Friday, October 25, 2013

The Chase Fish & Oyster on Temperance

Chase and the Chase Fish & Oyster Bar — two restaurants, one building, and four floors apart, in their new digs in the recently renovated Dineen building, a circa 1897 heritage space on Temperance at Yonge in downtown Toronto. Both are projects from owner Steven Salm, who moved to Toronto more than three years ago to help Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment launch the acclaimed Real Sports Bar & Grill and e11even, a restaurant that’s a block from the Air Canada Centre. He made his mark in NYC with the BLT Prime New York chain. As president of the newly launched Chase Hospitality Group, Salm restyled the building, founded originally as a 19th-century retail clothing store. Together with executive chef Michael Steh, formerly of Reds Bistro, who oversees both restaurants, Steh and Salm transformed the property in roughly 6 months, adding a fifth floor to the Dineen building that previously had only four. A newly installed elevator takes guests from the ground-floor Chase Fish & Oyster restaurant to the more refined Chase, perched on Dineen's penthouse level.

Both restaurants are accessed by an alleyway off Temperance

With tickets to the opera later in the evening, and having heard considerable buzz about the restaurant, we thought Chase Fish & Oyster would be a fine thematically appropriate culinary choice before heading to see 'Peter Grimes', the COC production which takes place in an isolated fishing village on the coast of England. The opera does not end well. We held out hopes that dinner would fare better. Aside from not being greeted at the door with a simple "Hello" or "Good Evening, welcome to Chase", we were received with silent indifference. Volunteering that we had made reservations, we were handed over to someone else who escorted us to a table beside the bright floor-to-ceiling windows which overlook Temperance Street and the small outdoor summer patio. Fortunately, our ebullient and friendly server Eden more than made up for the ennui we experienced at the front desk, however the lack of anywhere to hang coats was a curiosity. It was suggested that we could take them up to the top floor or roll them in a ball and lay them beside our chair — a solution that seemed to have been embraced by other patrons. So much for service and hospitality. 

The nautical themed Chase Fish & Oyster

Settled at our table, we needed a drink. Bless Eden, she was there with two flutes of Spanish Cava Brut and carefully explained the menu, which features fresh seafood flown in from both the east and west coast of Canada. Offerings which include Oyster Po’boy Sliders, a Lobster “Waldorf” Roll with candied walnuts, apple and dill yukon chips, Pan Roasted Scallops with toasted brioche, roasted foie gras and smoked duck, and decadent seafood platters, a little pricey at $50 with oysters, clams, tuna, shrimp or the effusive $110 platter with oysters, clams, tuna, crab, shrimp, scallops and lobster. The dish that caught my eye was the delicious grilled octopus with pork sausage, salsa verde, and piquillo peppers — a generous appetizer, but substantial enough to enjoy as an entrée — a bargain at $23.

Decorative sails are suspended from the ceiling

The interior draws inspiration from the fresh, laid-back vibe of the Hamptons, but adapted to fit into the fabric of the city, with a light and breezy palette of white, blues and brass, mixed with comfortable touches like suspended sails, reclaimed oak dining tables and atmospheric black and white photographs on reclaimed yellow brick walls. The bar, shaped to resemble an oyster shell, navigates the division of the heritage building to the new addition, with a broad open concept kitchen featuring the culinary offerings of Chef de Cuisine, Nigel Finley, former executive chef at Catch.

The one page menu features a selection of raw, cold and hot appetizers 
in addition to eight entrées

Guests are invited to customize orders of oysters, clams and lobster 
on the Chase 'Oysterology' card

We started with a glass of Cava Brut, a dry Spanish sparkling wine 
from Parés Baltà, a family owned vineyard in the Penedès region

However halfheartedly our evening began, the dishes were well executed, artfully presented and the at-table service prompt and courteous. The 'California' Roll with king crab, avocado, sweet corn salad and microgreens was as beautiful to behold as it was delicious. Not a speck of rice in sight, the avocado-swathed roll was chock full of sweet crabmeat and beautifully adorned with a fresh corn salad and garnished with a flurry of edible flower petals. The only soup on the menu, an Autumn Chowder with clams, mussels, smoked sturgeon, beets, butternut squash and whipped mascarpone was equally delicious. Another appetizer, the colourful Mediterranean-inspired Grilled Octopus with harissa, salsa verde, piquillo peppers, spiced pork sausage, olives and arugula over a bed of roast potatoes was my favourite dish of the evening. Full flavoured with delectably tender octopus, tender roast spuds, and a robust symphony of sweet, salty and sour — the dish was superb.

“California” Roll with king crab, avocado and sweet corn salad garnished with 
microgreens and edible flowers 

Autumn Chowder with clams, mussels, smoked sturgeon, beets, 
butternut squash & whipped mascarpone

Grilled Octopus with harissa, salsa verde, piquillo peppers, 
spiced pork sausage, olives and arugula 

The only dish we ordered that was one of the listed eight entrées, was the Fried Chicken with a smoked cheddar potato bun, hot sauce butter and savoy & provolone slaw. Wonderfully crispy and sensationally succulent, the "finger-licken-good" Fried Chicken was only surpassed by the delicate Savoy and Provolone Slaw dressed with a subtle oil and lemon juice vinaigrette, that took this humble side accessory to a side salad I hope to reproduce at home. With no time for coffee or dessert, we paid our bill, unrolled our coats, passed the open kitchen, and headed out from the candle-lit alley towards our final destination — Peter Grimes at the COC. Was there a "Thank you for coming" as we left the restaurant? Are you kidding — that was as predictable as the outcome of the opera. "Townsfolk" go about their business, and although "bad stuff" happens, everyone goes back to work as if nothing has occurred. 

Fried Chicken with a smoked cheddar potato bun, hot sauce butter and savoy & provolone slaw

Our two main courses

The octopus was delicious to the last piquillo

The bill came to about $180 with tax

The open concept kitchen is visible as you enter the restaurant

Chef de Cuisine of Chase Fish & Oyster, Nigel Finley, former executive chef at Catch

The alley looks much more inviting at twilight with candles illuminating the way

Ben Hepner as Peter Grimes in the Canadian Opera Company 2013 production 
Photo Credit: Michael Cooper, 2013

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