VERTICAL: Banker bar…with chops?

416 214 2252  |   $19-25 Pasta/Risotto, $25-50  Mains

 

Eating in the financial district during weekdays is usually an exercise in banker avoidance. When the business model is built around alcohol sales on the patio, it’s hard to find somewhere that puts great emphasis on food. I was skeptical about Vertical for this very reason, but I think it’s safe to say you can eat well here even surrounded by our suited friends.


Photo Credit: blogTO

Food

A read through the menu shows you this is more than a bar. It reads very modern Italian with everything you’d expect to find in the apps and pastas, along with some mains that veer away from the traditional. 

The four of us decided to start with three apps that we all agreed were the highlights of the meal.

The lamb meatballs in tomato sauce (above) were delicious - juicy and full of lamb flavour you’re looking for when you order lamb. I also enjoyed the focaccia with it to sop up all the leftovers. 

Next up were the five balls of arancini (above) filled with saffron risotto and fontina cheese. I will always order arancini when I see them on a menu because, when perfected, nothing is more addictive. That, and they’re usually tasty even when botched.

That said, I thought these were pretty darn good. If you don’t like saffron, avoid these, because the risotto is rife with it. I enjoyed the bold flavour, along with thin exterior and accompanying sauce. Just a touch more fontina would have won it for me. I’m very picky.

This was a dish that tasted as good as it read on the menu. Seared scallop, watermelon, speck, corn and watercress. Watermelon and corn makes sense. Speck and scallop makes sense. Fresh, juicy, porky goodness.

The first main that caught my eye was the halibut over spinach, with a fennel and star-anise puree along with a porcini and potato ’crochetta’. In theory, sounds like a really smart flavour profile. 

The good: Most of the fish was perfect, with an excellent crispy layer on top and moist, flaky interior. Spinach was a nice strong compliment. The mix of textures throughout the dish was really successful.

The not: The puree was ultra mild to the point where it was hard to say what it tasted like. The filling of the crochetta didn’t yell porcini either.

I think this dish has huge potential, but I really missed the promise of fennel, star-anise and porcini.

You may think the above is a ravioli, but this stamp-shaped pasta is called Sfoja Lorda. Vertical fills it with halibut and services with lobster, tomato, and wild fennel. I’ll say the star of the dish was the halibut filling, which I’ve yet to have in a pasta dish. My issue was the lobster is overwhelmed and the fennel flavour was missing again.

The last dish looked beautiful. The risotto of the day was also lobster, so we said why not?

The mouth feel was great and the flavour was pleasant, but I really wish something had stood out. Lobster meat is really quite subtle so anything to dial it up is appreciated and I just felt like I was missing it again.

The last dish of the night was the dessert above. I can’t seem to find that night’s dessert menu online, so I’m not going to take wild guesses at the ingredients. What I do remember is that the cake fell apart really easily, got sopped up in the sweet sauce below and turned into a bit of mess with the cocoa-flavoured sauce.

Dining Date Night

You may have heard me mention this service before, but I’m just going to reiterate how useful and easy it is. 

It lets you make a reservation at some solid restaurants for $10 during off-peak nights (usually excludes Fridays & Weekends) for up to six people. In exchange, they give you 30% off the entire bill including alcohol. The four of us save $40+ and turned this pricier place into something pretty affordable.

Click below to sign up. Highly recommend it:

 

Service and Ambience

So here’s the obvious part: during weekdays in the summer this is a bar for business people in the financial district (and those eager folks that pursue them). If you don’t like that atmosphere, you may be put off. If you’re not and don’t mind a lively patio in a great location, this is your scene.

 

On the service side, I was impressed. The great thing about these restaurants is that the kitchen isn’t particularly bombarded with orders so your food comes out pretty quickly. Our server was also very attentive and was always around when we needed her.

The Reco?

This was a really tough one. The apps were great and definitely reco-worthy, but the mains and dessert all had some issues that held them back from fully delivering on the menu’s compelling promises.

Without the 30% off, I’ll say Vertical borders on being too rich for what it delivers. That said, the apps give me faith that there’s more delicious food to be had here, and with the available discount, there aren’t enough reasons not to come back.

Other reviews:
 Food Junkie Chronicles (tasting menu)   |   Toronto City Gossip

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited August 2, 2012

Vertical Restaurant and Bar on Urbanspoon

F’AMELIA: Outstanding meal in Cabbagetown

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416 323 0666   |   $12-$15 Pizza and Pasta  

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I’d read a little bit about F’Amelia late in 2011, but admittedly forgot about it until this spring. I tried recruiting them for Dish Duel at that time because I’d read positive reviews, but again things didn’t work out. My most recent exposure was Toronto Life putting them into 2011’s top new restaurants, so I finally caved and decided to head over. Such a good decision.

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Food

Another concise menu foreshadowed a quality meal. There are really only six antipasti choices and eight mains outside of the pizza menu, so you know everything is there for a reason.

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We started with the best charcuterie plate I’ve had in a long time (the large version pictured above). I should have filmed a video of our server describing it, but here’s what I remember as highlights. The duck prosciutto on the top left is out of this world. The thinly sliced pancetta crusted in juniper and black pepper on the bottom left blew my mind. The apple mostarda in the little dish was full of sharp flavour, with the cheeses to its right creamy and subtle in their own way. Just a fantastic spread.

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Somehow, this might have been even better. Maybe the most tender calamari I’ve put in my mouth. Really fresh roasted tomato, fragrant fennel fronds and tasty bits of sausage all married to form perfect bites. Such a winner of a dish.

