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

Midtown Post - - Food Profile - by David Pater­son Mon­tecito is at 299 Ade­laide St. W. It is ex­pected to open around the end of June.

“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

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