A weekend getaway to Toronto is always an enjoyable escape, and when it has a culinary focus it takes on a completely different (ahem) flavor.
Staying at the Royal York Hotel is a treat at any time. When you add in their emphasis on local, sustainable, seasonal food for their restaurants , it turns into a gastronomic extravaganza. Competitive rates and unique packages clearly appeal to people of all ages judging from the crowds in the lobby. Young couples with small children, jet lagged, Tilly clad travelers, young spandex wearing clubbers and elegant seniors bring energy to the classic opulence of the hotel.
We began Saturday morning at the Royal York Hotel with the “Shop with the Chef” tour led by Chef Tom Phuong-Luu through neighboring St. Lawrence Market. Dressed head to toe in chef whites complete with hat, he introduced us to several vendors of local food from whom he regularly buys produce for the hotel restaurant.
We stopped for a market favourite, a peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery, adding mustard around the corner at Kozlik’s Mustard, choosing from thirty four unique types. Chef Tom mentioned that the restaurants at the hotel use many of Kozlik’s mustards as a base for marinades and dressings.
At Mike’s Fish Market, we picked up tips from Chef Tom on how to buy fish. “If the fish has clear eyes, and no fishy smell, it’s good.” Jon-Michael, pictured above, introduced us to one of the lobsters he was about to pack up for a customer.
The tour gave us an insider’s look at the market, and the tour allowed us to see where many of the ingredients for our evening’s dinner originated.
We headed back to the hotel and had a tour of the rooftop terrace garden with Chef Tom where we met six queens and their accompanying entourage of thousands of bees. Desserts in the restaurant are flavoured with the hand-harvested roof top honey. Exploring the decade old and flourishing rooftop herb garden, Chef Tom pointed out a variety of herbs and vegetables and encouraged us to take anything we wanted. The seasonal, hand-nurtured herbs accent each dish in the restaurant, and he mentioned the chocolate mint would be perfect in a chocolate mint Mojito, I laughed and said that I would love one with my dinner, so he immediately plucked a bunch to take to the bartender so she would be prepared.
For an early evening appetizer, we headed to the highly recommended Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill, a short walk from the hotel, in the financial district. My dining companion enjoyed a dozen fresh oysters of the shucker’s choice sourced from east and west coasts, Japan and North Wales.
Later at the Royal York we enjoyed a veritable feast at the Epic restaurant, where they concentrate on sustainable, seasonal food, 95% of which is local. Relationships with local farmers and producers are obvious in the menu, where farms are named as well as locations of where food was sourced. It is easy to toss words such as “sustainable” and “local” around carelessly, but the Epic restaurant follows the seasonal harvest so closely, the menu constantly changes. After starting with chocolate mint mojitos, based on our rooftop harvest earlier in the day, soon came house-made bread with a soft center served with pureed butternut squash – brilliance. Pickled watermelon accompanied the tiniest pieces of gold and red beets that were dabbed with local goat cheese – a light, scrumptious appetizer. Speckled trout from Collingwood was the main dish served with by miniature patty pan squash and roasted fingerling potatoes which was all delicious. An impressive “Lifestyle Cuisine” menu is also available catering to a variety of diets including HeartHealthy, Vegan, Diabetes, Raw, Macrobiotic, and Gluten Free.
Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill, 100 Adelaide Street East, Toronto, 416-366-7827, www.starfishoysterbed.com
For more information, visit: www.SeeTorontoNow.com