Monday, February 6, 2012

Bymark: Mark McEwan's Refined Modern Cuisine

Mark McEwan - thus the name By-mark - is chef/owner of Bymark

Celebrity-chef Mark McEwan’s restaurant, Bymark, located in Mies van der Rohe's sleek, glass and steel TD Centre, is widely regarded as one of Toronto’s top power-dining spots. Designed by award-winning Yabu Pushelberg, Bymark's roots in the city's financial district, reflected in the interior's strong clean lines and muted tones of black and brown, creates an inviting atmosphere for big business deals, posh after-work cocktails, or those lucky enough to snag a table during Winterlicious — an unbelievable value at $25 for a three-course lunch!

Bymark's warm and inviting dining space

Located in the concourse level of the TD Centre, Bymark is cleverly concealed away from the nearby food court area. A discrete entrance leads customers from the bright and busy concourse and into the restaurant's cool sophisticated lobby, softly lit and elegantly detailed with sleek stone surfaces, textured walls and original art from two up-and-coming Canadian artists: Scott Eunson and David Lin, but it's Eunson's sensual wooden "egg" that steals the show.

Scott Eunson's fabulous 'wooden egg' in Bymark's lobby

Lean wooden sculptures line the hall to a series private dining rooms

The design by Yabu Pushelberg commands almost as much attention as Bymark's menu. “We wanted this restaurant to feel open, not too exclusive" explains Yabu. In contrast to the precision of the Mies van der Rohe towers, the decor brings together many natural elements and materials indigenous to Canada, such as birch trees and log stacks which are used as dividers in the main dining room. Clever lighting also helps to create a dramatic, yet warm and inviting space, which is anchored at one end by a spectacular two-story glass column that houses the restaurant's enviable 5,000-bottle wine collection.

The dining room's two-storey glass column wine "cellar"

Birch trees act as a natural divider

Soft lighting gives the dining area a lovely warmth

The menu at Bymark cleverly mixes formal dishes like rack of lamb, seared tuna and duck breast, with upscale versions of the everyday, like burgers, macaroni and cheese, shepherd’s pie and grilled cheese sandwiches. But of course, the grilled cheese is stuffed with aged brie, lobster and crisp pancetta, and is served paired with a suggested chardonnay. Such extravagant whimsy is not without its cost though. Mark McEwan’s landmark burger claims its crown as the city's most expensive with 8 hand-chopped ounces of medium-rare Prime USDA strip loin spiked with truffle oil on an Ace Bakery bun, garnished with intensely meaty king mushrooms and melted Brie de Meaux cheese and sided with a stack of tempura battered onion rings, garlicky aioli and perfect frites.

Bymark's Coteaux du Languedoc Syrah 2008

Bymark's Winterlicious menu

The food is excellent, and the Winterlicious menu is no exception. Bymark's $25 prix fixe lunch menu features a selection of three appetizers, three entrées and three desserts from which to choose. We started with the Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with grapefruit segments and white balsamic dressing, and the Crispy Crab Cakes with celery root & apple remoulade. Both were beautifully prepared, artfully presented and absolutely delicious.

Crab Cakes with celery root & apple remoulade with a rich and tangy mustard drizzle

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with baby beets, parsnips, carrots and a 
jammy clove of caramelized garlic

The three entrées on the menu featured Bymark's famous 8oz Burger with brie de meaux and grilled king mushrooms; Pappardelle & Braised Rabbit with winter vegetables in a grainy mustard sauce; and Pan Roasted Salmon with roasted root vegetables, dried cranberries, toasted pumpkin seed and arugula. With all the praise that has been heaped on the Bymark Burger, we had to try it for ourselves, and it was excellent. The flavours of the king mushrooms and Brie de Meaux were able to shine through, and weren't overshadowed by the rich and succulent aged beef. Definitely one of the best burgers we've ever had — and at $35 on the standard lunch menu — it should be.

Bymark's famous 8oz U.S.D.A. Prime Burger with brie de meaux 
and grilled king mushrooms

Homemade frites with spicy aioli

Desserts included a lovely warm Gingerbread Cake with sweet potato mousse and maple walnut fudge, Orange Nanaimo Brownie with toasted meringue, and an Apple Crostata served with a scoop of caramel crunch ice cream and finished with a delicate creme Anglaise and buttery almond tuile. The crostata was very good but a little too heavy on the pastry for my taste.

Apple Crostata with caramel crunch ice cream, creme Anglaise and almond tuile

Warm Gingerbread Cake with sweet potato mousse, maple walnut fudge and caramel drizzle

The meal was excellent, and the service superb. However, were it not for the exceptional value of the Winterlicious menu, we probably wouldn't be enjoying a midweek lunch at Bymark, it's just too expensive. My same meal would have been $70 any other day! However, on a cold winter day, I can't think of a lovelier way to wile away a Friday afternoon. It was absolutely wonderful.

The Famous Bymark Burger
Serves 4

2 lb Prime USDA striploin aged 6-8 weeks, whole or medium ground
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
4 top-quality hamburger buns, gently grilled
7 oz aged Brie de Meaux cheese, sliced
2 large king oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 leaves of red oak lettuce
4 sprigs of fresh basil
salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Trim the strip loin of any silverskin or connective tissue, then pass it through a meat grinder fitted with a medium blade. Divide into four portions and then, slapping each portion from hand to hand with a twisting mostion, form into thick patties. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Preheat grill on high.

Rub burgers with the olive oil and encrust them with salt and pepper. Lightly oil grill rack, sear burgers well on both sides, then relocate to more temporate side of grill until they attain the preferred level of doneness — about 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare.

Meanwhile, sauté the sliced mushrooms in half the butter until softened. Grill the buns and butter lightly. Spread about 1 tablespoon of truffle aioli on the bottom of each bun. Add the leaf lettuce, then the burgers, Brie de Meaux cheese, mushrooms and optional truffle shavings or a few drops of truffle oil. Allow to rest for 6 or 7 minutes. Top the burgers with some fresh basil, and serve with a the bun top perched against the side.

For the Truffle Aioli:
1 egg
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp truffle paste
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
Salt and pepper.

Whisk together egg, mustard, truffle paste. Continue he whisking while adding oil in a slow, steady stream until it reaches a mayo consistency. When finished, thin with vinegar to taste, then season. Keeps refrigerated for 3 days. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Mark McEwan's No-Fail Mashed Potatoes
Makes 4 servings

1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into uniform one-inch pieces
salt and white pepper
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup salted butter, cut into eight pieces
1/4 cup homogenized milk
1/2 cup whipping cream

Put potatoes in a medium pot and cover by one inch with salted water. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium high, boiling until potatoes fall apart, about 40 minutes. Drain in a colander for 2 minutes. Return to pot and dry, shaking lightly over medium high heat, until all liquid evaporates, about 30 seconds. Heat cream and milk in a small pot on medium heat, being careful not to boil. To potatoes add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Using a medium whisk with medium stiffness, press down on the potatoes, moving from one side of the pot to the other, breaking them down completely. You have to crush them well to get lumps out. Add half of the butter and half the cream and milk mixture, then whip the potatoes vigorously with the whisk for 30 seconds. Finish with more butter and milk and cream if desired, and whisk them quickly once more to fluff them up.