THE PATIO @ BYMARK (66 Wellington West, at York, 416-777-1144) Complete dinners for $100 per person ($75 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and an $8 glass of wine. Average main $40/$28. Open for meals Monday to Friday noon to 11 pm and for dinner Saturday 5 to 11 pm. Bar nightly to 2 am. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Dwarfed by the four black modernist monoliths of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Toronto Dominion Centre, the terrace at Bymark sits at the centre of downtown's liveliest mid-day dining scene. While most of the white-collar crowd brown-bag it next to a grazing herd of cast-bronze cows on one of the few green spaces in the core, here on the elegant Yabu Pushelberg-appointed patio, the captains of industry - and their cigar-chomping sycophants - take leisurely expense-account lunches well into the afternoon.
It's all very midtown Manhattan. Small wonder, since van der Rohe's Seagram Building at 52nd and Park - home of the famous Four Seasons restaurant - was conceived at the same time he was drawing up plans for the Toronto towers. Like the pricy NYC noshery, Bymark is where the power elite meet to eat.
When owner-chef Mark McEwan of uptown's North 44 decided to do something a bit more urban, he launched the Bay Street bote two years ago with 44's sous, Brooke McDougal, in charge of the kitchen.
Bymark doesn't do hip. Instead, it's a comfortably conservative supper club where business types entertain out-of-town clients over $165.50 glasses of Louis XIII Remy Martin cognac.
Continuing my summer series of patio patrols, I've enlisted Francie Wyland and Fran Schechter - the NOW copy editors whose unfortunate task each week entails wrestling my solipsistic prose into coherent sentences free of dangling participles - to check out the star of Bymark's extravagant card, its acclaimed $34.95 hamburger.
But first we scan the lengthy lineup for a starter we can share. Daily composed soup ($9.95) or foie gras terrine with Gewürztraminer-juiced jelly ($24.95), perhaps?
Instead, we agree to split the house crab cake ($13.95). As the two Frans can attest, that's not a typo. As fabulous as it may be, for just under 14 bucks we get exactly one hockey-puck-sized cake. It comes riding a base of lumpy lime-spiked avocado guac and festooned with baby watercress, a splash of garlicky pink aïoli and a sour puddle of minty pesto. Not surprisingly, it's polished off quickly.
While we await our mains, our sophisticated New York state of mind is interrupted by the horrid din emanating from the bandstand across the way. There, a boomer bar band of lawyers and stockbrokers butcher their way through Proud Mary and Pretty Woman to an appreciative audience of none. Keep your day jobs, boys.
Back under a white canvas umbrella, I've tried to convince F1 to order Bymark's grilled cheese sandwich with lobster, pancetta and Brie ($25.95) but it's no-go as she's given up carbs. As an alternative, she plumps for beautifully crisp shards of tasty warm duck confit ($21.95) extravagantly plated with luscious roasted figs, cinnamon-dusted pear and a toss of candied walnut alongside a vibrant frazzle of bitter radicchio dressed in an aggressive citrusy ginger vinaigrette. The over-the-top finale: a garnish of deep-fried onion threads and flash-fried sage.
F2 comes up trumps as well with her BBQ Texas Baby Back Ribs ($24.95), 10 or so beefy slabs sweetened with soy Hong Kong-style. Served with a crunchy Asian-inspired slaw, it arrives at table with a side of frites presented in a cone fashioned from the day's stock report. Shame they've grown limp during their trip from galley to deck.
When it was first introduced, Bymark's landmark burger was available with no-longer-optional foie gras. Today, this exercise in stunt cooking - how long till some local upscale resto comes up with haute dogs? - finds a formidable 8-ounce patty of hand-chopped U.S. Prime steak ($34.95) topped with meaty grilled king mushrooms and melted slices of too-strong Brie de Meaux cheese that virtually obliterate the subtly of the burger's shaved truffle garniture.
And though an almost architectural tier of thick tempura-battered onion rings (count: five) may be impressive to the eye, they unfortunately fizzle on the taste buds.
And at these prices, would it hurt to throw a couple of fries into the bargain, even if they are soggy?