A Tale of Two Palates: Sara Waxman and Adam Waxman dine-out in Toronto’s restaurant scene and share their views.
Adam Waxman: Staring out at Toronto’s city lights, my son is mesmerized by the disco-lit tower that projects into the night sky. “Would you like to go there?” I ask. “Yaaaa!” He beams. Next morning, with his face pressed against the window, our 57-second glass elevator ride shoots us up to the observation deck of the CN Tower. He is awestruck. Chasing him around the Skypod, my little guy is giggling from 447 m above the ground. On this sunny day I hold him up, we look out and I whisper to him, “From up here, you can see everything.”
This is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. I’ve been here for the EdgeWalk with friends and literally hung out over the city, but it’s been years since I dined at 360 Restaurant.
Sara Waxman: Since my last visit, some things have changed. It’s a sign of the times that we must pass through metal detector checks at the base of the tower. And some things have stayed the same. In my June 2000 newspaper review of 360 Restaurant I wrote, “Dinner for two with tax, tip and wine is $165.” Looking at the menu tonight, it is remarkable that sixteen years later there will be no appreciable difference in our bill. The prices seem to be the same. And more changes: a coat of white paint with navy trim and new navy leather upholstery draws our attention outwards, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. To get the “Full Monty” come before sunset and stay to watch the sparkling nightscape. High above the cacophony of city traffic, we are entranced as our city unfolds in 360 degrees.
AW: I feel like I’m in an IMAX theatre, but with tableside service. A platter of roasted beets, heirloom carrots, Niagara charcuterie, Pine Meadow Farm’s beef tartar, shrimp and house-cured Atlantic salmon quickly arrive in our colourful palette of appetizers. The candy red salmon in particular is beautifully smoked and made vibrant by pickled red onions; and the charred habanero aioli gives a real kick to the savoury beef tartar. The smoker is located in the basement of the tower, 350 metres below. They smoke their own salmon and trout, and make their own sausages. All their steaks are cut by their own butcher; and they make their own jus from veal. It’s a large production, but it’s all made from scratch.
SW: The menu tells the tale. Canadian ingredients – check. Canadian wines and craft beer – check. Canadian view – check. The kitchen combines fresh ingredients to make one perfect salad. Arugula, spinach, baby kale tossed with a crumble of pungent Glengarry’s Celtic Blue cheese, textured with candied walnuts, sour apple and winter radish. Nothing boring about this melange of ingredients. Everything here is inspired by the season.
AW: These bouncy little pillows of barley and toasted almond gnocchi are something I’ve never tasted before. A nod to autumn in the Prairies, they’re enlivened with braised red cabbage, chanterelles and a coriander infused squash pureé. The spot-on suggested pairing is a Chardonnay from Niagara’s Flat Rock Cellars.
SW: An east coast treat, Fogo Island cod, wrapped in pancetta and partnered with pickled spruce tip tapenade and sweet potato confit, with a burst of green broccolini and a drizzle of tomato thyme jus is a unique taste of Canadiana. Ontario lamb is cut into thick meaty chops, grilled and served sizzling and glissed with rosemary jus, the scent of fresh rosemary and the chef’s own blend of herbs rise to entice me to dig right in. A very generous portion, but it’s far too much for this girl to eat at one sitting. Our server is happy to comply and packs them to “take away.” The pairing with Niagara’s Kew Vineyards Soldier’s Grant blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is lovely. This is a true and delicious taste of Ontario’s terroir from the protein to the herbs to the wine.
AW: Our pan-Canadiana dinner would not be complete without the bison tenderloin. Tenderly cooked to medium rare, this rich, succulent, robust cut is crowned with west coast black trumpet mushrooms, and elevated to savoury heights with a black current and chili jus, and a decorative presentation of beets, sprouts and black walnuts. One of the highlights here is the wine cellar. It’s still the highest in the world. The beer and wine lists heavily feature Ontario. The selection of five hundred fifty wines is quite extensive. One hundred ten are being replaced with Canadian wines; and the beer menu is one hundred percent Ontario craft. That’s a bold move—to get rid of all the big labels and showcase only local craft breweries. That’s what people want; they want the food and drink of the land. This is not merely a Toronto restaurant; it’s a Canadian restaurant; an iconic Canadian symbol that attracts travelers, tourists, and locals alike, who want to be exposed to Canada. The new menu showcases the whole country for those looking for exposure to Canadian cuisine.
SW: There’s a lot of added value here. We’re paying for more than our meal. There’s the elevator, viewing deck, and the magnificent revolving view. “You might see me as a professional waiter.” Says our server. “But I have become a professional photographer.” At almost every table he is asked to take a photograph and, from experience, knows the best angles.
AW: The service is a cut above. “Is everything sufficient?” Our waiter asks. “Yes it is”. I reply as I sip my espresso and gaze out at the planes landing and taking off at the island.
SW: So who frequents 360 besides the world’s tourists and families celebrating birthdays and other auspicious occasions? There are more marriage proposals made here than anywhere else in the country. The late dinner sitting attracts young, unabashedly romantic couples. On this clear night, as we slowly circle in space between the stars and the bright lights of the big city, everything seems possible.
360 Restaurant at the CN Tower, 301 Front St., 416-362-5411