As I was dining at Avenue in the Four Seasons hotel, I felt a pining for a past that had not yet occurred. During the course of my meal, I was informed that both of the two remaining restaurants in the hotel, Avenue and Studio Café, would serve their final meals that Sunday, the 25th of March. The other restaurant, Truffles, one of the more popular dining establishments of its time and scene of many a kiboshed Summer and Winterlicious reservation, had closed a long time ago.
To be seated in a dated hotel restaurant and be handed a newspaper by the attentive but unhurried staff while I take time to look out the window as I contemplate what dishes to explore is a rare treat in a bustling metropolis like Toronto. I'd imagine that as I tasted each item in my private little space that I'd be transported into the past, both my own and extrapolated other selves, à la Proust eating his madeleine. Except that Proust was probably sickly, in cramped quarters, and not very much enjoying his day off.
I'm not quite certain how I ended up ordering the Elderflower Blossom, a decidedly unmanly drink. Was it all the times I went to Ikea for Swedish meatballs, where I found Elderflower drinks in various forms, leading my subconscious to associate Northern European culinary traditions with 80s 4-star hotel dining? As a kid I had imagined the cool grown-ups smoking menthol cigarettes, flying Pan-Am to their yachting getaways, drinking classic Martinis of Tanqueray with a splash of vermouth and a couple of olives, and of course eating fondue, head cheese, and gravlax. Was it that not too long ago I was served an Elderflower cocktail in Cirque du Soleil's VIP tent, and the saliency of that memory guided my finger down the drink menu?
More likely it was my penchant for complicated highly engineered things that led me to that decision. I mean, on a scale of sublime complexity it topped the list in front of me, with its sake, Grey Goose, Elderflower, and white cranberry. A close runner-up was the Lychee Martini, with Grey Goose, lychee juice, and pitted lychees. But since I grew up on lychees, the novelty of this drink ran thin with me.
There were other Martinis, or colloquially Martinis, that I could never really mention without doing a mental pause. I'm somewhat of a purist in that I like my Martini (there is only one kind) in the aforementioned classic variant, using only gin, not vodka, and most importantly stirred, not shaken, contra to how Bond would have us believe it more sophisticated.
Navy bean and chorizo soup
The soup of the day was navy bean and chorizo. Light and healthy, it brought back memories of Christmases past, and of a far more decadent and likely heart-stoppping dish. Chorizo de Bilbao was something I would only see around the holidays when my grandmother would make Callos, a traditional Filipino/Spanish dish of tripe and bovine knuckles with chorizo and garbanzos stewed in a rich tomato base, eaten with garlic-buttered toasted baguettes and slices of aged Edam cheese.
Sweet chili tuna tartare - avocado, ponzu dressing
After my soup I had a small serving of the tuna tartare. Okay maybe I should retract that earlier lychee statement, not all things oriental fall flat with me. I could never get tired of raw tuna. I suppose a proper hotel would not only serve haute continental cuisine but reach out into fusion i.e. East-meets-West. But I guess even if they did add ponzu to it, tartare is hardly a Japanese word. The word "tartare" is whimsically thought to have been inspired by the Tartar or Tatar people of Central Asia as they apparently ate raw chopped meat (no tuna in the steppes). So I guess it is fusion since it looks like beef tartare, only with ponzu... and no raw egg, anyway.
Steak and salad - romaine hearts, fried onions, Ontario blue cheese dressing
The steak was definitely retro: pale looking greens, thin fried onions, and the practice of cutting into a piece of meat that has not adequately rested, whilst serving it on a white dish dusted with paprika, which was promptly washed away by a stream of juices, depriving the huge medium-rare steak of any prospect of succulence.
Vanilla Corn Pudding - maple brown butter caramel, goat cheese ice cream
Dessert was a rich and gamey affair rather than they typical parade of sweetness. The vanilla corn pudding felt like a Southern and tropical hybrid, with the mellow hint of Madagascar vanilla infusing its velvety base. The accompanying goat cheese ice cream was a little tart, a little refreshing, and lots of tasty punch.
Studio Café was a little less less formal than Avenue, and offered prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner. Lunch was priced at $19.61in honour of the Four Season's founding year. We had the 3-course "Yorkville Prix Fixe" $49 dinner menu which included 2 glasses of wine each.
The food was good, and I shall list what we had below. But rather than dwell on the gustatory characteristics of the cuisine in this other Four Seasons restaurant (I'm pretty sure I've talked enough about food above) I shall expound on why for me at least this place will be sorely missed.
I came of age in the late 80s with all the Keith Haring art, Fido Dido, Duran Duran, Max Headroom et. al. Stepping into Studio Café was like a blast from the past, with all the colourful glasswork, the spartan yet modern furnishing, and the feeling of being in the space where the establishment once lunched.
That decade was also the zenith of plating dishes as if they were wall art, with geometric shapes and streaks of colour. The decadence of the those years past immortalized by the infamous characters of Gordon Gekko and Patrick Bateman still lingered in that quiet, vibrant, and contemplative space.
Ironically, the same reasons why I enjoyed my time at the two restaurants above are the very same reasons that they no longer exist. They were relics that were stylistically and economically untenable. Most people would think them subpar, but some will surely miss them. Why is Instagram so popular and emotive? -- not because of fidelity and quality, but because of associations of memory and abstractions of the soul.
Our meal consisted of:
Beef tartare - poppy seed brioche, truffled frisée salad
Olive oil poached sablefish - edamame, meyer lemon, pea greens, miso vinaigrette
Seared sea scallops - black trumpet mushrooms, cauliflower purée, hazelnuts, brown butter
Thyme roasted duck breast - rutabaga and bacon, mustard greens, rhubarb vanilla compote
Black forest cake - brandied cherries
Carrot cake cheesecake - carrot confit
Posted by: Mark Rodas