RIck McGinnis/Metro Toronto
Address 1150 Queen St. W.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip $100
**** (out of 5)
The impact of the reopening of the Drake Hotel on Queen West has become one of the city’s ongoing dramas, both as a positive — a moribund stretch of Queen suddenly revived and given a new identity — and a negative — the usual baleful chatter about "gentrification." The effect it’s had on chef Anthony Rose has been more generally salutary, as he’s had to move from head cook in the hotel’s dining room to majordomo of the whole operation in the 10 months he’s been back in his hometown.
"We have food everywhere," Rose says, surveying his domain from a table in the dining room. "There’s the café starting at seven in the morning with breakfast, and brunch on the weekends, and we have the bistro thing over there. Then we have the dining room, and the lounge, and the sushi and the private dining. It’s huge."
Giving the food at The Drake a sense of consistency is a good part of Rose’s job, and he’s had to use all the experience he’s gained from a long and fairly stellar career south of the border to do it. His first kitchen job was in a pizza parlour, but when he told the chef at Centro, the next place he worked as a 15-year-old dishwasher, that he wanted to learn to cook, Marc Thuet had him peeling potatoes and chopping onions for 18-hour days. David Lee, now at Splendido, joined the kitchen at Centro, and working with the two men convinced Rose that he needed to get to a cooking school and take this seriously.
He ended up at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco for two years, and ended up staying on for many more, working for chefs like Bradley Ogden at the Lark Creek Inn and Mark Franz at Farallon. He and his New Jersey-born wife wanted to move closer to home, which saw Rose starting his job in the restaurant at XV Beacon, a small boutique hotel in Boston, two days after 9/11. The couple moved to Manhattan next, where Rose ended up working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the Mercer Kitchen, one of the most sought-after kitchen gigs in the city.
"He (Vongerichten) runs a perfect operation," Rose says. "I can’t take perfect. It doesn’t work for me. That’s why my ultimate goal is to have a restaurant where the menu changes daily, a chalkboard menu. Jean-Georges, as great a cook as he is, needs to create something, test it, test it again and then it’s good for his restaurants worldwide. It’s a different style, but perfect is not what I’m looking for at all."
He arrived at The Drake after running the kitchen at Alias in the Lower East Side to rave reviews, before a stint at The Stissing House, an upstate New York inn established in 1782. Reviews of Alias reveal that he was already interested in rustic cooking, and it’s at The Drake, that most urbane of the city’s hip hot spots, that he’s let that tendency fully emerge, in dishes like his braised short rib, an unbelievably luxurious dish served with truffled mascarpone potato ravioli and a thick scattering of buttery lobster.
Then there’s the scallops —— two huge seared scallops sitting between a bed of pumpkin mashed potatoes and earthy chanterelle mushrooms, underneath slices of Quebec foie gras. "I like the richness with the ocean flavour of the scallops," Rose says, "and the real mustiness that it creates together with the foie gras, especially with the chanterelles. The sherry vinegar in the vinaigrette along with the brown butter all sort of brings it together."
The sashimi at the raw bar is spectacular, and the Drake’s pastry chef is on a baking binge at the moment, leaving behind mounds of ginger, nutmeg and allspice-laced cookies and biscuits. It’s a spectacular menu, but it’ll be on its way out by the Drake’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, when Rose has the full winter menu ready to go. "As we’re sitting here talking about the food, I’m thinking ‘Why are we changing the menu again? It all sounds so good.’"