Does Toronto really need another steakhouse? When an establishment like The Butcher Chef at 8 Harbour St. offers quality meat to suit everyone’s taste, along with an extensive global wine list and hospitable service, the answer is a resounding yes.
Co-owners Michael Dabic, and chef Derek Von Raesfeld are trying to raise the bar when it comes to beef.
A little history lesson: Michael Dabic was the manager of Harbour 60 for almost 10 years. For those who don’t know, it is considered Toronto’s premier steakhouse, which coincidentally is located on the same street. Then Michael left to open Michael’s on Simcoe and then Oliver’s Steakhouse in Oakville. Chef Derek who previously cooked at Scaramouche and a few Michelin establishments in Europe, returned to be Michael’s executive chef at these restaurants. The Butcher Chef is their first venture together as co-owners which took three years to complete. It is located near the Scotia Bank Arena, so it is a real plus for Raptors and Leaf fans.
They are currently open Tuesday to Saturday night. The 2,000 square foot space is beautiful, done in a deep black walnut woods, with aqua blue leather banquets, marble surfaces, brass accents and a crystal chandelier that is apparently gold plated. There is some interesting artwork, especially an oil painting of a Japanese Geisha. There is a semiprecious gemstone tiger’s eye for the bar top, which is meant to resemble a butcher’s block. The wine cellar is on full view displaying some of their new and old-world selections. They can seat up to 50 inside during healthier times and up to 60 outside. Because people are still tending to choose the outdoor patio during Covid-19, the tables were well spaced out, and greenery made it private from the traffic.
In normal circumstances they offer both an a la carte and tasting menu, but are currently only offering the a la carte menu. I was overwhelmed and overjoyed to see the beef selection. From different Ontario farms to PEI, or Wagyu from Missouri, to Australia to Miyazaki and Kobe Japan, the selection was mind boggling. Prices range from $65 to over $1,000 per cut depending on origin and size. The servers explain that each steak has a different taste and flavour profile depending where the cattle was raised and what it was fed. Michael Dabic is among a handful of restaurants in Canada that is certified to sell the best wagyu.
They offer more than just quality steaks, also available is fish, seafood, and poultry dishes. We tried a tomato and chanterelles salad with straciatella cheese and a basil pesto. The tomatoes could have been a bit riper considering we were in the height of tomato season but the Alaskan king crab salad with heirloom tomatoes in a tarragon buttermilk dressing, topped with crispy potato sticks was quite good. But, my favourite appetizer was the wild shrimp ceviche, with lime, shallots, tobiko, jalapeño, peach tartare and puffed quinoa with herbs.
Our PEI prime tenderloin was very tasty and seasoned well. However, we did order it medium rare and it came more medium. A first-rate steakhouse must learn to cook their meat to perfection. They offer a half dozen sides. The Yukon gold fries were excellent, as were the perfectly cooked Ontario asparagus in a browned butter sauce. The wild and mixed sautéed mushrooms were tasty but a bit on the salty side. (We did request light on the salt).
The wine list or should I say 22-page wine book had an extensive, serious and impressive list. The sommelier Carlo used to run the wine program at Splendido, and he can help you select the perfect wine. He discusses your entree, what temperature you like it cooked and what would be the perfect accompaniment. He did not lead us astray. They also serve the wine in beautiful crystal stemware. Plus, there is also an ample selection of craft cocktails.
The original plan was to open a butcher shop to supply Michael’s other two restaurants, but when this space became available, they couldn’t pass up the chance, so The Butcher Shop evolved into a butchery inspired boutique dining room. The meat is aged in-house and is on display. The chef wraps the meat in various items like coffee, hay or different grasses, or encases them in butter or duck fat to introduce different flavours to the meat. They also serve it with beautiful custom Japanese steak knives to enhance your experience. During Covid-19, the dessert offerings are limited to 4 choices, plus an artisanal cheese plate. We enjoyed our salted caramel creme brûlée. We washed it down with an espresso martini topped with a toasted marshmallow and a Hungarian dessert wine called Tokaji.
They are really are trying to raise the bar on steakhouses in Toronto and they are going to give Harbour 60 a run for the money.