“This restaurant is about terroir, meaning a sense of place. I want people to taste Southern Ontario in June.” – chef Matt Simpson
Montecito Restaurant debuted in August 2014 with much fanfare. Between the epic space (12,000 square feet over two storeys), elevated atmosphere and celebrity names attached (co-owned by director Ivan Reitman and celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman designing the menu), Toronto had never seen anything like it.
Fast forward to three years later, present day: change is afoot, and it’s the very best kind.
The restaurant that previously tried to be all things to all people has honed in on what matters most: delivering fantastic food and drink – with a dedicated focus on local ingredients and providers – in a jovial, relaxed atmosphere.
FYI: Waxman is no longer involved (his famous chicken dish, roast potatoes and kale salad remain on the menu, with slight changes). Ivan Reitman and Tom and Jordan Bitove (of Innov8 Hospitality, who also own Wayne Gretzky’s) are still co-owners.
The welcome change is thanks to two forces to be reckoned with: chef Matt Simpson and GM/sommelier Heather McDougall. Take a closer look:
Chef Matt Simpson
Simpson has an impressive resume – Reds Bistro & Wine Bar, Canoe, The Chase & Chef de Cuisine at The Chase Fish & Oyster and Nota Bene – but it’s his fierce passion for local ingredients and producers that’s so awe-inspiring.
“Farm-to-table cuisine” has become a hackneyed phrase, but for Simpson, it’s a way of life.
“Farm-to-table doesn’t stop at vegetables, he says. “Farm-to-table and sustainability go hand and hand.”
Simpson is sourcing the very best ingredients for each dish and his menu is “kind of a culmination of the relationships (with farmers and producers) over the last few years.”
Simpson takes the time to research farmers and their practices. Take poultry, for example: he looks into everything from how the bird was raised to what it eats and how much room it has to roam. Then he carefully considers how to prepare and cook it.
Other kitchen staff will get a closer look soon – Simpson’s taking them to visit a few farms this summer, “So they can try to understand how much work goes into it and give them a sense of pride.”
Producer’s names are included on the menu as much as possible, when space permits. Blackbird Bakery Bread, Northern Woods Mushroom Soup, Fogo Island Cod, and Goossen Farm’s Trout are just a handful on a current dinner menu.
“Seasonal” isn’t just another bandied-about phrase for Simpson either. “If it’s asparagus season, I want you to be bombarded by asparagus.” This hyperseasonal focus means that when fiddleheads, white asparagus and Ontario shrimp are in season, they’ll be on the menu for a limited time.
“I want Montecito to be a celebration of Ontario.” If Simpson can’t get an ingredient in Ontario, the only other place he’ll bring it in from, is elsewhere in Canada. For that reason, no olive oil is used – only soy, sunflower and canola oils. Buffalo mozzarella isn’t brought in from Italy, but made right here in Ontario. And the ricotta on the menu? Made in-house. You’ll find imported items, such as lemons and limes, only in the bar area.
The food is very simply presented. The reason he “doesn’t do a lot to the ingredients – I want to let them speak for themselves.”
And because of the ingredients, it allows the kitchen not to be pigeonholed by one cuisine (French, Italian).
The result is a joyous culinary journey celebrating the hard-working folks growing, raising and producing the ingredients before us; carefully curated and executed by Simpson.
General Manager/Sommelier Heather McDougall
McDougall’s got experience in spades – Sommelier: Splendido & The Chase, GM: Luckee By Susur Lee – but not content to rest on her laurels, she does more. So much more. In addition to mentoring and training junior sommeliers, a private client roster for whom she sources and buys for personal/business cellar stock, corporate gifts and special occasions, she also leads tastings for novices, pros and everyone in between.
This well-rounded background combined with serious skills and a deep ardor for all things wine, makes her one of the best in the biz.
McDougall’s a careful listener, too, so if you believe you don’t like chardonnay, she’ll pick up on the fact that it’s the oakiness you’re not a fan of and steer you towards something that will have you swooning mid-sip.
You don’t have to buy the most expensive vino or be versed in wine terminology either – she’s happy if you’re happy, so drink what you want for once, without feeling any intimidation or pressure.
An incredible sommelier makes all the difference. You’ll see.
Thanks to Simpson and McDougall leading the charge, Montecito’s on a new course with a bright future.
A commemoration of the food of our home and native land? It doesn’t get much better than that.
Montecito Restaurant (299 Adelaide St. W.) is open daily for lunch, dinner, drinks and à la carte brunch on weekends.
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