Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Frank's Kitchen Toronto Restaurant Review

Gah- what-a-week. Friday was spent in the dungeon of U of T Sociology department (it really is like a dungeon down there) as some colleagues and I feverishly were working away on our Stats assignment. For those of you who have been blessed to avoid stats in their education, I will save you the gruesome details. Just know that I walked home from our session just pining for a drink. TGIF doesn't even begin to encapsulate my sentiment.In anticipation of my exhaustion at the end of a heavy work week, I had made a reservation at Frank's Kitchen on College. I have been wanting to get into FK for a long while now, but you literally have to reserve a table 2-3 weeks in advance on weekends, and often, we are just not organized to do that.  Thankfully, they had room for us at the bar and that was fine with us.  Actually, recently we have been preferring bar seats. I guess we're just at that stage in our relationship (aka. living together) where it's maybe not such a bad thing to have a little outsider stimulation in a 2-3 hour eating window.  We like watching the bartender make drinks. We like chatting it up with other dining guests. This is where we're at and it suits me just fine- it makes it a hell of a lot easier to avoid long wait times in restaurants, I'll tell ya!
Anyways, FK is a medium sized spot with tables set up from the front of the house to the back, where they've got a moderate sized open kitchen.  The decor is warm, cozy, classic and sophisticated. It's not modern or trendy, so I can appreciate that diners of all ages would feel quite at home.
Upon arrival we were sat at the bar and immediately served water and drinks.  Our server (the bartender) was incredibly friendly, playful and professional.  I had heard some chatter online about the rude, indifferent service at FK but I can happily say I was more than impressed with the warmth.
I started with the Muddled blueberry peach bellini (I know, a B*tch drink, but it's Friday and what I say goes) which was refreshing and surprisingly,  not too sweet.  The other half ordered an Old Fashion (which is not actually on the menu), which in contrast, was just plain bad.  Our dear bartender had a colleague whip it up, and while the garnishing was right, it ended up just being a shot of booze in an entire glass of club soda. Watery and not great. Thankfully, our bartender then recruited another staff member to re-do the order, and what we got was perfect (burnt orange rind and all!). Here, I will also just briefly mention that I also enjoyed their Berry Social (raspberry vodka, muddled mint, blackberries, lime, soda and simple syrup)- it was well balanced, sweet, tangy, and refreshing.  While I did find the drink menu a little ill-suited to the season, it all seemed suited to my palate, nonetheless.
Moving onto food, Frank's is pretty generous with the complementary courses, especially today when I find myself even having to pay for bread. This is what we tasted:

Brioche with Black Sesame, Parmesan Baguette, Pesto Focaccia with Roasted Red Pepper Tapenade, House Cured Olives

Admittedly, I'm not sure where my picture of the bread went, so I had to find this one on someones foodspotting (Santolin)

 A delicious way to start the meal.  All of the housemade breads were delicious, with my favourite being the focaccia. It was chewy, salty and soft, and paired nicely with the sweetness of the tapenade.  I was a bit disappointed in the brioche, as I found it a little dry (and with all that butter, come on, it should never be dry!)

Amuse: Potato Leek Soup with Goat Cheese Croquette and Tomato Cucumber Salad

I could have made a meal out of those croquettes all on their own. I loved it's tangy and salty character against the sweetness of the tomato salad.  The soup, however, left a lot to be desired. While the texture was fine, it had an unusual fishy aroma.  And no, I'm not an idiot, I assume there were no fish products in the soup, but it's smell was mildly unsettling.

Oysters Rockefeller (6 oysters baked with spinach, bacon and hollandaise)

I'm not an Oysters Rockefeller expert, but I've had it a number of times, and this version was merely okay.  It lacked the sumptuousness I think we all have come to expect whenever hollandaise gets thrown into a recipe. Now, the oysters that had an abundance of bacon on them were great, but that was because I was just tasting crispy, smokey bacon and nothing really else.  But the hollandaise was otherwise a bit flat, and took down the rest of the dish.

Seared Foie Gras and Quail Breast with Kumquat Salad

This was a delicious  starter. The quail breast was seared perfectly, rendering a super crispy, well seasoned skin.  The foie gras was also cooked perfectly.  Both rich proteins were cut by the bold acidity of the kumquat salad.  It seems like it's been a while since I have had foie gras, so I'm happy I wasn't disappointed.

Intermezzo: Kalamansi Lime Sorbet with Basil

Exactly what a palate cleanser should be. Bright, refreshing and aromatic.

Kobe Beef Short Ribs, with Sweet Pea puree, Heirloom Slaw and Horseradish Sauce

 The short ribs were succulent, rich and tender, and juxtaposed nicely by the sweet peas and the spicy horseradish.  My favourite part of the dish was by far the crunchy, sour slaw, which was beautifully composed with immaculate attention to seasoning and good quality ingredients.  I was also pleasantly surprised that under the moisture of the slaw, the light and crispy onion rings managed to maintain their integrity. My only criticism would be that when eaten without a generous swipe in the sauce, the beef itself was a bit bland and could have used a bit more pepper and salt.

Orange and Cocoa Nib crushed Duck Breast with Cipollini onions, French Beans, Crisp Parmesan Polenta, in a Tarragon and Foie Gras Jus

I would say of the two mains, this one was the star.  The duck was cooked to a perfect medium rare, with a crispy delicious skin.  Though the duck could have easily stood alone, the sauce was gorgeously complex, with sweet, acidic and slightly bitter qualities, and helped cut some of those rich qualities.  And that polenta, oh dear. I have a thing for salty, seared polenta, that even an already overwhelmed with richness palate cannot deny.  While I only got to enjoy a small portion of it, I savoured every bite.

