In these times of great economic uncertainty, it's comforting to know that the needs of the 1% are still being met. I mean why else would anyone dare to open a place like The Shore Club while the world is careening off a cliff. Well, with the well-heeled spillover from the neighbouring Ritz Carlton, it's probably a pretty safe bet.
Oozing with opulence, not unlike an old luxury cruise liner, The Shore Club is the perfect backdrop for power lunches and/or that risky rendezvous with a certain Gi
nger White. But possibly being the spiffiest restaurant chain in the country (with another in Ottawa and Vancouver), how do they reconcile hanging beautiful original works of art right next to dumbed-down flat screen TVs? Sorel Etrog, are you listening?
Understated elegance abounds in dark woods, dim lighting and a masculine palette appropriate for that ol' boys club feel, with lush spacious seating that include bar, booth, bench and table options. Carpets are so plush you might be tempted to remove your Testoni loafers. Too bad the white-jacketed waiters look more like bathroom attendants. But why stop there? Why not gloves, too? As expected, service is professional and butt-kissing courteous, much like what you'd expect from a posh hotel even if a bit too starch-collared stiff. But at these prices, servers should know everything about the menu without having to first check back with the kitchen.
The menu is expansive with a steak and seafood focus that includes such Old World classics like filet mignon ($36-$44), a Porterhouse steak ($50), steak tartar ($16) Manhattan clam chowder ($9), jumbo shrimp cocktail ($16) and lobster tail ($65). But when the kitchen veers off the proven tried and true, results are decidedly mixed. Case in point: vanilla battered prawns ($15) may be meaty and mouth-wateringly tender, but this kind of aromatherapy would be better in a dessert course. Also annoying is the frissee, tomato and a sprig of parsley garnish on practically every plate. I know the aim is old school, but does it have to be so banquet hall?
Dishes don't arrive with the theatrics of metal cloches or showy flambÃ©s (though either might be a nice over-the-top touch), but the room's wow begins to fade as the reputation of the food begins to tarnish. Spicy popcorn rock shrimp ($14) are aplenty with a nicely spicy breading and Cajun mayo, but they're not much more impressive than what an upscale mall chain might offer. A generous portion of clams meuniÃ¨re ($16) in a white wine and garlic broth is so salty the broth is barely drinkable. To be fair, we did ask to substitute the mussels with clams, which are typically way more salty; on the menu clams come served in a black bean sauce. But the kitchen might've alerted us to that possibility. That said, 35 clams for $16 is a pretty good deal to swallow. And while a caesar salad ($9) may be a trifle over dressed, thankfully it sports the correct greyish tone, not the typically white gloop you get from a heavy-handed use of mayo. A nicer touch would be making it a la table. If Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse can, why not here?
Stuffed rainbow trout ($29) arrives with a crispy skin thanks to some expert pan-frying, nicely encasing the flakey fish, delicate Dungeness crab and baby shrimp. It's a commendable effort that's worth every pricey mouthful. But a steak and lobster ($50) is a huge disappointment. I've seen better execution of this surf and turf staple at The Keg. Even the servers seem less dazzled by the food - one busboy yawns as he collects our plates.
Sides like salt and vinegar shoestring fries ($7) are a great idea, even if the first batch is way over-seasoned. And a braised fennel ($8) has an acrid, sour taste that masks any hint of anise. And although a bit of an oxymoron, greaseless fried rice ($11) dotted with green onion and tiny shrimp is one of the best things on the menu.
Sadly there is no pastry chef to rave about for turning out such sublime desserts as a Black Forest cake ($10) and a coconut cream pie ($10). Both made in-house, they are so light and fluffy they can practically tip over just by waiving your fork over them. Whoever made these should consider taking control of the kitchen. As exclusive as The Shore Club tries to be, its food turns out to be 99% ordinary.