VERITY (111 Queen East, at Mutual, 416-368-6006) Complete meals for $14 per person, including all taxes, tip and bottled water. Average main $7. Open Monday to Friday 8:30 am to 5 pm. Closed Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Membership may have its privileges, but when it comes to clubs, I'm with Groucho Marx - I wouldn't belong to one that wanted me as a member. I suppose that's why Boy Weston hasn't begged me to join the Spoke.
Verity, the recently launched east-side luxury spa, will never allow me in its ranks, because it only accepts women who can pony up its $6,500 admission fee and $1,975 annual dues. For the cash, they get access to a 45,000-square-foot facility in a renovated downtown warehouse complete with subterranean grotto swimming pool, high-tech exercise areas, power nap relaxation spaces and networking rooms painted "happy" colours. Orange, apparently.
There's also a soon-come restaurant on the first floor, curiously called George. Until then, Verity's brightly lit kitchen just off the lobby has been opened as a gourmet takeaway for us hoi polloi. Headed by Lorenzo Loseto, a former executive chef at Rain and Zoom as well as three-year sous with Susur Lee at Lotus, it also provides the sensible nibbles for the girls in the private dining room.
It all sounds incredibly chic and rather ridiculous. But you'll almost want to sign up once you take one breathtaking bite of Loseto's awesome chocolate meringue tarts. With their crumbly butter crust and inner shell of dark chocolate, these 11/2-inch-diameter beauties come filled with moussey ganache and crowned with a spiral topknot of golden merengue. They cost $1.
As do shortbread-crusted pecan squares, the intensity of their butter-tart-style topping and crunchy nuttiness making up for their diminutive size. And though there's no seating in the less than spacious open-kitchen-slash-storefront, down the hall past the security guard (concierge, sorry), a gorgeous courtyard terrace with tented tables is open to the public, if you like loitering in luxury.
The kitchen also scores with a lineup of moderately priced but spa-portioned salads. Four loosely folded wontons ($5) come stuffed with nuggets of tasty minced chicken and spinach and tossed with chive chiffonade and tiny specks of red bird chili, over a bed of slender rice vermicelli and mango julienne dressed in a sweet 'n' sour mirin vinaigrette. Sweet flakes of black cod team up with bitter leaves of peppery arugula, crisp Chinese celery, marinated 'shrooms and diced ripe mango, tomato and red bell pepper in licoricey five-star dressing ($7).
Loseto's Asian bent continues with kimchee and grilled calamari salad, the pickle finely shredded, the tendrils tender, its bed of iceberg lightly doused with a fish-sauce-scented vinaigrette.
I'm about to dis its unripe tomato factor when I discover they're strips of seedless pink watermelon. Genius! Another inspired combination of texture and taste, Thai French bean salad (both $3.75) finds skinny steamed haricots mixed with slivered red onion, diced tofu and carrot sticks dusted with sesame seeds, all dressed in a miso coconut cream.
After such a sensational start, Verity's mains are very hit 'n' miss. The first-rate frittata sandwich ($5) arrives on grill-pressed house-baked whole wheat spread with nutty basil pesto, thinly sliced field tomato and slim sliced Asiago. We waver over the shaved pork tenderloin sandwich ($7), which could use more of its lightly pickled celery slaw and herbed chèvre on its pressed focaccia.
But the sour marinated portobello sandwich ($6) with avocado, Provolone and olive paste has the Test Kitchen barking like seals for the next 12 hours.
Served in a paper Chinese takeout carton, a compact cube of nine-layered lasagna sees a lack of meaty tomato sauce, but what's there has a pleasant lemony basil undercurrent. Filler-free, there are no discernable veggies or cheese. Delicately daubed with dill, a banana-leaf-wrapped serving of steamed salmon ($5) might seem a bit pricey until you consider it cooked sashimi. But five bucks for a Frenched chicken leg weighing all of 5 ounces is pushing it, even if the bird did at one time in its life range freely on the farm.