Party in the U.S.A.: the Trump Hotel’s America serves excellent food—with a side of “What the hell?”
325 Bay St., 31st Flr., 416-637-5550
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Just as Donald Trump is a cartoon moneybags, his tower at Bay and Adelaide makes for a caricature of a swish hotel. On my first visit I stumbled outside the building for several minutes, looking for the entrance, before I realized the main door is reached through a car ramp—Trump guests don’t walk to the hotel, they’re driven in stretch Escalades. The lobby is a Liz Taylor mausoleum of inlaid marble and nodding orchids, with a 600-kilo sculpture of Swarovski crystals sparkling over the front desk. As I made my way to the elevators, I passed a bellhop gesturing frantically at an oblivious Slavic businessman lighting a cigar, and a woman and her teacup Yorkie in matching pink jackets.
America, the hotel’s peculiar new restaurant, is on the 31st floor. It’s a rebranding of Stock, a steak house that opened in 2012 and targeted financiers who end an average day with a $110 Wagyu strip loin. Stock’s association with The Donald probably had a lot to do with why it never took off. Last winter, Talon International, the company owned by the billionaire Alex Shnaider that developed the tower and managed Stock, announced that the restaurant group Oliver and Bonacini, so skilled at pampering Bay Streeters, would take over. Instead of creating another Canoe or Biff’s, O&B forged an unusual alliance with the nightlife impresario Charles Khabouth. I had visions of the Rainbow Room presided over by Deadmau5.
Khabouth made his name with nightclubs but has been steadily focusing on the lucrative world of restaurants with a clubby vibe, like Byblos and Patria, or restaurants that transform into full-blown bottle-service party venues after 11 p.m., like Cube on Queen. America pulls off a total Jekyll and Hyde transformation. Midday, the long, double-height room is wall-to-wall suits. It’s this year’s destination for a big-impression power lunch. My date was a school friend who recently fled one of the crumbling Seven Sisters for a regulatory agency. (She says the perk she misses most is having an assistant to make reservations.) We sat near a window where only a sliver of the lake was visible through the bank towers. Our visit coincided with take your kid to work day, which explained the executives accompanied by 12-year-olds in suits. I’m sorry to report the era of the three-martini lunch has definitively passed, replaced at America by a menu of $12 mocktails. I tried a Rising Sun, iced chai layered with peach nectar and a spritz of house soda, which was nice enough if conspicuously healthy. The alpha mom at the table beside us, her shirt-and-tied son absorbed in Angry Birds, took one look at my spa drink and cracked open the wine list.
The food at America is as terrific as at O&B’s best spots, like Canoe and Auberge du Pommier. It’s overseen by chef Anthony Walsh, who comes from Canoe and has a loyal Bay Street fan base. He’s got a talented chef de cuisine, Bill Osborne, cooking upmarket renditions of down-home U.S. regional dishes: grits from heirloom corn, buckwheat flapjacks with a seared slab of foie gras, a fried oyster BLT in a croissant or a cobb salad with deep-fried frog legs. The standouts are a brown rice jambalaya loaded with duck confit, fiery Andouille sausage and a fillet of blackened, luscious porgy, and a comparatively virtuous Hawaiian-style salad of sugary pineapple, toasted coconut and ruby-red petals of yellowfin. He bakes an excellent cornbread—buttery-sweet and flecked with jalapeño—and serves it with a lime zest–dusted whipped butter.
Please don’t take your kids to America at night. That’s when Hyde comes out. I brought a different date for dinner, a Khabouth-goer since the early days. We scored a reservation on a Friday at 8, only to find our table was hidden in the corner of an adjacent room, away from the action of the main dining hall. To one side there was a table of eight burly guys in patterned silk shirts and black leather car coats. They ordered half a dozen bottles, checking wine reviews on their phones. They ogled a table of six drop dead gorgeous women in skin-tight backless dresses (accompanied by one small guy with a chinstrap beard). People were hopping from table to table. Everyone had meticulously plucked eyebrows, even the men. My date observed that it was the same set that went to the Guvernment, now grown up and on a diet of oysters instead of street meat.
For dinner, the food is inflated to the extreme, both in size and price. It’s a menu for wannabe Trumps. Instead of an appetizer of sturgeon caviar (a 30-gram mound for $150), I went for the hams and pickles plate, which involved excellent, bracingly sour chow chow, peppery salami, country-thick slices of Louisiana-style tasso ham ribboned with smoky fat, and wafers of toasted sourdough. Instead of the $175 platter of barbecued beef shin with mac and cheese (it’s meant to serve four, which makes it a relative bargain), I had the lobster Rockefeller, which rings in at $58—a ballsy markup when the overabundant crustacean goes for as low as $4 a pound. The fat cat version must make Trump proud: Osborne blankets lobes of snowy tail and claw in a silky hollandaise, and lays them on a bed of braised spinach and cream cheese, and airy deep-fried Idaho potato puffs.
The place really filled up after 10:30, when a bearded DJ started playing remixes of James Bond themes and Stevie Wonder. A pair of waitresses wearing platinum blonde wigs and the severe grimaces of catwalk models delivered bottles of champagne and Grey Goose, holding lit sparklers over their heads, a Khabouth bottle service signature. This is the closest Toronto comes to a Vegas dinner club, or that crazed, orgiastic party in The Great Beauty. The only thing missing was a conga line. I barely managed to push through the thick crowd to the men’s room at the other end. (The washroom, a surreal place itself, is entirely black—the floor and wall tiles, the ceiling, the toilets. Standing by the black sinks is an attendant in a black suit who hands out paper towels emblazoned with the Trump Hotel logo.)
Back in our corner, we momentarily stunned our server by asking for dessert instead of more drinks. Osborne makes respectable cinnamon churros and a sublimely airy lemon cheesecake, but there’s really only one appropriate sweet for such a night: the Clusterphuck. (The server tittered at the name, explaining that Chef’s sense of humour is an acquired taste.) It’s a foot-long slab of Valrhona chocolate bark studded with marshmallows and nougat, and laced with Pop Rocks, which for many people in the room, myself included, make for a fizzing equivalent of Proust’s madeleine. For a blissful moment, as the chocolate puddled on my tongue and the Rocks popped, I imagined I was somewhere else, somewhere other than America.