A couple of years ago, my travel-blogging team had its annual retreat at the InterContinental Hotel in Yorkville. We were treated to a lovely meal in the hotel’s restaurant, Signatures, and I walked away feeling deeply satisfied with the food but overwhelmingly disappointed in the ambiance.
The decor simply didn’t rise up to the level of the cuisine.
Chef Andy (or Andrew Frastacky if we’re being formal) is still heading up all the chef-y goodness at Signatures, and with its new facelift — we’re talking MAJOR surgery here, people — the restaurant and its food now walk hand-in-hand as equals.
So the kind folks invited me back to check out the new look and Chef Andy took the opportunity to dazzle me with his memory, preparing foie gras as one of our dishes because he recalled that I’m somewhat of a fanatic. I invited my friend Sarah from Solo Mom Takes Flight to join me, because she’s fun and funny and appreciates fine dining as much as moi.
OK, hold the phone — Signatures Restaurant is in it to win it. When you walk in now, it’s bright and chic and so very fabulous. They hit the design nail on the head, mixing contemporary with traditional, keeping furniture choices whimsical enough to be interesting but practical for public dining. A lot of the pieces and materials are imported from Italy, and it’s got a style that’s reminiscent of Miami in some ways but with far more charm. With a wall full of windows off to the left, the natural light bursts in to what’s already a bright, airy space. It must be even more glorious with the morning sun during breakfast.
I really like how the design team thought through the layout. There are family-style tables running down the centre of the restaurant, with enough single seating for about a dozen solo travellers or diners who may want to eat alone or saddle up and join a neighbour for coffee and dessert. Then there are the spacious booths, perfect for groups who want the intimacy of a booth but need a few more than four seats. And the sunken lounge-style area, which overlooks the outdoor patio, is spot on for a leisurely glass of wine while you wait for the rest of your party to arrive.
But let’s get down to the food. It’s still fantastic, and Sarah felt the same way I did when I first ate at Signatures: “Why haven’t I ever come here before?”
Chef Andy is a master of interesting flavour and texture combinations. Take the foie gras appetizer, for example, which pairs spiced blueberries, baby basil and lemon pudding with your own personal mini brioche loaf. With foie gras that is cooked to absolute perfection — no small task — you wonder if it’s all going to come together. Oh, does it ever. I actually stopped eating the brioche because the foie gras/blueberry/basil/lemon flavour explosion was so divine all on its own.
I suspect there isn’t a menu that Chef Andy’s touched that isn’t infiltrated with beets. The man LOVES his beets. Good thing I do, too, and was lucky enough to try the beet salad, featuring rye crisps and parsley sorbet with a goat cheese yogurt that was so good I could have eaten a tub of it and walked away quite happy.
Then there was the main: bison. Be still my foodie heart. It was intensely flavourful in all its medium-rare glory and could have been cut with a butterknife. Or may have been, but I was too food drunk to remember. For anyone who’s ever cooked bison, you know how easy it is to quickly overcook it and turn it into leather. This. Was. PERFECT. As was the black rice under it. I have no idea why it’s not listed on Signature’s dinner menu right now, though. Incidentally, this picture just doesn’t do it justice; I took four and not one turned out well — try squinting your eyes in a really bright room, and then add some imagination.
Drinks impressed, too. There’s a very nice wine list but you should really try one of Signature’s artisan cocktails. I can’t even give you the name of the one we had because the bartender made it up for us when we asked for something “tart and not too sweet.” All I know is that there was a bubbly of some sort in it (cava? prosecco?) and these incredible little fruit-flavoured blue “caviar” beads garnishing it.
Considering it’s in a hotel, the prices at Signatures are quite good — $12 to $18 for apps, and mains ringing in between $22 and $36. The food is easily on par with restaurants charging much more. And now that it’s been beautified, you must go to taste for yourself.
I had but one critique the whole night, and that was dessert. Because I’m a big fan of dessert. A connoisseur, if you will. This beautiful-looking, caramel-drizzled number with what I presume was choco-fied Rice Krispies was just too many layers of sweet. I mentioned it to Chef Andy and gently suggested salting the caramel (or maybe it wasn’t so gentle, because I’m not the gentle type exactly). But, folks, that’s it. That’s the only gaffe I can pull out of our four-hour dinner experience at Signatures Restaurant in Toronto’s bustling Yorkville neighbourhood.
DISCLAIMER: The InterContinental Yorkville is part of IHG. I work at IHG’s PR firm, but I do not nor have I ever worked on the IHG business and am in no way obligated to write a review of any kind. All opinions expressed are solely mine — as are the few extra pounds I plan to put on eating at Signatures again very soon! Mmmm…