Just days before the gong-show which is the Toronto International Film Festival swept itself across the city, TIFF-towns newest hot spots hosted a petite party for local media.
A partnership between Toronto-native and Hollywood director Ivan Reitman, world renowned chef Jonathan Waxman and local restauranteurs Tom and Jordan Bitove, Montecito is a massively charming 12, 000 square foot, 399 seat restaurant in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District.
Directed by Reitman’s expert eye, the design and decor sets the scene throughout the restaurants two-storey dining room, lounge and outdoor Adelaide Street-facing patio, steps away from film festival headquarters at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Reitman is perhaps best known for the cult classic Ghostbusters, and fans of the film will appreciate memorabilia throughout the space: iconic marshmallow man sculpture stands at the entrance, a signed script sits on a shelf upstairs and portraits of cast-members Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray hang above the dining room.
Media mix and mingled on Montecito’s 2nd floor, nibbling off a pretty platter of charcuterie and fromage while sipping through some of the bartenders favourite cocktails. House lime leaf vodka spiked Gorgeous Gunners and cognac meets pear liqueur muddled Shoot The Runner offered a aromatic punch via sip savvy thirst quench. It was downstairs where I had the chance to meet the brains behind Montecito’s culinary program. Acclaimed chef Jonathan Waxman describes his menu as, “marrying the simplicity of California cuisine using the freshest and most natural ingredients direct from Canadian farms from coast-to-coast.”
I returned to the restaurant to sample through the Chef Waxman’s California-Italian inspired menu after successfully surviving TIFF. I seated myself at Montecito’s sun splashed bar which sits at the front of the restaurant overlooking Adelaide. I was joined at the table by my good friend Burger Kim from House of Burger. He was the brains behind many of the fancy hats I wore during this years festival.
Over the course of the next two hours we caught up on lost time while nibbling our way through a fantastic feast. The restaurants always smiling sommelier Stephanie Guth had a few surprises up her sleeve, pairing a choir of her favourite bottles with each of our dishes. I actually graduated from the University of Guelph’s Hospitality Management program in 2007 with Ms Guth and hadn’t seen her in years. After graduation Guth trained as a chef at George Brown College, spent 6 years working in Toronto as a cook at Four Season’s Truffles and Ritz Carlton Hotel Toronto’s Toca before moving to London to work at Two Star Michelin restaurant Pied as Terre as Assistant Sommelier where she led wine service, organized pairings and helped manage the restaurants world class cellar. Toronto is lucky to have Guth back in its backyard.
Chef Waxman’s dishes are best described as refreshingly simple, each plate seeming to effortlessly showcase the season. On the right side of each menu guests will find a laundry list of local producers which deliver to the kitchen on the daily: shrooms from Northern Woods Mushrooms, bacon from Perth County Pork, trout from Jim Giggie and sweet butter from Alliston Creamery.
The restaurants signature dish is at first a bit of a head scratcher (chicken? really?) but after sampling through Waxman’s herb encrusted chicken (which pairs nicely with crispy potatoes) its clear that even the most simple offerings can be made magnificent by sourcing top quality ingredients and letting the product speak for itself, instead of falling victim to overly fancy fare. My personal favourites: rich creamy polenta topped with hearty sugo and plump meatballs and salty prosciutto perched on sweet peach and creamy mozzarella.
Montecito will do very well, perfectly positioned behind the TIFF Bell Lightbox and in the heart of the city’s new condo hub. While the food and drink at Montecito is stellar, it’s actually the ambiance which had me pause and reflect. I dare say I can’t remember the last time I was in a bustling restaurant and was still able to hear the conversation at the table. While the background music is set at a perfect pitch I also tip my hat to the director’s lighting expertise. The dinning room illuminates like a film set, offering a moody space while affording each guest the pleasure of reading through their menu without having to squint. Perhaps all of Toronto’s restaurants should hire theatre, film and television directors as consultants?
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