A Tale of Two Palates: Sara Waxman and Adam Waxman dine-out in Toronto’s restaurant scene and share their views.
Market Street has been revitalized. It was once known as “Muddy York”. We’ve used this road as a short cut, a parking spot and a taxi drop off. Perfectly situated for restaurants sourcing the best ingredients, it runs down from an LCBO and across from the St. Lawrence Market. This is the Boardwalk on Toronto’s culinary Monopoly board. Uniquely suited for summer patios, its makeover has a European cultural sensibility and reflects the diversity of Toronto’s food scene. At its base is a real find: Cresta.
AW: There is a tone of structured informality. Clean lines direct our attention up, while an open kitchen and circular bar keep us grounded. A rising tower showcases the wine—a major component of the dining experience here. There is a Cal-Italia feel and that suits the menu. I’m sure when summer heats up, and the doors slide open, this is a particularly inviting space. Right across from the St. Lawrence Market, this enclave has become a repurposed destination for dining that, even a couple years ago, did not exist.
SW: I came here recently for an event. I tasted their pizza, and I can’t get it out of my mind. The texture of the toppings and the crust were wonderful. The joy of pizza is as personal as a fingerprint.
AW: I was here a year ago and I still remember it. You can imagine I’ve had a few pizzas over the course of one year. The difference is in the crust. It’s got a crunch that reflects a patient kitchen. They let the dough sit for four days so the yeast can activate for a perfect sweetness. My favourite is their brunch pizza of roasted red pepper and pumpkin sauce, mixed mushrooms, pancetta and onion. Two poached eggs perch in the centre as if they were hatched there.
SW: So, we’re starting with the Brussels sprouts. These are not your granny’s Brussels sprouts, boiled to death—that’s why nobody likes Brussels sprouts, because they were always prepared so poorly. These are cooked and crisped and lightly fried with other good stuff. Tiny and tightly woven, they’re dropped into hot oil for seconds for a light crisp without the oiliness. Our waiter tells me that patrons sit at the bar and pair them with lager. The presentation of scallop ceviche on scallop shells is charming. It’s very pretty. What really gives focus to the dish is that slice of sweet crispy garlic. It just balances the acidity and adds another nuance.
AW: The octopus has heat. This is a generous and meaty portion, and the potatoes and cipollini onions are hearty accompaniments adding depth. I taste a pinch too much harissa spice, however, surprisingly, the house recommendation of Pinot Blanc immediately changes the complexion of this dish, neutralizes and balances the heat, as though the wine were an essential ingredient. Pairings are encouraged, and the recommendations are spot on.
This menu is designed around the wine and takes into account the acid and salt balance of each pairing, so, for example, this Thomas George Estates Pinot Blanc from the Russian River Valley marries perfectly with the balsamic dressing of the Brussels sprouts, the tartness of the ceviche, and the spice of the octopus. That is versatility, and I am amazed how well the wine integrates into the flavour profile of each dish.
It’s important to note that Cresta is named after a vineyard of the renowned Thomas George Estates in Sonoma, California, and that all the wines offered are from this family-run winery. It’s like their good food is a hook to get us to taste their delicious fruit forward, sun-kissed wines.
SW: Fresh muesli bread of flax seeds, raisins and ancient grains comes warm from the oven, baked-to-order. When a restaurant serves good bread, to me, it’s a sign that they have integrity.
AW: I could be satisfied with the earthy sweetness of this bread and the robust and juicy Grenache. I really am enjoying the wines and the accessibility of their pairings—it’s like an education in how the chemistry between the glass and the dish can create something quite pleasing.
SW: The height of luxury is to have something at its source. We’re right across from the St. Lawrence Market, the wines are directly from the vineyards in California, and the chef has all these fresh ingredients to work with. Chef Tri Tran has coaxed and coddled this sea bass to an airy lightness on a sweet and lavish puree of grilled red pepper. You can taste the smokiness of the grill. Thank goodness for the bread. I need to scoop this up. If I came back to have one dish it would be this sea bass. It has such lovely texture.
AW: The pasta is fresh and made in house. The star for me is the ravioli. Mildly sweet and stuffed with chestnut and ricotta, it is topped with crisp pancetta and bedazzled with pop-in-your-mouth pomegranate seeds. I could share this, but I don’t want to. The contrast in textures, and the sweet to salt combination, from the soft lush stuffing to the crisp topping is harmonious and very satisfying. The pasta with rabbit is also a generous portion. Square-shaped pasta with rabbit and mushrooms is savoury and tender. The Pinot Noir is a blend from three different vineyards, and its soft tannins of florals and ripe berries seem to open up the salt balance of the rabbit dish, and also elevate the sweet and lush notes of the chestnut and ricotta.
SW: I would have preferred the braised duck leg and the chicken liver to be separate from each other, but it is richly textured and intensely flavourful. Along with delicate kale spaghetti, shy and retiring this is not. This is a generous dish like home cooking is generous. I don’t know how one person could finish this unless they were playing hockey all day.
AW: I thought I was being discreet when I was rubbing my shirt, but our eagle-eyed waiter noticed from across the room that I made a little splash on my shirt, and immediately brought me a glass of soda water and a napkin. That is attentive service.
SW: For dessert we agree on the apple crumble. The kitchen cores a whole Golden Delicious apple, slowly bakes it, so it retains its shape and texture, sets it on a throne of tasty crumble and tops it with a dollop of house made gelato. This is the apple of my eye. A perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. The gelato is thick and creamy.
AW: For me, Cresta is all about the pairings. With each dish we must pair. Your coffee, with its clever and delicious novelty of sugar mixed with a dash of espresso, pairs perfectly with the creaminess of the gelato and the softness of the caramel. This Late Harvest Viognier has an ambrosial elegance that elicits the fruit of the apple to linger a little longer on my palate. Cresta is Sonoma’s food and wine embassy in Toronto…just a little closer than the golden coast.
~Cresta, 118 The Esplanade, 416-901-9113~