Review: NAO brings swank back to Yorkville and steak so good it doesn’t need sauce

Review: NAO brings swank back to Yorkville and steak so good it doesn’t need sauce

(Image: Caroline Aksich)
(Image: Caroline Aksich) (Image: Caroline Aksich)
 

NAO ★★★
90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141

The glitzy reno of this Victorian, for most of the last 20 years home to the quaint fusion spot Boba, marks the rapid transformation of Yorkville from rich and dowdy to rich and aggressively chic. Marble walls, plush black leather banquettes and a monumental wedding cake of a chandelier reinforce the impression of a deco-era nightclub—the only thing missing is Nat King Cole crooning from a stage instead of from the overhead speakers.

Nominally a Japanese-style steak house, it’s the latest in a series of ambitious Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji projects, with executive chef Stuart Cameron (who also oversees Byblos, Weslodge and Patria) responsible for a big-spender menu of oyster platters, panko and Dungeness crab croquettes dusted with a sesame-seaweed seasoning, and an ingeniously multi-textured ahi tuna tartare (more of a salad) tossed with chilies, avocado, puffed wild rice and a nostril-searing grating of fresh B.C. wasabi. But it’s all about the beef: the aging locker holds a king’s ransom of prime Canadian and American cattle; Wagyu raised in your pick of Idaho, Iowa or Australia; and the most outrageous of them all, Japanese Kobe, which starts at $105 for a mere five ounces and climbs precipitously to $460 for a 24-ounce rib-eye. The more modest Australian Wagyu rump steak is charred handsomely on the grill, perfectly rare within, and so heavily marbled it’s more fat than meat—it slices like butter under the blade of the restaurant’s custom-made high-carbon steak knives. The steaks are so flavourful, there’s no need for the house steak sauce, prepared with momentous ceremony tableside on a vintage industrial cart. A serious wine list includes a dozen sakes and a handful of extremely rare French vintages offered by the glass.

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