A Tale of Two Palates: Sara Waxman and Adam Waxman dine-out in Toronto’s restaurant scene and share their views.
We love Atlantic lobster, and while the young co-founders of Lbs. Restaurant are not fishermen, they sure know their business. Co-founders Jonathan Gonsenhauser and Will Tomlinson, both wine professionals with impeccable credentials in hospitality, are reintroducing fine dining to Yonge Street one crustacean at a time.
Adam Waxman: I can’t recall one high-end restaurant on downtown Yonge Street in my lifetime. I would not have thought to look here for dining, but that’s changing. From the chrome-to-chrome traffic of this main street, Lbs. Restaurant shimmers and beckons. The urban chic seaside ambience is bright and refreshing. We are greeted warmly.
Sara Waxman: There’s only once chance to make a good first impression. An important painting by Norval Morriseau; handsome leather booths; an extravagance of marble on the tables and the bar; and a large display of renowned Krug champagne create an effective introduction to a restaurant that makes a promise: to deliver one of our country’s most delectable dishes, lobster.
AW: The cocktail menu, like the dining menu, is ingredient driven, and comprises no more than four ingredients per creation. We’ve sidled up to the bar where an enthusiastic bartender offers us a “surprise party.” What’s in it? I don’t know. It’s a surprise! Well, I like surprises, and she, herself, is so effervescent, how can we say “no?” Fizzy like the waves washing up from the sea, well balanced and revitalizing, this cool elixir is a great palate opener for our dinner. So, what’s in it? I’m not telling: it’s a surprise.
SW: Gonsenhauser is an advanced member of the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Tomlinson holds a Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma from London and an MBA in Wine from Bordeaux. Their wine list is very specifically matched to their menu, and it must be said that Lbs. is the only restaurant in Toronto that sells Krug Champagne by the glass!
AW: Lbs. has partnered with Ocean Wise. That means that they feature only sustainable seafood. Right off the bat, that says to me that they care about their product, and I can feel good about what I’m eating. So important: I can’t say enough about how integral Ocean Wise partnerships are, and how we need to support restaurants that strive to be sustainable.
Now for the test: It’s cold outside, and this is soup season, so I’ve ordered the lobster bisque. Wow. This puts all other lobster bisques to shame. There are two ounces of meaty lobster in this bowl, but when it comes to bisque or chowder, I always ask myself, “If I remove the seafood, would I still want to eat the soup?” The answer here is a resounding “yes”. There is such a rich essence of lobster, and a smooth, rich texture. It tastes of fresh lobster shells and, with the parsley oil, there is a really good kick that makes me crave another spoonful; another bowl.
SW: Lobster donuts are, in fact, smoky paprika nubbins of lobster-filled beignets made with chickpea flour. I think this is probably a very popular item to pair with a beer or a Chardonnay at the bar. Lightly salted, they pack a crunch, and are understated doughy morsels that take the edge off my appetite. The Green Goddess dipping sauce is a green onion-y dressing that adds flare, and I can’t help but double dip!
Man cannot live by lobster alone. But, does one come to a lobster restaurant to order chicken? We want to taste it all.
AW: I did not have fried chicken in mind when we came here, but I am enticed by the maple syrup-sriracha. OMG! This is the best fried chicken in Toronto. Hands down! First of all, the meats here are grass fed and anti-biotic free, and I can taste the quality of the chicken. The balance of maple and spice; sweet and savoury; tender and crunchy; makes this an unexpected hit, and I would come back here if only for this chicken. It is crave-worthy, and a standout dish. There’s a kick from the pepper, the stocks of green onion add a spring garden freshness, and the accompanying fried Brussels sprouts are simply addictive. I would want this fried chicken before considering any fried chicken restaurant.
SW: The menu distinguishes between “soil” and “sea”. We are recommended the black cod and it does not disappoint. Cleanly presented in a bowl with a cilantro broth and a salsa of radish and red onion, it is quite pretty and the salsa looks like a Christmas-y candy cane. The cod is lovingly tender, and I can taste the char and the lemon. The cod, the potatoes and the vegetables all cook together and give each other flavour, and infuse all their rich essence into the broth.
AW: Now for the main event: the lobster. Look how meticulously this is presented to us. What makes this lobster distinct from other restaurants in Toronto is that it is sourced directly from two different pounds in Nova Scotia that deliver fresh lobster, which is then steamed—not boiled—so they are light, sweet and tender. This does not require a bib, and it would be a sin to drown these beautiful morsels in butter. They easily separate from the shell, and are uniquely plump and sweet.
SW: This is so tender. It requires no effort to cut. They have selected very refined lobsters from Nova Scotia, and carefully tended to them. Cooked to perfection. We can see right into the kitchen. Their state of the art equipment and tanks that hold up to 2000 lbs. of lobsters. It’s like Lbs.’ own lobster pound. The thousands of folks in offices at the Scotia Plaza are thrilled to bits with the take out window. Lunch at the desk or boardroom, or takeaway for dinner at home, whether for lobster rolls, lobster salad, lobster poutine, lobster mac and cheese, or beautiful whole lobsters, this is a fantastic convenience.
AW: My take-away is that their promise of being fresh and affordable in an upscale setting is fulfilled. Very smart planning, whether dining-in or ordering from the garage door-style take-out window. Gonsenhauser and Tomlinson provide something unique, authentic and delicious in Toronto’s downtown core. Nova Scotia’s gift to Toronto is measured in lbs.
Lbs. Restaurant, 100 Yonge Street, 647-351-4747