His name is on everyone's lips. Mark McEwen, risk-taker, creative entrepreneur and master of gastronomic taste, whose career I have been documenting for about twenty years, has taken a step of enormous magnitude. Once again he is spinning the wheels of fortune and has gone way downtown. Though McEwen dabbled at diversification in the past with Marketta at Ave and Dav, and the extraordinary Terra in the boonies of Thornhill, he has now dived in head first, no holds barred. The time is right.
ne can venture into the parking garage of the TD Centre or give your vehicle to the valet who waits on Wellington St. The entrance is impressive. The look is dramatic but not hard edged. Natural materials of wood, glass and water have been used sparingly, without the strain of compromise, to the best effect. Lighting is splendidly diffused and hidden and yet illuminates the space in a way that flatters the room and the clientele. Is the dark pool into which hang gilded chains illusion or reality? It would be easy to fill a column with the design details of Yabu Pushelberg's innovations, but I leave that to others. Even McEwen says, "it turned out better than I ever thought it would."
The two-story space has been utilized in such a way as to incorporate its assets and give us a fashionable environment without flamboyance. The 5,000 bottle wine cellar is a huge glassed in column with it's own specially designed ladder-a vintners dream. A vast skylight has become the bar and lounge. Enough said. Go, and see for yourself.
What shall we expect of Bymark's kitchen in these spiffy new digs? McEwen is too experienced and too smart for a menu of foofaras and furbelows that will leave us gasping with amazement. He passed through his sophomoric haute cuisine stage years ago. Now, like any mature artist, he knows the value of classic simplicity. He has edited the clutter from his menu and gives us excellence, delectability and uncompromising perfection. All done in plainspeak. His downtown clientele, who have eaten and drunk everywhere, appreciate the wit and elegance of the menu. Forgotten your reading glasses? Staff brings a selection of two pair-in a folded napkin. Obviously, Bymark has captured the shine of the times.
With his restaurant chef Brooke McDougal, who he'd mentored at North 44, each dish has been rehearsed and perfected. Seared tuna sashimi tops a moulded stack of chopped avocado, watercress, sweet onion and endive and has all the fresh taste of land and sea, sacrificing nothing to the Japanese Yuzu/Soy dressing. A suggested glass of Sancerre works with the grain. Fat slices of foie gras terrine come with roasted tart apple sections, stewed figs, and coarse sea salt for a flavour hit, and with a tasting glass (about 3 oz) of the recommended Thirty Bench Late Harvest Riesling, this is a superb appetizer.
Here's news. Glamorous people like garlic. Especially when it's blanched and minced into pesto with citrus and herbs and blankets three exquisite chops of rack of lamb. It is no easy task to find a supplier of Canadian lamb who is consistently excellent and has supplies available. Usually, restaurant lamb is from the Antipodes or the U.S. McEwen's lamb is fine-textured, flavourful and perfectly trimmed. The recommended Cabernet Franc truly hits the mark. Beautiful food indeed is the roasted east coast striped seabass that perches atop a plateau of field mushrooms and leeks. Some oceanic friends, prawns and mussels, echo the seafood theme.
An extravagant array of desserts tempts us to distraction. Searching for something light, we are thrilled with the soft centre meringue, a huge puffball with vanilla cream spilling from its centre, with tropical fruits and tart/sweet passion fruit.
McEwen's halogen personality is much in evidence in the 105 seat dining room, as he follows the restaurateurs' first rule: make everyone feel welcome and important. We do, and we will return to the siren call of the city's new best place.