Montecito is a sleek new 400-seat restaurant situated at the base of the Daniels Cinema Tower just behind the TIFF Lightbox. Owned by director Ivan Reitman and chef Jonathan Waxman, the spot draws inspiration from its namesake city in California aspiring to introduce a breezy Southern California vibe to Toronto.
At the front of the restaurant you will find a bar and patio furnished with bistro tables; further inside, there are two floors of dining, with long raw-edged redwood harvest tables and four-tops outfitted with bespoke loveseats. Potted orange trees are growing near windows, and video clips of gently swaying flowers are screened through archways, while high ceilings and a pale colour palette make for an airy, calming atmosphere. It's too bad that the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is staring at me with dead eyes while I eat.
The room is decorated with Ghostbusters memorabilia, figurines, '80s movie stills and cast portraits. It's a dose of Planet Hollywood in an otherwise elegant room, and it detracts from the whole SoCal concept and what I really came here for, which is chef Waxman's food, renowned for being simple, confident, and always-evolving ... everything the room is not.
The menu is printed daily, listing the farms that provided the restaurant's directly-sourced produce, meats and seafoods. While the offerings are always in flux, at least a few of Waxman's signature dishes will be menu staples.
There is a kale salad ($12), the same recipe that won over crowds at New York's Barbuto . Tossed with anchovy dressing, crunchy breadcrumbs and pecorino, the tough greens are chopped to confetti consistency which allows for full saturation of dressing and cheese in the salad.
The JW Bird ($24) is another signature dish that will be constant on the menu. It is undeniably delicious; the meat is juicy and moist, the skin is crisped and well seasoned, a salsa verde doused over top contributes a brightness of fresh herbs and garlic. The menu description says it's accompanied by a herb salad, though this is not substantial enough to be considered a side.
The dish is priced at a full $5 more than it is in New York, and considering it's just a plate of chicken (add sides like potatoes, succotash or ratatouille for $8 more) I anticipate diners might overlook the dish entirely in favour of other plates with a greater perceived value; the lobster-studded cioppino, for one, comes in at $25.
One of the more seasonal dishes offered on the day of my visit is a salad ($13) composed of fava beans, peas, heirloom and cherry tomatoes, and little knobs of of goat cheese. Gently dressed with a shallot vinaigrette, this is a showcase of local produce in its prime.
The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man appears again on the dessert menu in the form of a baked Alaska ($12). Encased in a soft dome of brûlée meringue, the ultra-sweet ending comes layered with vanilla sponge cake and marshmallow ice cream.
The wine list is expansive, offering a range of new world and old world options starting at $45 per bottle or $12 per glass. On tap you'll find mainly Ontario craft brews offered for $8/pint. The brief cocktail list designed by mixologist James Taylor will change and evolve seasonally, today featuring selections like The Beekeeper ($14) mixed with Irish Whiskey, honey and floral bitters.
Montecito is open weekdays for lunch starting at 11:30am, while weekend brunches will start in the near future at 11am.
Photos by Jesse Milns.
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