September is electric with the arrival of the annual Toronto International Film Festival. Party-goers and celebrities know that after the red carpet events they can come to Lolita's Lust & The Chinchilla Lounge where they can have a great time and tuck into a sexy, yet comforting, meal.
Owner Sam Scanga likes this time of year and all the events surrounding the festival.
"I always look forward to it," says Sam then proceeds to tell me of the all the celebrities (Jeff Goldblum, Parker Posey,
Sum 41- just to mention a few) that have held premieres and after parties here.
You can see why Lolita's Lust would be a celebrity hotspot upon entering the restaurant. The front is open and welcoming, while the farther you go in, the more secluded and intimate the space becomes. The privacy makes a perfect haven for celebrities that want to slip in the back door and hold court with their entourage in the back. You'd never know anyone was there and that's exactly how the celebrities like it.
There are no celebrities hiding in the back the night that I dine at Lolita's Lust, however, it is clear that everyone knows everybody. As soon as a new group or couple enter; a cluster of tables is pulled together so that friends and neighbours can catch up.
It's just that kind of place.
Although it is constantly referred to as "trendy" and "the trendiest place on the Danforth," Lolita's Lust is supported largely by the neighbourhood folks; 80% in Sam's estimation.
This is for a number of reasons:
- The eclectic menu
- You can come in for dinner, or just drinks and appetizers
- The kitchen is open late
- Their shared plates make for a more communal experience
- Interesting martini list
- Great depth in the wine list
- Positive, fun, upbeat staff like Sydney who has been here since the beginning
- Consistency in both food and service
Where else can you get, as Sam calls it, "5-star dining wrapped in blue jeans"? The casual atmosphere is juxtaposed by white tablecloths, hearty steaks and vivacious wines.
The decor is funky (exposed brick walls, wild colours and different atmospheres in each room) and always evolving - the doors were recently changed as was the paint and art on the walls. Fridays and Saturdays there is a DJ spinning on the main level. Whereas in the, colourful and vivacious, Chinchilla Lounge, large groups can be accommodated for corporate functions, private events and cocktail receptions.
However the success of the restaurant isn't because it's new and trendy; Lolita's Lust has been operating for 12 years. The longevity of it is, in Sam's words, "a testament to what I deliver and the platform of what I do."
The restaurant is packed tonight and I've managed to score a seat on the front terrace. Here I enjoy a meal created by Chef Alton Cecco and Sous Chef David Brace.
The European-Mediterranean menu is all about promoting fresh ingredients. Sam calls it, "Good for you healthy food like in a southern village in Italy or Greece," He goes on to say, "We live in a multicultural society - our menu reflects that."
The menu is not pages long because the plates are meant to be shared; there are many different combinations to be sampled. Custom platters are created all the time, allowing people to try a number of dishes between them.
I get a platter that contains the following: roasted beet and fennel salad, polenta fries and grilled calamari.
The roasted beet & fennel salad ($10) is served with goat cheese, maple glazed walnuts with a pommery dressing and balsamic reduction. The plate is colourful and simply dressed. Without wild accoutrements and flourishes, the simplicity of each dish is very effective. The red and yellow beets taste of earth and sun while quartered grilled fennel adds a little edge to the dish; the cheese and walnuts carries the flavours and enhances the dish.
Polenta fries ($6) are one of those trendy items that people either love or steer away from. Nevertheless, these are achingly good especially with the miso mayonnaise that comes with it (there are a few other options, so be sure to ask your server). Large wide swaths of polenta are lightly pan fried to a crisp and are a wonderfully welcome change from the usual potato version.
Grilled calamari ($10) is mixed with oven dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers and basil pesto and has a true Mediterranean taste to it. The calamari is grilled to perfection and the basil pesto is so fresh that I sop up any left on the plate with my few remaining polenta fries.
My mains and sides have been composed into a platter for me: Filet of beef with gorgonzola cream ($25), Grilled Ahi Tuna with wilted lemon spinach and pine nut balsamic glaze($26), Charred asparagus ($6) and Green Beans with Carmelized Onions & Fresh Tomatoes($4).
The Alberta beef is seared medium rare and is tender, grassy and fantastically fresh. Although the gorgonzola cream is extremely popular, I've opted for something lighter - a delightfully sweet red pepper sauce.
The grilled Ahi tuna melts on my tongue. Tuna with lemony spinach quickly became new favourite way to enjoy the fish. The asparagus and beans sing summer's praises.
I manage to eat only a few bites of Lolita's Flourless Chocolate Cake ($7) with crÃ¨me anglaise, not because it isn't sinfully good, but because the portions here are generous and my waistband is, shall we say, at capacity.
Lolita's Lounge is open for dinner 7 nights a week and offers catering for all types of functions including special events and festivals.