First Look: NAO brings a modern take on the classic steakhouse to Yorkville


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NAO’s bone-in rib-eye steak is aged for at least 30 days and is also available in a 64-oz double-bone format for two.

Image: Nick Lee

Not very long ago, all of Toronto’s fine-dining restaurants served either steak, haute French, or fancy Italian food. The list of spots worth recommending to an out-of-town visitor included names like Winston’s, Barberian’s, and Prego Della Piazza. By installing their newest project, a steakhouse called NAO, in the building that was home to Auberge Gavroche, Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji hope to connect with Toronto’s restaurant history.

Harji and Khabouth are also partners at Weslodge, Patria, and Byblos, among others. Khabouth says that opening new restaurants has not become old-hat for them says: “The more you do, the closer you want to get to perfection.”

This time their focus is on looking at tradition through a modern lens – hence the name NAO, an acronym for “new and old.”

Stuart Cameron, who has led the kitchen at most of the other Harji-Khabouth collaborations, will also be in charge of the team running the wood-burning grill at NAO. Harji emphasizes that the steaks are served with only salt and pepper, but Cameron has designed just about everything else on the menu as modern reinterpretations. (Think Binchotan grilled Shishito peppers or Octopus Kakiage.) “For us,” Harji explains, “modern is multiple flavours from south and southeast Asia.”

Naturally, meat sourcing is critical for such a high-end steakhouse. Harji explains that they have carefully selected several farms in the US—from places with names like Kearney, Missouri and Omaha, Nebraska—and a couple in Canada to provide dry-aged beef that is at the heart of NAO’s menu. They also have exclusive Canadian rights to serve David Blackmore’s full-blood Wagyu from Australia.

For those who don’t want to tackle a pound-and-a-half of red meat, the menu includes sashimi, whole fish, and a yakitori grill. And the pescetarians will not be left out of the theatre of the steakhouse—the whole red snapper will be de-boned at the table.

With consulting help from Will Predhomme, NAO has put together a wine list divided evenly between old and new world. There are surprisingly affordable options—a bottle of Petit Sirah from Sonoma for $55 or a glass of Hinterland’s Ancestral sparkling for $12—as well as the requisite spend-y one, like a magnum of 2006 Opus One for $2,500.

Sake is also a focus and the list here runs to ten bottles from eight different regions of Japan. Equally, the partners want NAO to be known as a destination for cocktails and have had a list designed that they describe of sophisticated but not fussy.

The construction fence was only barely disassembled for last night’s preview and the partners plan to have NAO fully open by November 24.

NAO Steakhouse, 90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141

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