For some years now, I’ve been visiting Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill, in Toronto’s historic Distillery District, and based on my most recent visit, I can report that the food, under new chef de cuisine Dawoon Chae, has never been better.
A fixture in Pure Spirits’ kitchen since 2014, chef Dawoon brings global influences and rock-solid French technique to a recently revamped menu that yields all manner of delights.
Chef’s corn chowder is, hands down, the most sophisticated version of this soup that I’ve ever met. A silken, creamy purée, the soup delivers deep corn flavour without a hint of the cloying sweetness that scuttles so many chowders around town.
Another, equally satisfying chowder incorporates Japanese influences, including crispy nori (seaweed) and, most importantly, sake (rice wine), which imparts a subtle fruity flavour that kicks the velvety creamy broth into the stratosphere. Hiding deliciously in that stellar broth is a boatload of clams and diced carrot, potato, leek and celery.
Even a simple salad is fit for a king. Tangy pomegranate vinaigrette animates baby kale, preserved olive, charred eggplant and whipped goat cheese.
Mains and sides also show a kitchen in full control of technique. A fennel and saffron pepper broth anchors a seafood boil brimming with pan-seared skate, mussels, clams and shrimp. A garden’s worth of sugar-sweet root veg accompanies 8 oz black angus striploin that is cooked perfectly medium rare, as ordered.
But best-in-show belongs to beef short rib, one of the great versions of this dish that I’ve had. Chef flavours the short rib with a soy-based Korean marinade and braises the meat until it attains an ethereal, almost custard-like level of tenderness. Completing this perfect plate of food — sweet sunchoke puree and more root veg,
As for those sides, mac ’n’ cheese is rich and decadent. Cauliflower gratin brings tender veg zapped with breadcrumbs and lemon zest. I could make a meal of this side dish!
To finish, there’s not-too-sweet sticky toffee pudding; smooth and eggy crème brûlée; tender wine-poached pear with whipped ricotta; and dense chocolate pistachio terrine.
The long, softly lit room takes full advantage of the building’s historic bones — appealingly worn hardwood floor; exposed brick walls; wood-beam ceiling. Running the length of the spacious room is a row of comfortable booths; a line of bare-wood tables; and a lively bar.
— 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.