Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Café Boulud
By Joanne Kates
New York chef Daniel Boulud
When a New York superchef like Daniel Boulud comes to Toronto, a foodie has to go. You can’t just ignore it. You can, however, feel sad that our beloved local superstar hotel, the Four Seasons, wasn’t confident enough to go it on its own, foodwise. Okay, so the super-snazzy Truffles in the old Four Seasons wasn’t a money-maker, and the Studio Café, despite its great beauty, was never exactly a hotbed of gastronomy.
But the Four Seasons worldwide is an aesthetic leader among hotels. Owner Issy Sharp is a Toronto boy with infinite resources and great taste, so c’mon Issy, why not do it yourself?
Contracting out comes with problems of accountability, but Café Boulud’s problems start well before the bums are in the chairs. The valet parking is a pretty good deal ($15 for three hours), but good luck finding the hotel’s driving entrance, because there were no signs that we could see. Perhaps signs are the new chicken pox — because once inside the building, there are also no indications of where to go. We wander aimlessly, unattended, past minimalist elegance.
So we go back outside and ask the doorman. Call me old-fashioned (you won’t be the first), but I like to know where I’m going in a public place, and not to be made to feel stupid.
Once ensconced in the glorious second floor café (the hotel’s only restaurant), we see the signature style of Rosalie Wise (Issy Sharp’s wife), a look beloved from the Studio Café: thick mottled glass tables, iconic artworks, tall windows with shimmery mesh curtains.
Would that the food were so stylin’. Indian-spiced quail is merely pleasant, its garnishes charming but not noteworthy. Fluke ceviche is a gorgeous construction, with grand little veg treats and a pour of perfect sweet/tart cucumber and celery vinaigrette. But the ultra-fresh fish has not been ceviche’d and is merely raw. Who forgot the lime and chile?
The halibut main is perfectly cooked, and we love the shrimp wrapped in piquillo pepper and the tender young leeks, but chorizo cream the lurid pink of carnival food packs no flavour punch. Lamb loin à la Middle East is much better: cute little pink medallions with crispy croquettes of pulled lamb belly, couscous-like warm salad, tzatziki, marinated eggplant slices and a bed of superb smoked eggplant puree.
The sweets have more pizzazz than the savouries — in particular, a clever apple edifice of intense gala apple filling sandwiched between layers of feathery pastry and a lemon cloud. But the food is still boring, and when a waiter resets our table at the end, after we’ve paid, we start to worry about the otherwise silken service. At $200 plus for dinner for two, with only a modicum of alcohol, does Toronto really need Daniel Boulud?
Café Boulud, 60 Yorkville Ave., 416-964-0411
Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine, and she was the Globe and Mail’s restaurant critic for 38 years.