Summerlicious 2011: North 44°

31 Jul
Hooray for being officially emancipated from summer school! I may finally feel guilt-free about writing stuff other than global development or psychology papers, so here is the very belated review of my experience at North 44–delayed gratification can be a good thing too.
North 44, named after the city’s latitude, seemed like an attractive option for Summerlicious to me because…

a. it’s opened and run by Executive Chef Mark McEwan. Other than also opening Bymark, which is another Toronto landmark, he’s also on food network shows like Restaurant Makeover. That, and I’ve seen the man cook ribs with a white turtleneck on–McEwan is a badass chef.

b. Although its mid-town location is a bit nosebleed to be a hollywood celebrity stomping ground per se, it’s still quite well known to locals and tourists. Quite often, it also known to be graced with the company of local celebs like the chick on CityPulse our moms like.

Having recently been renovated, North44 definitely fits the bill for somewhere you’d take the boss you want to impress, a worthy date, or just a sophisticated affair with some friends. I’m a sucker for soft lighting, wrap around mirrors and candlelight. The spare, yet impactful collection of contemporary art decor was a nice touch but the focus of the room was definitely the open kitchen. Behind the glass partition, you can see the super young and dare I say, sexy chefs putting on their best culinary acts. Dinner and theatre!

Look how close we are! And with the corner sofa seats, this was definitely one of the best tables in the house, in my opinion.

Yes, it is just bread. But look at the pouch, and the butter balls had dimples all over them like golf balls do. How cute!

Sweet-pea ravioli with min, sage, brown butter and crushed pecans.

Derricious, a little on the sweet side for some people but I thought it was entirely balanced by the woodsy flavour of the sage and pecan. I couldn’t help but think of frozen peas as I was eating this, but it’s not bad thing, quite comforting in fact. Frozen peas are better than fresh peas in every respect unless you are literally picking the peas off the vine and de-shelling them within minutes. Otherwise, the flash-freeze process does the job of keeping flavour from deteriorating crazy fast. 

Note to self: make this for myself and housemates when I accidentally buy sweet peas instead of the regular peas and do not know what to do with them.

Red and green pear salad with endive, blue goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette 
The star here was definitely the sherry vinaigrette which carried the tartness of the pears really nicely. Flavours in the salad get along surprisingly well with each other, I didn’t think I would like cheese with pears but neither of them drew too much attention to themselves, it was really easy to taste the salad as a complete whole.
Steak tartare and fresh country toast with fried capers, grainy mustard piped on the side.
love me some minced raw meat and as far as this dish was concerned, the quality of the beef was great enough to make an awesome tartare. I thought it was a little under-marinated and hence, lacking in flavour at first. But it actually made sense because with the mustard and capers riding shotgun, it was exactly perfect.

Roasted chicken with spinach risotto, heirloom carrots and natural jus

Looks pretty good right? In fact, looks pretty juicy doesn’t it? Except my camera just added like 10 pounds of attractiveness to this dry hunk of chicken. Yes, it was sub-par and I’m not even surprised because roast chicken always disappoints. Even McEwan can’t work miracles because roasting a chicken is just about the worst thing you can do to a bird, and I will stubbornly insist that to my dying day (unless magically proven otherwise). There are so many better ways to treat chicken, why you so cruel?! On top of which, it’s sitting on a bed of undercooked and over seasoned risotto. It’s really too bad because the appetizers were so good and so creative.


Pan seared halibut with tempura onion rings, bok choy and miso sauce

This, I quite liked. Halibut was well cooked, though it could have been taken off the heat a bit sooner but that’s just my personal preference for fish on the raw side. I’m not quite sure the asian inspired flavours really came through because the miso sauce ended up tasting more like beurre blanc (emulsified butter sauce). Which meant the bok choy was hilariously random and out of place. Overall though, it was still quite good!


Aftermath of the third main course.

I really hope you didn’t guess it was anything other than steak, because that’s disgusting.

6oz tenderloin with Ontario asparagus and roasted potatoes

A pretty good cut and done on the rare side of medium-rare. It was pretty juicy as you can see but one should never fear a ‘bloody’ steak because the more juices there is, the more flavour. Also, the redness you see is not actually blood, which is a common misconception that seems to cause people to ask for their steak cooked anything more than medium rare–one of my biggest pet peeves is when people say they don’t like steak because it’s too dry, well that’s because you friggin asked for medium (!!!), aka cremated cow.


Banana strudel with chocolate ice cream and sponge toffee

Okay, I had my hopes up for this strudel because when I hear strudel, I think of strudel a la Quentin Tarantino. Ever since seeing Inglorious Basterds, I’ve always loved the idea of strudel because it makes me think of that awesome sequence between Hans Landa and Shoshana eating it together (my autocorrect just tried to convince me I meant to say “shoeshine” instead of Shoshana). I can just imagine her cutting into the flaky pastry and scooping up that ridiculously good looking cream.

This however was not that kind of strudel. Didn’t mean it was bad, in fact the banana flavour was quite intense and fresh and the pool of chocolate sauce on the bottom was so yummy. Alas, I will have my classic cinematic strudel some other day.

I Minted melon salad with seasonal ice.

I was like, what the fuck is ‘seasonal ice’ but as it turned out, it was just sorbet–we had a good laugh. It was pretty good, melons were quite fresh and I believe the sorbet was raspberry.


Summer peach upside down cake with sour cream ice cream

The most interesting thing about this dessert was the sour cream ice cream and I would describe it as very similar to eating frozen creme fraiche. The cake itself was very light and fluffy, not too dense at all and the peach flavour was definitely there.

So, my verdict for North44 would be “worthwhile” and particularly “great atmosphere”. For $45 a person, it was a reasonable meal.
I would say to come during non-summerlicious season so you can get some of the more inventive items on the menu.
Now that Summerlicious is over, I think that as a whole, the festival really does have its pros and cons. For those who just want an excuse to try some of Toronto’s star culinary destinations, it’s a bargain because of the fixed prices. But if you really want to try the best a restaurant has to offer, Summerlicious has too many city-sanctioned restriction to allow anything too inventive. As a result, most restaurants end up showcasing their three basic proteins (fish, beef, and chicken). So that’s it for summerlicious 2011..
Until next time!
Eating: Salmon teriyaki bento box
Craving: a hot hearty stew (I don’t care it’s August)



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