Where To DINE Now: TOCA

We Deserve To Dine At The Ritz

TOCA tantalizes our taste-buds. We are deserving. Finally, in Toronto, we too have a magnificent Ritz Carlton hotel. Eagerly awaited, newly opened, it is gliding smoothly toward becoming the iconic hostelry and gathering place that Ritz Carlton hotels are everywhere. Never cookie cutter clones, each Ritz Carlton has a unique set of bars and dining rooms that surprise and delight guests. In Toronto, TOCA (an acronym for Toronto, Canada) is no exception. The city is abuzz with chat about the intriguing cheese cave; TOCA Bar, the Latin tapas-style bar/lounge; DEQ, with its outdoor pizza oven, and the culinary artistry of Chef Tom Brodi and his extravagantly crafted Chef’s Tables.

Click, click, click of heels as we walk through the luminous marble lobby, flattered by light from gorgeous hand-blown chandeliers. We pause to admire the gracious curve of the TOCA Bar, and floating above it all, the twinkling lights of TOCA. The dramatic staircase that evokes visions of 40s movies, is much more fun to climb than taking a mundane elevator. And we are here. The gleaming open kitchen is the heart and soul of TOCA. This is where Tom Brodi pours his creativity and sees it come to fruition.
Attended by servers in jaunty un-uniforms of candy stripe shirts, we are surprised that in a restaurant so newly minted, there is such a high degree of authoritative knowledge of the nuances of the menu.

I am beginning to imagine Tom Brodi working in his prior posting at Canoe, imagining all the fanciful alterations and additions he would make when one day he had his own kitchen. And here they are: whimsical serving dishes are red, the color of fun, fun, fun. Bread comes in a red curvy dish; duck soup with cappuccino foam arrives in red cups held aloft on a kind of whimsical egg rack. Fois gras, a very serious item, is topped with pure maple syrup cotton candy. A halved, hollowed out marrow bone is the vessel for chunky crab meat moistened with marrow and tarragon butter and textured with crisp fennel. A first for me, ripe avocado is sliced, breaded and crisp fried. Are we having fun yet? You bet. And we’re loving every minute.

Tim Terceira, GM of the hotel, says, “Our goal is to be so successful with local guests that hotel guests will want to dine here. “ From where I sit, it seems they are succeeding. Local diners as well as visitors, appreciate being served Canadian sourced foods.

To answer the frequently asked question, what is Canadian cuisine, anyway? Brodi has the answer at TOCA. Main courses include classic dishes, filtered through his whimsical creativity. Fish and chips are beer battered lobster, crisp and crackling in the mouth. Miso glazed cod has the distinct top-notes of maple syrup, his grass-fed Bison from Alberta is particularly tasty, considering that this lean meat has almost indiscernible marbling. His trio of scallops is further enhanced by Abitibi caviar and sour cream.

The Cheese Cave is stocked by Afrim Pristine of The Cheese Boutique. Nothing has been overlooked in this $250,000 installation. Three staffers care for the $50,000 stock and wipe the rinds, mist the cabinet doors, and maintain the delicacy of this room.

The variety is simply amazing. Everything from Babybel (for the children, we’re told) to the rare cows milk cheese from Ragusano, Sicily. The 20 kg. block here is valued at $4,000.

We are tempted by the Cheese Cave to try at least five varieties, but our thoughts veer to the trio of soufflés that come with a trio of sauces. We get an irresistible presentation of flavors of Grand Marnier soufflé, chocolate soufflé and maple soufflé, with chocolate sauce, crème anglaise and Grand Marnier sauce.

So many good things eaten; so many left untried. TOCA is like a culinary adventure tour that beckons us back time and time again.

TOCA, at The Ritz-Carlton
181 Wellington Street W., Toronto, ON

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