For some time, Pure Spirits Oyster House has been a fixture in Toronto’s Distillery District.
It’s a spacious, instantly welcoming space — appealingly worn hardwood floor; exposed brick walls; wood-beam ceiling — that fully capitalizes on the building’s historic bones. Running the length of the long, softly lit room is a row of comfortable booths; a line of bare-wood tables; and the bar. In the warm months, a patio hosts a boisterous crowd.
Recently, the restaurant introduced some new menu items that, courtesy of chef de cuisine Jonathan Viau, draw on a variety of global influences, so I dropped by, to see what the kitchen was up to.
Among the newly introduced dishes was a salad of spinach, arugula, pecans, aged ricotta and pickled rhubarb in a brightly flavoured blueberry vinaigrette. It’s a harmonious combination of flavours and textures (sweet/tart/crunchy).
Also new to the menu are mini po’ boy sandwiches with an Asian influence: huge, crisp-fried oyster, house-made kimchi and kewpie mayo piled into a fluffy slider-style bun.
There’s also a novel take on the Korean jap chae noodle dish. Garnishing the al dente yam noodles are two filets of barbecued mackerel, meaty king mushrooms, bok choy, pickled carrot, edamame and scallion.
Corn nuts add crunch to a ceviche of pompano jazzed with sweet potato, poblano pepper, shallots and cilantro. Herb-flecked cream bathes pappardelle topped with tender nuggets of lobster.
It’s not usual to see lobster baked (typically it’s steamed or boiled), so the moist meat from the whole, baked shellfish is a pleasant surprise. Fat, moist filet of salmon is served with heirloom tomatoes, crunchy pieces of deep-fried bread, basil and crème fraiche.
Ending the evening is roasted pear accessorized with whipped ricotta and pumpkin seed/sunflower brittle; smooth crème brulee; and sticky toffee pudding sided with gooseberry compote, candied walnuts, caramel ice cream and toffee sauce.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,300 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.