The cat's meow - Fat Cat boasts decadent elegance
Eglinton and Avenue is not exactly around the corner for me. It's far enough away to have me feeling both out of my element and tax bracket. But that doesn't mean I'm not ashamed of my laziness. Fat Cat has been going since last June, and the food is so good that, even with the cab ride, it's worth the trip.
The unassuming facade is easy to miss, but it's just east of the Eglinton Theatre. Entering the tiny room, I am struck by the subdued feeling of the low lighting and cream-coloured walls accented with large bunches of pussy willows. The tables dressed with runners (half-cloths down the middle) and thick napkins bound with heavy silver rings complete the tasteful look.
Noticing we have sipped our cocktails to well after 10pm, we ask our server if we should order right away, as the kitchen is probably waiting on us. We are told not to rush -- generous, considering the kitchen closes at 10:30. It's nice when restaurants are willing to accommodate.
The two of us are seated at a table for four -- an advantage of eating so late -- and handed short, descriptive menus. Sometimes, if there are only six main courses, there is just not enough choice. But with a mix of lesser-seen dishes such as skate or veal with sweetbreads thrown in with the more common beef strip loin or rack of lamb, there is something for everyone (except, unfortunately, vegetarians).
I start with scallops. They are wrapped in a crust that is the result of perfect searing, the insides tender and with a trace of rare in the centre. They sit atop a divinely creamy sauce of bacon and leek. The pièce de résistance is an accent of reduced citrus juices, which adds a nice zing.
My date, who is unable to resist squid even though it has not always been good to him, orders stir-fried calamari and hopes for the best. Well, we're two for two. The stir-fry method is an offbeat choice -- most restaurants either grill or pan-sear -- that produces a moist, flavourful result that is toothsome without being chewy. The use of chilies and lime in the olive, onion and tomato base give a Latin flair to a Mediterranean classic.
Some kitchens produce mind-blowingly good starters only to disappoint with so-so mains. Fortunately, this is not the case here. My dish of Provimi veal tenderloin and sweetbreads lives up to the expectations. The veal doesn't resist the knife any more than butter would and melts in your mouth in much the same way. A salad of Brussels sprouts and onion adds texture, and the shallot and Madeira sauce gives a boost of flavour without taking over.
But the sweetbreads are the real star. If the thought of consuming the thymus is off-putting to you, my telling you what you're missing probably won't help, but I'll try. These are magical little things, capable of reducing me to a full-on swoon. If you are going to venture into the exciting world of gland meat, this is the place to do it.
The beef tenderloin, available as a special, is flawless. Chef Mathew Sutherland has obviously developed a good relationship with his butcher. The thyme-scented mushroom and potato croquette is a hearty side, and braised kale rounds out the plate. A sauce of mustard and green peppercorn is well-executed and a classic choice for beef.
For dessert, we share a lovely chocolate tart that is fully cooked. (As much as I adore the molten chocolate cake introduced to Toronto by Avalon years ago, once it's available at the Keg, it's over.)
We come back a few days later for an early supper to see if the chef is as adept with fish as he is with meat.
We start with a special of tuna ceviche. It is cubed and mixed with avocado and red onion. I like the smoked salmon that contains the mixture. But what really brings it all together are the chunks of blood orange and pink grapefruit (pith removed), the passionfruit and pomegranate seeds, and the dressing that reflects all the fruit flavours.
The other special of beef carpaccio is interesting for a couple of reasons -- it has been very briefly seared to impart pepper to the outside edges and it is more thickly sliced than I'm used to. This is because it hasn't been frozen and cut paper-thin with a meat slicer to hide inferior quality. I much prefer meat that speaks for itself, and this tenderloin does.
Opening the parchment wrapping in which my salmon has been slow-cooked reveals a treasure: moist fish wrapped in julienned fennel and carrot. The cream sauce of Pernod and saffron is delicious -- tasting the base notes of Iranian saffron for the first time is like discovering a block of taste buds you never knew you had. However, I found the side of spinach to be a little overpowering for the delicate fish.
Fat Cat's signature banana cobbler is not too be missed. It's a ramekin filled with warm bananas and crème anglaise and topped with an almond crumble. A cooling scoop of ginger ice cream balances all the richness.
Fat Cat has Service Down Pat
Some of us have fat cats, some of us are fat cats.
Then there's Fat Cat Bar & Bistro, a year-old restaurant in Forest Hill with a modern French menu, voguish décor and warm service.
Breezy white curtains flutter in the hard-to-find doorway beside Coronation Billiard Academy. Inside is a narrow room with high ceilings, contemporary art and a small open kitchen dominated by Sutherland who, with his swooping sideburns, looks like a rockabilly version of actor Vincent D'Onofrio.
If this is a bistro, it's a bistro with pizzazz. Close-set tables are laid with linen runners, beaded votive candles and smooth stones meant for fondling. Cloth napkins are tied with metal pretzels. Fat Cat's waiters are mercifully free of the "I'm only waiting tables to pay for university" ennui in trendier restaurants. They're honest, too. When the bottle of wine we request is out of stock one evening, co-owner Jeremy Wright hauls up three alternatives from the basement cellar, describing them by character and, more importantly, by price.
Sutherland, 33, cooks with confidence, such confidence there's no salt and pepper on the tables. An appetizer of foie gras ($13) is deftly seared and paired with stewed cherries. Three scallops ($10) are properly raw inside, sweet radish slaw balancing the heat of coconut curry. Roast beef pairs beautifully with blue cheese in an arugula salad ($11), while chorizo-stuffed calamari ($9) is one of the best examples I've every tasted. The smoky, anise flavour of the sausage imparts depth to the tender squid.
