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The Chase's latest is a loving homage to the founder's late dad — and a modern tribute to the diners and steak houses of 1950s New York
Arthur’s (12 St. Clair East, at Yonge, 647-348-7000, arthursrestaurant.ca) is the newest restaurant from the Chase Hospitality Group. For the president of the restaurant group, Steven Salm, it’s also the most personal.
“Arthur” is Salm’s dad, a Holocaust survivor who died in 2012 – just a few days before his son officially founded the company. While the next few years would see CHG experiment with a variety of concepts – from high-end seafood and sushi (The Chase, Kasa Moto) to plant-based dining (Planta) and chi-chi French fare (Colette) – eventually, Salm felt it was time to create something “more driven from the heart and passionate”.
Growing up in New York, Salm’s day-to-day life revolved around massive family meals. “I had a Jewish-American upbringing, and it was always a lot of food, all the time. Both of my parents were obsessed with cooking,” he recalls.
On weekends, Arthur would take his son on runs to the bagel store and the appetizing shop for seafood, asking him to taste-test slices of sturgeon.
When Arthur passed, he left a massive collection of letters, stamps, flyers and newspaper clippings to his son — ephemera that now coats the walls of Arthur’s, in rows and rows of gilded frames. “I never really took the time to look at it, understand it, in a way I did for this restaurant,” Salm says.
Some postcards, sent by family members during the war, are framed photo-side forward, hiding Third Reich-era German postage stamps. Some letters announce the passing of family members. And a series of report cards shows Arthur’s English grades leaping forward year by year ,as the North American newcomer learned the language.
It’s a tribute to a father by his son, but Arthur’s also stands as an ode to the steak houses and delis of the elder Salm’s heyday. The round dining room is topped with a dark, geometric ceiling meant to recall the bottom of a cut-crystal drinking glass. The low, cushy booths are flanked with individual ice buckets with little stands. Even the wait staff wear white shirts, dark ties and aprons embroidered with the restaurant’s name. The effect is decidedly mid-century – without making diners feel like they’ve been teleported to the Sterling Cooper set.
“We didn’t want guests to feel like, ‘Oh my god, I’m living in a time warp,’” Salm says. “We wanted everything to be as plush and as rich-looking as you would expect from that era — but we’ve updated that, because this is a restaurant that’s open in 2019.”
More subtle modernization is at work on the menu, which leans heavily on throwback dishes like oysters Rockefeller and crab cakes, plus a sprinkling of nostalgic Jewish eats like matzo ball soup.
“There’s a bit of a French undertone, as the food scene was back in the 50s, 60s, even the 40s,” says Chase culinary director Tyler Shedden. “We’re just trying to update that stuff a little bit, staying true to what it is. A lot of that stuff tended to be a bit overwrought, in my opinion, over the years.”
Part of that is retooling a slate of meat- and butter-heavy dishes to place a larger emphasis on seafood and veggies (The Chase has a mandate that all of their menus be at least one-quarter vegan).
“A restaurant like this being 25 per cent plant-based would not be something you would see in the 50s and 60s,” Shedden says. “We’ve shifted drastically away from (red meat), for the purpose of sustainability and the way eating trends are going.”
So what would Arthur think of the restaurant that bears his name? Knowing him, his son admits, he probably would be embarrassed by all the attention.
“But I think he’d be so insanely proud of everything – from even before this restaurant,” Salm says, adding: “I think he would probably be angry at me that brunch isn’t open yet.”
But as of this weekend, it will be — and there’s going to be plenty of bagels and sturgeon on the breakfast menu.
The shrimp and avocado ($16.95) features a mound of Fogo Island shrimp mixed with cucumber, avocado, celery, chives, tarragon and a lemon vinaigrette, piled high on half an avocado with a smear of Russian dressing on the bottom.
The tuna tartare ($22.95) comes dressed in a sauce ravigote, which Shedden describes as a French-style salsa verde with anchovies, herbs, confit garlic and lemon zest. Sherry vinegar is added to order, and the dish is topped with confit tomato slices and served with lettuce for scooping.
Arthur’s Dungeness crab cake ($38.95) is a pretty classic rendition, save for the shreds of phyllo dough used in lieu of breading. It’s served with a tartare sauce made with house lacto-fermented pickles.
The “club salad” ($22.95) is a beefed-up take on the Cobb, with breaded chicken, blue cheese, jammy eggs, avocado, bacon and, as Shedden puts it, “all the lettuces we have.”
The short menu of classic desserts includes a sizeable slice of chocolate cake served with Chantilly cream and chocolate sauce, and a New York cheesecake with caramel and passion fruit (both $13.95).
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