The night I dined at Marked Restaurant was indeed a special occasion for me. It was the last evening I could “dine in” in Toronto for the next 28 days. Due to a steady and strong climb in new Covid cases, the government imposed new restrictions as of midnight that evening to ban indoor dining to bring personal contact down and help flatten the curve. It was a chance to try a brand-new restaurant, knowing this will be my last restaurant review in Toronto for quite a while. Located at 132 John street, between Richmond and Adelaide in the entertainment district of Toronto. I usually don’t find many appealing establishments in this area but I’m glad to report that Marked is an exception to that rule.
Marked is a love letter to the spirit and flavours of South America. The name Marked is a reference to show that we are all marked in some way to our heritage, and owner Maria Morales, although born in Toronto, has parents from South America. Plus, she has based much of the menu from her extensive travels there as well as her personal history. The food centers around wood burning cooking which imparts a delicious distinct flavour along with a moistness to its meat and fish dishes. Chef Marc Cheng, formerly of such notable eateries as Byblos, Patria, George and Nao Steakhouse has realized, developed and executed her vision.
The restaurant is large, colourful and dramatic in design. At 10,000 square ft. with high ceilings and several rooms, I felt totally safe dining there. They seated us at least 20 feet from the next diners. The walls feature South American pop and travel art with a nod to the Panama games and Pam Am airways. There are numerous model airplanes throughout, plus walls painted with the stripes of airmail postcards. Vintage sports memorabilia are on the shelves in the front room and handsome herringbone and mosaic floors or mosaic floors cover the private dining room. There are actually four separate dining areas. The front room or front bar, patio and indoor lounge is called the Pan Am lounge. The main dining room is the Comedor Lounge that has several booths and individual tables. The Tuscano is a colourful dining space, with a sliding glass wall for privacy. The back room is called the Corsair and has a separate modern cocktail bar and special program, and different menu from the front bar, where they make modern visually stunning, theatrical, molecular and showy drinks, some as pricey as $42. Those are the “porthole ” drinks where they infuse things like figs, maple, chai, sage, apple, cinnamon, star anise etc.
They have a shiso gimlet with frozen shiso leaves, liquid nitrogen, gin and lime. You will get not only a wonderful show but a delicious drink. I actually enjoyed some of the best handcrafted cocktails that I’ve had in a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed their drink called Amora, with Ketel One peach and orange blossom vodka, St-Germaine, Fino sherry, Lillet Blanc, dry vermouth, green chartreuse, lemongrass and peach bitters. My husband also had a fabulous drink called Matcha Picchu, a concoction of Tanqueray gin, El Gobernodor pisco, cucumber, white vermouth, green tea, coconut, pineapple, lime, Western haskop bitters and topo chico. The cocktail lists are extensive with so many custom choices and modern twists making it difficult to make a decision. There is also a curated wine list as well.
The menu emphasizes sustainable ingredients, cooked over wood burning heat to bring out the true essence of each flavour. If you walk to the back of the restaurant, there is a glass wall where you can look into the busy kitchen and view their magnificent ovens. Maria says that Marked is a culmination of ideas, techniques, flavours and stories inspired by her adventures.
The food was surprisingly very good. As good or even better than many of the dishes that I’ve had in Miami with their large Latin population, as well as on my travels to Peru and Ecuador. It is difficult to pick out just a few standouts, as we enjoyed everything. The Shishido peppers were excellent, done in a lime chipotle salt, chive mayo and sprinkled with toasted sunflower seeds. The corn ribs, with an authentic tasting whipped queso fresco and piri piri sauce was equally delicious. We also savoured the dates wrapped in bacon and stuffed with manchego cheese. I’m not a big fan of Brazilian croquettes, but the roast chicken coxinha with a huancaina sauce just might convert my thinking.
We opted for the Marked ceviche, using a daily market fish. On our evening the selection was Hamachi and it was prepared very traditionally, using avocado, sweet potato, Peruvian dried corn and leche de tigre. My only complaint was the fish was way too cold. But I did like the idea of using charred sweet potato. They offer several salads which we will have to try on another occasion. There are several medium and large format choices and we went with the charcoal grilled Cornish hen in an annatto marinade, with biquinho peppers, cilantro creama and marcona almonds. The meat was succulent and tender.
Dessert was a surprise from Tiffany the manager and it did not disappoint. The OG churro featured a spectacular presentation. A cornucopia horn of plenty churro filled with chocolate soil, candied cocoa nibs, milk crumb, dulce ice cream and chocolate sorbet. It was sprinkled with edible flowers and sitting on a swirl of dulce de leche. We also had a dish called a Latin Mess showcasing an array of coconut namelaka, sponge, passion fruit curd, coconut foam and passion fruit ice cream. It was a wonderful mixture of textures and flavours that looked like an abstract painting.
Our server a Jenna was genuinely friendly, knowledgeable and professional. Dinner was an unexpected delight. I’m only sorry for the restaurant because it just opened a few weeks earlier and now has to shut down and it’s getting too cool to be eating on patios too. Thankfully they are working on a takeout menu. I hope you support them in this way but I encourage you to try it once it is able to fully open again.
As owner Maria Morales says, you will discover the spirit, flavours and sensations of Latin America. That is where she discovered her heart, soul, heritage and herself. The experience left its mark and Marked is an expression of that journey.