I am always reluctant to try a “chain” restaurant, but Toronto Life Magazine named Cactus Club Cafe in their top new 20 restaurant issue. I have to say I don’t agree with all their top choices either, but we decided to give it a try.

Cactus Club Cafe is huge, with 500 seats, covering 3 multiple levels in the First Canadian Place right in the heart of the financial district. The interior is modern, dark wood, but still reminds me of any corporate restaurant. When you go to use to the restrooms there is footage of a fashion show and you feel like you are strutting down the catwalk.

There is a rooftop deck with a retractable roof that should be wonderful come summer.

It’s a corporate-owned B.C. chain that has had several restaurants based in Western Canada over the last 30 years. This is the first location east of Saskatchewan. They obviously have a big budget, you can tell from the serious artwork like the Basquiats, Warhols, and Mr. Brainwash. The executive chef is former Iron Chef winner, Rob Feenie. He has developed a huge menu and offers something for everyone. The place is busy with the office crowds for lunch or after work. The first floor is more low key, I would say better when catching a drink or small bite. The second floor is more of the restaurant area.

There is an extensive wine list, plus they offer 2,6, or 9oz size glasses. They also offer
“cellar” wines by the glass, so you may try some higher end wines. I was told they will even open any bottle of reserve wine if you buy two glasses. I like this concept, I wish more places would do this. There are wines offered for all budgets. There are also a few craft beers and a nice selection of cocktails.

Back to Mark Pupo’s top 20 new restaurant list. The food at Cactus Club Cafe food is average. Yes, it is a step above Jack Astor’s or Joey’s. But the food doesn’t, “wow”. If you worked or lived in the area you have far better choices, like Momofuku, Bymark, The Chase, or Canoe. In the States the Hillstone Group which is also corporate-owned, does a much better job with Houston’s or The Grill at Bal Harbour. They have a much better product and services. If they are trying to pass themselves off as a fine dining establishment, well they are not.

But, you can get decent food. For instance, the Szechuan chicken lettuce wraps with a sweet chili glaze, peanuts, wontons and spicy yogurt was one of the better appetizers. The tuna stack had a lovely presentation, with a citrus tamari vinaigrette, nori, sesame, avocado, and crushed wonton chips. But the quality of the tuna was not great and I dislike a dish like this being served ice cold. The tuna tataki also had a lovely presentation, served over a bed of papaya slaw, with pine nuts in a yusu vinaigrette, and micro cilantro. It was fine, just not outstanding. The roasted butternut squash soup was bland tasting. The soy-dijon salmon was quite good. It was sustainable Lois Lake fish, with whole grain barley, snap peas, shiitake mushrooms, soy butter sauce, grape tomatoes and cilantro. It was cooked to the perfect temperature. It was actually my favourite thing I tried. The short rib pappardelle with slow braised short rib, porcini mushroom cream, and Grana Padano was decent. Their signature dish of butternut squash and mascarpone ravioli with prawns in a truffle butter could have been better if the pasta was not undercooked and the shrimps were not so salty.

The menu has a nice selection of apps and various mains. We were not blown away by any means. However, it got the thumbs up from the children at our table who said the chicken tenders were awesome and that they want to come back.

For dessert the key lime pie is acceptable and the chocolate peanut butter crunch bar with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and crunchy chocolate pearls was a crowd pleaser.

We found the service to be a little on the slow side and I wonder how they will manage a lunchtime crowd when people are on a tight schedule. Even on a Sunday night the place was packed when the rest of the area is basically shut down. I can see how their menu would appeal to office workers looking to grab a burger, salad or steak. Would I run back here, not really, but I would frequent it if I worked in the area because it is easy and welcoming.

Cactus Club Cafe is at 77 Adelaide Street West. You can park underground but good luck finding the restaurant or you can valet park. It is open daily from 11am until 1am, and until 1:30 on Saturdays.

Happy dining,
Shanea

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