RUBY WATCHCO (730 Queen East, at Broadview, 416-465-0100, rubywatchco.ca) Complete prix fixe dinners for $80 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 6 to 10 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms on same floor. Reservations recommended.
Lynn Crawford clearly has a lot on her plate.
Ruby Watchco brings her back to the Toronto resto scene after four years as executive chef at New York's legendary Four Seasons. Her new spot is set to launch in five days in the Riverside space that used to be Rodney Bowers's Citizen, and there's still much to do.
"All of our tableware has just arrived," sighs Crawford. "It's hilarious. There are nine of us unloading the truck. We should be shooting this."
Crawford's referring to her other gigs as the star of the Food Network's Pitchin' In and Restaurant Makeover. In an irony that even Alanis Morissette could appreciate, the kitchen magician helped overhaul Citizen for a Makeover episode a few years ago, and here she is doing it all over again. How lucky is that?
"I know!" laughs Crawford, whose culinary CV includes familiar names like Winston's, the Elmwood and Messis. "I should have bought a lottery ticket."
"And how fortunate am I to work with Cherie Stinson?" says the Toronto-born chef of her designer and Ruby Watchco partner, who also appears on Restaurant Makeover. "She has a very sophisticated palate."
So it's goodbye to Brenda Bent's "Tim Burton goes art deco" Citizen look and hello to Stinson's "warmth, comfort and fun." To get the effect, Crawford has hung walls painted various shades of chocolate and butterscotch with strategically placed mirrors to make the narrow eatery look twice the size. And the curbside patio's been ripped out, replaced by a wall of glass that opens to the street. All very well, but did the former Yabu Pushelberg associate make the Citizen's notoriously tiny kitchen any larger?
"Of course not," Crawford laughs.
She's also brought Lora Kirk on board. Kirk - who worked with Angela Hartnett at Gordon Ramsay's Connaught in London - replaced Crawford at the Four Seasons here in Toronto in 2006 when Crawford left for the big time in the Big Apple. So who'll be in charge, then?
"There are no labels, none whatsoever," Crawford laughs. "Lora's the head chef and I'm the chef, or whatever. The kitchen's too small!" Ruby Watchco's menu is unlike anything Toronto has seen before - unless Toronto's been to Alice Waters's Chez Panisse or Barbara Tropp's China Moon Café in Berkeley, California. Crawford has, having apprenticed with the locavore Loreleis back in the 80s.
"It's a chef-driven and market-driven menu," Crawford says. "We're going to have four set courses. An appetizer, the main course, a cheese course and dessert, but changing every day. And no à la carte. This gives Lora and me the opportunity to showcase our local farmers and growers. Chefs are only as good as the products they use."
One of Crawford's initial $49 cards starts with a salt-baked pear and mizuna salad tossed with sun-dried cranberries, Grand Chevalier goat cheese and "torn" croutons before moving on to lemon-roasted chicken sided with Carron Farms' rainbow carrots, Cookstown greens and Brussels sprouts of no particular provenance. A course of Thunder Oak Gouda, beet marmalade and grilled caraway toasts is followed by something call a "Hot Chocolate Mess." Peanuts and sponge toffee are involved.
"Honestly, it's all about sharing the table with family and friends," says Crawford, who recalls as a child peeling potatoes for supper with her father because Mom had to work. "There are no bells and whistles."
"I had a wonderful, amazing, fantastic career with the Four Seasons," Crawford continues. "And 24 years! Isn't that a big chunk? But guess what? It's time for another chapter."
"Working with a brigade of 70 under you, you're further away from the stoves than you may like to be. I'm getting back to what I love and what I think I do best. I can't wait to cook again!"
Lynn Crawford's current series, Pitchin' In, can be seen Saturdays at noon, 6 pm and 4 am and Mondays at noon on the Food Network. Reruns of Restaurant Makeover air on Food Thursdays at 7 am, noon, 8 and 11 pm.
PHOTO: DAVID HAWE • HAIR AND MAKE-UP BY TAYLOR BORRIS FOR TRESEMMÉ HAIR CARE/JUDYINC.COM