Thursday, May 12, 2011

TOCA by Tom Brodi: Canadian Cuisine at The Ritz

The new Ritz-Carlton in Toronto

After spending 10 years at Canoe as executive chef under Anthony Walsh, and also at North 44 and The Gramercy Tavern in NYC, Chef Tom Brodi is now the culinary dynamo behind the new Ritz-Carlton signature restaurant, TOCA — a word play on TOronto and CAnada, and Chef Tom Brodi’s culinary theme is a tribute to both. 

Chef Tom Brodi

Brodi sums up TOCA’s menu as 'Canadiana', “humble, farm-to-table Canadian cuisine that supports local farmers and producers, and focuses on classic northern dishes like souffles and fish, using local, naturally raised ingredients". Going local is nothing new to the chef, who was one of the driving forces behind using sustainable, local food at Canoe. To that end, the restaurant will be working with purveyors like Afrim Pristine from the Cheese Boutique, Jumbo Empanadas from Kensington Market, Balzac’s in the Distillery District for coffee and Marc Thuet, who will supply some of the bread at TOCA. In March, Brodi even plans to begin planting Toca’s own garden at Matchbox Garden & Seed Co. in Vaughan.

TOCA is also one of only two restaurants in Toronto with a cheese cave — the other is Enoteca Sociale. Why the scarcity? "Because they’re too damn expensive", says Cheese Boutique owner Afrim Pristine, who stocks TOCA’s cave. He estimates that TOCA spent up to $250,000 building it, and the restaurant has three staffers caring for its $50,000 stock! 

The Cheese Cave

The dining room also waves the national flag as Canadian craftsmanship abounds — from the pastry corridor, built brick by brick, to the glassed-in cheese cave, built from over 100 pieces of granite, to the plaster ceiling studded with hand-placed pieces of marble, and the rich Canadian walnut floors which create a lovely warm space, dotted with works by Ontario artists and red glass chandeliers by Toronto glass maker Jeff Goodman. 

TOCA Bar features sophisticated cocktails and raw bar with ceviche, BC Dungeness 
Crab salad, Malpeque Oysters and sustainable sturgeon caviar from New Brunswick

In the kitchen, Brodi’s team turns out ultra-Canadian appetizers like B.C. Dungeness crab with bone marrow, Wolfhead smoked salmon on top of a Hungarian flatbread, using a recipe straight from Brodi's grandmother, and “fancy fish and chips”, which is actually lobster knuckle meat coated in a Mill Street beer batter and fried. 

TOCA's Fish and Chips with beer-battered lobster

The restaurant also features a walk-in cellar, where customers can hand-pick their accompanying wine, which is mostly Canadian. TOCA’s wine program is run by Taylor Thompson, formerly of Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar and Reds, and offers 50 wines by the glass, plus house-labelled wines by Niagara’s Stratus Vineyards, Flat Rock Cellars, Cave Springs Cellars and hard-to-find bottles of Ace of Spades Champagne by Armand de Brignac at $650 per bottle — endorsed by Jay-Z and Beyoncé, no less!