The eating in Toronto’s Distillery District restaurants continues to get better and better. Case in point: Pure Spirits Oyster House, tucked away on Tank House Lane’s restaurant row. In the year-plus since I’ve visited Pure Spirits, the cooking, under chef de cuisine Jonathan Viau, has gone a little more upscale and is more creative and self-assured than ever.
What a delight, for example, to encounter a Caesar salad that actually incorporates anchovy into its vinaigrette — in this case, a feather-light affair that serves as delicious rebuke to the gloppy, anchovy-free versions around town.
Crispy chickpeas add textural pizzazz to mixed green salad of butter lettuce, radicchio, roasted vegetables and manchego cheese in sherry-sharpened vinaigrette.
The daily soup is an extravagantly thick gumbo anchored by a properly browned roux and loaded with sausage, shrimp and mussels — almost a meal in itself.
Viau brings much luxury to pappardelle, loading al dente noodles with very tender lobster and meaty wild mushrooms in black truffle cream.
Another well-conceived plate sees tart pickled chard and earthy lentils beautifully complement delicate smoked B.C. salmon paired with house-made cotechino sausage. Melt-in-the-mouth oven-roasted black cod joins littleneck clams, rapini and sunchoke confit in a restrained almond veloute.
And 2016 is young, but I already have a candidate for Best Steak of the Year, a 6 oz. tenderloin, cooked perfectly medium rare, that is exquisitely tender and moist and served simply with deeply flavoured red wine jus, crushed potatoes and mixed veg.
I also have a candidate for Best Tart of the Year, a wondrous affair served warm and built on fragile, flaky pastry filled with not-too-sweet blueberries. Silky, eggy crème brulee is also first-rate.
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 25 years and, during that time, has critiqued almost 1,000 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.