A VISIONARY ON BARTON
Even if, like us, you miss the parking lot adjacent to The Purple Pear while heading down Barton and approaching Gage, you’ll find ample street parking.
Inside the entrance, the host counter in front of the coat closet was unattended so I did the honours. A server arrived quickly, and led us to our table. Even though it was post-holiday, the dining room was almost half-full on a weekday, suggesting to me that making a reservation is essential on weekends.
The Purple Pear has been around since 1994, and, according to their website, the restaurant used to be Marin’s Steakhouse, Hamilton’s first steak house, founded in 1948.
The dining room appears to embrace that history, with discreetly elegant decor scheme featuring light yellow walls, dark wood accents and white tablecloths set with filled water glasses.
The servers worked as a team through the night and one man came over to take our drink order soon after we sat down. A few Ontario wines were listed, including Joseph’s Estate, Cave Spring and Henry of Pelham, along with familiar names from abroad (Wolf Blass from Australia, Barefoot from California).
We chose to share a half litre of Merlot Domini from Italy, their house wine, the only red option that was not a whole bottle. It was fruit forward without being overly tannic or sweet — a pleasant surprise. Our server kept the carafe on the sideboard near the wall and did an excellent job of keeping our glasses refreshed.
While we sipped, a selection of breads was brought out: mini cheese scones, garlic bread sticks, baguette. The scone was flaky with a hint of spice, the bread stick nice and soft and the baguette tender and warm.
The server came by to ask about appetizers, then said he would put those orders in and come back to talk about entrées.
We relaxed as a soft cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas” came on, followed by other heartfelt renditions of carols throughout the night.
A new server set a bowl of sweet potato and pear soup before my companion, blanketed in spots by a thin layer of frothed cream. Though the deep aubergine of the Purple Pear’s logo was not evident anywhere other than the front of the menu, pears popped up everywhere: in paintings on walls, on sideboards along with other fruit, and in many of the dishes.
I have a fear that most fruit soups are going to be more like dessert than a preamble to a meal but this one was delightful, if a little sweet.
The French onion soup was served in a small white terrine, covered dramatically with puff pastry. Although I prefer crustier bread, the soup itself was quite nice, a good full beefy broth with onions that melted in my mouth. Cheese with a little more character could have elevated this dish even further.
These were promising starts and as another new and slightly more senior member of the team came to clear our plates, he asked how everything was. We quickly found out that it was Victor Buccella, the owner, and peppered him with questions. He said he opened the place 14 years ago, after working in a hotel for years before that. He joked that people thought his choice of location was not great in the beginning but now they think he’s a visionary.
A few minutes went by and our original server brought over a Caesar salad to share. The bacon bits, a tad soft, could have been crisped up. The dressing, while nice, could have been elevated by more garlic and anchovy. No quibbles about the croutons, though, made from a toasted slice of baguette, crunchy with a hint of garlic.
There was no lag in our meal — a wide bowl of seafood linguine came right out. The sauce was not super flavourful but there was a ton of nicely cooked pasta and seafood, including seared scallops, mussels, clams and shrimp, all seasoned nicely.
My companion’s veal chop arrived on an oblong plate with sautéed green beans and zucchini on the side, as well as a potato croquette, amusingly shaped as a pear. Everything was cooked to perfection and the veal was incredibly tender.
Then, two desserts, one of which connected with my inner child. First a nice lemon soufflé that was a bit too sweet for me. But then a large profiterole was set before me, topped with plenty of chocolate sauce and filled with French vanilla ice cream. It filled all of my sweet tooth requirements.
I like that the Purple Pear embraces dishes that some might call conservative rather than going modern just for the sake of going modern. It was classic, done well.
Alana Hudson has cooked at Le Bernardin, Vong, and Avalon.
Purple Pear: discreetly elegant decor.
The profiterole, left, filled all of my sweet tooth requirements. The veal came with a potato croquette that tasted as good as it looked.