Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Frankly, sometimes the Globe & Mail is just plain wrong

Not too long after Frank (the new Frank Gehry-designed restaurant at the Art Gallery of Ontario) opened, it received a couple of not-particularly-favourable reviews in the Globe and Mail and soon became a sort of critical pariah, its interior likened to the worst sort of austere modernist structure (a subway platform? really?) and its food generally panned as pretentious and unappealing.

But Sean and I were mostly unaware of the buzz as we met at the AGO for a cultural experience (onto which we just happened to decide to tack a food experience). You may remember Sean from the Country Style post in which I foolishly took a vegetarian to a Hungarian restaurant. He very graciously snapped this picture of me in front of the AGO with my camera phone, and all the photos for this post were taken thusly (sorry for the small size!).

As we had our priorities straight we decided to eat before art, and so headed into Frank to see what was on offer. Sadly we were told that it was booked up into the next week.
Luckily, I spotted two free barstools at the well-stocked bar.

The bar was a great place to have a little lunch, providing a good vantage point and a nice focal point for all the hustle and bustle. It was nice to be a part of things and to chat to a couple of the waitstaff. The design of the bar (and indeed a whole wall) full of shiny glass cubbyholes for hundreds of wine bottles was brilliant. You can see part of it in the picture above.

We started out with some bread that came with a delicious goat butter – it was clearly goat, but not very salty, so there was a small shell filled with sea salt on the table. You can see the butter and salt behind my dish here.

Which was sooo tasty. It was called (okay, possibly a little pretentiously) Still life with pear, pancetta and fig, and it consisted of a pear (poached in my favourite, riesling), with caramelized fig, pancetta and blue cheese (hooray) – a Quebec bleu Benedictin. Mm. A classic combination, but done really well. The presentation was great and the flavours were fantastic.

Sean's dish, was, if possible, even better than mine. It was the soufflé of the day (!), a caramelized shallot and Maple Dale cheddar soufflé with lentil and roasted carrot salad. The soufflé's texture was absolutely perfect, which is hard to achieve! And so flavourful. We shared a side of frites with lemon mayo (really tasty) and quince ketchup (not sure I liked it, but I do like quince).

With lunch I had a glass of Cave Springs riesling, which was a quite nice inexpensive option, and it served me well for dessert too, which I shared with Sean. It was a baked bittersweet warm chocolate pudding with salted caramel sauce and sweet whipped cream. It crossed the sweet-savoury divide with impunity (several times!) and worked well. Sean and I really liked the salt on the caramel sauce and we salted it some more (from the seashell!). If you squint, you can make out the shapes of Sean and my spoons in the foreground as we were about to dig in.

We had some tea to finish the lunch and it came in the loveliest bodum double-glass cups. Mine was an Earl Grey with darjeeling, assam and rose petals. Wish I'd had my proper camera there as it was beautiful.

It's hard to know how some reviewers come to such unfavourable conclusions about a place where you've had a great experience, but perhaps it's because when they go they taste professionally, whereas the average restaurant-goer is having a social experience, and is perhaps more ready to be impressed in terms of food and atmosphere, and the excitement of visiting somewhere new.

Frankly, I thought Frank was a great experience, and well worth a visit. Give it a try and see what you think.

Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas Street West Toronto
416 979 6688


moyrad said...

All the food sounds great - except the cooked fruit of course. Clearly, the reviewers have lost the ability to enjoy their food, I don't think I would want to be a pro food reviewer for exactly that reason.

Seems like this was a better option for the veggie contingent.

I can't wait to see the new AGO too.

Anonymous said...

Your photos are just fine even at 150% blow up--just click on the % at the bottom of the Internet Explorer screen! At 200% they become a bit fuzzy. I think most of the restaurant reviewers have lost it. Did you watch the latest Top Chef which finished this week? They had a new judge, a restaurant critic. I hope they don't have the pretentious **** again!
PS What is wrong with cooked fruit? It's apple pie, apricot pie and other goodies!!

Meg Whetung said...

Oh man, I love poached pears too. Even with the small photos, I feel like I can taste that one... It looks perfect.

I agree that sitting at the bar is great. There are many restaurants where I prefer this – Lolita's, La Brasserie, Boneta, Cobre. It's more fun to be part of the action than sequestered off by yourself I think, and it can make a fancy place feel more comfy.