It seems like North 44 has been around forever in midtown Toronto’s upscale Yonge-Eglinton area, and indeed, the restaurant has operated for more than two decades, an eternity in the restaurant business.
North 44 put Mark McEwan on the map and continues to draw a large and loyal clientele. Certainly, the multi-level, white-tablecloth room is as inviting as ever. Soft lighting and votive candles set the stage for an ambience that manages to feel homey and tranquil and high-end all at once. Shaded lamps and wall-mounted mirrors punctuate a space outfitted in understated earth tones. Jazz plays discreetly over the PA. Seen in a glassed-in open kitchen, the culinary brigade operates with balletic grace.
Heading up the brigade is Sash Simpson, who’s been North 44’s executive chef for 10 years. Under his watch, flavours are focused and ideas teem forth.
Our appetites sharpened by warm-from-the-oven, black olive-studded baguette from Boulart Bakery, we launch into the daily soup: silken butternut squash perfumed with cumin and curry. Lurking in the bowl’s bottom are tiny, translucent bits of apple, their sweetness bringing the dish together.
The kitchen sears an uncommonly fat slice of foie gras and sets off its richness with peach compote. Accessorizing it further is foie foam and brioche. Delicate balls of panko-crusted chevre highlight a salad of roasted heirloom beets, kale, blonde frisee and Granny Smith apple.
We share an extravagant pasta: ultra-fresh tagliatelle noodles loaded with tender poached lobster and meaty porcini mushrooms scented with thyme. A reduction of lobster and porcini slicks the noodles and adds extra luxury.
Mains show a kitchen fully in control of technique bolstered by first-rate ingredients. Dover sole is grilled to moistness and luxuriates in a classic meuniere sauce (brown butter and lemon). Tender side stripe shrimp, braised cipollini onions, fava beans and a ragout of blue foot mushrooms accompany fat filet of Pacific halibut. Tart huckleberry compote jazzes rosy slices of duck breast paired with sweet onion ravioli, seared foie gras and sugar snap peas.
We manage to save room for dessert and are glad we did. Candied pumpkin seeds and mandarin sorbet grace rich, smooth pumpkin cheesecake. Green apple sorbet sets off al dente spiced rice pudding. A wicked-rich chocolate ganache bar, homemade graham crackers and burnt marshmallow ice cream show up in deconstructed s’mores. And a layer of bergamot jelly lends an Early Grey tea flavour to milk chocolate mousse cake paired with black tea ice cream.
Throughout the evening, service is polished, knowledgeable and professional, the hallmark of any evening spent at North 44.
To accommodate groups, North 44 features a main-level private dining room that seats 14 and an upper-level private dining room seating 24 (both rooms are equipped with a 60-inch monitor that can be fed directly from a PC or Mac computer). The upper-level space also offers a bar and lounge area that, unless otherwise booked, are available for pre-dinner receptions.
Also available on the upper level is a wine bar that accommodates 70, seated, and features an adjacent bar and lounge area.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 25 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.