Michael's on Simcoe
Michael's on Simcoe recently opened to the public after hosting hordes of celebrities during TIFF. The work of former Harbour Sixty GM Michael Dabic, the restaurant positions itself as an alternative to the oak-stained, brown-tinged, hyper-masculine steakhouse.
At first look, this is obvious in the choice of decor. In place of Mad Men cliches — you know, all that yellowish, warm colour-cast — the dining area is decidedly blue in tone. It's not uninviting, but there aren't many shout-outs to Barberian's type places here.
Under construction for almost a year, the space is every bit Dabic's own, right down to the MacIntosh stereo system (Michael's is only the second establishment in North America to be sponsored by the company) to the disappearing flatscreens behind the bar. "We gutted it beyond belief — normally you can take things down to the studs, Dabic explained during my visit. "But here we took the studs out because they were rusted from water damage."
Worthy of note for would-be female visitors to Michael's: of the many things to get the renovation treatment, the washrooms take the cake. The women's facilities feature what has to be one of the most advanced toilets on the planet. Forward cleaning, backward cleaning choices trump the usual I'm-shy-and-I-don't need special cleaning options, don't they?
And now onto the food — what a perfect transition.
Dabic enlisted Boris Babic (A1 Autostrada) to head the kitchen while Steve Morsi (Sorrento) focuses on the Italian dishes, hand making their pasta daily. Michael's offers USDA prime, corn-fed beef, both wet and dry aged because, as Dabic notes, "the customer should have the right to choose what they want."
I started with the seafood salad ($22) — a homage to Babic's homeland along the Adriatic sea. Bare scallops, shrimp and octopus come simply dressed with fennel, olives and caperberries. An appetizing preparation, to be sure, but when I wasn't eating the scallops I found myself wanting more acid.
Next up was a venison carpaccio with shaved parmesan and truffles ($19). I like to consider myself a "venison expert" (that is actually a thing), as I grew up in a family of hunters and cooks whose chief source of meat was the deer. Even with such pedigree, I have to admit that this dish was one of the best preparations of venison I've ever had the pleasure of tasting (sorry, Dad).
Cut from the tenderloin and tinged with a bit of acid, the thin slivers of meat melt in the mouth with an obvious umami taste. The cheese adds the perfect touch of salt, while the micro beet greens provide a contrast in texture met only by the richness of the truffles.
Let it be known that at this point I could've gone home happy, but I was far from complaining when the black cod ($34) hit the table.
The fish came topped with a slightly sweet walnut crust and was accompanied by a small beet and apple salad. Moist, buttery and flaked perfectly, it also seemed to melt in the mouth. I think I would rub it into my face if I was all out of moisturizer. Yes. What?
Onto the steak! The USDA prime dry-aged porterhouse ($64) is bit of carnivorous glory for those who crave a show-stopping main. Packed with salty, beefy flavour, I was particularly impressed with the tenderloin side, which, as per the night's theme, melted away without much effort from my jaw or teeth — an aptly named cut of meat and a testament to the dry aging process.
To end, I indulged in the lobster ravioli ($29), which was stuffed to the brim with what seemed to be nothing but lobster (not a complaint to be clear) and swimming in a saffron sauce. If my black cod moisturizer ever ran out, I'd replace it with saffron sauce.
The space and cuisine has all the hallmarks of a slick, hot spot and the servers have that air of professional efficiency about them that seems almost corporate in nature — but there's also an earnestness and sincerity about this place that belies first appearances. The passion of both the owner and the chef tend to make you forget the suits and business deals in favour of the food — always a good thing.