Chef Peter McKnight and owner Renda Abdo have reinvented Wish as a South Beach-style lounge.
WISH (3 Charles East, at Yonge, 416-935-0240, wishintoronto.com) Complete brunches for $25 per person (dinners $40/lunches $20), including all taxes, tip and a $4 Stella. Average main $14/$18/$10. Open Saturday and Sunday for brunch 10 am to 4 pm, dinner till 11 pm, Tuesday to Friday 11 am to 11 pm. Bar nightly till close. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
Renda Abdo certainly knows how to run a successful restaurant. Need proof? Her long-running 24-hour 7 West Café at Yonge and Charles literally hasn't closed its doors since opening them 20 years ago.
"I was 11," she laughs.
She hasn't been as lucky with 7's nearby sister, Wish. Launched 10 years later, the swanky South Beach-style lounge has been Abdo's bête noire from day one, albeit one with whitewashed walls and overstuffed white sofas draped with white fun fur pashminas.
A hit from the get-go with the cocktail crowd, the resto suffered from an inconsistent kitchen. Last spring, Abdo pulled the plug on Wish and rebranded the 40-seat room as Black Skirt, a slightly down-market old-school southern Italian trat. Apparently not down-market enough, as few bit for $20 lasagna. And so it's back to Wish.
At first glance, the dramatic space looks familiar. It's still all very glacial - that same pashmina drapes that same white couch - and Bryan Ferry remains stuck in permanent rotation on the CD player. Then there's that glorious sun-drenched patio! But dig deeper and you'll notice that prices are significantly friendlier.
At lunch one day, mussels steamed in white wine sided with perfectly acceptable frites goes for all of 10 bucks, a Stella another four. Those same fab frites accompany returning chef Peter McKnight's fish and chips ($16), lightly breaded and perfectly à point cod paired with saffron tartar sauce and creamy beetroot slaw, a far better deal than his ap-sized calamari ($13), and less rubbery, too.
The spuds also show up alongside McKnight's beefy 7-ounce Black Angus burger ($14). Simply dressed with aged cheddar and caramelized onion, these regrettably woeful Whoppers come drenched in so much Dijon mustard that a bronchial Dolly Parton could apply the leftovers to her chest. But what heaven his garlic-crusted local pork chops ($18), a Cowbell-worthy grill marinated in olive oil and coupled with correctly lumpy mashed potatoes and retro red-eye gravy finished with veal stock and coffee.
A ridiculously rich Callebaut chocolate brownie ($6) comes straight from the oven - no microwave here, our personable server explains - and dolloped with real whipped cream. That's quite the achievement for the gabe.
At brunch, the day's omelette ($11) combines roasted tomato, spinach and white cheddar to delicious effect, its eggs as fluffy as the pillows on the banquette, while Eggs Charlotte - poached eggs in Parmesan and leek fondue over smoked salmon on whole wheat Ace Bakery muffins ($15) - exudes Sex And The City sophistication. Has Abdo's Wish come true?
"I've been in this business a long time, so I know what works and what doesn't," the restaurateur reflects. "This time I think I've finally got Wish right."