Plum Tarte Tatin with Chai Ice Cream and Caramel Syrup

Good, but nothing great.  While I love tarte tatin, I really do prefer a flakier puff pastry crust, and felt that this one was just a vehicle for the caramelized fruit on top.  The chai ice cream was spicy and sweet, and paired beautifully with the mildly bitter notes of the caramelized plums.

Housemade chocolate truffles

I am not a chocolate lover, but I enjoyed these.  They were lusciously smooth, and pleasingly sweet.

So after a little socializing with our neighbours at the bar, a little dessert wine and cappuccinos (which, for the record, were amazing. I didn't photograph, but the foam was sky high!), the bill came to about $200 including tax and tip (so thats 2 apps, 2 mains, 1 dessert, 3 cocktails, 1 wine, 2 capps).  Pretty reasonable in my opinion, but the question is, would I return?  I guess it depends who I was dining with. Everything I tasted at FK was surely good, but if we're talking about mind-blowing innovation, it's probably not top on my revisit list. The fact that the server had to explicitly point out which options on the menu were "the most unique" speaks to the elemental nature of the menu.  But sometimes that is what I am looking for.  I mean, if you were looking to take someone out for a nice meal (and you knew about it 3 weeks in advance) and you wanted something reliably safe, and good, then FK would be a good bet.  But because it is a little more pricey, and the menu doesn't seem to change too often, I can't see myself going out of the way to make this a usual haunt.  

Abbey Sharp


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  2. Thanks for the feedback, Williaum!

  3. We went to Franks Kitchen and really loved it. I do agree with your statement about the elemental nature of the menu, but we thought everything was very well done and service top notch. Great special occasion spot. I do think the mains were much better than the apps we had.

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  4. Thanks Dara! Would love to hear more about your TO tastespotting!

  5. Thanks for your great blogs Abbey,as a fellow foodie and insider, (work in the industry) I read them all the time! I have to say though that I don't get the part about Frank's Kitchen having a reputation for rude and indifferent service?! Every single review I've read (professional and other) have said the exact opposite!! I've never seen so many reviews for any restaurant mentioning how awesome the service is. Yeah among the many reviews written there was a tiny percentage of unhappy people, but that's bound to happen. I spend a lot of time reading restaurant reviews and blogs etc,and of all the ones I've read the same terms are always used in reference to FK's service...warm, friendly, knowledgeable, passionate and unpretentious...over and over again. Which is what you found yourself when you were there.I loved your whole commentary on the food, but think that the comment about on line chat is really a misrepresentation. I think if you had the chance to read more on them, you would see that the discontent are isolated and very few in comparison to how many people love the service there! Anyway, keep up the good work, love your stuff!

  6. Totally agree with Saul! I have no idea where you got that impression from reviews on line, this restaurant is very well known for it's high level of service. Any time me and my friends have been, it's obvious so much effort goes into the service part of it. When you have a 100 plus reviews on sites like trip advisor, yelp, urbanspoon plus actual reviewers all saying the same thing...I don't think it's right to zone in on the very small percentage of pissed off people. (who knows what really happened) You have a voice that people follow and with that comes responsiblity to research properly. Can't be careless when it comes to people's reputation and businesses. Sorry for being harsh but your way off on this one. Not to mention your own experience showed what the majority of people have said..."warm, funny,,,etc, service. ??

  7. Hey there,
    I appreciate your feedback- I definitely did have great service, which is what I spoke to in the post.
    I apologize if I offended anyone, and I admit that I do not (and can not) read every single online post related to every restaurant I visit. However, my comment was in reference to the site I use most often for reviews (CHOWHOUND.COM) as I know and trust many of the contributors. Furthermore, this was a relatively recent post so it was fresh in my mind from having previously read it.
    Here is the post I am referring to: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/709190

    Regardless, like I said. MY experience was a good one, and that to me, is the most important aspect of my review.

    Abbey :)

    1. Hey Abbey, I read the chowhound posts as well, as I find them quite accurate. But again if you go to the top of the link, there are SO MANY good ones, and such a small proportion of negative ones. Did you check out all or any of the reviews in the newspapers and magazines for point of reference, they all mention wonderful service. It just seems unfair. I'm advocating for them because I'm a big fan and when I am there I can see all the attention to detail and care that goes into everything. Not to mention the review that you are referring to didn't even stay for dinner, because she didn't like her seats! Service is made up of so many things during a 2 1/2 hour meal... how could they determine good service from bad? From what I could understand, they were the only seats left at the bar, and the hostess was trying to say for next time, when you make the reso, just specify that you want to be away from the door and they can arrange it. (so it doesn't happen again to them) Earlier reso's beat them to the good seats, it happens in a busy restaurant. No reason to be slammin' the service. Anyway thanks so much for responding so quickly, I do really like your blog.

  8. Hi Saul,

    I would probably agree with you, but I didnt personally slam the service, I commended it. That's really what matters within the context of my blog. In response to that one person's unfortunate experience, another person responded that they had similar issues. No, they did not get into it, and no, I didn't question it. Perhaps I should have dug, but I was willing to just see for myself how the service (and food) really was. And so I did, and it was great!
    As for if I read the other reviews.. yes, I did. However, I do tend to give more weight to the most recent reviews in contrast to really old ones which may not reflect what's going on now as well.
    Anyways, the bottom line is that I didn't expect such a small comment to cause such a controversy as it was not my opinion anyways. Regardless, I will try to keep this in mind when I'm making reference to other opinions on restaurants in the future.
    Thanks for reading!