Fine dining in Toronto is going in one direction: toward the more casual. With both fundamental and cosmetic changes–like changing their name–Red Bistro has become Reds Wine Tavern and joined that parade.
The biggest change is that Ryan Gallagher (of Top Chef Canada season 2 fame) was brought on as executive chef to design and execute a menu that focuses on communal plates that blur the lines between appetisers and mains. Chef Gallagher comes to Reds from the much smaller Ruby Watchco and when I chatted with him he joked that he’s used to being in a kitchen the size of the communal table at Reds.
The two-storey space in First Canadian Place was given an aesthetic overhaul that slants towards the (refined and curated) basement rec room. Naturally, my eye was caught by the chandelier made from empty wine bottles not (just) for its aesthetic qualities but also as a future DIY project. That fixture that hangs over the staircase that leads to the second-floor dining room helps to announce how much the change is about making the space more casual. Retro knick-knacks and re-purposed tables complete the message.
An interesting change for the cocktail selection is an expanded list of Caesars. Each of the five options comes with a thematic, tapas-style bowl of food. So, for instance, The Canadian has Creemore-poached mussels with bacon jam and The Charcuterie (my choice, obviously) offers a generous selection of dry sausage, cheese, pickles, and olives.
For the media dinner we were taken on a tour of the redesigned menu. This being Bay Street lobster finds its way into a lot of dishes. A plate of fairly traditional and therefore butter-laden Atlantic Lobster Rolls ($22.95) was chased by one featuring Lobster Guacamole ($17.95) topped by a neat row (Stegosaurus-style) of tortilla chips.
The focus on seafood goes beyond lobster, though, and is provisioned through a company from Boston called Foley Fish. Large and gently seared New Bedford scallops make an appearance on a well-composed plate and we’re given a sample-size version of the crab cakes that are made from just lump crab meat.
Quality on the carnivorous side is just as critical. The contrast between the Canada AAA steak and the heritage-breed pork chop remind me of one of my current restaurant gripes: It’s time that we were offered the option of a medium or medium-rare pork chop. When you start with a carefully raised and sourced piece of meat it’s a shame to cook it to well done, no matter the species.
No matter what the chandeliers are made from or how communal the tables are this is still First Canadian Place and Reds (Bistro or Wine Tavern) will be largely patronised by bankers and lawyers in suits. With the redesign Chef Gallagher and the front-of-house team hope they have created a menu and environment that will encourage at least a few loosened ties and suits jackets draped over chairs.
Reds Wine Tavern: 77 Adelaide Street West (First Canadian Place), Toronto; 416-862-7337; Mon to Wed 11:30 AM – midnight, Thurs – Fri 11:30 AM – 1 AM, Sat 4 PM – 1 AM, Sun closed; @REDSWINETAVERN.