SCARAMOUCHE (1 Benvenuto, at Avenue Road, 416-961-8011) Complete dinners for $100 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $42. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 5:30 to 9:30 pm. Closed Sunday. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
1981 was a big year for Toronto. It saw the launch of the city's first successful alternative weekly (that would be the magazine you're reading) and the skyrocketing of Scaramouche.
Finally, Hogtown was no longer a culinary backwater.
Sure, Couillard and company were making a splash with fusion on Queen West, but for the old guard's old money, Scaramouche was unlike anything they'd ever encountered.
They called it nouvelle cuisine, the radical technique popularized by Paul Bocuse and his followers that stripped classical French cuisine of its heavy sauces and hauteur.
At its outset, Scaramouche was helmed by two young, idealistic chefs, Jamie Kennedy and his even more iconoclastic colleague Michael Stadtlander. After their departure, Keith Froggett came on board as chef in 83, becoming executive chef and co-owner along with founder Morden Yolles in 95. Today, Froggett's sous, Boban Mathew, wears the white hat.
Scaramouche may have been the most cutting-edge kitchen in town 25 years ago, but does it still fandango in 2006?
A recent visit begins with an amuse consisting of a taro root crisp the size and thickness of a postage stamp tossed with a handful of diced marinated beet, a few strands of chervil cress and a pea shoot or two. Thick slices of house-baked pecan multigrain sop up every gorgeous drop of avocado aoli on the plate.
A starter trio of sashimi tuna ($20) follows. Elegantly plated, it features two tiny triangles of rare pan-seared fish stacked over a puddle of sweet miso, a sliced tortilla-wrapped virtually raw tuna spring roll and a deliriously delicious tartare of tuna strewn with enoki 'shrooms and a sticky sauce made from soy and caramel.
Daffy gets a similar treatment with Duck Three Ways ($22), a wedge of terrific foie gras terrine, a pastrami of cured breast and rillettes of confit leg. A salad of celeriac, arugula and walnuts and a scattering of pickled wild leek and preserved cherries provides further depth charges of flavour.
From a damn-the-expense list of mains that stretches from a blue-plate special of free-range chicken breast roasted with fennel pollen ($32) to lobster sous vide with organic shrimp and citrus risotto ($49), we continue with venison loin ($43) and rack of lamb ($44).
The dear, dear deer arrives fork-tender and roasted in smoked bacon, the plate completed with incredibly seductive potato gnocchi au poivre, grilled squash and wilted greens sauced with a red wine reduction and creamy English mustard, the lot dressed with ribbons of deep-fried parsnip.
The rack finds two hefty chops in a gentle salsa verde crust plated over strips of grilled pepper and eggplant. They share the china with a lovely pearl barley timbale laced with preserved lemon, wilted spinach, black olives, pine nuts, kernels of fresh corn and the occasional kidney bean.
The last of our server-recommended 03 Coteaux du Languedoc (Domaine Grange Philippe, $12 glass/$47 bottle) drained, we take one last look at the room's celebrated skyline view before heading back up its dramatic staircase to retrieve our clapped-out minivan from the valet.
Service has been impeccable, both knowledgeable and assured: we're attended by not one, but two different crumb-scrapers. Despite the staff's efforts, the room is literally chilly and starting to look its age.
But, then, who isn't?