Flor de Sal
Flor de Sal opened in November, taking over the Corner House on Davenport between Casa Loma and the Toronto Archives . The new owner, first-time restaurateur Cristina Da Costa, has spared no expense renovating the space, tacking on a two-floor addition that includes a ground-floor bar and oyster lounge, and outfitting the house with elegant modern decor, crystal chandeliers and fireplaces galore.
The 65-seat (plus 32 when the front patio opens) restaurant has a variety of different dining spaces throughout the wheelchair-accessible, elevatored building, with rooms named after the nearby nature growing outside (Maple, Birch, Garden, etc.).
Da Costa, who used to host a Portuguese radio show on CHIN for 14 years, is an extreme perfectionist, and it's clear she's a stickler for detail. As its name implies, salt is the predominant theme of the restaurant, and you'll see different quotes about the mineral printed on the napkin rings and find prized, hand-harvested sea salt from Aveiro, Portugal on your table as a condiment. There's even a painting depicting the harvesting process on the wall as you head up the stairs to the second floor.
The service here is personable, attentive and accommodating, and Da Costa did her research when she hired Roberto Fracchioni as executive chef. He was last cooking up omakase-style tasting menus at the Templar Hotel 's minimalist Monk Kitchen, but the vision here is to have a high quality, white-tablecloth, fine dining kind of spot - he doesn't think there are very many left in the city, with the current trend towards what he calls "disposable dining" (not that he isn't a fan of that as well).
Southern European, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine fills the menu here. Fracchioni describes it as old-world comfort food a grandmother from Portugal, Spain, Italy or Côte d'Azur would make, but with an upscale, modern twist. Your avó/abuela/nonna/grandmère probably never used tweezers to arrange her food on a dish.
A French classic, steak frites ($36), has proven to be a popular lunch item ordered here so far. An 8-oz. cut of Prime Canadian Beef tenderloin cooked to your specified degree of doneness (I heard a lot of "well dones" while I was there - ouch) is accompanied by a spicy aioli and fries.
Next is a very Portuguese salt cod ($38) that comes with forked potatoes, apple braised red cabbage, rapini, crispy chickpeas and a prosciutto chip. The chip is definitely a winner, but the cod is perhaps a bit too dry.
More to my liking is the whole roasted baby grouper ($37), which is served with a vegetable caponata, a very tasty Romesco sauce and charred Meyer lemon. The fish is cooked perfectly and the Portuguese cornbread on the table is a great accompaniment.
As for alcohol, the wine list features a fair amount of bottles from Portugal, while cocktails are simple and classy. The signature drink, Flor ($16), mixes Dillon's Rose Gin with a Grand Marnier spritz, and is garnished with a single rose petal in a martini glass.
This is certainly a destination dining spot, as it's not really located in a high foot-traffic area; you're not likely to come across it unless you know it's there. (However, Da Costa tells me even though they opened in the extreme cold of winter, they've slowly been building a loyal following.) It's the ideal setting for a romantic dinner or a great place to celebrate a special occasion.
Photos by Jesse Milns.