It was impossible to ignore.
The roar of scathing reviews flooded my way. Usually I can keep myself immune from other restaurant reviews, but there was no escaping the frenzy that's surrounded the opening of Le Petit Castor in Rosedale.
So I was aware that it was loud and people were really disappointed in the food.
But I wanted to check it out for myself and besides, I don't believe everything I read-everyone said that Rachel Getting Married was fantastic....
It's Wednesday night a
t 6:30 pm and two groups of people get turned away. We have a reservation and good thing-other than a few booths at the front, there is nary a free seat in the house. It's like a Saturday night at 11 in here. A group of young people are having what the server calls a "private party" and they stand in the only floor space between the booths and the long bar at the front.
We make our way through to the back dining area where it is just as loud, except everyone's seated. There are only about 12 tables (no wonder it's crowded back here!) with the outer ones surrounded by comfy banquettes and pillows. We get a corner near the fireplace, which allows us to get cozy.
The décor consists of mostly prints of horses and hunting dogs; however I'm sitting under a stuffed pheasant. It's too crowded and loud to really attempt to take in what they're doing interior-design-wise.
There are names handwritten on each table. Ours says, "Stephanie & Co.," and apparently two tables over is "Jim Byrd & Co." Pretentious or merely friendly? Everyone has their own take when I take an informal poll. Some want anonymity and some think it's a nice touch.
The crowd is mostly well-dressed, moneyed 30- to 60-somethings. The girl next to me has a watch that costs as much as a car. And no one seems to mind the fact that they have to yell over the table. They must have known what they were getting into.
The cocktails ($10) have great names: I get the Dark and Stormy-dark rum and ginger beer-and my fella gets a Louis Riel-tequila and grapefruit soda-but they taste like any other mixed drink.
The menu focuses on comfort food, with poutines, steaks, and hearty mains being the draw. So of course, we have to have try the Lobster Poutine ($18). We are surprised to learn that there is no cheese in this one, but hollandaise instead. Fine by us. The more decadent, the better.
The fries are really, really overdone, which is a shame, and while the thin hollandaise is lively, the little lobster nodules are overcooked and not at all succulent as we'd imagined. But we are starving so we devour the entire portion.
The menu is divided into bar snacks, small plates, large plates, steak with frites and sides. My guy gets a large plate-Mac + Cheese with Beef Brisket ($17)-and I get a steak-8 oz. Grilled NY Striploin with Red Wine Reduction ($29). We will share as always, and get a side of Mushrooms with Spinach ($9) to fill out the meal.
My handsome companion says that his mac and cheese is, "Very, very nice. You don't lose the pasta in the cheese." Topped with breadcrumbs, it makes for a nice cold weather dish. He's not thrilled by the beef, though I enjoy how moist and shredded it is.
My steak is cooked as ordered and it is indeed tasty and juicy, but just barely warm upon the first bite. The reduction is alluring, but there is so little of it that I only get a few swipes of steak into it before it's all gone.
The fries that accompany it are not overdone at all. In fact, they are perfectly cooked and are sprinkled with an addictive blend of thyme and rosemary, but we've filled up on the poutine, so they remain largely untouched. The spinach and mushrooms are fresh and cooked just enough to wilt seductively, but it is an expensive option for what you get.
Breezy and laid back, Manager Sarah Evans (formerly of Teatro and "a bunch of places") tells us that we can "relax and stay awhile," after our plates have been cleared-is this why people can't get a table? She tells us that Executive Chef Rodney Bowers, (The Rosebud, The Citizen) who recently joined the team, is in the kitchen tonight. He ambles his way through the dining room at one point in the evening. Word is, owner Luke McCann (Urban Supper Club) is planning on eventually opening hotel rooms upstairs (imagine the waiting list for reservations for that!). I ask her if there will be a website soon and she gives a sideways smile. Apparently Rodney and Luke wants to keep things on the down low, which is why there's no website or obvious sign. You should just come across it.
The only problem is that this is Rosedale and in Toronto, people want to go and be seen in the newest places. Rodney knows this, which is why it's packed every night and it's impossible to get a table or reservation.
Is it worth it?
The food is good for sure, but certainly not worth the trouble of trying to get in or having to shout over everyone. It is, however, a place to be seen and a place to tell your friends about once you have actually gotten through the door,
if that's your kind of thing.