Review Byrob: Winterlicious at Bymark
Mark McEwan has talent. How much talent, you ask? There are only two people on this planet who have ever prepared a brussels sprout that not only did not make me gag (my usual reaction), but that I actually enjoyed. One is Mario Batali, who has a raw brussels sprout and pecorino antipasto at his Roman-style trattoria, Lupa, that is quite good. The other is Mark McEwan, whose roasted brussels sprouts are so good I was actually stealing them from my wife's plate to compensate for the ones I spurned.
I enjoyed McEwan's brussels sprouts at Bymark, his restaurant in the heart of the financial district. When Bymark is at its best, the food is superb, the environment intimate, and the service helpful. So why is it then, that both my experiences there have left me slightly disappointed?
I love walking into this restaurant. The décor is impressive: a polished wooden egg-form sculpture is perched at the concourse entrance, from which you can glimpse the dark wood and diffuse lighting of the dining room. Enter that room, and immediately to your right is a 5000 bottle, glassed-in wine cellar that may be the most jaw-dropping space in the restaurant. As wonderful as this form may be, at times it's just not functional. Bymark is loud, so loud that I've had trouble hearing my dining partner speak on both visits.
The food is special, however, and the Winterlicious menu is no exception. I started with crisp crab cakes with lime spiked avocado, chili aioli, and scallion mint pesto. The pesto wasn't on target -- it had such a strong sesame oil taste that virtually any hint of scallion or mint was gone -- but the crab cakes were excellent, as were the avocado and aioli. The crispiness of the cake, the fattiness and citrus punch of the avocado, and the hint of heat from the aioli work beautifully together.
It pains me to say it, but my main course, the "Hong Kong Style" BBQ ribs with asian slaw and frites, fell flat. The asian slaw was overwhelmingly salty and the fries were soggy, mistakes which are (almost) unforgivable in a restaurant of this calibre. The ribs were acceptable, but I would have preferred them a little more tender, and I found the soy-type glaze just plain boring.
Dessert was a dream of chocolate, bananas, and vanilla. The chocolate paradise cake has an intense chocolate flavour, but still manages to feel light on the palate, while the banana fritters and Tahitian vanilla sauce elevate this dish by adding needed complementary flavours and textures. More, please.
Much to my relief, the service during this visit was impeccable, a sharp contrast to our first visit when too many things went wrong. Most notably, our bottle of wine did not arrive at our table until after I had finished my main course. I believed our experience to be the exception at the time, and now I'm sure of it. From the moment we sat down, until the minute we left, our every whim was catered to even before we asked.
I will be back. The food is too good, and the menu too promising. On our first trip, which we deliberately scheduled for a Thursday night in the summer, so we could take advantage of Bymark's pulled pork special, I became so tempted by other dishes that I almost changed my mind. To my knowledge, Bymark is the only restaurant in Toronto that offers an eight week dry-aged steak. Its signature dish may well be the thirty-seven dollar Bymark Burger: eight ounces of ground, USDA prime beef with brie de meaux, grilled porcini, shaved summer truffle, and crisp onion rings. I've heard rumblings that this burger is also served with foie gras.
I will be back because I must have that burger. And that steak. Most of all, I'll be back because, at its best, the food at Bymark is some of the best in Toronto.