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The green asparagus risotto while prepared masterfully, was missing the stand-out flavours of the previous dishes. The lardo gave it richness and ramps were definitely there, but despite spears of asparagus cut up inside, you would have been tough-pressed to pick out the taste of asparagus.

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This super clean tagliatelle with braised rabbit (killer), brussel sprouts and wild mushrooms was very refined. The noodles were delicate and eggy, but I felt like it could have used just a bit more something (acid? sprouts?). Something.

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After the previous two ‘good’, but not great courses, this pizza recovered. For those who like a mild crispiness, while preserving the thin/chewy quality that makes great pizza great, this is a home run crust. We ordered the ‘Norcina’ version, topped with more of that great sausage, prosciutto cotto, mushrooms, and nutmeg. The nutmeg was really subtle, but made you appreciate the pizza a bit more every time to caught a hint of it.

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We finished with the selection of gelato - the only thing not made in house. That said, the chocolate was so smooth and filled with cocoa-flavour and the pistachio was subtle, but dead-on. The straciatella (just means vanilla and chocolate shavings) was meh.

Service and Ambience

I really liked the homey quality of F’Amelia. It did the name justice with its rustic charm. The natural light hitting the white-tiled floor just brightens up what would otherwise be a pretty dark space. It”s a good vibe on a nice day.

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Our servers were excellent throughout the night. Chumming with us, bringing everything out correctly at a pleasant pace, and making us feel at home. I’ve read reviews of poor service, but they clearly didn’t have any of our four servers. Kudos.

The Reco?

I know Toronto needs another Italian restaurant like a hole in the head, but every city could always use an authentic one that gets the cuisine right. This is one of those places. Many of our dishes were very near perfect, the service was welcoming, and we enjoyed our meal so very much. You should go.

Other reviews:
image Toronto Life  |   image Food Junkie Chronicles

image Posted by: Jacob, Visited May 5, 2012

F'Amelia on Urbanspoon

FRANK: Don’t forget about this place

416-979-6688    |    $16 -$24 lunch mains

 

As far as good restaurants go in Toronto, I feel like people forget this place exists at the AGO. People know about C5 in the ROM, but otherwise the fact it’s in a museum seems to hide it a bit. Been meaning to stop by the Frank Gehry-designed spot, found a good reason to, and off we went.


Photo Credit: Lost at A Minor

Food

The Frank lunch menu is essentially two succinct sets of starters and mains, many of which should dramatically improve what you normally eat for lunch. There’s a wide variety of interesting choices that aren’t too adventurous, but are just right for a ‘fancy’ lunch.

The three of us shared four apps to start:

  • Carrot and ginger soup: Nothing surprising here, a well-made soup that more or less yelled ‘carrot!’
  • Smoked paprika marinated grilled octopus with chickpeas, merguez, pequillo peppers and spinach (below): Really nice Spanish-inspired dish whose flavours were bright and balanced; also a beautifully-plated dish. Only thing was the octopus wasn’t quite as tender as it needed to be to knock this out of the park.
     
  • Seared halloumi on chickpea polenta and caper peperonata (below): Nothing really stood out here, but a pleasant dish. Think the halloumi could have been crispy or something, the sear didn’t change much and the chickpea part of the polenta didn’t add anything. Peperonata was a flavourful touch though.
     
  • Blue crab cakes with herbed ailoi (below): Golden and crispy on outside, soft and warm on the inside, really nice aioli with a bunch of greens. This made for a very tasty series of bites. Enjoyed these a lot.

Each of us then ordered very different mains. The first was the special of the day, a wild mushroom risotto with cipollini onions done to perfection. Flavours were dead-on (earthy and buttery), the texture was exactly where you’d want it to be and the portion wasn’t too large. 

The second dish was the corn and cheddar souffle on warm cored-apple. Found this one to be bit a bit boring, as the souffle didn’t taste like much - the apple swooped in to save it from blandness.

The last dish (above), a skirt steak on crispy sour dough, triple crunch mustard, caramelized onions and goat’s milk gouda was awesome. The triple crunch mustard caught my eye in the description, but it’s just semi-crunchy grainy mustard. The real crunch is the sour dough along the bottom and the great sear on the meat. The dish reminded me of a deconstructed and elevated steak sandwich - this is a very good thing. It’s a large portion as well, so you get your money’s worth for the priciest of the mains ($24).

We also sampled a few desserts. We found all three to be average, but regrettably cold. The crustless apple tart (above right) I had with spiced whip cream reminded me of a lukewarm Starbucks drink; could be worse I suppose. My friend’s eggnog creme brulee didn’t taste particularly like eggnog, but with a great torching job on the top, it was strangely cold. The chocolate rum lava cake with poached pears was good, but again, not hot. We thought all three were best-served warm. It’s too bad.

Service and Ambience:

I found our server to be very friendly and helpful with the menu, and the supporting staff also were around frequently replacing silverware, water refilling, etc. Food came out at a good pace given the room was busy at lunch.

As for how the place looks, it’s very modern and minimalistic. There’s a great metal sculpture that protrudes out from the cafeteria below that I particularly liked (above). The dining room itself is really big and felt somewhat empty, but that’s minimalism for you. Whether you think that style is suited for a restaurant is your own call, but as a space in a museum, I can understand the design choice.

The Reco?

I liked lunch at Frank. Despite the temperature-challenged desserts and a few small misses, we quite enjoyed the steak, crab cakes, octopus, and risotto. For an area that’s a little short on nicer restaurants, I think it’s a very respectable option. I’d definitely go back to taste more dishes both at lunch and for dinner. 

Other reviews:
 dineTO     |     NOW Toronto

 Posted by: Jacob, Visited Dec 22, 2011

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