The big smoke’s big new steak houses

Two pedi­greed grill masters open shop in Toronto by Jes­sica Wei

Bayview Post - - Food -

In a culi­nary land­scape of shar­ing plates and “din­ing con­cepts,” where does a slab of seared meat sit­ting on a plate fig­ure? Two new Toronto restau­rants have boldly re­vived the no­ble steak house. Both de­signed their din­ing ar­eas around an open grill; both are named af­ter re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent fire gods: One is the lit­eral Ja­panese God of the hearth, and the other, a mere mor­tal who rose to promi­nence af­ter found­ing the most fa­mous steak­house in Canada. Kōjin is a mod­ern grill, with cos­mopoli­tan digs down­town, while Harry’s is a tra­di­tional steak­house in a clas­sic neigh­bour­hood set­ting. To­gether, they show us why steak still reigns supreme.

The in­stant clas­sic

Two pow­er­ful Toronto steak house dy­nas­ties come to­gether in Harry’s, a dimly lit restau­rant on a quiet stretch of Bloor Street in Eto­bi­coke. Its name­sake is Harry Bar­be­rian, the founder of Bar­be­rian’s on Elm Street, whose cel­e­brated chops have been en­joyed by lu­mi­nar­ies of all stripes through that restau­rant’s nearly 60-year his­tory. The build­ing hous­ing Harry’s is the for­mer home of Black An­gus, an Eto­bi­coke in­sti­tu­tion with a sim­i­larly sto­ried past that dates back to 1964. Harry’s, co-founded by Ar­ron Bar­be­rian, opened its doors last Au­gust, but it feels eerily old-world. The smoke, waft­ing from an open grill top, sub­tly hear­kens back to a time when peo­ple still smoked in­side. High-backed ban­quettes cre­ate in­ti­macy within a chan­de­lier-lit din­ing room. The menu is stacked with un­com­pli­cated clas­sics like shrimp cock­tail and wedge salad. And the 12-ounce slab of per­fectly seared sir­loin dares you to share it, while bet­ting you can’t. Harry’s steak is wellsea­soned with a crusty ex­te­rior, ten­der and but­tery on the in­side. The wedge, too, has no more ac­cou­trements than are re­quired: just ul­tra-crisp ice­berg, ba­con, to­mato and chives and a peren­ni­ally fa­mil­iar blue cheese dress­ing. Harry’s re­minds us of the days when meals were in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sions of iden­tity rather than a pro­ces­sion of shared ex­pe­ri­ences. No­body asks, “Do you want the last bite?” Here, peo­ple just take it them­selves.

More than meats the eye

The new­est ad­di­tion to the Mo­mo­fuku em­pire is named af­ter the Ja­panese god of the hearth and spe­cial­izes in prime lo­cal cuts, but a clas­sic chop­house it is not. Oc­cu­py­ing the glass-en­cased third floor of the build­ing, over­look­ing Uni­ver­sity Av­enue, Kōjin’s in­te­rior is as sleek as the view, with oxblood leather ban­quettes, black table­tops and pa­per lantern light fix­tures cast­ing a dif­fuse light over the win­dow-side din­ing sec­tion. The menu is on trend and on brand, el­e­vat­ing Cana­dian and French clas­sics with David Chang’s Asian touches and chef Paula Navar­rete’s Colom­bian roots. The meal be­gins with a cup of a salty and aro­matic con­coc­tion of chicken bone broth and Earl Grey tea –– to some din­ers, it comes off as avant-garde, to oth­ers as sim­ply puz­zling. But the menu is un­mis­tak­ably Changian, with a sec­tion de­voted to the corn­bread flat­bread, a corn­meal twist on Mo­mo­fuku’s sig­na­ture Chi­nese-style bing bread served at his other global out­posts. It’s grid­dled flat like an arepa and served with an ar­ray of top­pings. Lo­cally sourced cuts of sir­loin and filet mignon are cooked over an Ar­gen­tine grill, topped with charred green chili and pre­sented with a hot sauce made from coal-fired chilis. Like ev­ery­thing else, the steak is share­able, which helps din­ers save space for Tita’s Mash: a vel­vety pool of Gouda and potato served un­adorned in a cast-iron pan. There’s more than meat and pota­toes at Kōjin, but it’s the meat and pota­toes that bring the place home. All in the fam­ily

THE BAR­BE­RIAN EM­PIRE

Harry Bar­be­rian founded his steak house in 1959. His son Ar­ron now owns the fam­ily restau­rant, as well as TPL Sand­wich Co. down the street.

THE CHANG DY­NASTY

Since 2004, David Chang has opened 13 restau­rants world­wide and launched four Milk Bar bak­eries un­der cel­e­brated baker Christina Tosi.

L–R: The din­ing room at Harry’s, Ko­jin’s rib-eye steak

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