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Square Restaurant


estufarian
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Toronto has another serious dining contender.

Square has opened in the space formerly occupied by SteakFrites (never tried it) and, before that, Pronto (sadly missed – had some great meals there).

First a declaration – I have never been impressed with the various Oliver/Bonacini restaurants, going back to the Original Oliver’s and the subsequent more fine dining efforts. A disastrous meal at Auberge du Pommier, ten years ago still ranks as one of my worst experiences ever. Some indifferent lunches at Jump. Another disappointment at the precursor to Biff’s – and I’ve never felt the need to go to Canoe. But several people had reported great meals at Square during the Summerlicious promotion, so it was time to put my experiences behind me and trust the reports.

It was only fair to wait until Summerlicious ended – they have to hit a price point, so can’t really show their best. And the renovation is bright and airy and the reception seemed genuinely welcoming. We deferred a drink until we’d decided on the meal (and hence wine), politely refused the bottled water and settled for tap water that was served very professionally – no sign of disappointment that we weren’t ‘padding’ the bill.

The menu immediately impressed. 8 appetizers (averaging about $15), and I would happily try 7 of them. Similar response from AmuseGirl. The mains were less exciting (average $35 – compare with the 3 course $30 menu at Summerlicious). So could we have an assortment of appetizers and skip the mains? No problem. So we ended up with four pairs of dishes.

First up came the ‘square’ salad and Tuna (I may get a few ingredients wrong – wasn’t taking notes) with olive oil sorbet, lychee, and a fourth item I don’t recall. The salad was spectacular, micro greens hiding various treats such as apricot and fig. The other dish was pretty good – except the menu description and what we received didn’t match – the promised olive oil sorbet turned out to be lime sorbet (when we enquired we were told it was lime/lychee and the menu was wrong!). Seems to be a slight miscommunication here – but this was the low point.

Next was ‘smoked salmon and scallops’ and ‘poached lobster and potato salad’. Both dishes were much more complicated than that. The smoked salmon dish was served atop a mild curry ‘melange’ with various textures and flavours. Baked pineapple perfectly offset the curry and oiliness of the salmon. Don’t recall the scallops, but this was a great combination of textures and flavours. The lobster and fingerling potato salad certainly featured lobster, but the quantity was swamped by the potato and mayonnaise. Roasted strawberries also picked up on the sweetness of the lobster. But not perfect. It really needed a higher proportion of lobster as this flavour got lost – but of course, that would mean a price increase – worth it in my opinion.

On to Goat’s Cheese Brulee and “A Piece Of Cake”- some cold foie gras with a ‘cake’ brioche and Medjool dates. The goat cheese actually bore a strong resemblance to ‘Welsh rarebit’ (but a gourmet version) served with beets, balsamic and fig. Excellent. Loved the brioche. Loved the Foie Gras. Surprisingly found the Medjool date disappointing. Still had the seed, and was tougher than I recall and very sweet (and sweet almost always goes well with foie gras). But I would have preferred a fresh Iranian date (available most of the year in Toronto) – especially one from Bam – which are about half the cost of Medjool anyway.

Finally, Veal Sweetbreads and ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ a Dungeness Crab Sausage, Pork Belly and Truffled Egg. The sweetbreads were breaded, served with more microgreens and (I think) rhubarb. Appropriately rich and I LOVE sweetbreads – but am still searching for the perfect treatment (not easy with the unexciting colour and unusual texture that almost defies other pairings). This was good, but still not perfect. My favourite version to date used lamb sweetbreads, which seem to have more flavour. The “breakfast” was very good. The tiny omelette with shaved summer truffles was perfect. The pork belly was also superb. The sausage tasted more of scallops/salmon than crab. It had a mousse texture and was pink, so I’m not sure how much Dungeness crab was in it (it’s an unappetizing grey colour with much more texture).

But, even where the dish wasn’t exactly as described, the flavours and textures were excellent. A very satisfying meal and the wine, Vouvray, Le Mont, Demi-Sec by Huet ($60) went superbly with almost all the dishes. The wine list (not cheap) was well-chosen – about 60% red and 40% white with many interesting options.

We split a dessert – a curried spring roll containing apples with crème fraiche and apple sorbet. We skipped the cheese tray – but at least they offer one, a rarity in Toronto. Total bill before taxes and gratuities was $200 – on the high side for this neighbourhood (Mt Pleasant at Soudan; South of Eglinton), but not out-of-line for what we received. Fresh ingredients, prepared with flair and VERY professional service – our wine was topped up regularly – we never touched the bottle. A couple of menu description problems – but I’d be surprised if that’s not fixed on a repeat visit – and I’ll definitely be back – A first for me at Oliver Bonacini! And they told me that starting at the end of the month they plan on having a tasting menu option. Another reason for me to return.

