Since Modus Ristorante opened in Toronto’s financial district in 2011, it’s been a lunchtime and after-work go-to spot for the power crowd.
After sampling chef Brett Turnbull’s modern Italian cuisine, it’s easy to see why. One night, for example, the nightly soup — a purée that is neither too thick nor too thin — is the pure distillation of earthy mushroom flavour, in liquid form.
Its fork-tender meat bathed in richly reduced braising juices, veal shank ragout, punctuated with mushrooms, is hearty and deeply satisfying. It’s partnered with pappardelle, the wide noodle that is the ideal choice with a meat ragout. It’s a winter-perfect plate of food.
I’m impressed with the kitchen’s finesse with every detail, such as the roasted cauliflower that is soft without being mushy, and similarly fine zucchini strings, that accompany superbly moist Arctic char.
A saffron tomato broth anchors a fish soup loaded with tender shrimp, scallops, mussels and more. Ground fennel seed and cardamom, crusted on the outside of three thick slabs of seared ahi tuna, add aromatic licorice notes and exotic perfume to the fab fish.
Desserts are sweet heaven. Built on an apple-blondie base, cinnamon-scented cheesecake, topped with warm sautéed apples, sends smiles around the table. A cleverly conceived and deftly executed confection layers vanilla espresso cake, strawberries and peanut butter mousse, scattered with salted caramel peanuts, and pairs it with a full-flavoured blackberry ice made by Toronto’s sorbet king, Gelato Fresco.
Even early on a weeknight, the room buzzes with energy as the after-work crowd pours in. A gauzy curtain separates the spacious front bar area from the sleek, softly lit, white-tablecloth dining room. Slate-tile floors and oversized lampshade chandeliers, along with a tasteful, understated colour palette of greys and muted earthtones, create a grand space perfect for the power-suit set.
Group dining options include two private rooms, one that seats up to 55 people (and hosts up to 75, cocktail style) and the other seating 22, boardroom style. Combined, the two spaces host 75, seated and 110, cocktail-style. The cocktail lounge accommodates 110, cocktail style. Available for group buyout, the entire restaurant seats 220.
— 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.