THE KEG (165 York, at Richmond West, 416-703-1773, and others) Complete steak dinners for $65 per person ($50 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 4 pm, for dinner Monday to Thursday 4 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 4 pm to midnight, Sunday 4 to 10 pm. Bar till close. Average main: $25/$20. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Confession: There was a time when I keggered a lot. But Kegging is something quite different. Suburban steakhouses are just not a big part of my culinary vocabulary. But after noticing that Vancouver-based chain the Keg has taken over the abandoned downtown Movenpick location on York, I mention to my personal assistant that maybe we should expand our horizons. I'm surprised by the response.
"Mmmmm, the Keg!"
Mind you, this is the same person who reacts to the news that we're out of cat food with "Mmmmm, Dominion!"
We make a date for later in the week, but first I visit solo. From the street, the newest Keg - a black, two-storey brutalist shell fronted with impenetrable glass - looks as menacing as Darth Vader, but once through its revolving door, I find a chic supper club vibe. Queuing Bay Street suits scramble at the front desk for the last available table in the dining room. I guess greed does stimulate the appetite.
I bypass the line and make a right at the roaring fireplace (do fireplaces do anything but?) and take a far-corner table in the 200-some-seat lounge. I sink back into the high-backed olive velour banquette, quickly scan the plastic-laminated card of steakhouse standards and make my selection.
The room soon fills with animated stock broker shop talk as all eyes simultaneously focus on the ticker scrawling across several high-def plasma TVs. Several all-in-black servers race about the high-ceilinged room, barely keeping up with the lunchtime rush, while indiscernible muzak (kazoos? ducks?) wafts in the background.
Wrapped in a black napkin, a wrought-iron basket holding an oval loaf of doughy house-baked bread appears. Well, at least its warm, and the butter's spreadable, not hard as a rock straight out of the fridge.
After sampling a slice in the line of duty, I feed no further, feeling guilty for wasting the rest. The regret is short-lived as an obvious bread-basket leftover has morphed into the crust beneath the molten Swiss of my scalding French onion soup starter. We'll meet again when the bread appears as croutons on the Keg's very pedestrian anchovy-challenged Caesar salad (both $4.95), which also comes as an optional side with many of the mains.
The smallest steak on offer, my 7-ounce filet mignon ($22.95/ $24.95) arrives as tender as menu-touted and medium-rare as requested. Redundantly wrapped in a strip of off-putting "pepper" bacon and accompanied by a metallic-tasting Béarnaise, the puck-sized steak would be better unfettered.
Unabashedly not-frites fries and a puff-pastry shell lined with a rosemary-flecked Mediterranean-style stir-fried ratatouille complete the plating.
After eating more food in an hour than I normally would in two days, and a very long wait for the bill, I head back to the Test Kitchen for an afternoon nap.
I feel unusually sluggish for the next day or two and put it down to all that red meat and rich starch. I'm not really looking forward to my second visit, but I've promised my PA a lunch. We find the same door scene, but this time we're able to secure a seat in the more exclusive dining room.
From the couldn't-make-this-up-if-I-tried department: the first tune to shuffle through the CD player? Bamboleo by those damned Gipsy Kings. As if I haven't suffered enough.
Our capable bistro-apronned server introduces himself - back at ya, Glen - before rattling off the daily specials. The PA's not interested; she's got her heart set on the Keg's prime rib (8-ounce $15.95/$17.95, 10-ounce $17.95/$19.95, 12-ounce $21.95/$23.95). But first we'll begin with a shared Mushroom Neptune ($7.45), Glen's favourite starter, we're informed.
We're promptly served a ceramic snail plate containing a six-pack of rubbery button mushroom caps over-filled with a vapid cream-cheese-and-"crab" mix that could have been squeezed from a tube. And though the whole thing's been browned, the 'shrooms are stone cold.
My Keg burger ($9.95 lunch only) finds more processed "pepper" bacon and a melting Velveeta-grade slice of cheddar topping a very dry patty of undisclosed weight (4 ounces, but I'm not carrying my scales, so that's an educated guess) sided with that decidedly ordinaire Caesar.
After a half-hour wait, the PA's prime, ordered somewhere in between medium-rare and rare, finally arrives. It's so rare I'm shocked it doesn't moo, the ring of fat that runs around the edge of the pink slab of roast beef virtually raw.
"It took all this time to cook a 10-ounce piece of meat for 30 seconds?" the PA asks Glen, who immediately apologizes and returns it to the kitchen for an upgrade. After another delay, it's back and edible, sided with barely there garlic mashed potatoes and skinny battered 'n' deep-fried onion threads that grow cold almost instantly despite having been heated twice. An anemic Worcestershire-like dip and proper grated horseradish accompany.
Sensing our displeasure, Glen suggests a comped dessert. Asked if they're baked on the premises, he seems rather chuffed that "we bring them in!" We choose chocolate mousse cake ($5.95) - another of Glen's favourites, we learn - a squiggled commercial effort that's big enough to serve a preteen birthday party.
Clearly, in these Atkins-crazed days, everyone's here for the beef. Proof? I overhear someone order the Steak Salad ($11.95) with double dressing on the side. But if the Keg wants to go head-to-head with the barons of beef - nearby Hy's, Harbour 60 and Ruth's Chris - it's going to need to significantly increase both floor and kitchen staff. Those power suits who frequent the joint need to get back to the office before the stock market's last bell. email@example.com