The lifestyles of the rich and famous are what fantasies are made of. And what conjures up champagne wishes and caviar dreams more than The Donald? So, when we got word a Trump property was being built in Hogtown, expectations ran high that it would glam up the downtown core. Well, we all know how that turned out: The Trump International Hotel and Tower architecture is as remarkable as any other building built in the '90s - not very.
Perhaps the interior redefines the word "posh," you ask? Perc
hed on the 31st floor, Stock is a grand-sized dining room and lounge which, at first glance, seems to pay homage to the ostentatious association of the Trump name. A soaring 24-foot ceiling certainly adds grandeur to a room awash in whites with black lacquer. But once seated, our carriage slowly starts to turn back into a pumpkin.
Where is the busboy, going from table to table hand-serving pink Himalayan salt out of a crystal bowl? Instead, tables are uniquely equipped with salt and pepper shakers that you can buy at a dollar store. Hangers from the coat check are clearly visible through a glass partition etched with French lace. And, while the Phillipe Starck-influenced Louis XV fauteuil get points for tushie comfort, it's a design trend that was done a decade ago. Then, there are the floral arrangements, as elaborate as the flower section at your neighbourhood Home Depot. Phalaenopsis orchids? Really? The place mats, too, are very Kitchen Stuff Plus, while accent lighting looks like an afterthought. Purple spots on the floor's periphery provide for some added drama, but it begs the question: With all the engineers working on this 65-storey building, did no one think of built-in effect lighting?
Do we hold anything Trump to a higher standard? You betcha! At these prices, we'd better be wowed. The room's letdown aside, securing a reservation for one of the 10 tables on the sky patio (opening date TBD) will probably speak volumes about how much money is in your wallet. And you are going to need lots of it to dine here.
Essentially a steakhouse, Stock is pretty old school with surf and turf selects right out of the '70s. Featuring seafood, meats, pasta and traditional apps, there's little here you haven't seen before. But that can be a good thing when executed well. Knowing the talents of executive chef Todd Clarmo (Jump, Canoe and Auberge du Pommier), you shouldn't be disappointed. Chef Clarmo knows all too well the demands of corporate Canada's upper crust.
A charcuterie plate ($24) may only feature one in-house product, a slick, unctuous duck prosciutto cut so thin you can see through it, but other items, that include prosciutto and sausage, are equally sublime. Served with homemade spiced lavash, a hillock of Gulf of Mexico blue crab atop a velvety, perhaps too-processed, guacamole ($20) works just fine, if a bit pedestrian for these environs. But it's a stellar steak tartar ($20) that makes us sit up in our French armchairs and take notice. Made from hand-chopped Canadian prime beef - one of the few local meats featured - this perfect opener sells itself; an understated but refined blend of elements that you taste but don't necessarily see, with the exception of a raw quail egg that sits precariously atilt, just waiting to ooze over this elegant mound of carnivore nirvana.
A nicely toothsome order of homemade "guitar string" pasta with lobster is really just a glorified and overpriced bowl of spaghetti. How else can you get away with charging $34 if you don't give it its own name? And though the portion of Atlantic lobster is acceptable, such super seafood deserves better than a sauce of fresh tomato, chili, extra virgin olive oil that gives this dish an uncanny resemblance to the contents of a can of Heinz spaghetti; though a braised rabbit and potato gnocchi ($34) does win us over. Smoked bunny, Picholine olives, bacon, white wine, onions and fresh herbs makes for one very satisfying dish. But do I count correctly, only seven beautifully-browned pieces of handmade gnocchi? For $35?
With an intro like this, the quality of a New York strip ($48) is not to be questioned: "Hand selected from our butcher and USDA regulated. Once run by the Amish, this federally-inspected farm is located at the foot hills of Pennsylvania where the cattle roam free," and where the deer and the antelope play. That would explain why our 12 oz. (sorry, it doesn't come any smaller), is one beautiful looking slab of meat. It doesn't explain, however, why there is so little flavour. While perfectly cooked to a medium-rare, where are the grassy and mineral nuances? But a spoon of divine, al dente Brussels sprouts ($9) on the side comes to the rescue. Blended with pork belly and onion, it gets our taste buds back in gear. As does an order of Yukon Gold frites ($9), that although overcooked, is decadent dipped in a side of a nicely pungent truffle aioli.
Cinnamon sugar beignets ($11) are a bit heavy. Mostly because they are smothered in a heavy layer of cinnamon sugar, and they are built to house a thick vanilla cream that oozes out of its centre. Sorry, pastry chef David Chow, but I'd focus my energies on turning out a fluffier donut rather than trying to over deliver with the addition of a Valrhona chocolate hazelnut confiture and beautiful blood orange marmalade for dipping. And your lemon lavender gÃ¢teau ($13) served with honey, a Greek yogurt sorbet and lavender pearls would be textbook perfect if not for the pistachio crumble that contradicts the composition's delicate characteristics.
All I can say is thank God for career waiters like ours. Such devotion to the knowledge of the menu and wine selections, even if a glass might set you back $30, is impressive. He knew practically every fine detail of 20 varieties of designer teas ($7), not to mention being on hand to hold out a chair or refold a serviette. And when it came down to food selection, the rundown of each and every ingredient was recited without missing a beat. Not having to check back with the kitchen on any item was most refreshing.
Still, like the room, the food at Stock, as good as it is at times, comes up short of expectations. Food as good or better is available at many other places in town, and for a lot cheaper. If you are going to associate the Trump name with Stock, be prepared to deliver on the promise of the finest most exclusive dining experience that, for now, really only means good food at very steep prices. And to the DJ, who jumps between the Bee Gees and Bossa Nova - "You're fired!"