ROSEWATER SUPPER CLUB (19 Toronto, at Adelaide, 416-214-5888) Complete meals for $100 per person ($55 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $35/$15. Open for dinner Monday to Wednesday 5 to 10 pm, Thursday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm, for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Closed Sunday. Access: three steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Launched eight years ago with chef Michael Potters at its helm, the Rosewater Supper Club has been a virtual revolving door for some of the biggest names of the local culinary scene ever since. Chris Klugman, Richard Andino and Marc Thuet have all done time in its kitchen and, once, very briefly, David Chrystian was a sous. But as the flagship of the Liberty Entertainment Group - the club corps responsible for the Courthouse, the Liberty Grand facility at Exhibition Place and the recently overhauled former Left Bank that's now party-central Crystalroom, as well as a slew of other urban hot spots - the Rosewater has always been about spectacle. Located in a dramatic heritage building that dates from the 1850s, it's perhaps more famous for its film festival soirées than for its upscale card, which the Group's Web site modestly describes as "exquisite contemporary global French cuisine."
Now that Thuet is about to jump ship and open an eponymous pied-à-terre on King West, Liberty's long-serving Michael Ewing has been appointed executive chef and Jeffrey Brothers chef. Maybe the team has yet to gel in its new digs, but a pair of recent dinners suggest that, though much of the glamour of old remains, the current kitchen isn't firing on all burners.
There's no question that the Supper Club itself is one of the most opulent rooms in town. We enter into a low-ceiling lounge dominated by a black baby grand set against a backdrop of falling water and a large circular bar surrounded by chic chesterfields and leather club chairs .
A row of rococo columns leads to the rear dining theatre, a soaring space scattered with linen-decked tables and plushly padded chairs. Loud, piped-in happy-hour Dixieland muzak ricochets off the room's uncarpeted parquet floor, destroying any semblance of intimacy. In fact, devoid of the party-hardy cocktail-swilling throng found here during the film festival, Rosewater becomes the faux Hollywood film set it was no doubt intended to be.
To gauge whether the Supper Club's claims that its cuisine is not only "exquisite" but "French" to boot, we start our first meal with a quite respectable onion soup ($9). Beefy, brimming with sweet caramelized onion and topped with a slice of Ace baguette layered with molten Gruyère, the soup teams up with the exceptional house Bavette - gloriously tender, pink-centred skirt, pre-sliced in sugary shallot reduction and sided with cookbook-correct frites dressed with shavings of sharp pecorino ($19) - as part of the lunchtime-only $35 prix fixe.
Our bubble's soon burst by our other lunch, a thin, peppery tarragon-scented consommé strewn with a few chunks of flavour-challeged Nova Scotian lobster, a dice of braised salsify and a few strands of enoki mushrooms ($12/$10 lunch). It's followed by a confit of Muscovy duck ($17 lunch) that's so salty it could do double duty on the wintry streets of Toronto as ice melter. The bed of du pays lentils tweaked with double-smoked bacon and sherry vinaigrette jus that the overly briny bird towers over is rather tasty, though.
To close, we split the pink Rosewater panna cotta that accompanies the $35 prix fixe ($10 à la carte). Despite being topped off by a crisp, jauntily-angled tuille and a diminutive scoop of intense blackberry ice wine sorbet as well as tossed with a handful of tart pomegranate seeds, this is one wan flan. We don't even finish it.
We're back a few days later, and between visits the Rosewater has been decked out in holiday hokum, its previously annoying Dixieland soundtrack replaced with the secular Christmas bellowing of Destiny's Child and Sir Paul McCartney of Wings. But there's nothing kitsch about the kitchen's brilliant starter of bright red sheets of beet-marinated salmon splayed across a parsley-speckled plate that's daubed with maple mustard and piled with a tangle of organic shoots 'n' seedlings ($14/$12).
An al dente main of a half-dozen house-made ravioli stuffed with shredded slow-braised lamb shank ($20/$17) is another stunner. Draped with the odd strand of wilted baby spinach and a couple of oven-exploded cherry tomatoes, they luxuriate in a rich Gorgonzola cream. However, there's no sight of the menu-promised gremolata, but that's just as well, because why would anyone put a garnish of minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic that's traditionally served with osso buco on a pasta such as this?
Polishing off the last of a marvellously dry Niagaran rosé (2003 Malivoire Ladybug Rosé, $9 glass/$36 bottle), we propose the following caveat for Rosewater: go for the glitz but stick to the hits.