Montecito has been on our radar for some time now. But then again who wouldn't be interested in a restaurant themed around director Ivan Reitman's work? It definitely helped having a work function there to get a full flavour of their various dishes.
The area has gone though quite a few changes since the block was once owned by the Reitman family had a carwash on the corner. Our city has really grown and changed, and we are glad to see buildings as breadcrumbs of Toronto's history.
oday there are plenty of condos popping up around the area and it can be rather loud and dusty, yet Montecito maintains an upscale look.
From the outside, it is a rectangular glass structure attached to a tall condo, with bright orange umbrellas on the patio. The golden, handwritten sign has a sense of cursive fluidity, yet there is a second layer of coastal landscape giving it depth. It is quite complex for a street sign, but there is a sense of class to it, hinting a southern landscape of refuge. The main entrance is to the side and visitors walk by brand statement of a metal cypress tree silhouette on elongated white subway tile, arranged in a herringbone pattern to get to the glass door - simple yet magnificent.
A large hostess stand greets folks upon entry with a single large dried floral arrangement and the cheeky marshmallow man sculpture on the side. Note that the marshmallow man (Ghostbusters!) with his twin in a window frame up above. This area is separated from the dining space by a large floating mirror wall. Our seats were near the kitchen area on a couple long high tables. On our way, we passed by a monochromatic open area with numerous black and white photos of Ivan Reitman - setting a rather serious stage for this comedy loving director. The focal point of this large space was a warm lighting feature - multiple cylindrical lights with arms, protruding out of the centre columns with wights holding them down at different heights. It brought in some visual stimulation and a sense of quirkiness to the space. The seating in that large room was also quite neat - double seat sofas for all tables, and, if you are really lucky, you could sit by their staircase on director’s high chairs. Too bad we didn't get to try these.
We settled at our live edge, wood slab table, ready for us with cutlery tucked in embroidered cloth napkins - a subtle and stylish branding execution. Our pre-set menu seemed to offer choices, but we soon learned we are dining traditional French style with everything coming to our table in the middle, to be shared. No hard decisions had to be made choosing what to get.
I got a glass of Renegade White 2014 from Niagara's 16 Mile Cellars. I was surprised to find out that there were only few California wines. For a restaurant named after a town close to Santa Barbara, I expected more West Coast selection. The Renegade White was inoffensive and easily forgettable - medium body, bright and lightly fruity. It did go quite well with the beautiful Kale Salad. That salad, although from the side it looked plain, had a lot to fool the eye. Lemon juice, crunchy crumbs, plenty of aromatic pecorino and that anchovy dressing throughout just made it all balanced with the meaty smell.
Our main dishes were JW Roasted Potatoes, Rainbow Trout, JW Chicken and Grilled Eggplant. I was happy to see dishes which the chef was proud enough to place his initials in front of.
First arrived the plates of roasted potatoes in a black hot skillets with a container on the side filled with grated parmesan cheese. The veggies themselves were lovely deformed abominations, looking very organic with their skins perfectly dark and crusty. I don't think there was a single person on my table who didn't love this dish – it was taking us all back to childhood breakfast tables. We even went as far as talking about the process to make them sparking an enthusiastic conversation. I must admit that as much as I enjoyed the dish, I though the larger potatoes were quite dry inside.
Next came the Rainbow Trout presented on a bed of bright and halved fresh cherry tomatoes. There was plenty of basil oil as well as some pea sprouts sprinkled around and presenting the dish with artistic flare. The skin had a great texture so piercing through it for sharing was a challenge, the fish fought back. When it came to flavour, I really think the chef forgot to salt it lightly, or perhaps that was to reinforce the California inspired cuisine. I did catch a swampy taste to the lightly smoked meat, which I wasn't too fond of, but it was only my picky nose on the table who picked up on it. I somehow expected the bed of tomatoes to be slowly toasted, they were fresh and crispy instead and still an enjoyable side.
Our chicken was served on a bed of arugula with plenty of salsa verde on top. By the time I got to it, only chicken breasts were left so I settled for one. My piece was dry and almost made a ball in my mouth as I chewed it, however the perfect skin did make up for it - thin and crispy. Overall the chicken meat was of a high quality and rumour has it that the leg was much juicier. There was a unique marjoram taste in that salsa verde as well as a bit of that lightly bitter extra virgin olive oil adding to our palate.
Unfortunately, I could not try our last dish of roasted eggplant as my plate was quickly cleaned up when I took a washroom break. I heard a fellow colleague experience the same as her cutlery rested on the plate in no way signalling the end of a meal.
I thought it was surprising that there was no sign to guide me to the washrooms. It turned out to be on the second floor, passing by staircase winged lights - a charming addition contributing to a vintage, magical feel. Upstairs, I had a peak at their lounge area by the window - definitely a nighttime vibe with some wear and tear from all the partying (a few cracks in the glass and broken edges). Continuing on my quest, the washrooms had a turn-of-the century vault feel with their signs to the lighting and fixtures inside each small room. Adding to the mystery, rumor has it that one of the washrooms is a private one for when celebrities come in. They also get their own entrance to the restaurant and a private section - completely undercover.
Many artifacts scattered throughout the room made me linger - old cameras, books on filmography, and some really random ones like a neon pig statue.
I came back in time for dessert. Everyone got their own small French press with tea or coffee. We had plates of numerous delicious baked delicacies - brownies, blondes, cream puffs and cookies. While ours were not presented in a fancy manner, the neighbouring table did have a nice arrangement – what a beauty. We were fortunate that one lady on our table had a gluten allergy and decided to share it with us - it turned out to be the most exotic flavored sorbets I've ever had. There were two scoops - with the smell and taste of a real passion fruit and guava.
Looking at the menu later on, Ontario with the local food choices was outlined specifically. Although inspired by a city far away, Montecito's menu is all about submerging into the local Ontario foods, just like most popular restaurants opening today. Nothing wrong with that, but it's good to know as one tempers their expectations if searching for Californian fare. Some of the visiting celebrities will get a taste of the best Ontario has to offer here.