I dreamed last night that Air Canada and WestJet refused to fly me home to Toronto because I was shoeless. Rescued by wonder woman Heather Austin-Gibbons of the Barbados Tourist Authority, I am now splashing in the surf wondering how I can apply for refugee status.
No such luck. I wake in Toronto, shivering. It’s cold and I have work to do: a review of Stock, the restaurant in the recently opened Trump International Hotel and Tower that looms 65 storeys above Bay and Adelaide.
The hotel is black and white throughout, clad in marble, and projects the subdued piety of a funeral parlour. At first I walk by the hotel entrance, mistaking it for a loading dock. Then I spot a revolving door in the corner. A pleasant but understandably sombre greeter guides me to the elevator, even presses the button for the 31st floor. It strikes me as odd that the only part of Stock that has a view, which must be impressive, is the bar. The rest of the L-shaped room is windowless. My companion and I have to shout across the table. “What did you say?” I yell. “Where’s the dominatrix?” my companion yells back, indicating the decor, black and white with violent purple streaks of light on the walls.
We ask if there’s a quieter spot. Management moves us, not entirely graciously, to a corner in the back. We revive our vocal chords with a glass of a brisk 2010 Gruner Veltliner Spiegel Kamptal ($50 a bottle). Thank you ace wino, sommelier John Szabo. Our spirits rise when we meet our server. Graeme McEachren is from Nova Scotia, a fresh Maritimes breeze. His spiel is so polished that he must be an actor. No. Graeme is that rarity, a professional waiter, proud of his job. Before coming to Toronto recently, he worked, among other places, at Rob Feenie’s Lumiere.
What to eat? Todd Clarmo, formerly a partner in Oasi, and corporate executive chef with the Oliver and Bonacini group, is the kitchen boss. His menu is a smart spin on the glamour foods expected of hotel restaurants, heavy on red meat and expensive shellfish, and tweaked with such intriguing dishes as skin-roasted Spigola — Mediterranean bass, grilled artichokes and peppers. Assuming Zagat mode, we ask for the people’s choice. What do rich people eat? Graeme guides us to the faves. Blue crab and avocado guacamole with spiced lavash crisps, $20, isn’t your usual mash but has good lumps of crab meat in it. The poached lobster salad, $24, has agreeably chewy chunks of lobster, but I have to hunt through a plethora of lettuce, plus potatoes, watercress, asparagus spears, tomatoes, radishes and Greek yogourt dressing to find them. Lettuce is not so much a food as a garnish. A leaf will do.
Five splendid and medium-rare lamb chops, $45, follow. They’re ridgy didge as an Australian might say of his country’s authentically lamby meat. More assertive flavour than local lamb, but not gamey, I hasten to add, knowing that strong-flavoured lamb is often shunned in this city as too gamey. The eight-ounce bon-bon of a fuchsia filet steak, $42, is predictably excellent. Both dishes are accompanied by a nostalgic roasted onion splayed out prettily on the plates. “Just like my Mum’s Sunday lunch,” my friend says happily. We have a couple of sides, crisp roasted fingerling potatoes and crunchy asparagus, $9 each. We raise a glass to such straight-up cooking.
Desserts are dominated by chocaholic maestro David Chow, formerly at the Drake Hotel. We have to walk over to the choc table to choose among assorted delights. Finally, we have the lemon lavender gateau with honey, pistachio crumble and Greek yogourt sorbet, $13, and the warm dark chocolate tart with salted caramel, cocoa nib nougatine and vanilla mint ice cream, $15. They don’t deliver the advertised flavours. A dessert’s job is to end the meal with a flourish. These desserts are pleasant but no meringue.
Stock at Trump International Hotel and Tower
325 Bay St., 416-637-5550–Food, ★★½; Service, ★★★; Vibe, zero. Wheelchair accessible. Dinner for two: food and tax, $200.
4 stars Perfection • 3 stars Exceptional • 2 stars Very good • 1 star OK