FLOW (133 Yorkville, at Avenue Road, 416-925-2143) Complete dinners for $75 ($50 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a $10 glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday 11:30 am to 3 pm, for dinner Sunday and Monday 5 to 10:30 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday 5 to 11 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Brunch Sunday 10 am to 3 pm. Lounge menu daily 3 to 5 pm, bar till 2 am close. Licensed. Access: partially barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Another film festival, another Yorkville celebrity haute spot.
Forget typecasting. The just-launched multi-level resto lounge Flow swims against the shallow tide of nearby C-list joints like Lobby, Sassafraz and the Courtyard Café.
It helps to have Tony Longo, the savvy restaurateur who's worked his way up from bus boy at the Organ Grinder to co-owner of ultra-luxe Centro and Splendido, in charge of the operation, and design firm II by IV (Rain, Tundra) responsible for the stylish if rather generic decor. Throw in chef Richard Andino (Rosewater Supper Club, North 44) and watch the star-gazers flock.
They're absent this late August lunch, but they'll be here next week. Flow is situated right next door to the Four Seasons, home away from home for visiting A-listers.
Flow, er, flows on three levels. There's a more formal room up a few steps of a circular staircase. Below, a casual café space opens to a pair of curbside patios and a basement disco grotto with an adjoining private dining area.
We've cadged a ringside seat just inside the front door, but the only other stars we see are a series of very capable servers.
We're off to a good start with an intriguing salade composée of peppery arugula leaves and a julienne of slightly tart Matsu apple. It arrives at table tossed with slivered roasted almonds and dressed with a sweet sherry vinaigrette ($9.95 lunch/$11.95 dinner).
Then comes one of the most palatable potages we've encountered yet, a gorgeous lobster bisque ($6.95/$7.95) garnished with ripe tomato pulp, flecked with Chinese chives and underscored by mellow musk lime, a mandarine orange hybrid. It's a supernal soup that retains the inherent texture of its sweet corn and lobster threads without disintegrating into mush. It's only a daily special, but it deserves a role in Flow's permanent card.
Already a signature dish, Richard's Paella ($18.95 lunch only) reflects the Filipino cook's colonial Spanish roots more than the rice 'n' seafood extravaganza's Iberian heritage. Closer to Thai tom yum seafood soup than to a fishy pilaf, it comes in a deeply flavoured coconut gravy subtly spiked with lime and rich with saffron-scented carnaroli rice and studded with tender calamari, dense sausage, mussels and several plump shrimp.
Possibly the most moist yet crispy-skinned lemon- and salt-crusted roast chicken we've ever confronted comes next. The foie gras stuffing mentioned on the menu refers to the duck livers it's cooked with, so don't expect a big hunk of the expensive stuff next to your bird at these prices ($17.95/$27.95). Again, the accompanying greens are breathtakingly fresh; no mesclun from a bag these.
Like salivating paparazzi, we're drawn to lemon bread pudding to finish ($10.95). All flash and no substance, this soggy pudding, though topped with lovely lemon ice, is our meal's only box-office bomb.
Impressed with Andino's work at lunch, we return for weekend brunch. I've instructed my epicurian posse to stay clear of all-too-common breakfast dishes like French toast ($8.95) and to order something more interesting, say slow-braised pork brisket sided with plantain fritters and double-baked navy beans drizzled with truffle butter ($10.95), so we can test chef's mettle.
"Do you really, really like pork?" asks our server. "If not, I'd order something else. Two customers sent it back the other day, and we're taking it off the menu next week."
Accustomed to servers who automatically chime, "Excellent choice!" regardless of what we order, we're a bit taken aback by his directness. Later, Andino tells me the server is mistaken.
"It's still on the menu. It's my favourite dish."
We wish the server had warned us about the shrimp cocktail ($16.95). I'd noticed the impressive teepee of tempura shrimp and chicken satay ($11.95) being served next to us earlier at lunch and figure the brunch dish will be just as spectacular. Instead, exactly five otherwise first-rate and good-sized shrimp come marinated in citrusy yuzu and plated in a hollowed-out ice bowl alongside a small puddle of upscale ketchup 'n' horseradish. And that's it - no lettuce, no whimsical garnish, nothing. The ice block sits on a plate covered with beautiful polished stones that rub it in even further, as if to say, "You just paid 17 bucks for five shrimp and a shitload of inedible rocks."
We're back on track with Flow's panko-dusted tempura prawn sandwich layered with fried green tomatoes and sided with a silver ramekin of jalapeño aíoli and a deep-fried slab of buttery Yukon Gold ($14.95). I've saved Flow's commendable 8-ounce grilled strip loin ($19.95) for myself. I share its tasty sides of habanero-cranked latke, smooth cherry tomato, red onion and avocado salsa and shredded papaya relish with our shrimp cocktail casualty.
Longo's smart to open Flow soft over the summer. By film festival frenzy, its often inventive kitchen - minus a few duds - should be ready for its close-up.