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