Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill

Did I tell you that we went to the opera the other week? It's something I've wanted to do for awhile and Bunny, being the smart cookie that he is, bought me tickets for Christmas. I'll tell you a little more about that some other time, but right now I want to focus on something else: the post-opera dinner.

We wound up at the Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill, which was rather unexpected. Heck, I never knew they existed before which is something of a shame. We'd hiked down to Adelaide St with the intention of hitting up Nami for some sushi, and had agreed that Terroni would be our backup plan in case Nami was closed. We figured being that it was a Sunday we should hedge our bets. Well, what do you know but both were closed. Fudge that, right?

So we walked down Adelaide a bit more and discussed our options. Keep walking and find somewhere? Hop a Queen car and go to Aji Sai? Hey, there's a seafood place across the street. Want to try there? The sign says they have lobster, you like lobster. Let's go!

Thus we wound up at the Starfish. We were early, around maybe 6:30, and it was a Sunday so we weren't surprised that the restaurant was fairly slow, with only two other tables. The restaurant comes across very unassumingly. The sign announcing its presence looks cheap and diner-ish. Inside, the restaurant seems small (although there does appear to be a back room), and for the most part the decor was forgetable. It was a cloth napkin place, and cloth napkins always make an impression on me. They speak to an older time, where the world wasn't quite so disposable.

Plus, I've never seen a cloth napkin at a restaurant that doesn't care about the food. It told me that they were serious about their fishies.

The menu changes daily, something that I both love and hate. I'm the sort of person who does like to order the same items every time I go to the same restaurant (see: every time I have ever visited a chain restaurant), so updating the menu so often is a deterent to becoming a regular. Then again, for a fancier place that I wouldn't realistically dine at all the time? It's a great way to keep the chef's inspiration fresh, and to enjoy really seasonal food.

To start with, our server brought out a bread basket. The bread was good: dense and chewy, and the butter come softened. I'm also going to take this moment to say that our service was excellent. They know what they are doing here.

Bunny wanted to share a plate of oysters and given that we were at an oyster bar it seemed like a good idea. I've never had oysters before, though, and I have a tendency to get very nervous about new foods and something about the idea of eating raw oysters has always given me the heebie jeebies. Then again, I like raw salmon ... can't be that different, right?

I had oysters. They brought three varieties: a Galway flat (I didn't try it, but they were massive and Bunny adored them), something called a champagne oyster (that were tiny tiny and adorable) and a third that I don't remember. I never would have guessed what variety there is in oysters, and I'm glad that I got to try a few. We started with the champagne oysters, because I'm a wuss and they were small and therefore less scary. They were good: they had that same seafood sweetness I love about crab, the flavour was very mild, and I almost felt like it melted in my mouth. The second oyster was not so great. It tasted slightly fishy to me, but I think it was simply a stronger tasting oyster. Bunny liked his.

The verdict on oysters? I'm glad I tried them and will definitely make it a point to have them again. They were good.

For my main, I had Ontario trout. I usually stay away from ordering fish at a restaurant; if I'm at a seafood place I would generally rather have crab or scallops and when I'm not at a seafood place I know there are better items on the menu, but this really jumped at me. I don't think I could have made a better choice. This may have been the best fish I have ever eaten. The skin was perfectly crisped, the flesh was cooked to pure perfection, so moist it was almost juicy and completely cooked through. My mind was blown.

Even better was the fact that the trout was well accompanied. The plate had a generous smear of a celeriac puree with wasabi, that was divine when eaten with the trout. The creaminess and the slightly more intense flavour balanced perfectly with the fish. There was also a beautiful selection of vegetables: roast fingerling potatoes, golden beets, baby turnips and apples. I may have mentioned before how much I love beets, but I've never had a golden variety, and they were excellent. (Well, duh.) The potatoes were great as well, my only complaint with them was that there weren't many. What didn't thrill me were the turnips and apples. The turnip was just so bland and boring with all the flavours going on everywhere else, and the apples weren't enjoyable. Their inclusion was a little bit unfortunate, as everything else was so well balanced.

Bunny had considered getting the trout, but instead went with a duck dish. It came with a few different sides - no puree or beets, but there were leeks and some other things - that I didn't try. I did, though, get to taste his duck and that was very well prepared. Rich, tender, and meaty. He ate every bite on his plate.

Dessert was pretty good as well. Bunny tried their award-winning sticky toffee pudding and practically licked the plate. I had an espresso creme brulee that was quite delightful. The sugar crust was perfect, and I found that the contrast between the bitter espresso and the sweet custard was delightful.

Price wise, this isn't a bargain. The mains on the menu rain between about $25-35, and realistically if you're here you'll probably indulge in a couple of oysters or an app as well. And try the sticky toffee pudding. Trust me.

All in all, Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill gets high marks from me. It's a great alternative to our usual seafood place, and downtown is much more convenient than hiking out to East York. The quality of the food and the thought that went into the accompaniments made a big impression and we will most certainly be going back.

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