The world has a lot to say about the AGO's new restaurant, FRANK. With a bizarre distaste for Frank Gehry's influence on the restaurant, the space has been likened to a subway, a train station and an airport. However, while a pervasive aura of modernism does exist in the restaurant, it still remains that it isn't always where you sit, but what you eat, that is the focus of the AGO's new restaurant.
The striking elements of FRANK are apparent, when first entering the dining room, the stark mod
ernism, the clean lines and the very Frank Gehry, division of levels cannot be ignored. An entire wall, spanning the width of the restaurant, features a non- temperature controlled, floor-to-ceiling wine cellar, an open kitchen and a vibrantly painted private dining space that is separate, yet still apart of the greater community of the restaurant - while doubling as a focal point. This is a restaurant that provides intriguing views and an unprecedented level of privacy to each table regardless of where you sit. It is because of this unique design that FRANK has been subjected to an intense amount of scrutiny.
Truthfully, you will not find anywhere else like it in all of Toronto and it will surely appeal to those enamored by architecture and design - in addition to those who appreciate a fine meal.
The restaurant promotes accessibility, whether it comes from the wheelchair ramp that provides access to the upper area, the wine list with affable descriptives such as, "Plush, Lush and Sexy" or the menu that channels the evocative nature of art, with items like "composition in red, yellow and green." Regardless of your background, the driving forces behind FRANK have ensured that every detail is taken care of.
"I believe that having a well trained staff is incredibly important," shares Sommelier and Manager, Courtney Henderson, "I encourage the staff to be familiar with what we offer in order to make the best recommendations to our diners." Henderson, hailing from the Royal York Hotel where she worked as a sommelier, continues her work at FRANK as one half of the wine team. Partnered with Billy Munnelly of Billy's Best Bottles, Henderson has made strategic decisions on the wines offered. "We chose some of the best bottles of Ontario VQA available," Henderson further added, "and those that are available by the glass are all inviting for all levels of wine lovers."
Executive Chef, Anne Yarymowich, has similar sentiments towards the food selections, "We wanted to create a menu of elevated comfort food. We wanted to go back to our roots as Ontarians." To be sure, the menu is a selection of meats and fishes prepared by braising, stewing, grilling and confit. "Our menu is seasonal and reflects the traditions of our forefathers," she goes on to share, "Come this summer, we will be canning and preserving our own foods in order to use throughout next winter - something we didn't have the luxury of doing this year." Truthfully, the dedication to honouring our Ontarian heritage through traditional techniques expertly employed, is honestly exciting.
The menu is organized by plate size, with the "Small Plates" indicating appetizers and "Larger Plates" the mains. The winners include the velvety smooth Potato, Squash and Cheddar Perogies ($12) served atop crÃƒÂ¨me fraiche as well as the elegant, reisling poached Still Life with Pear, Pancetta and Fig ($14), which is a knock out visually and tastefully. Both dishes exhibit an unprecedented level of balance in both flavour and texture.
The meal continues with the Wild Boar Loin Chop ($28) and the Braised Ontario Rabbit ($25) off of the "Larger Plates" section. The boar, ideally cooked medium-rare, is paired with varying levels of sweet and savoury. The braised red cabbage and the wild blueberry-peppercorn preserve, effortlessly coax the meatiness from the loin chop without offense. The rabbit, on the other hand, began with an offending bitterness that was initially confused with blandness. It is imperative that the rabbit be eaten bite for bite with a swirl in the delicate white wine and pommery mustard sauce as it is key in defining the equally delicate flavour of the tender white meat. Once mastered, it was well enjoyed!
Dessert, prepared by Christophe Measson, are sumptuous and a must try. The rice pudding brûlé ($10) was a thoughtful blend of rice pudding, crÃƒÂ¨me brule and the sweet surprise of an Armagnac-poached prune concealed deep within. The cardamon shortbread accidentally got ignored, but came in handy when sampling fragrant tea blends on offer prominently before the coffees, and with reason.
While the world may have much to say about the controversy between food and design, I cannot see any reason to declare FRANK anything short than a wonderful restaurant. While it is true, the mains don't live up to the level of the appetizers, it isn't to say that the mains do not have their own merits. True food lovers will revel in the unusual celebration of Canadian cuisine, while art-lovers will appreciate the through-composed Gehry design of the restaurant: non-sectional, non-repetitive yet relatively continuous. Because, regardless of the distinct elements that make up FRANK, it is how it comes together that is special.