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Thanks for the review. This is literally around the corner for us (we're on Brownlow) but with mains averaging $35, we might be waiting for a while! Have you eaten at any other places in the same neighbourhood? Celestin? Across the Road? I'd love to read more of your reviews!

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As I am also in the yonge/eg neighbourhood, I must continue to give favorable comments to Quartier. Have been going there for years.

Despites ups and downs in pricing and menu in the past 12 months, it continues to supply good meals at fair prices. The service has always been top notch too - although it does appear to have also had some significant amount of turnover.

The menu is classic bistro.

However there is 1 real gotcha right now - NO AIRCONDITIONING. So pick your visit appropriately.

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i think that if you're going to offer an opinion on the bonacini empire, it isn't really right to do so until you've tried canoe, which is really their showcase place.

jump and auberge and steak frites didn't ever really aspire to "fine dining" the way canoe does, and anthony walsh is an amazing chef.

also, i don't think cheese plates are a rarity in toronto, most of the fine dining restaurants have them.

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Thanks for the review. This is literally around the corner for us (we're on Brownlow) but with mains averaging $35, we might be waiting for a while! Have you eaten at any other places in the same neighbourhood? Celestin? Across the Road? I'd love to read more of your reviews!

Celestin - overpriced for what you get. Food is fine (not exceptional). Service is farcical. Wine list is good - but doesn't mesh with the food. But their bakery is excellent.

Across The Road - had a relatively bad experience there. Their daily specials are announced without prices (this is probably my biggest turn-off in a restaurant). So after each dish I asked the price. This repeated after each announcement - they still didn't announce prices so I had to ask at least four times. And this obviously upset the server (as well as me). He finally said, "Most of our clients prefer not to be told the prices" I should have shut up, but didn't, and asked why they even printed prices on the menu then.

Not surprisingly, this spoiled the evening and I haven't been back.

I also like Jov - but it's inconsistent.

My most visited place is Cafe Pleiades - not in the same league, but always consistent and very reasonably priced.

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i think that if you're going to offer an opinion on the bonacini empire, it isn't really right to do so until you've tried canoe, which is really their showcase place.

I don't agree.

Based on my previous meals, why would I shell out $3-400 to try Canoe after a string of bad experiences. Especially without first-hand raves from people I trust - it was appropriate raves that encouraged me to try Square, despite my predisposition to skip it (as I did SteakFrites).

I believe I gave the reasons why I hadn't tried Canoe and was balanced (in my opinion) based on personal experience. Of course, if other reviewers turn out not to like Square then I can still retain the opinion that it's much better than anything else I've tried in the Oliver Bonacini enterprise.

Now if you want my unevidenced speculation on WHY there are issues in the Oliver-Bonacini empire, that would be inappropriate (even if the speculation is true).

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Vox I want your supplier because my stuff is not working correctly! How do you figure that Auberge du Pommier does not/is not/tries not to be fine dining because if that pretentious place (maybe it is only the staff and there alumni that think it is ) is not fine dining then I might as well retire with the knowledge that I know nothing about food and the dining experience.

Sorry for my curtness.

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i kinda meant more from a food perspective...having known a few people who worked in the bonacini group and got moved around from place to place, and didn't have very kind remarks on it.

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I understand. The place certainly aspires but I think many people familiar with the restaurant would say that it certainly lost some cred when Chef Clarmo (spelling?) left to be more of a corporate chef for the group.

But I think it is accurate to say that the restaurant itself still presents itself to be a fine dining establishment and certainly the surroundings give it that sort of feel.

I enjoy the fact that the group identified the poor reception of mis"Steakfrites" in the public and opted to reposition the restaurant. A good example of why they are the premier restaurant group in the GTO regardless of the faults with the corporate culture of the company.

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  • 5 months later...

Hey, I recommended the place, so only fair to return.

And it was seriously bad this time around. I took an out-of-town chef this time and he must have wondered what was happening and questioned my tastebuds.

The worst moment was the truffled mashed potatoes - which had no discernible truffle aroma or taste. We suggested to the server that perhaps the truffles had ben forgotten. We were 'left in our place' - "that's the way they always are" was the response.

The complexity of the dishes on the first visit was replaced with 'bland'. Textures were more in the rubbery/soggy end of the spectrum.

Everything seemed dumbed down. Even the ingredients didn't "zing" (which had been one of the pleasant surprises on my prior visit).

I wish I knew what happened!

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