350 FAHRENHEIT (467 Bloor West, at Brunswick, 416-929-2080) Sophisticated supper club serving a menu based on AtkinsTM, South BeachTM, ZoneTM, Eat Right for Your Blood TypeTM, BernsteinTM and Suzanne SomersTM diet regimes. Pricey and small-portioned, but some dishes are quite tasty - smoky chicken posole soup thick with mild poblano, lime-glazed chicken with guacamole - but others verge on flavour-challenged, particularly those for vegans. Complete meals for $45 per person ($25 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a $6 glass of wine. Average main: $16. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday noon to 2 pm, and for dinner nightly 6 to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN
A swank new health-conscious spot in the Annex has just opened and dubbed itself 350 Fahrenheit, and I haven't a clue why. A search of 350F's Web site (www.350fahrenheit.com) gives no answers, while images of soft-focus broccoli waft past, although it appears that franchises are still available if you want to get in quick. However, the site does contain not only the Bloor West bote's menu, but its manifesto as well.
Written by a nutrition consultant - one Ara Wiseman, RHN, RNCP no less - it identifies its menu as a sort of Dieting For Dummies, clearly coded so you can be sure you're abiding by various commercial diets.
The 350F diets in question: the high-protein Atkins diet, the balanced-food-group South Beach, Zone and Eat Right for Your Blood Type diets, as well as thigh-master Suzanne Somers and Mike Bullard-hoopla'd Bernstein regimens.
I'm a devotee of none but willing to give 350F the same fair shot I'd give any new restaurant. After all, it's just food. I must admit, though, I'm a bit confused by the manifesto's claim that "a diet is no longer a source of social embarrassment." Maybe I hang with the wrong crowd, but I've never noticed anyone being stigmatized because they asked for salad - with the dressing on the side, of course - instead of a baked potato topped with sour cream to go with their sirloin strip.
And so, with a mind as open as a 7 Eleven, I arrive solo one Saturday noon. I take a table by the floor-to-ceiling front window that looks out onto the street. I soon discover that the window's menu is a major babe magnet. Over the next 45 minutes, a steady stream of lithe young things stop in their tracks and give it an intense study, though few venture inside.
Located a block east of its competition, 350F is clearly positioned to trade on Fresh by Juice for Life's clientele. It's wisely retained former tenant Rouge's minimalist/Modernist late 90s decor - beige Ultrasuede banquettes, sleek oak planking - and what seems to be the worst of its CD collection. Loud, soulful house has its place - a club, 2 am - but not lunch. And does every restaurant issued a liquor licence in Ontario also receive a promotional copy of the Gipsy Kings greatest hit, Bamboleo?
I start with a wine flute of 2-ounces-tops refrigerated gazpacho ($2.95/$4.95 bowl) that's also been oxygenated. As for everything here, the menu provides a nutritional profile, in this case: 84 calories, 3 grams of protein, 9 of carbohydrates, 4 of fat and 2 of fibre. There are also symbols that indicate whether the item is copacetic with the aforementioned regimes. Like the Three's Company star, the gazpacho is lovely to look at but rather bland. With an equal amount of vodka, it'd make a mediocre bloody Mary.
Remembering my assistant back at the lab, I'm required to sample 350F's Balkan lentil salad ($6.95). I find an ice-cream-scoop-sized serving of legumes laced with diced shiitake 'shrooms, a tiny crumble of low-fat (read flavour-challenged) feta and an unidentified herb. My guess: chervil. Granted, the boring beans come artfully plated on a few arugula leaves.
Back on the street, I'm down 15 bucks and famished. I return a few days later with a review regular in tow, having warned him that he'll likely leave 350F hungry.
Since bread is verboten, we start with pleasant complimentary hummus and mini-pita puffs that are virtually all air. The gastro guest's grilled Roma tomato and fat-free mozzarella over fresh basil ($4.95) replicates lesser Caprese salads found all over town, while posole ($5.95) - the Mexican hangover-cure soup - finds first-rate shredded chicken breast strewn with mild poblano chilies. Where's the menu-promised hominy?
Between courses, we pound back a pair of 350F's "raw food energy veggie juices." Body Cleanser (carrot, cucumber, beet) goes straight through my pal, while I pray my Cholesterol-Lowering Cocktail (carrot, apple, ginger, parsley, both $4.95) will counter any damage caused by my recent two-week Bar Guide nacho binge.
Next, two somewhat dry, skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets arrive sided with a timbale of tomato-y guacamole in a pool of lime glaze ($11.95). Ordered rare, grilled tuna ($19.95) gets as impressively plated as the rest, accompanied by black turtle beans and avocado mash, though I doubt it's the day's catch. We finish - stuffed, I might add - with Vegan Un-cheesecake ($5.95), a dessert closer to sensible nut loaf than calories-be-damned nirvana.
A few days later, I order a slew of 350F takeout. After I've finished, the person on the phone asks if I'd like any protein powder meal replacements ($4.95 to $6.95). No, thanks, I'll stick with the real food I just ordered.
After polishing off a pair of baked phyllo pastry samosas minimally stuffed with mashed sweet potato and frozen - shame! - peas and carrots, I reckon I should have ordered the shake. And I recall that, despite being deep-fried, Hopper Hut's three-for-a-dollar beauties have exactly the same amount of beta-carotene.
Chicken almond salad (both $5.95) with slivered Chinese celery would make a great sandwich if its low-fat yogurt were replaced with no-no mayonnaise. House rolls - sushi-esque salmon, deli-style turkey (both $4.95) and lightly curried ground chicken with shiso ($5.95) - come loosely wrapped in rice paper and lettuce, the latter's menu-promised grilled zucchini replaced with a few wayward Brussels sprout leaves. File under forget: vegan bean stew ($8.99) and millet patties ($9.99) - think falafel - sided with curly purple decorative cabbage, the kind you normally see growing in a terra cotta pot.
And what's with the name?
"When you start a recipe, you have to preheat the oven to 350 degrees," explains Fahrenheit's conceptualist Ion Nicolae. For now, if its kitchen is to succeed, let alone franchise, 350 Fahrenheit needs more than a functioning stove.