The Yorkville neighbourhood is experiencing a restaurant boom. The area was never known for many fine dining experiences, except maybe Truffles in its heyday and I always thought Pangea had a great kitchen, but was often overlooked or went unmentioned.
Now there is a real estate explosion going on downtown and all these new towers and condo developments are going up. So there is a demand for restaurant growth. Toronto has never had a shortage of steakhouses, actually there is Morton’s and Naoe in a block radius from our latest arrival STK, located at 155 Yorkville Avenue on the corner of Avenue Road and Yorkville. The One Group, an American company opened their first STK restaurant in Canada.
The space was impressive, even sexy, and very reminiscent of an American restaurant. You have to enter on the main floor and the hostess directs you up a big staircase to the upstairs hostess booth. There is also an elevator for those who can’t do the stairs. But that shouldn’t be an issue because the average age of the patrons falls somewhere between 30-40 years of age. The place is large, they have taken over the former Studio Cafe from the old Four Seasons hotel and completely transformed it. It is part restaurant and part chic lounge that is central to the bar and restaurant. It literally reminds me of a meat market, and I am not talking about your local butchers. This is a place to mingle, meet and greet. The music starts blaring as early as 8pm. Good luck having any dinner conversation, you have to literally shout to be heard. The space is 8,800 square ft. and seats about 250, including a private dining area that can seat 24 people.
The menu is typically steak cliche, with the requisite shrimp cocktails, salads, shellfish platters, and raw bar items. They market their steaks small, medium, large and extra large and price the cuts accordingly, except for the Wagu beef, which sells for $30 an ounce, with a minimum of 3 oz required. There are toppings like truffle butter, foie gras butter, king crab and lobster for an additional charge. Each steak comes with one sauce and you can have additional sauces at $2 each. These range from sauces like béarnaise, to horseradish, red wine and chimichurri sauce. The steaks start at around $39 for a 6 oz filet and go upwards to $149 for a 28 oz porterhouse steak.
For non-steak eaters there is a market fish, a halibut, lobster thermidor, chicken, tuna, lamb and short ribs.
There is a nice selection of sides, from sweet corn pudding, wild mushrooms, asparagus, Brussel sprouts to grits.
We started with their house-made bread served in a cast iron skillet with a blue cheese butter. Our bread was anemic looking. If you go online you will see that other STK restaurants serve theirs nicely browned. I am also spoiled for life by the likes of BLT’s popovers. The shrimp cocktail at $28 were on the small side, and tasted frozen, just go to Morton’s across the street and you can get 6 large ones that taste a lot better. The tuna tartar is a lovely presentation with Haas avocado, in a soy honey emulsion and served with nice large taro chips. I was afraid it might be too salty with the soy and it wasn’t, it was actually lacking some zip. The lil’ brgs made with wagu beef with special sauce on mini sesame buns were quite good and also a cute presentation. The shaved Brussels sprout salad with cranberries and almonds had a nice spiciness to it. For our mains the 6 oz filet medallion was fine – nicely charred but I can’t say it was that memorable. The spicy big eye tuna is a large portion and looked like sliced beef on the plate. For me the sauce of piquillo pepper purée and white bean, ginger and shiso totally overpowered the fish. There was a special the evening we went, of Japanese scallops, in a carrot ginger purée with roasted butternut squash, in a maple brown butter. It sounded amazing, and had a lovely presentation but the flavours were a little too subtle.
We asked for our Parmesan truffle fries to be served extra crispy. We were told that they were made in house (I hope so), but they couldn’t make them crispy for us, so we passed. The mac and cheese was a favourite at our table, and the brocollini was prepared well.
For dessert we enjoyed the warm cookie and ice cream. The apple crumble cake would have been improved if they served it warm.
There is a nice selection of wines by the glass. I tried a reserva from Rioja. There is about ten craft cocktails and ten craft beers to choose from, as well as a nice wine list.
The place is new and there are some service issues to iron out. For instance, reaching in front of guests to serve other guests, when they should just walk around the table. When leaving the restaurant the hostesses should thank the guests for coming instead of giving no eye contact and talking to each other.
The place is jammed packed and it has only been open a week or so. If you are looking for a scene with beautiful people, blaring music, steep prices, and a trendy decor, then you may be able to overlook the mediocre food. It is not that anything was bad, it just wasn’t great. I hope they can elevate the experience here, so it won’t just be known as a chain restaurant, but instead will also have a well-earned reputation and become a contender for Toronto’s top steakhouse and excite the palette.