Tiers of Joy
Five of Toronto’s best seafood towers, from an à la carte budget option to the ultimate multi-tiered extravaganza
The inescapable crooning of Mariah Carey signals that the holiday countdown has begun, so it’s time to start party-planning. And nothing says festive celebration quite like a multi-tiered seafood tower. One of the city’s most impressive piscine platters is found at Clockwork, the Fairmont Royal York’s gilded lobby bar. The so-called Sea and Be Seen is a—dramatic pause—$550 cantilevered brass sculpture that rises three feet above the table and is loaded with crustaceans, mollusks, ruby-hued tuna loins, gleaming caviar pearls and other subaquatic delicacies. Here’s a closer look at the treasures that make up Toronto’s most extravagant shellfish dish.
1. The custom-designed tower was made by a metal fabricator in BC; it visually echoes the Royal York’s famous clock tower.
2. A salad of Fogo Island cold-water shrimp is dressed with Tabasco aioli, lemon juice and chives.
3. Plump mussels are marinated in an olive oil–lemon mixture.
4. The house-candied trout is the tower’s most time-consuming component—it takes the kitchen nearly six days to make. After marinating in honey, maple syrup and sugar, the fish is smoked over hickory at 155°F.
5. Cape d’Or salmon loin and albacore tuna loin are given the tataki treatment: a quick sear before being cut into sashimi-like slabs.
6. Colossal Pacific white shrimp are served with a yuzu-kosho cocktail sauce that demands double-dipping.
7. Champagne is the only imaginable complement to the seafood tower, and at 94 bottles long, the Royal York’s list is vying for the most comprehensive collection of bubbly in the city.
8. The snow crab is harvested in the Atlantic using baited conical pots designed to catch only the large males. The flesh is firm, buttery and briny, with a subtle sweetness.
9. A 1.5-pound Nova Scotia lobster is poached to perfection in a court bouillon redolent with coriander and fennel.
10. In the colder months, guests can expect a selection of East Coast oysters like Raspberry Point and Malpeque. These bivalves are best enjoyed with the accompanying cucumber mignonette.
11. The opalescent roe comes from Bay of Fundy Atlantic sturgeon, which is currently the only wild, legal and sustainable caviar harvested in the world.
Oceanic Honourable Mentions
Black and Blue
The Deluxe Seafood Tower at this opulent Financial District steakhouse embraces the more-is-more ethos. Underneath its crown of nigiri and sashimi, there’s a quartet of crustaceans (Atlantic lobster, colossal shrimp, king and Dungeness crabs) supported by a bivalve base: a dozen East Coast oysters, mussels, and clams cooked in white wine, shallots, garlic and fennel. $450. blackandbluesteakhouse.ca
Rodney’s Oyster House
This may be the only place in town where seafood lovers can order a dozen oysters in a dozen different varieties. Although towers aren’t advertised, they’re available and entirely customizable (but it’s wise to order in advance). Start with an array of East and West Coast bivalves, then add lobster, Dungeness crab and Fundy sea scallops cured lightly in lime juice. $140 and up. rodneysoysterhouse.com
Typical towers rely on lemon and Tabasco to do the heavy lifting. This rooftop restaurant bucks the trend. The salmon crudo is cured in coriander and pomegranate juice, the shrimp cocktail is dressed in herbaceous chermoula, the clams are topped with saffron aioli, and the mussels are tossed in a preserved Moroccan lemon dressing. Even the condiments abide by the theme: the mignonette is made with Syrian Aleppo pepper and plum vinegar. $265. skylightrooftop.com
For the budget-fettered with a fondness for fruits de mer, this Christie Pits bistro offers an à la carte selection of raw and chilled Canadian-fished foods. Highlights include cider-marinated Salt Spring Island mussels ($10 for eight), Quebec snow crab legs ($14) and Labrador scallops ($9) swimming in a delicate peach salsa. Limpets, razor clams, BC spot prawns and side-stripe shrimp all make seasonal appearances. chanteclerto.com