rick mcginnis/metro toronto
Address: 207 Ossington Ave.
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 6 p.m.-11 p.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $90
**** 1/2 (out of five)
Tom Thai made his name in Toronto’s restaurant scene as the sushi chef at places such as Canoe and Tempo, but you’ll look long and hard to find raw fish on his menu at Foxley, the intimate and bustling restaurant he opened earlier this year on the simmering Ossington strip. The closest thing I find on the night I visit is a trio of ceviche, flavoured with everything from yuzu and shiso leaf, apple, grilled tomato, and either ginger or mango salsa. Thai has clearly made a break with his reputation at Foxley, but it’s paying off big time.
“First of all, there’s so many sushi restaurants now,” he says, by way of an explanation, “and secondly, to do sushi like we used to do, there are a lot of fish that are on the endangered list, so it’s really hard for me to use them. You need so many kinds of really fresh fish to make good sushi, and I’ve found it’s pretty impossible to do, and the cost would be difficult. Plus I’m sick of doing sushi.”
And so we have Foxley’s menu, which is full of grilled and braised dishes and copious quantities of meat — frog’s legs and fish, beef cheek and pork belly, steak and quail and two succulent rib dishes that have proven to be big favourites with Thai’s regulars. Orders of the side ribs keep leaving the kitchen all night, and it’s not hard to see why — coated in a thick caramelized shallot glaze, they fall off the bone and leave fingers covered in a rich, dark sauce that’s probably addictive.
“It’s actually based on an Indonesian dish,” Thai explains, “where they have a very similar barbecue sauce that’s made with thickened soya and caramel and citrus and lime, and it’s really slowly cooked. With the meat, first you have to grill it, and then you braise it, and then we have to re-grill it again. All the sauce and flavour really infuses into the meat.”
It’s a beautiful example of what Foxley’s all about — an often startling collision of western techniques and eastern spicing, like the tea-smoked quail on a green papaya salad, or the whole grilled pike mackerel in a yuzu-ponzu sauce. The vocabulary of what Thai’s doing at Foxley surpasses mere fusion. The dishes don’t seem precious or precocious, and despite the surprising flavours, there’s a logic that weaves a remarkable consistency through Thai’s menu of shared dishes. Even his chilis — small bright red rounds of sliced Thai pepper — don’t end up overwhelming any other component on the plate.
“You’re not only getting people to burn their mouth, but to feel the subtleness of it and have a different balance of flavours when they eat. It’s like listening to music — you don’t just hear one instrument. You need all these different instruments to make the song sound great. The main thing is to put together different flavours, and if a dish is spicy, it’s maybe a bit dominant, but not so dominant that you can’t taste anything else.”