The Critic

BlueBlood, Casa Loma’s steak house on a hill, is Toronto’s lat­est ode to con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion

Toronto Life - - Contents - By mark pupo

When BlueBlood, the steak house on a hill, opened late last sum­mer, ev­ery­thing about the place seemed cal­cu­lated to pro­voke max­i­mum envy. The cock­tail of rare scotch and co­gnac ($500 a glass). The high-roller steak menu that in­cludes three Wagyu va­ri­eties ($250 for a four-ounce “tast­ing” of each). The walls of celebrity-cen­tric art—in­clud­ing blankeyed Warhol por­traits of Wayne Gret­zky and Karen Kain. The fact that it oc­cu­pies a group of or­nate rooms in the city’s orig­i­nal mon­u­ment to over­reach, Casa Loma. Even BlueBlood’s name is ask­ing for it. In a year of no­table restau­rant openings, it was the one I heard the most peo­ple talk­ing about. It cap­tured some­thing about Toronto’s new gilded age, when ev­ery­one wants to be a rob­ber baron or at least get rich on real es­tate. Peo­ple who’d never dream of or­der­ing a $500 cock­tail were jock­ey­ing for a reser­va­tion.

The soon­est avail­able was a month away, and my only op­tions were 5:15 or 10:30 p.m. My din­ner date and I missed Drake by a few days. The fifth-rich­est man in rap—his net worth now at $90 mil­lion (U.S.), says Forbes—had taken his mom there for his birth­day, and recorded the oc­ca­sion for pos­ter­ity on In­sta­gram, wear­ing a pump­kin-orange sweater, seated at the head of an old Hol­ly­wood–style tufted horse­shoe ban­quette and pick­ing his way through a seafood tower. Un­like Drake, we wouldn’t have the place to our­selves. Driv­ing up, we were met by crowd-con­trol cops and side­walks of queu­ing ticket hold­ers. Casa Loma, in ad­di­tion to hous­ing BlueBlood, hosts wed­dings and tour groups. In the weeks lead­ing up to Hal­loween, the cas­tle and the grounds are also the site of a fright show called Leg­ends of Hor­ror. We aban­doned our car blocks away and fol­lowed the screams.

The restau­rant en­trance, past pink mar­ble li­ons, midroar, is on the west side of Casa Loma. Ev­ery Toronto kid learns on a school trip how, 100 years ago, the hulk­ing, neo-Gothic mass of tur­rets and bat­tle­ments was the largest pri­vate home in the coun­try, with its own in­door pool and bowl­ing lanes, and an oven that could roast a whole ox—an early Toronto nice-to-have. Henry Pel­latt, Casa Loma’s orig­i­nal owner, was a fi­nancier and hy­dro mag­nate who lost his em­pire in a bat­tle with pub­lic util­i­ties and his house in a bat­tle with the city over tax in­creases. A few years ago, Lib­erty En­ter­tain­ment Group, which runs Lib­erty Grand and Rose­wa­ter Sup­per Club, among other prop­er­ties, won the lease to the en­tire Casa Loma site. The com­pany pumped mil­lions into a restora­tion of the build­ing and grounds. Cleaned up, it looks like a theme park cas­tle—one that’s served as a kitschy ba­ro­nial stage set for ev­ery­thing from X-Men to the re­cent (and lousy) net­work TV ver­sion of Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show. I sus­pect Pel­latt would pre­fer the idea of a Casa Loma steak house. BlueBlood’s three din­ing rooms are like a steroidal Keg Man­sion, with im­pos­ing fire­places, curlicue plas­ter­work and pan­elling, and antlers ev­ery­where. A mounted moose head pre­sides high over the bar.

BlueBlood is what I think of as a cel­e­bra­tion restau­rant. STK, the high-roller steak house in Yorkville that’s part of a global chain, and Lavelle, the rooftop King West restau­rant with a mem­ber­sonly pa­tio pool, are spe­cial oc­ca­sion spots in the same vein. You go to such a place more for the pomp than the cook­ing. Af­ter you make your on­line BlueBlood reser­va­tion, you re­ceive a con­fir­ma­tion call dur­ing which a host­ess asks what you’ll be cel­e­brat­ing—and sounds dis­ap­pointed if your answer is noth­ing.

Ev­ery­thing I ate on my trips to BlueBlood was good, some of it very good, but at queasy prices. One bill ran $501, another $508—just two of us, or­der­ing con­ser­va­tively (no $500 cock­tails). The restau­rant is over­seen by a cor­po­rate exec chef, Michael Ewing, who got his start in the cater­ing oper­a­tions of big ho­tels. The kitchen is run by a chef de cui­sine, Mea­gan An­drews, who has worked at Wes­lodge and the brew­pub Batch, and a chef de grille, Ed­die Chung, who worked at

BlueBlood’s din­ing room is tufted, antlered and de­cid­edly clubby

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