FRANK IS RED HOT
Joanne Kates dishes on Frank Parhizgar’s new St. Clair spot, FK Restaurant
My beloved partner and I have an ongoing fight about restaurants. Now that I review less frequently than in yesteryear, we go out just for fun more often. I always want to go to the places I know and love. Places with reliably good food, comfy ambience and quiet enough that one can actually hold a conversation. He is as old as me, but he’s into hipster havens. Ossington, he says, with a gleam in his eye. Dundas West!! Not for him the tried and true. And definitely not uptown.
Same deal with my friend Barbara. Last week we were in New York, in the East Village. Before theatre we went to a delicious oyster bar. Too loud to talk, tiny table, crazy crowded. After theatre dinner was a French restaurant where they insisted we had no reso and finally/grumpily seated us in the area of highest possible traffic. We appeared to be the only women there in less than three-inch heels and with more than three decades under our belts. Food was meh. Barbara loved the evening because she doesn’t like to dine with people her age. After dinner I got scolded on Open Table for failing to show up for my reso, and heartburn from all the butter. But we did think we were cool.
Frank Parhizgar has not, to my knowledge, ever been cool. When he and wife Shawn Cooper presided over Frank’s Kitchen on College Street (2010-17), they had
a loyal clientele of serious foodies. And now Frank is back, bells, whistles and brass band in full form. There really is no other chef in Toronto whose cooking is as detailed and complex as Frank’s.
The new place, FK, is on St. Clair West, smack dab in the middle of the new uber-popular Humewood family neighbourhood.
It is not hip. It is comfy and pretty and not noisy. Ms. Cooper designed the place to be a symphony in blue and white, with nice big tables and a quite grand terrace outside.
She manages the waitstaff superbly; their smoothness matches the cuisine.
The menu changes constantly, but certain eternal verities stand: There is always Frank’s homemade bread, three kinds. My faves are the crusty country loaf and toasted onion focaccia. With different spreads daily. Pray for the roasted red pepper and chickpea spread.
Dinner always starts with a complex amuse. One night a tiny goat cheese sphere topped with micro greens, on which the waiter ceremonially pours a superbly creamy puréed beet borscht. Another night a tiny cube of liver pate sitting on a flower-shaped rice cracker, topped with pickled radish and greens. All on Frank’s homemade pottery!
One dinner we start with fat white asparagus sitting pretty atop a light sweet/tart hazelnut emulsion. And the first really fine Oysters Rockefeller I’ve ever had, in many years of oyster-loving. This dish is usually leaden, overcooked oysters under a thick gluey blanket of stodge. Not Frank’s! His oysters are perfectly cooked, their hollandaise roof a lemony cloud to inhale. Licking the shells is mandatory.
That night he does superb lobster risotto, the rice al dente, the sauce a rich tomato lobster hybrid, the lobster flesh tender as can be.
He also does a big fat venison chop strewn with seven accompaniments: Curvy smears of blood orange gastrique and shepherd pepper purée, fricasseed crosnes and pears, tiny white onion flowers on the venison and a mixture of spinach and mushroom duxelles under it. It hangs together, although is perhaps a tad … busy.
If one had any criticism of Frank’s cooking, that would be it. Putting eight elements on one plate is too many. So much heart, such obsessional effort and such a fine cook. Perhaps simplify a tad? And you know what, it might help draw the hipsters.
Counterclockwise from top: FK’s cosy dining room, goat’s milk cheesecake with brown butter crumble, chilled pea soup with snow crab and ratatouille