TOCA at the Ritz

In the newly opened Ritz Carlton is Toca by Tom Brody, notably from Canoe and North 44 who has also mentored under the great Tom Colicchio.  It's a simple elegant restaurant with a huge wine cellar and a cheese cave for you and your party to discover.  I was out with some fabulous ladies to chatter away and celebrate life, and when we walked in, we had the best table in the house at the center of the restaurant.  Maybe it was just me, but I was expecting some design elements to stick out or an ambiance dripping with luxury or mystere.  We were at the Ritz ... but it was just plain elegance and simplicity all around. 
The philosophy of the menu at Toca is 'Farm-to-Table fresh' with a splash of decadence which our party was looking forward to.

Our friendly server Mary was also the in-house 'affineur' -a term used to describe a person who's specialty is maturing and ripening cheese and she did take us on a tour of the cheese cave apres dinner featuring local cheeses from the Cheese Boutique and we did get to sample one of my very favourites- Manchego !!  But upon reflection, having the cheese cave right next to the dining area made it unpleasant for some because the stink of the cheese gets wafted through the air as the door opens and closes from the cave.
Our amuse bouche was an espresso lobster bisque which was served in tiny espresso mugs.  Personally I love the richness of lobster bisque but it wasn't a huge hit around the table and think it's an acquired taste for some.
Our group ordered a sampling of appetizers from their Fancy Fish & Chips (Chunks of Lobster coated in Mill Street Brewery Beer Batter and Fries) which were a hit!  The generously portioned Lobster chunks were lightly battered with panko crusting and were they greasy. The house made tartar sauce was not a huge hit amongst us calorie conscious ladies but their chips were crispy and delicious.  My girlfriend Daniella and I ordered a very decadent appetizer of the pan-seared foie gras which came with their house made candy floss.  The foie was very fatty but one you pulled in your cotton candy - the mouthful of the mix of flavours and textures was a treat for your senses.  It was light and airy because of the candy floss and the sweetness and richness of the foie does its job to melt the floss in your mouth.  It was a very unique dish.  My favourite jewelery designer friend, Shay had the duck and onion soup which she claimed was perfect to warm her up! Mary was also recommending the dungenous crab served in a hollowed out bone marrow.  Marion who ordered this said while the presentation was interesting, that it fell flat.  The chunks of crab meat was flaky but it was also fishy. 
We also ended up with a delicious bowl of parmasean fries - they were very good and would've been better with gravy (everything for me revolves around poutine!).
Some of the mains that were ordered:
Daniella had the venison, cooked perfectly on the rarer side of medium rare was very good.  The portion was proportional to the dollar value on the menu and it was delicious.
I had the ricotta ravioli with wild mushrooms recommended by Mary and this was outstanding.  It was served with a heaping amount of mushrooms and foam - it was tasty, and perfect portion to fill me up!
Jennifer ordered  the bone in bison rib eye and it was humongous.  The chef recommended the bison done rarer than what she would've preferred and they had no issue accommodating her request to make it a bit less bloody.  Marion had the glazed BC black cod and it was done perfectly.  Sweet, lightly cooked and melt in your mouth goodness. 
Our sides included a plate of avocado frites as I was just curious what they were like.  Wedges of avocado with panko crusting lacked any flavour without the dipping sauce.  I wasn't overly impressed with these as they couldn't stand alone and the home made creamy mayo dipping sauce was a good accompaniment but I was still disappointed.  The cremed spinach came with a poached egg for you to mix in and make it even creamier.  It was a good side to pair with the fish or the meats.
Overall  a lovely evening of catch up with some inspiring ladies but I felt dinner was a lackluster experience as I had higher expectations for the Ritz.
*** stars
TOCA at the Ritz Carlton Hotel
181 Wellington St. West (at Simcoe Street) 
Toronto, ON M5V 3G7
(416) 585-2500 
Toca on Urbanspoon

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