichokes, particularly after the frost hits which heightens their natural sugar content. The roasting was very nice making the Jerusalem artichokes Sticky sweet. As you may know, Jerusalem artichokes look sort of like ginger root. The presentation of the artichokes did a sort of tourné which resulted in the artichoke being presented as a kind of long peel (imagine peeling an apple and youll understand what I mean). The beets (red and yellow) had been boiled which left most of their natural sweetness in place but transformed their colour. The effect was most striking in red beet which took on the colour of a red radish skin. The sauce for the amuse was a sort of diluted sour cream with fish eggs. The fish eggs were sort of like tabiko in that they had been marinated with wasabi but the actual eggs were larger (approximately the size of caviar eggs). Very nice.
The lobster and scallop appetizer arrived and I must confess to being a little bit disappointed. It was a cold dish which was not what I was expecting. I dont recall the exact description in the menu but the dish that arrived was involved chunks of lobster tail meat and a couple of scallops tossed with a bit of mache and served atop what looked like green soba noodles. The entire dish was dressed in what tasted like a mayonnaise-based dressing with citrus added. The dish was good if unremarkable. The ingredients were perfectly prepared. The lobster and scallops were cooked perfectly, just past the raw stage resulting in exceptionally tender meat. Perhaps I just couldnt get over my disappointment over the dish being a cold dish.
After the appetizers were cleared, we were brought the palate cleanser: lychee and champagne sorbet. I am usually not a fan of champagne sorbet. I love champagne but have never been a fan of doctoring by making it into a cocktail or sorbet. This dish was an exception to the rule. The perfumy nature of lychee went very nicely with the flavour of the champagne. Definitely a thumbs up.
As I mentioned earlier, my wife had ordered the filet mignon and I had roast pheasant. My wife ordered her filet medium which I thought might be a little dry for this cut of meat. Her dish came out a little rarer than medium which I think actually worked better for the dish. The meat was very nicely cooked and simple side dishes were well prepared. The dish was unremarkable but then that is not the fault of the preparation so much as the nature of the dish. My pheasant was very nice. I had never had pheasant before and I quite enjoyed it. It is not exotic tasting at all (which was disappointing). It is like a very flavourful chicken. It was roasted quite nicely but ultimately, it tasted like chicken. It was stuffed with minced meat of some sort (perhaps the leg meat of the pheasant?). I dont recall the my side dishes other than to say they were good (I didnt take notes during the meal as I did at Susur and Im sure the martini I had before dinner as well as the prosecco during dinner didnt help ;-)
Dessert was a shared sampler of chocolate desserts. They were very nice but neither my wife nor I are dessert fiends.
I thought the service was very good during our meal. Our waiter was very professional and attentive albeit completely formal. Even the busboy was very professional and attentive. I saw a person walking through the restaurant in chefs whites and so I asked the busboy if that was Anthony Walsh (the head chef of Canoe). He replied that it was and asked if I knew Anthony. I guess he was a little surprised that I might have recognized Mr. Walsh because I guess he keeps a pretty low profile. I for one have never seen him on the Food Network. Regardless, without being asked to do so, the busboy brought the chef over and we chatted for a few minutes. I didnt get the impression that this was the normal course for Mr. Walsh but it was a nice touch.
In the course of our conversation we mentioned to him that we had recently moved from New York City and so we got on the topic on NYC restaurants. It turns out his favourite restaurant is Gramercy Tavern which, he said, gets it perfect in terms of great food and excellent service. Coincidentally, GT is our favourite restaurant as well. The other thing he suggested but didnt state explicitly was that the menu was toned down for Valentines Day. I guess they were expecting a lot of guests for Valentines who do not typically go to restaurants like Canoe. Certainly the menu that would suggest this (e.g. filet mignon, veal chop, pasta, etc., nothing too adventurous). He really encouraged us to come again some other time. The regular menu on Canoes website looks a lot more interesting to me than the menu my wife and I had so I suspect we will in fact try it again.
Overall I would say that we real enjoyed our experience. I was somewhat disappointed by the menu but both the preparation and the service were very good. I would be willing to try Canoe again for the regular menu.
Dinner for two with one cocktail and two glasses of prosecco, inclusive of tax and tip was $294.
In response to Jonathan's comment about Canoe's location...here is some history which is dating myself a little bit but my memory is vague. When the TD Tower opened, it was the tallest building in Toronto and had an observation deck into the early 1980's when the CN Tower made it redundant. During the same time, there was a restaurant which I think was called Fifty-fourth which harkens back to the "old days" as it was dark, plush leather seating, a "man's" restaurant serving shrimp cocktail, steak etc. I think it shut down in the late 1980's and sat empty for a while. Retauranteur Oliver, opened Canoe in mid 1990's which was seen as a big risk but buffeted by generous landlord inducements. The rest is history.