Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Steven Salm has opened 14 restaurants in his career. That would be impressive for anyone in the restaurant business. Consider that Salm is 29 years old and the feat seems astounding. The transplanted New Yorker’s most ambitious and likely finest achievement debuted on a Monday afternoon soaked with sunshine and a champagne sprinkle of rain.
It’s called the Chase and the Chase Fish & Oyster Bar — two restaurants, one building, four floors apart. Anyone would crown the combined 10,000 square feet of dining flair as Toronto’s new “It” spot without even pulling up a chair. The space is that phenomenal. The rooftop, home to the Chase, features lounge chairs on the patio, a wonderfully stocked bar, and lavish decor in the interior that’s bracketed by attractive glass walls.
“This is the most relaxed I’ve been in eight months,” Salm said on opening day, smiling in the way people smile after they’ve finished a marathon — half excited with the achievement and half astonished at what they’ve just put themselves through. “I thought we would do half the size of what we did, but the real estate is so good and the opportunity really excited me.”
New Yorkers Salm and David Chang of Momofuku have invigorated Toronto’s dining scene with culinary ambitions on a massive scale. Momofuku Toronto opened last September in a terrific 6,600-square-foot property adjacent to the Shangri-la Hotel. It features three restaurants, a cocktail lounge, and the recently opened Milk Bar. The Chase restaurants are in the historic Dineen Building, a circa 1897 heritage space.
Executive chef Michael Steh oversees both two restaurants, which have separate chef de cuisines and diverse menus. The oyster restaurant, which debuted four days earlier, flies in fresh seafood from both coasts of Canada. Its offerings include Oyster Po’boy Sliders ($11), a Lobster “Waldorf” Roll with candied walnuts and apple ($28), and decadent seafood platters ($50 or $110). The upscale rooftop kitchen sources local ingredients and also features some seafood dishes from abroad, including a delicious grilled octopus with pork sausage, salsa verde, and piquillo peppers ($23).
The Chase Is On to Be Toronto’s Best Restaurant
“We want to reset the bar for fine dining in Toronto,” says Steh, who has worked at Splendido and Reds, a favourite spot for bankers in the Financial District. “I think a lot of restaurants get away with things in this city that they wouldn’t in a place like New York. I think competitiveness is something that’s been lacking in Toronto for a long time. Steven has a lot of competitiveness and that is why I jumped aboard. He brings a drive for excellence that’s contagious.”
Salm moved to Toronto more than three years ago to help Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment launch the acclaimed Real Sports Bar & Grill and e11even, a good restaurant that’s a block from the Air Canada Centre. He made his mark in the Big Apple with the BLT Prime New York chain. As president of the newly launched Chase Hospitality Group, he has re-imagined a building founded as a 19th-century retail clothing store. Tucked away on Temperance Street just off of Yonge Street, the restaurants are sure to enjoy plenty of business during the Toronto International Film Festival next month. Despite the eyesore of condo construction going on across the street (a nuisance that’s hard to escape in the city’s downtown), the rooftop is still an escape from Toronto’s aggravating traffic and busy streets. The project is also a sign of improving economic times. Salm said he wanted “to take the Mom and Pop approach you find in a lot of Toronto restaurants to a grander scale.” Four years ago, at the height of the economic recession, that notion wouldn’t have gone very far. Financiers are more confident now, though. With the upscale Chase, Salm has made it clear he believes big, bold statements in fine dining are on their way back.
“I think the city is on the cusp of some great developments. There are tremendous things about to happen in Toronto,” he says.
The restaurants are inspired by the Hamptons, the tony enclave on Long Island filled with celebrities and millionaire executives, but its location in the heart of the city reminds me of the Trump Tower in Chicago, with wait staff dressed in snazzy blue outfits and diners perched amid looming skyscrapers.
Steh and Salm transformed the property in roughly six months, adding a fifth floor to a building that previously had only four. A newly installed elevator takes guests from the ground-floor Chase Fish and Oyster restaurant to the more refined Chase. Despite its elegance, however, Steh is quick to point out that the rooftop space is meant to have a casual atmosphere.
“There’s nothing I hate more than a restaurant where the food is very good but you have the feeling like you don’t belong if you’re not dressed a certain way. We want to take the pretentiousness out of the experience. To say you can walk in here in shorts and a T-shirt and still be able to enjoy fine dining like anyone else,” he says.
More About Chase and Chase Fish & Oyster
Menu Price Range at the Chase: Main courses are $20-$35; appetizers are $8-$23.
Menu Price Range at the Chase Fish and Oyster: $11-$28 for the items that range from salads to burgers to steamed mussels and more; seafood platters are $50 or $110; oysters and clams are market price.
Why I’ll Be Back: Besides the rooftop, the rum selection could be the best in the city outside of what you’ll find at Toronto Temperance Society. The Chase bar features three varieties of El Dorado, as well as Flor de Cana, Gosling’s, and Appleton. For a rum drinker, that’s some fine stock waiting to be enjoyed.
Extra Fact: Chase is actually an acronym that stands for Cuisine, Hospitality, Atmosphere, Service and Experience.
Steven Salm on moving from Manhattan to Toronto: “New York and Toronto are world-class cities, but in Toronto I can get three times the real estate for half the price I did when I was living in TriBeCa,” he says. “What really makes me love it here is cottage country. Muskoka, to me, compares with anywhere in the world.”
Michael Steh on the ambitions for the Chase: “It’s funny that you walked in because one of the goals we said when we started was that we wanted to get onto the Vacay.ca Top 50 list.”
About the headline: Is the Chase really Canada’s best new restaurant? The answer is it’s certainly a contender. However, I only tried two appetizer plates — the grilled octopus and a deliciously flavoured steak tartare. A return visit and opinions from the Vacay.ca judges will decide the verdict in months ahead.
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