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This much-celebrated sustainable seafood restaurant along the St. Clair West strip gets lots right, most especially its takes on Canada's hallmark gifts to this genre: haddock, halibut, rainbow trout and Lake Erie walleye. More far-flung specialties - many of them OceanWise certified - such as grilled octopus, oysters, Arctic char and swordfish, round out the local offerings. Fans rave about the attention to texture and flavour combination applied to all of the featured players. And the mains get worthy complements with simple, seasonal sides, like summer tomatoes, autumn squash, and fiddleheads and sea asparagus in the spring. The wine selection is fantastic, and so is the service.
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Review: Catch it if you can

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on March 29, 2012
In the, ahem, eons I have spent writing about restaurants never before have I began a review singing the praises of ... a ceiling. But it's the intricate woodwork of Catch's cantilevered ceiling design that really grabs your attention the moment you walk in. That, and the affable and accommodating and a little bit flirty, waiter.

But ambiance seems to have always played a key role in the varied restaurants of Francesco Pronesti, the man behind other successful neighbouring eateries like Ferro and The Rushton. Clearly, he understands the importance of juxtaposing Old World charm with modern touches that imbue each of his dining rooms with a trendy yet comfy flair, and a distinct atmosphere all their own.

After your neck starts aching from staring upwards to admire the handiwork, only then will you shift your focus to a menu that reminds you why you came to Catch in the first place: the seafood. Other than corporate chains, few restaurants dare to base a menu solely on the sea. But Catch's chef Nigel Finley from Nova Scotia does it carefully and confidently, while three-time oyster-shucking champ John Bil, from PEI, tends to the packed front of house.

Serving only sustainable seafood from Ocean Wise-certified suppliers from the east and west coast is environmentally responsible and is to be applauded by treehuggers and foodies alike. But it is a bit of a disappointment not to see any Ontario fresh water fish highlighted on the menu. That said, when a batch of smelts ($9) and homemade aioli makes its way over we're not sure whether to rave first about the delicate batter of the six nicely arranged sardines or the best dressed collard greens ever with the perfect lemon/garlic balance.

If you must charge your patrons for bread, an unfortunate trend that seems to be gaining momentum, it had better darn be homemade. It is. Each slice is so fresh they lazily flop over when lifted toward your lips. More impressive is the selection of four different varieties ($3) that include a cranberry loaf, a brioche-like bun, baguette and focaccia, all served with a nicely grassy olive oil.

A pair of dry roasted Massachusetts scallops ($18) shares the spotlight with two slabs of foie gras atop a beautifully rustic duck confit cassoulet with cardamom. What thrills here other than its incredible value is juxtaposing such uppity French elegance with a classic peasant-style bean stew. Bravo. But the flavour intensity begins to fall off precipitously with an east coast clam bake ($16). Yes, the clams are ginormous and plump, and cleverly studded with tiny cubes of pork belly and tomato, but that ingredient combo should guarantee more brininess and saltiness. Instead the broth is waterlogged and lacks punch.

And for those with an aversion to seafood, don't worry, pookums. Chef veers away from the ocean with equal care and imagination. Like a stunning homemade pappardelle with rarely-used lamb neck ($17) and the extra earthy-oomph of its myriad mushrooms. There is so much meat I can't decide if this is a lamb dish with pasta or a pasta dish with lamb. Either way it's brilliant and shockingly underpriced. Shhhhhh, don't tell.

So how come an espresso marinated flank steak ($12) was such an unmitigated disaster? Perhaps because it was so tough we had to saw through it even with a steak knife. And an acrid, jus left such a sour taste in my mouth I thought of gargling with salt water before proceeding with the next dish. But a perfect halibut ($18) gets rid of the aftertaste. Topped with crisp Luxchinken ham (buh-bye prosciutto) and served with wild mushrooms, beet greens and a roasted tomato coulis, its balance of textures, flavours and pretty colours is almost Twitter worthy. (What is it with these Torontonians tweeting pics of their dinner, btw?)

Even desserts, all made in house, err on the side of whimsical, if a bit too literal in their interpretation. A white chocolate popover ($6) is light and airy like a freshly baked croissant. But an accompanying, albeit a delicious, sweet potato semifredo with mint honey looks more like a savoury salmon mousse topped with dill. And a PB and J ($8) bread pudding with vanilla ice cream may be what you'd expect. But a better integration of the fresh strawberry compote and PB spread could be accomplished by folding all the ingredients together. Perhaps a drizzle of balsamic syrup to counteract its cloyingness could elevate this classic to a whole new level of sophistication.

Catch is definitely worth checking out. Not only for its great room and warm hospitality, but also because the kitchen is clearly trying to struggle outside the usual net that most seafood restaurants get caught in.
Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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