Four entrances and an exit
I went to Amaya on Thursday and enjoyed myself no end. Call the cooking there New Indian or Contemporary Subcontinental—or better yet, don’t. It’s more like the way very good, rather sophisticated Indian friends cook in their homes with fresh textures and subtle spicing. But the facts, the facts…! Amaya is on Bayview Avenue, where JOV Bistro used to be. Derek Valleau (ex Crush) and Hemant Bhagwani (who owns Mantra in Burlington) are the proprietors, working the room as good owners should, and they have brought the brilliant and charming Lynn Stimpson in as manager from Cava (and a great many other places—she’s a career front-of-house star with a CV as long as the Nile). The chef, Dinesh Butola, also comes from Mantra and he knows his stuff. We finally have someone to contend with Vancouver’s Vikram Vij and with the team at Amaya in London, England (no relation—and no comparison, either, since our Amaya is content to woo Leaside while the London version aims to be the sexiest, haughtiest venue ever).
The room looks very JOV-like but with framed pics of India on the walls. It gets noisy when the room is packed with well-heeled locals in full cry, but it was ever thus in the little room. Butola’s textures impressed me most. Most of our Indian restaurants start from the premise that their clientele have no teeth so vegetables have to be braised to mush and protein must be served drowned and smothered in some kind of dark brown reductive tar. Amaya’s dishes take a different route. It’s great to catch the fleeting flavours of cardamom, rosewater and saffron in the biryani, to hear the juicy snap of a rare prawn perfumed with fenugreek leaves, green mango and a slow-building aftertaste of green chili. If you want the macho thrill of a vindaloo hot enough to strip the skin from your tongue, I dare say the kitchen can oblige, but reluctantly, I imagine. If I have one complaint, it’s that the array of smoothly puréed chutneys are too sweet and not tart enough. Frying, however, is a forte and, naan lovers, this is your nirvana.
The wine list is minimal but savvy. We drank Oremus Mandolas Tokaji Furmint from Hungary—dry, aromatic, but not as soapy as a dry muscat, and it worked beautifully with the gentle spicing. Stimpson has also devised a cocktail list that includes a Curry Martini—vodka quickened by fresh lime juice over muddled curry leaves, with fresh ginger and sweet curry spices and a final dusting of garam masala—like a well-seasoned Punjabi Caesar without the Clamato.
There are other new places taking advantage of the summer lull to open their doors. Mark Cutrara, who wowed me at Globe Bistro on the Danforth but left soon after it opened to study the art of butchery at The Healthy Butcher, has opened his new venue: Cowbell is a 30-seat fine dining establishment at 1564 Queen Street West. I’m looking forward to eating there. And The Citizen is up and running on Queen Street East, a sister for Rosebud and sharing its Orson Welles frame of reference. I haven’t been there yet either but a friend with a trusted palate was delighted with owner-chef Rod Bowers’s schnitzel—and when was the last time anyone in Toronto delighted us with schnitzel?
Last, but by no means least, Mark McEwan’s new restaurant, One, will burst upon us on August 15. The trades are still in there, brushing down the cognac suede walls and polishing the dark green marble that runs from one room to the next. There will be glamorous tables on the Yorkville sidewalk patio, a private room for 20 that I’m sure will be the ultimate hang for superstars during the Film Festival, and a menu that consciously favours unpretentious but delicious dishes, with vegetables served in platters in the middle of the table for everyone to share. It’s the sort of place you hope to find in New York when you’re feeling flush and cocky and eager to be where the action is. Dress sharp and enjoy.
I seem to be finding myself at Starfish quite a lot these days, eating oysters in a month without an r and finding them plump and sweet. But sad news: Starfish’s chef since the beginning, Martha Wright, is moving on, most amicably. It was her kitchen dishes that set Starfish above every other oyster house in the city (I wonder how many tonnes of her frites I have eaten over the last six years?) and I look forward to hearing that she is cooking somewhere else soon.