A Tale of Two Palates: Sara Waxman and Adam Waxman dine-out in Toronto’s restaurant scene and share their views.
When we go out to dinner in Toronto we hope a restaurant will fulfill its promise. There’s nothing worse than shlepping through traffic and parking to waste an evening on mediocre food. So we ask each other, is The Good Son really that good? And we answer, no, The Good Son is great. Oleg Dreitser, Sako Dekirmendjian, Darren Hinds and Chef Vittorio Colacitti, formerly of George, Lucien and Didier, and world traveler, whose culinary studies led him to the Thai & International Food Academy in Bangkok as well as stages across Italy, are a perfect match for the eclectic Queen West vibe.
SW: Leather wingback chairs in the lounge let us know right off the bat, they want us to stay, relax and not be squirming in our seats. Old fashioned clocks and chochkes cover a wall – time stands still when we anticipate a sumptuous meal. Making our way through the long dining room, past the communal tables toward the kitchen, we stop again to admire a wall that showcases an extravagant collection of bone china plates of yesteryear. In fact, I see a few familiar patterns. Since the room is bookended by antique collectibles, its like we opened the door to grandma’s parlor and discovered a hot ristorante.
AW: I am surprised to learn that this was formerly Nyood Restaurant. It is completely transformed. I like that there are rooms within this room, so that depending on where we sit, we will experience a different ambience. It is warm, cozy and antique, almost cottage-y.
SW: I love the design of the kitchen with its right angle service counter in front of a magnificent mosaic tile wood-burning oven imported from Bologna. As well, there is a wood-burning grill. Both of these impart wondrous flavours to food.
AW: What I love about the wood-fired oven and grill is the aroma, reminiscent of an Argentine asado. It beckons us to unwind with a glass of wine or a cocktail. The team dynamic in the kitchen is like a well-oiled machine. They all know their place and work together seamlessly.
SW: Chef de bar Moses McIntee layers unlikely herbs, spirits and syrups to produce amazingly delicious cocktails. I prefer the white spirits like the tequila with rosemary. If the cocktails are a portent of what’s to come from the kitchen, we are in for something special.
AW: Mixology is about balance within the glass, but also with the food pairing. The tequila cocktail and the ceviche pair well together because neither is harsh. They are both soft on the palate, and there is a harmonious balance of acidity. But, I prefer the Roasted Apple Cider. It is warm with a smooth dark-rum base—the perfect antidote to a cold night, and an easy compliment to the steak tartar. I also like the Gin Before Bed, which is a medley of aromas from juniper to chamomile. It tastes like a tropical tangerine with uniquely refreshing chai foam that smoothes the edges.
The Main Event
SW: Chef Colacitti makes it all look so easy as he adds a sparkling elixir of lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit juices to utterly fresh sea bream. He sprinkles in chopped jalapeño and just-picked cilantro leaves, then adds buttery chunks of avocado. A few tosses of the bowl and we’re the lucky recipients. Pairs perfectly with McIntee’s tequila cocktail. It’s worth the trip to Queen Street West for this ceviche alone. I don’t eat steak tartare, but its presentation on a natural wood board with a mountain of crisp frites and a stack of garlic-laced grilled bread is dramatic. Canny kitchen hands gently wrapped each Jerk Shrimp with spun potato, dredged them in jerk seasoning and cooked them to golden crispness.
AW: Often ceviche can taste too acidic, because the lime required to burn the fish is overpowering. I like the citric blend of orange and grapefruit, because it contributes an essence and balance that is naturally sweet. The avocado adds creamy richness while the jalapeño provides refreshing heat. I also notice that the pomelo wedges are peeled, so there is no chalky bitterness of the skin. This is a luscious serving of ceviche that, paired with the crisp taro root chips, is an exciting opener. I do eat steak tartare, and the soft-boiled quail eggs, and I enjoy scooping it up with the crunchy sourdough, but the real winner for me is the frites. Everything I need in a fry is there. They are so crunchy and addictive with just the right dusting of salt. I do not want to share them at all. The Jerk Shrimp on mango slaw is packed with colour, flavour and crunch. It tastes more Thai than Jerk. The nuances of peanuts and palm sugar are balanced, and yet distinguish one bite from the next. I have to eat every last morsel to enjoy all that is there.
SW: Rib Eye Steak, lovingly charred on the grill to medium rare is a beef lovers dream – all we need is a sharp knife and someone to share with. But we get more: heirloom squash and scallions and piquillo pepper puree. These days, I prefer our east coast to our west coast fish. Thickly cut salmon is cooked to a luscious moist interior with spicy crisply seared skin. To gild the lily, little neck clams, pomme puree, pearl onions and rainbow chard. Rarely does one kitchen shine so brilliantly with fish as well as steak. This is real food, and I love it. And did I mention the attentive, caring servers? Look up, and there they are, anticipating a request.
AW: In the wrong hands, Atlantic salmon is just another fish. In the care of Chef Colacitti I am reintroduced to how beautiful a dish it can be. Seared crisp, and cooked to the perfect a point, this is a generous portion seldom seen. The rainbow chard and pomme puree pair with it mellifluously. For me, however, the steak is king. Dry-aged 48 days and wood-fire grilled, this rib eye has vaulted to the top of my list for steak in Toronto. Tender and marbled, but robust and succulent, and finished with a woodsy essence, I felt like a giddy-eyed kid when it was presented to us, and with every mouthwatering bite I feel proud of The Good Son.
SW: Tarte tatin for dessert looks like a slice of dessert pizza rather than the deep dish classic. Still the salty caramel and sweet apples are a tasty treat. A happy ending to a well-told culinary story.
AW: The apple tarte tatin with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and a scoop of vanilla gelato is delicate, sweet, and seals the meal. After the bold flavours of our dinner, I don’t think I would have wanted another flavour ignition. Every story needs a beginning, middle and end, and this one provides a soft landing to finish.
The Last Word
SW: Intelligent, delicious cooking that’s meant to be enjoyed, rather than “understood.”
AW: All the bases are covered. Hip, refined, reasonably priced, and backed by a lot of talent and experience in the kitchen.
~The Good Son, 1096 Queen St W, 416-551-0589~
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.