Tonight’s media launch party at Joey Don Mills was my first restaurant opening as a food blogger. It was a full house that got an opportunity to sample a wide variety of the appetizers that will be on the restaurant’s menu when it opens to the public this week. My friend, Jonathan Cooper was along for the fun and to take much better photos than I can (his flickr site).
First things first: the location. The Shops at Don Mills (Don Mills and Lawrence) are not somewhere to visit by public transit. There are what seems like a critical mass of stores in this outdoor mall to draw a weekend crowd, many people work in the area, and the developers have lofty condo plans but easily-accessible Queen West this is not. In fact it feels (the outdoor mall) a lot like an Intrawest village. Can a restaurant with a much more daring (and better) menu than the traditional mall anchor (Jack Astor’s, also here) stay afloat in these conditions? This is a question that will eventually be decided by time and economics not chattering bloggers so onto the food.
The food offered at the party was taken from the actual appetizers menu so there is relevance for those going for a regular meal. For me, the highlight was definitely the “cheeseburger sliders”. They aren’t cooked on a griddle with a copious topping of onions so technically they’re only mini-cheeseburgers (see this guide from A Hamburger Today for more burger geekiness). My quibble is entirely semantic. These patties were perfectly-seasoned and (shockingly) actually retained a healthy dose of pink in the middle. Topped with secret sauce, american cheese, pickles and served on a brioche-like bun that I must humbly admit might even be better than my homemade ones these mini-cheeseburgers are evocative of what California drive-ins (the ancestors of McDonald’s) might have actually produced back when the employees ate the food.
The tandoori chicken flatbread I described in my notes as “good weird: tastes like India, feels like Italy.” The Indian spices are well-balanced and pleasant (I didn’t get much of the cilantro taste) and the flatbread was crispy and well-executed. I would try this one again. The Spicy Italian flatbread was more middle of the road, perhaps only by comparison and could have been significantly spicier.
The ahi tuna taco, served in a crunchy wonton shell, is a new one for me. I really liked the texture and the tuna was obviously of great quality but I was distracted from the subtle flavours of raw tuna by the heavier flavours of the deep-fried shell. I guess I’m a traditionalist when it comes to preferring raw fish straight up.
The final highlight that I almost missed out on (elusive servers and other more daring guests) was the lobster grilled cheese sandwich. I am aware of the orthodoxy that says seafood and cheese can”t go together. Whatever. The luxurious texture of melted brie matches sublimely with lobster. Also, the hints of butter from the toasted bread worked its usual magic as lobster’s preferred dance partner.
Under the heading “frank admissions” I should point out that I sampled one of the Super Sonic Gin & Tonics that a waitress described as having, “two ounces of gin, slush, and tonic–and the slush also has alcohol in it.” For me, a G&T is fine on its own (and I’m sure you could get a good one at Joey) so the “super sonic” amounted to “too sweet”. The enomatic wine pouring system looks impressive and I’m equally impressed that the wine list includes thirty bottles at or under $40 and five glasses (6 oz.) for $7 or $8.
The executive chef for the chain of Joey Restaurants, Chris Mills seems like a nice guy, is one of two Canadian chefs to appear on the orginal (Japanese) version of Iron Chef, and most importantly his kitchen puts out good food. (A trivia aside: Rob Feenie appeared as the challenger (and won) on the third episode of Ion Chef America. Since then the other Canadian chefs that have battled in Kitchen Stadium are: Susur Lee (draw), Lynn Crawfod (loss), Guy Rubino (loss), and David Adjey (loss).) From the sense I got at this media launch party I will have to make my way back to the Shops at Don Mills to see (and review) whether the food at Joey is always this good.