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Rick McGinnis/Metro Toronto
Address: 53-55 Colborne Street
Hours: Mon. to Fri., 11:30 a.m. – 1 a.m.; Sat., 5 p.m. – 1 a.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $90
Rating: ***1/2 (out of five)
With Summerlicious starting in a week, Dean Guerreiro, the new chef at Six Steps, has walked into every new chef’s nightmare. The former sous chef whose experience stretches back 15 years under a variety of chefs in hotels and restaurants all over Toronto, with stints in Newfoundland and Edmonton. He obviously wants to put his own personality on the menu he’s inherited from Paul Boehmer, the consulting chef who left just a week ago.
There is, of course, the little matter of Summerlicious, the city-wide restaurant festival that puts kitchens into overdrive putting out dozens, even hundreds of covers a night, at rock-bottom prices.
Guerreiro inherited the special menu from Boehmer — a $15 lunch prix fixe and a $25 dinner menu that includes a two-cheese gnocchi, a guinea fowl terrine, and the restaurant’s best-selling steak.
“I made a couple of changes,” he says. “I changed the lamb for the steak and the snapper for the salmon trout, just to make it a little more cost-effective. Simplicity — simple food that we can execute and do 250 covers here.”
Guerreiro is refreshingly frank about the reputation Summerlicious has in the business. “People I’ve worked with who’ve done Summerlicious are against it,” he says. “From the front of the house you don’t get tipped properly, nobody orders wine ... from that point of view it’s not that great. From the kitchen point of view, you’re showcasing the restaurant, but realistically the food you serve during Summerlicious and during the other nine months of the year are two different things. One is based on price, whereas when you’re serving your own food, it’s quality.”
The next few weeks have put Guerreiro into a holding pattern of sorts, while he serves the special menu, tries out specials on regulars, and re-trains the staff in anticipation of the changes he plans to make.
“After Summerlicious we’re changing the menu, we’re going to go with more of an Italian old school thing; less of a French thing — I think the owners want to get away from that. We have great pizzas here, great pastas, and we want to move forward with a lighter, fresher thing, more seasonality. Less heavy butter and cream and jus and reductions.
“Being Portuguese, I understand Italian food very well. My mother is a fantastic cook and her food is very similar to Italian food — a couple of ingredients in a pot, you cook it, pasta potatoes or whatnot. That’s where I come from. Simple, simple food.”
The little strip of Colborne Street where Six Steps opened up in February is undergoing a bit of a renaissance. Six Steps’ co-owner Pat O’Brien’s pub, P. J. O’Brien’s, struggled for a few years at the corner closest to the King Edward Hotel, but then there was the high profile opening of Claudio Aprile’s Colborne Lane early this year, which brought a spotlight to a street where a handful of eateries — such as Spinelli’s, which occupied Six Steps’ location for over two decades — had quietly gone into eclipse. Guerreiro knows he’s inherited a bit of a showcase, and he intends to work with it.
“I think (the street is) reinventing itself. The area was dead for the past few years. Five years ago all you really had was the King Eddy and Tom Jones, but now the Cosmopolitan Hotel has opened. P.J’s when they started up, they weren’t doing so well, but they’ve turned around. It’s turned into a trendy little dining area like College Street.”