Early on a Tuesday evening and Drake One Fifty, in the heart of Toronto’s downtown core, is jammed with a boisterous after-work crowd. The sleek space, anchored by a sizeable bar area up front and outfitted throughout in a sleek and snazzy modern American brasserie look, positively vibrates with energy.
Part of the Drake hospitality mini-empire that was launched by the Drake Hotel and has grown to include Drake Commissary, Drake Devonshire (in Prince Edward County) and Drake Mini Bar, set to open in April, Drake One Fifty has been packing them in for almost five years.
Small wonder, given the kitchen’s creative, Canadian-inflected plates. Starters, for example, bring caponata dip loaded with pillowy chunks of eggplant, and silky, cumin-forward hummus. Both dips partner marvelously with Drake Commissary’s dark rye bread and crisp flatbreads.
“Nonna’s meatballs” are built on ground pork and veal, moist and touched with a bit of chile heat, and are topped with creamy smoked ricotta and luxuriate in a smoky tomato sauce. Nonna really brings it!
Things get even better with mains. Boar chop is properly cooked a bit pink, the rich, juicy meat marrying well to coffee-caramelized whey, smoky grilled maitake mushrooms and sweet potato gnocchi. A nightly special, cod, sourced from Fogo Island, off Newfoundland’s coast, is pan-seared until its flesh is moist and sweet. Alongside, a single, creamy textured ‘frite’ — made from ground chickpeas, it’s enormous, shaped like a Lincoln log and measures at least 10 inches long. Underneath the cod, lemon butter adds quiet citrus notes.
Best-in-show, however, belongs to trout sourced from Kolapore Springs, a sustainable hatchery near Collingwood, Ont. Improbably moist and delicate, the fab fish is accessorized by wild mushrooms, spaghetti squash and brown butter. I’d return for that dish alone!
Ending the evening are two stellar desserts — pavlova anchored by feather-light meringue and grapefruit curd; and moist ’n’ rich upside-down cake garnished with roasted grapes, red wine glacé and milk crumble.
Group options include partial buyouts in the dining room, which seats 100 people, and full buyouts that accommodate 250, cocktail-style (350, cocktail-style, including the patio in the warm months). The bar area can host events for groups starting at eight people and ranging up to 120, cocktail-style.
In addition, Drake Catering can service a wide range of meetings and events.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,400 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.