12 ST. CLAIR AVENUE EAST, TORONTO
A MENU STOCKED WITH VINTAGE CLASSICS SETS THE SCENE FOR NOSTALGIA AT ARTHUR’S
A READ THROUGH the menu at Arthur’s is almost like a peek back in time. A nod of nostalgia to an era – not too long past – when men in sharp suits stepped out for boozy, three-hour long meetings over martinis, and ladies who lunch climbed out of cars and flung a fur around their shoulders before meeting the gals for wedge salads.
Who among us doesn’t like a bit of nostalgia? With that, we conjured up our best Mad Men mindsets and sauntered into the recently opened Arthur’s Restaurant at St. Clair and Yonge.
Arthur’s is the latest addition to the portfolio of eateries by Chase Hospitality (The Chase, The Chase Fish & Oyster, Colette Grand Café, Kasa Moto, Planta, Planta Burger, Palm Lane). The restaurant is named after Chase Hospitality president Steven Salm’s late father, Arthur Salm. The premise is a dining experience inspired by Arthur’s favourite dining rituals.
The menu is a trip down (someone’s) memory lane to tableside preparations, signature martinis and a New York-style power breakfast, along with other classic, vintage-inspired dishes.
The main dining room is a large octagon – The Crystal Dining Room – and is paired with a smaller bar and lounge kitted out in a shade of deep green I remember vividly from the ‘90s.
The restaurant makes its home in the Weston Centre, in midtown at 12 St. Clair Avenue East. This neighbourhood is itself experiencing a rebirth, trying to reclaim glory days when it was home to establishments that hosted some of those aforementioned afternoon-long, martini lunches. Although bordered by some very well-heeled neighbourhoods, the intersection has over the decades become home to more discount shops than fine dining establishments, but it is reasserting itself to its neighbours as a place to be after 5pm.
When we visit Arthur’s it’s a full house and buzzing, even on a weeknight. We wait a few minutes for the table to be ready, although not long. The main dining room is large, with an intricately designed ceiling. Seating is a combination of booths dotted with tartan accent pillows, and low slung pale gray leather chairs.
The cocktail menu is quite extensive with “Arthur’s Originals” including drinks with names like Rockefeller, Upper East Side and Roaring ‘20s. Unfortunately, these went down more sourly than intended: it was 45 minutes from being seated to the drink order being taken, and another 20 minutes until delivery.
We fully embraced the nostalgia of the menu and eagerly waited for a tableside preparation of Caesar Salad. Full disclosure: I occasionally dine at another establishment that offers tableside Caesar, and it’s a garlicky, crisp delight. A bit of an event when the waiter wheels out the cart, creates and serves up freshly dressed salad to the table.
Unfortunately, what I wanted to love I simply could not. Servers carry out and plant a folding tray near the table for prep – this is OK, but not the full experience I was expecting. The salad itself was, again just OK. It was heavy with lemon juice and lacked the quintessential heat of garlic expected from a fresh Caesar Salad.
On a high note, very classic Oysters Rockefeller were delightfully prepared. Five to a serving with a perfectly toasty, crisp topping. One of the “plant-based” hot appetizer options, Mushroom Pâté, is served in a fairly generous ramekin topped with port wine gelée. Tasty, but only a handful of not quite crisp enough toasts are served alongside.
Among the mains the standout is the simplest: filet mignon with sauce au poivre. Succulently tender, and perfectly rare in the centre; garnished with sauce poured at the table. A restaurant staple – crab cake – is served as a main, instead of an appetizer. It’s one large cake, and especially at almost $39, doesn’t stand up to myriad other crab cakes I’ve ordered. One of a handful of “plant-based” options among the entrees, Red & White Lasagna is prepared with an almond béchamel and served with a simple tomato sauce. This has potential, but the dish is not really hot when it arrives at the table, and the sauce seems lacking.
For dessert, the New York Cheesecake is delectable. Creamy and rich with flavours of caramel, and a passionfruit sauce – this feels like the culinary nostalgia I was dreaming of.