One of Canada’s best and coolest restaurants. And a sleek boutique hotel with a fabulous rooftop bar.
I got to spend a night last week checking out two super-fun spots on Queen St. West in my hometown of Toronto and came away quite impressed.
The Good Son began serving diners on Queen west of Dovercourt Rd. three years ago and has earned plaudits from many a food critic. I’m hardly a dining connossieur, but I eat at a lot of nice places around the world and think I know good food from mediocre, and I was won over big time by the work of chef Vittorio Colacitti.
I’m a big believer in presentation and décor and have always thought how a restaurant felt is an important start to a meal. I loved The Good Son the moment I walked in and saw one wall filled with dozens of mismatched, old clocks. A little further back was a wall featuring dozens more ceramic plates of all sized and colours. Just in front of that was a large nook filled with old photos and books.
Colacitti told us the place is meant to feel like a cozy, welcoming old home. And it does.
So that was a good start. It also was a lovely summer’s day in Toronto, which meant the windows were flung open with great views out onto Queen Street and a nice breeze. That was nice, too.
But it’s the food that really put the shine on our evening. My wife and I sampled five dishes, mostly from different parts of the world, and all five were outstanding. I had minor quibbles with two dishes, but they’re barely worth mentioning considering the tour de force Colacitti put on for us, and the matching wines they served (I know, I know; it’s tough being a travel writer!)
They started us off with a wonderful sea bream ceviche, the fish marinated in tangy lime juice and served with chunky sweet pineapple, fresh avocado and cilantro. They served crispy, wonderful taro chips alongside that were homemade. It might be just me, but I found just a tad too salty. Still, the ceviche was as good as I’ve had anywhere; tangy and sweet and a great way to start off a meal. They accompanied that with some lovely, pink and super-dry Champagne; never a bad way to start a meal.
After that came one of Colacitti’s signature dishes; shrimp encased in crispy potato string and served on a bed of carrot and mango slaw with a hint of spicy red peppers and a Jamaican jerk-spiced mayo. Beautiful to look and wonderful to eat, and served with a crisp, slightly peachy Vermentino; a lovely white wine from Sardinia.
Following that was a super-creamy and rich steak tartare alongside perfectly crispy, golden fries. I don’t love tartare but this was really wonderful stuff; just right in the spice department. And served with a cool Pinot Noir from Languedoc, France (rather than Burgundy, the traditional home of French pinot). It was a lovely wine that tasted as much from Otago in New Zealand as it did from France.
I’m told Colacitti’s steak tartare is an homage to renowned chef Didier Leroy, who he worked with during his time at Didier restaurant.
My favourite dish came after that; the Bulgogi Korean short rib served on fried rice with scallions and a bit of kim chi for spice. I thought the rice was perhaps a tad too crispy but I’ve only had the dish a couple times so perhaps this was normal. Either way, it was tasty. And the beef? Lordy, it was sweet and flavourful and savoury all at the same time. And perfectly tender. Easily one of the best meat dishes I’ve had anywhere. And served with a wonderful Cotes du Rhone Village.
Colacitti followed that up with a perfect margherita pizza; blistered just right and served with roasted San Marzano tomatoes, Quebec mozzarella and fresh basil. Just terrific. I think that came with a wonderful Sangiovese from Italy but I can’t recall. I think I had lost consciousness by then.
We could’ve had dessert (among the specialties are a lemon poppy seed cake and an ice cream sandwich with double chocolate chip, butterscotch and peanut butter) or a chocolate pot de crème. But we simply couldn’t manage another bite.
Afterward, Colacitti came over to chat, which is something I always enjoy. I’m an okay cook, but I’m in awe of what professional chefs can do. I also was surprised at how deft the kitchen was with traditional Italian dishes, the French-accented tartare and the Korean beef. It’s not easy to master one type of food, so to do a great job on three distinct styles of cuisine is pretty remarkable in my book.
Turns out Colacitti had great training. He grew up in Toronto but also spent time at the family farm outside Hamilton, where his grandmother would gather fresh berries and pick vegetables for pickling. His mom attended culinary school and used to take him on trips to Thailand, where he was exposed to what I think might be the tastiest cuisine on the planet and learned to mix flavours and tastes such as salty and sweet. He studied hotel management and tourism at Guelph University, but became interested in professional cooking and ended up studying in both Thailand and Italy.
Colacitti worked for such well-known restaurants as George and Lucien, and also worked with Didier Leroy and famed chef Thomas Keller. He has appeared on Top Chef Canada and opened The Good Son in 2014.
I asked about his ability pull off Korean, Italian and French (I assume he can handle Argentinian beef and Hawaiian poke but I didn’t ask) and he smiled.
“I wanted a place that people couldn’t pigeonhole,” he said. “Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I don’t stick to one concept. I’m passionate about different styles and about using local ingredients.”
Colacitti said he doesn’t like to use products from other parts of the world that also grow in Canada. In other words, you might find strawberries when he get good local ones but don’t look for them in January.
Colacitti also runs Born and Raised, a highly praised restaurant in resurgent downtown Hamilton. And he’s executive chef at The Beverley Hotel, where we stayed the night.
We didn’t try any of his food there, but I have to say the rooftop bar at The Beverley is outstanding. It’s not large but they make the most of it with some greenery sprinkled along the sides, brilliant white umbrellas and bits of graffiti art painted on the walls for a bit of Buenos Aires/Miami feel. I had a lovely caipirinha while my wife had a marvellous Pimm’s Cup, given a summery touch with the addition of mango.
Mixologist Moses McIntee is at the helm at the Beverley, having been brought over from The Good Son.
They have a limited menu but you can get scallop ceviche, oysters, and, lucky for you, steak tartare. The lobby-level bar wasn’t open when we went this week but they hoped to open it this weekend, with more food options and a different drinks menu.
I didn’t know much about the hotel but we had a cool room with big windows looking out onto Queen West. It was fairly minimalist but it was also bright and clean and airy, with a small desk and a mini-fridge as well as soft bathrobes and a mannequin torso for hanging up your coat at night.
The bathroom was quite large, with a shower big enough for the infield of the Toronto Blue Jays, and perhaps the umpiring crew as well.
The lobby has a cute, small store called the Variety Shop with funky ties, jewelry and other bits, including what looked like hand-painted plates showing Blue Jay Jose Bautista’s infamous “bat flip” in the playoffs a couple years ago. Pretty cool, although unlikely to be sold to any visiting Texas Rangers’ fans….
All in all, then, a very cool boutique hotel in a great part of Toronto for visitors and staycation types alike. The entertainment district is right at hand, and you’re four blocks from the University Avenue subway and a short walk to the Rogers Centre. And you’re surrounded by great food and drink options, not to mention a short walk from Nathan Phillips Square and the Eaton Centre.