Tag Archives: Drake Hotel

Summer School In Session at the Drake Hotel

24 Jun

Drake Hotel Hot Dog

Jenny and I make no secret of the fact we love Toronto’s Drake Hotel. It’s a great place to see a band, or meet friends for a couple of drinks, or go for a great brunch (I could eat their southern-fried chicken and waffles every day if not for the fact it would probably eventually stop my heart), or for dinner. Aside from the talented staff behind the bar and in the kitchen, the Drake has a vibe that just makes it a special place.

We’ve always loved the look and feel of their dining room. So it came as a surprise a couple months ago when they announced they were going to rip out the current dining room and start from scratch. The trigger for this drastic change was the Drake Hotel’s Dining Road Show, a series of here-and-then-gone concepts that are scheduled to be introduced throughout the rest of 2011.

I was lucky to get an invite to a preview dinner this week, where the Drake unveiled its first stop on the Dining Road Show: Summer School Dining Hall. The concept, which in true summer school fashion will run from now until September, saw the dining room completely transformed. Tables are made from old bowling alley lanes, walls are lined with old bookshelves, school photos, trophies and other academia memorabilia. I was too busy focusing on the food (and having camera issues), so I didn’t get any good interior shots, but check out this review for a look at the new digs.

Both the food and drink menus have been revamped as well. Chef Anthony Rose designed the new food offerings to remind diners of some of the food they may have eaten in the school cafeteria, but he’s presenting the dishes in the “grown-up comfort food” style he’s mastered over the years. We were served a rather shocking amount of food (I’ve actually left photos of a few dishes we tasted out of this post), and there were some definite must-order items: the rather-phallic-yet-delicious veal footlong dog pictured above; a lobster roll full of big chunks of lobster meat and substantial enough to share between two or more people; meaty dungeness crab cakes that are big on flavour and low on filler; and an insanely good 32-oz cowboy steak from Cumbrae’s that’s meant for two but easily able to feed at least double that.

Drake Hotel Lobster Roll
Chef Anthony Rose’s 1 lb. lobster roll. Awesome, if maybe a bit heavy on the mayo.
Drake Hotel Crab Cakes
Drake’s crab cakes, full of dungeness crab meat. Yum.
Drake Hotel Cowboy Steak
One piece of the massive 32-oz Cumbrae’s cowboy steak being served at the Drake Hotel’s Summer School Dining Hall. Check out that line of delicious, delicious fat. To paraphrase one famous cowboy, I wish I knew how to quit you, awesome steak.

The Drake’s talented mixology team has introduced a number of new drinks to fit the Summer School theme, from spiked juice boxes to something called The Nurse’s Office, a combination of Famous Grouse, Laphroaig and ginger honey syrup that blew my socks off and made me reconsider my “good scotch doesn’t belong in a cocktail” pretense.

Nurse's Office
This is one Nurse’s Office I’d like to visit on a regular basis.

Once September hits and the kids go back to real school, the Drake’s grown-up summer school session ends and the Dining Road Show’s next stop – Chinatown, 1940s L.A. style – moves in. Until then, check out the great grub being served in their Summer School Dining Hall. 

Tomato Alphabet soup
Tomato alphabet soup. No amount of letters could fix my hatred of tomato soup as a kid, but this one (served tableside out of an old-school thermos) may have changed my mind.

 

Drake Hotel Flaky
Nothing beats a real Vachon Passion Flaky, but chef Rose’s take is a good way to end a meal in the Summer School Dining Hall.

Anthony Bourdain in Toronto

30 Sep

Anthony Bourdain was in Toronto last week promoting his new book, Medium Raw. While his main speaking event was held at Massey Hall, Toronto cook and food media personality extraordinaire Ivy Knight organized and hosted a private event at  the Drake Hotel the night before where food writers, Food Network celebs, and local chefs and kitchen staff members of some of Toronto’s best restaurants got the chance to interact with Bourdain. Jenny and I were lucky to get an invite to the event, which gave us an up close and personal look at Bourdain in his natural environment. Our camera battery unfortunately chose this exact moment to kill itself rather than be used by us (cue obscure Young Ones reference), but I managed to track down some great shots, taken for the Drake Hotel by Connie Tsang.

The Drake, as usual, served up a great spread, with Bourdain-esque things like roast pig and foie gras sandwiches, as well as sushi and a spread of Canadian cheeses. But as star-struck and happy as we were eating great food surrounded by food luminaries including David Rocco, Kevin Brauch and Vancouver’s Vikram Vij, I think the coolest thing was hearing Bourdain speak, seeing him interact with (mostly awe-struck) fellow chefs and food writers, and realizing how Bourdain is as down-to-earth is in real life as he seems in his books and on TV.

Bourdain talked about how he still feels lucky – ten years after his first book, Kitchen Confidential, turned him into a celebrity – to be doing what he does for a living. He also made a point of emphasizing that while that book was about his experiences in New York City’s restaurant kitchens, he’s no longer a chef. “A chef has callouses on his hands, and goes home smelling of onions and garlic. They have beef fat underneath their fingernails, and when they wake up in the morning it hurts. That’s not my life anymore.” He also said the birth of his daughter changed him – gone are the leather jacket and the earring.

Bourdain said his new book emphasizes these shifts in his focus, while also making it clear that one of his passions hasn’t changed: he still loves food, and he still gets cranky when faced with bad food or people who don’t respect food.

Bourdain told the crowd that while he’s quite comfortable in Montreal, he wasn’t that familiar with Toronto’s food scene. But apparently the exposure to the city’s passionate chefs and food writers left a mark; he announced at the Massey Hall speaking event that he’s planning to add Toronto to the season 8 lineup of No Reservations. So we’ll probably be seeing Bourdain back in Hogtown soon.

Where do you think Anthony Bourdain should visit for a Toronto episode of No Reservations?

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