Look who owns a restaurant

by Adrian Bell | Last Updated 1 year ago

Photo By: David Laurence.

MONTECITO (299 Adelaide West, 416-599-0299, montecitorestaurant.ca) Complete meals for $95, including two drinks. Open daily 11:30 am-2 am. Reservations. ­Licensed. Access: washrooms upstairs. Rating: NNN

The idea of a celebrity going into the restaurant biz makes as much sense as a chocolate fireguard. C’mon, unless you have a pedigree of genuine kitchen smarts, what’s the point? Maybe they’ve got too much money to know what to do with it. In Hollywood, that’s what Maseratis and escorts are for.

Famed director Ivan Reitman (Meat­balls, Ghostbusters) is now a res­tau­rateur. Montecito, in the TIFF ’hood, shares its name with his mo­vie company; in Spanish, it means “little mountain.” That’s fitting – it’s got some humps to get over yet.

Herb polenta comes with heirloom tomatoes, zucchini and goat cheese. Photo By: David Laurence.

My sneakered host wears jeans, black shirt and a greeter’s smile. He may be a little too cool for my liking, kinda like TIFF itself. Sure, Toronto’s the epicentre of film each year, but I like my movies with a tub of buttery popcorn, sans the red carpet, Veuve Clicquot and cameras, thanks.

I’m offered the choice of a seat in the brasserie, a gorgeous French bar, or, my preference, the spacious dining room. It’s ritzy but feels casual, has a down-to-earth vibe and there are – hallelujah! – no white tablecloths.

The huge interior impresses with its high ceiling, stylish antique mirrors and circular lampshades overhead. Olive-green drapery and tawny upholstered banquettes wrap the room; you can’t help but feel special on this set sprinkled with Hollywood stardust. I have no Mas­erati, but even plebs like me can feel fa­mous here, like Reitman’s showbiz friends Danny DeVito, Bill Murray and Arnold Schwarze­negger, whose photos hang on the wall of fame.

Reported elsewhere as Italian, Monte­cito’s daily-changing menu is actually California-Canadian and uses “fresh ingredients from local farms” – the industry’s stale buzz phrase. It’s complement­ed by eclectic wines under sommelier Stephanie Guth’s watch. Resident mixologist James Taylor makes funky cocktails and pours some brews, too. (Tip: bring a coaster; my beer dribbled all over me.)

Heirloom tomato salad has hits of buffalo mozzarella. Photo By: David Laurence.

My starter is hellishly expensive. A 12-buck fava, pea, mint bruschetta? Thick-cut multi-grain bread, pea pu­rée and sliced red radish? It’s pleasing but needs more seasoning, and the mint is an apparition. “I’m tasting too much multi-grain, not enough of the purée,” I gently tell the attentive server during his quality check. “Really good to know. Thank you,” he says sincerely.

Sadly, my choice of roasted mackerel ($24) can’t happen. “Sorry, we’re out of that tonight. And the pork,” I’m informed. Hmm... well, Montecito is still tweaking things. So I go for the pickerel and samphire with potato-dill butter ($26). There’s more frisée than samphire, and the potato-dill butter lacks dill and is not butter at all, but creamed potato. It’s salty, too.

Thankfully, two wonderfully seared fillets make up for it. They’re slightly crisped, golden and melt in my mouth. The presentation is a little weak, needing some colour to pop off the plate. Spicy rapini ($9), wasn’t, but chef’s JW potatoes ($9) – crunchy outside, soft in the middle and dusted with Parmesan and rosemary – are sensational.

Wild mushroom pizza is a specialty (left). Montecito executive sous chef Gaetano Ferrara gets the mushroom pizza into the oven (right). Photos By: David Laurence.

Chef Jonathan Waxman, parachuted in to design the menu, graduated from La Varenne in Paris, honed his skills with pioneer Alice Waters and now owns Barbuto in Manhattan. Executed by head chef Matt Robertson, his Mon­te­cito food leans upscale but remains ac­cessible while borrowing slightly from nearby restaurants (ironic, since Reitman has dismissed the area’s eateries as “chain things”). It’s mainly pizza, salads, pasta, protein and signature sides.

Leave room for dessert. I would’ve licked the bowl like a porn star if not for the couple next to me. And trifle’s not trifle without a dollop of custard, but Montecito’s ­– with macerated berries, whipped cream and candied lemon zest – was delectable. Craving a sweet movie moment before you leave? Choose the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Baked Ala­­s­ka. With these signature goodies and a few tweaks ahead of TIFF crowds, the new place from Waxman and the director of Ghostbusters (to which the baked Alaska is an obvious reference) could attract regular patrons like gangbusters.

Adrian Bell has worked as a professional culinary guy (saucier, garde manger and other posi­tions) in renowned French, Italian, Swiss and Canadian restaurants. He’s a freelance writer who currently contributes to BBC Radio.

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