Wish-ful Thinking

Forgettable food doesn't augur well for chic lounge


WISH (3 Charles East, at Yonge, 416-935-0240) This laughably luxe lounge is a great spot to knock back pricey cocktails at a fashionably late hour. As an exercise in fine dining, the menu reads great, but the execution is half-hearted and under-heated. Complete dinners for $60 per person ($25 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open Sunday and Monday 11 am to 1 am, Tuesday through Saturday 11 am to 2 am. Brunch Saturday and Sunday. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NN


what do zelda’s, kubo and wish have in common? All three might be fun places to booze, schmooze ‘n’ cruise, but none of them are known for their food. It’s a shame about Wish, a stylish lounge re-launch on the site of II Chez, the recently deceased 24-7 muffin and tuna-melt emporium that never closed, until it finally did this spring.Initial Wish buzz sounded promising. Word had it that the room, though small, now sported a sophisticated look totally at odds with its location a few steps away from dollar stores on Yonge. And foodies looked forward to a menu conceived by former Zinc chef and rising star Mook Sutton. He lasted a week in the spot’s tiny kitchen before hightailing it back to his native New Zealand.

Wish owners Renda Abdo and Remy Abdo — who also own the nearby and perennially popular 7 West — installed Peter McNight, a young chef with not much of a track record except for some hotel and catering experience. But the menu reads like a dream. How can things go wrong with stuff like mustard-and-thyme-crusted rack of lamb with potato rosti and tarragon jus ($25)?

Horribly, it seems.

But let’s back up a bit. At first glance, Wish’s decor has a high wow factor. Walls, ceiling and floors are all washed in taupe — the new beige — and a high-backed ultrasuede banquette runs along one wall. As you sink into it, the first thing you notice is that your dining partner sitting across the bare maple table towers over you.

The longer you look at Wish’s forced luxury — champagne buckets, fake-fur throws tossed ever-so-casually here and there, distressed French doors leading to a terrace decked out in clear Plexiglas patio furniture — the more laughably late-90s it seems.

And where is everybody? During all three of our visits, the place is virtually empty. Perhaps the fabulosi Wish is aiming for show up fashionably late, after midnight. Maybe that’s why the bored wait staff spend so much time making sure the CD player, blasting out the kind of tired house you’d hear at Woody’s, is loud enough. And because we’re often the only customers, service is from the sit-in-your-lap school: overly fawning.

All this silliness would be tolerable if Wish paid as much attention to the food it serves as it does to the surroundings. At lunch, Moroccan lamb burger finds a nicely grilled medium-rare patty reclining on a kaiser spread with sweet potato purée and layered with a pineapple ring. And the menu-described “montage” (!) of extremely al dente grilled veggies gets dressed with a tasty brush of basil oil and pomegranate molasses (both $10). Not bad at all.

Dinner is a lukewarm disaster. It starts with a very beige pumpkin- purée soup sprinkled with pecans ($8) that gets boring halfway through. And though steam rises from it, it’s cool inside. Tricky, that. A trio of skewered shrimp satay ($9) also arrive at room temperature.

Lovely, pink-centred muscovy duck breast shows up on top of a nearly inedible, over-salted, undercooked white bean “ragout.” The duck’s accompanying sour cherry compote comes wrongly plated underneath the beans.

I laugh out loud at Salmon Wellington, again a perfectly grilled piece of flesh, but served lying inside a stone-cold upright puff pastry inner tube. Both dishes come garnished with a superfluous branch of pea shoots (both $24) and unfathomably tepid sides that suggest assembly rather than cooking.

We ask if desserts are made on the premises and our overly attentive server proudly announces that Wish has its own pastry chef. We bite. Going by their lemon tart ($5), Wish has nothing to be proud of.

Making a reservation for brunch, I’m told, is not necessary. We soon learn why there are Sunday noon lineups at almost every eatery downtown except Wish. Three vaguely lemony ricotta-stuffed blintzes come sided with a slew of tired berries. I go for eggs Benedict (both $8). Our server soon returns from consulting with the chef. Would I mind if bacon gets substituted for smoked ham? Do I have a choice? Er, no.

What kind of restaurant doesn’t have ham on hand for Sunday brunch?

An empty one.

stevend@nowtoronto.com

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