Launched last October at Sherway Gardens shopping centre, in west end Toronto, Cactus Club Cafe was a hit right from the get-go.
It’s a sleek, two-level, 450-seat space decked out in contemporary decor accents and materials — Brazilian slate floors, white oak beams and red cedar.
Votive candles flicker gently in the softly lit main dining room, while the adjacent bar buzzes with energy. On the second floor, there’s an all-season dining room and lounge outfitted with one of the largest retractable restaurant roofs in North America.
On the plate, the kitchen dishes up globally inspired, modern Canadian fare that hits all the right notes. Over the course of multiple visits, the kitchen demonstrated admirable consistency.
One night, there was a signature dish created by Food Network Iron Chef Rob Feenie, who heads up the test kitchen of Vancouver-based Cactus Club: fork-tender double-braised beef short rib with silky buttered mashed potatoes.
Equally terrific were two signature dishes created by local chef Cory Vitiello, who’s head of culinary development, Toronto. Vitiello’s winners included squid ink tagliatelle jazzed with pistachio green chili pesto and topped with chunks of lobster and prawn; and moist salmon atop baby gem tomatoes, shaved fennel and hummus.
Another night, there was grilled salmon drizzled with soy-butter Dijon sauce, and a stellar steak, a 7 oz. AAA filet grilled exactly medium rare and topped with an earthy four-mushroom sauce.
What also impressed me were the more casual dishes, which were every bit as enjoyable, and reflected the same attention to detail and top-notch ingredients, as the higher-end offerings.
A great example is the guacamole. It is wonderfully smooth and kicked up with bright herbal notes from chimichurri sauce.
The Szechuan lettuce wraps are also terrific. Spoon a heaping portion of the filling — chicken tossed with peanuts in a perfectly balanced sweet ’n’ spicy sauce — onto a crisp lettuce leaf. Roll up. Inhale. Repeat.
I could easily make a meal of the guac and lettuce wraps.
The truffle fries are dangerously addictive, as are the mini-burgers built on deeply flavourful Angus beef patties.
By the way, the guacamole, grilled Dijon salmon and truffle fries are all available on the Happy Hour Menu at discounted prices. That menu is served Sunday to Friday 3pm to 6pm and Sunday 9pm to close.
To finish, there’s another Feenie signature dish: puff pastry apple galette with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Even better is the key lime pie anchored by thick graham cracker crust piled high with rich, tart filling mounded with thick whipped cream.
To accommodate groups, Cactus Club Sherway’s rooftop dining room is available for corporate buyouts and can accommodate 80 people for standing, cocktail-style events.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,500 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.