From car wash to carte blanche
Renowned Toronto-born director Ivan Reitman is joined by chef Jonathan Waxman in opening a new resto for cinephiles
“This is meant to be the place that’s my hangout away from home in California.”
Despite its new cachet as ground zero for celebrity-spotting during TIFF, the area around the Bell Lightbox has surprisingly few good places to eat.
Ivan Reitman, the influential Toronto-raised director and producer known for a string of 1980s comedies, including
Ghostbusters, is getting into the restaurant business and hoping to change that.
Reitman’s father, who brought the family to Canada after the Second World War, bought a car wash in the area 40 years ago, and Reitman and his sisters remain part owners of a good chunk of land there. The family and the Daniels Corporation donated the ground on which TIFF Bell Lightbox now stands and the downtown block surrounding it has just been dubbed Reitman Square.
“I’m very proud of what’s happened there and how exciting it is,” says Reitman.
He has teamed up with chef Jonathan Waxman, who owns Barbuto in Manhattan’s West Village, and Toronto-based Innov8 Hospitality to open a new joint at Adelaide and John.
Called Montecito, after the iconic Californian town in which Reitman now lives, the restaurant is going to be a beast of a thing, covering 12,000 square feet, seating 280 guests and having a dining room and two bars.
Although there will also be a private dining room for those who like to eat away from the crowds, Reitman is promising a restaurant that’s “not so elegant that you don’t feel you can go there on a Tuesday night with your friends.”
Montecito will offer a daily changing menu of simple, honest California cuisine — with Canadian ingredients.
“The thing I love about California is there are no rules,” says Waxman who, although he currently lives in New York, says he’s a Cali boy at heart.
“The influences I grew up with were very Italian, French and Mexican, but the synthesis is very simple, seasonal food,” notes Waxman.
Reitman and Waxman have known each other for years, having first met in Los Angeles when the chef was running Michael’s, a spot near Santa Monica beach that became known for its good food and relaxed atmosphere.
“There’s a tendency to show off too much, and I think that’s one of the reasons I love Jonathan Waxman’s food,” says Reitman.
Diners at Montecito can expect lots of slabs of meat done on a charcoal grill with some veggies. Waxman is known for his chicken, and it is certain to make an appearance on the menu. At Barbuto, he serves a grilled halfchicken with salsa verde, and, although he hasn’t pinned down what he will do with it in Toronto, yet, Waxman says it will be “something simple.”
The California inspiration will, of course, find expression in a menu packed with greenery. Waxman hesitates to use the word “healthy” — presumably wary of conjuring images of yoga pants–wearing L.A. types clutching their cleansing smoothies — but he does mention kale salad and shaved asparagus with olive oil as potential dishes. Nodding to Toronto’s current passion for relaxed dining, there’ll also be good slate of sharing plates and small dishes.
Mostly, however, he seems excited by the seafood he’s hoping to get his hands on, calling the Arctic char in Canada “the greatest in the world.” He’s also planning on tapping the bounty of P.E.I.
“We will probably plunder everything from P.E.I. — all the mussels and scallops and all those great things from P.E.I., which I adore, but it’s hard for me to get in N.Y. Hopefully it will be a bit easier in Toronto.”
Waxman already knows the Toronto dining scene — he includes the Black Hoof ’s Jen Agg and chef Anthony Rose among his contacts here — and says Canada is a “chef ’s paradise.” He gushes over the steak and cheese and charcuterie north of the border.
“We aren’t importing things from California. Obviously, we’ll have to bring in olive oil. I’m sorry, you guys just don’t do that. But you have great butter, you have great cream.”
The opening of Montecito will further develop the Reitman family’s business interests around the John and Adelaide intersection.
It’s clear from speaking to Reitman that his sense of personal pride in the area is carrying over into his new restaurant.
Although he runs his own production company — Montecito Pictures — and is famously working on getting the long- awaited Ghostbusters III off the ground, Reitman says he has been heavily involved in bringing the restaurant to life, having visited the site at least a dozen times since mid-May.
But no matter how swanky the joint, part of the appeal of a celebrity-backed restaurant will be the guilty pleasure of peeking into the minds of the rich and famous.
It’s not quite walking in their world, but it’s at least stopping off to stretch your legs. Of course, that creates a set of demands that aren’t easy for the famous restaurateur to reconcile: show us something of your life, but don’t get Planet Hollywood tacky about it.
In this regard, Reitman’s deep roots in the neighbourhood are a distinct advantage, providing a family history to draw from and a sense of authenticity. Waxman is mulling over ways of reflecting Reitman’s Czech Jewish heritage in the menu, and a chocolate cake based on Reitman’s mother’s recipe is a distinct possibility.
Although it seems those hoping the menu would include a giant marshmallow-man are likely to be disappointed, Reitman’s cinematic career will influence the restaurant in more subtle ways.
“This is meant to be the place that’s my hangout away from home in California, and certainly there will be instances from my career that will be seen, both in photographs and subtly in the menu,” says Reitman, who comes back to the city regularly, mainly to see friends and family.
As a director, he’s obviously pretty good with lighting and sound, so he has played a big part in those areas of the set-up. He also says the team is planning a few innovative touches, and although he won’t go into details about most of them, he does mention a large wall that they will turn into “quasiwindows” using a bank of TV screens.
“I went and shot about 15 hours of Montecito gardens, from early in the morning to sunset. It’s not like a movie, although I shot video, so things are moving, birds are flying, water is flowing,” says Reitman.
Given Toronto’s harsh winter and depressingly soggy spring, pretending you’re dining under the California sun may well end up being Montecito’s biggest attraction.
Waxman, left, and Reitman are gearing up to open Montecito