"Every restaurant should have a `wow' factor," says Sutherland. "Rhea appeals to people because it's lean and has a slightly gamy flavour."
With the leg, he makes sausage or Asian stir-fries. We sample the tenderloin ($28), pan-roasted and so dark it's almost purple. It's also chewy, which may suit some, but I prefer the fork-tender rack of lamb ($28) or yielding provimi liver ($21).
A special one night of steamed grouper fillet ($27) comes with its flabby skin, a barrier to the mound of sticky rice beneath. The trio of sauces - pesto made from licoricy Asian basil, mild green curry, not-so-mild orange curry - bring the bland fish to life. Striped bass ($19) is also bland, the lavender missing (thank God) from a sludgy carrot sauce.
You can't go wrong with housemade dessert. Molten chocolate cake ($8) is a chocoholic's dream, while lemon tart ($11) will please citrus lovers. Cheeses ($12) are correctly at room temperature. But the standout is banana cobbler ($7), warm, custardy spoonfuls of nostalgia.
Fat Cat is where it's at.
Fat Cat spruces up Eglinton Ave. with green things
Spring is the time when a middle-aged girl's thoughts turn to fiddleheads, asparagus, chervil, wild leeks . . . and, of course, love. As any mature man knows, the way to a middle-aged woman's heart is through her taste buds. Which explains why dinner at Fat Cat left me swooning.
Fat Cat's regular menu is relatively entertaining. We could eat sesame-crusted sea scallops over and over again, thanks to their crunchy exterior, melting middles and zingy green curry sauce, not to mention the crispy radish sprout counterpoint. The remainder of the menu is no less entertaining, thanks to the likes of foie gras with drunken cherries, beef with spinach-and-cheese strudel, pecan-crusted lamb rack with wild mushroom sauce, et al.
But Fat Cat's chef, Mathew Sutherland, is a man driven by the seasons, and for that he owns the key to my heart. Hurrah for the chef who does back flips to use the scintillating greenery of spring.
One evening last week, chef Sutherland offered hot smoked wild B.C. salmon formed into a delicate cake with red and yellow peppers and small chunks of fennel (blanched to gentle it), all tied up in a paper thin cucumber ribbon. The difference between wild and farmed salmon (the latter being the vast majority of salmon sold in Canada) is the difference between Gelato Fresco and supermarket ice cream. Environmental factors and PCB overloads aside, farmed salmon seems hardly worth eating after one has tasted the sweet succulence of the wild thing.
Main course specials depend on seasonal greens: Veal tenderloin, perfectly tender, is studded with toasted hazelnuts and sits on a bed of tender fiddleheads, with fava beans (so sweet they're sugary) and a sauce made from wild leeks, the delicate cousin to cultivated leeks. This is heaven on a plate. Chef also offered two tall ruby hunks of barely seared tuna with three different kinds of asparagus: the regular green stuff, white asparagus from France, and wild green asparagus, also from France -- impossibly tiny pale green spears with delicate flavour. Is there a more passionate homage to spring?
For dessert, chef Sutherland stays in dazzle mode. Banana cobbler, the most pedestrian possible idea, turns Elysian in his clever hands: It's warm, crunchy on top, and suffused with cream. The guy who can make a decadent cobbler also gracefully gilds the lily by putting his warm dark chocolate cake in a sugar pastry tart crust, very short and buttery. His lemon tart packs a smooth citric punch.
A gourmet’s paradise, where a few good cheese dictionaries and a board of the unpasteurized lovelies beckon at the marble bar. Diners could remain anonymous in a dim corner of the narrow bistro (made comfortable with mellow grooves, modern lines, smooth stones for fondling on each linened table), but devotees ask for Table 13, next to the kitchen. Flanked by a golden Elvis bust and a giant mortar and pestle, chef Mathew Sutherland holds forth from the pass-through as he puts together his brand of cold-weather comfort: smoky, creamy and rich enough for the fattest fat cat. Sesame-crusted scallops are a perennial favourite, but most of Sutherland’s menu changes with the seasons. House-smoked salmon can make a few appearances: with warmed crostini and a yogurt-dill rémoulade; diced in a not quite steaming potato-leek soup gilded with crème fraîche and a little truffle oil. Those opting for the tasting menu ($75 for seven courses) delight in house-smoked mackerel resting on a toonie-size cod cake, a bacon–Pommery mustard cream sauce lapping at its base. Frisée and a hint of Pernod freshen the flavours. Variations on lamb (changing nightly) might include a refined take on haggis. Smoky bacon and macadamia nuts adorn quinoa tossed with thin strips of savoy cabbage and shiitake mushrooms; this accompaniment does double duty as a base for a hefty venison chop and a special of sweetbreads (not quite tender enough). Kimberly Humby (formerly of YYZ and The Fifth) finds the right wines; the intelligent list is arranged by style (aromatic, lively, robust). Bread pudding is at once crisp and custardy; truffles from J.S. Bonbons sate the chocophile. Closed Sunday.
Chef: Mathew Sutherland
Food trends rarely follow what's good; they're about what's new and hot. That's why, when headed toward a year-old bistro at Avenue Road and Eglinton, the prospect of another cookie-cutter meal lingers afloat.
But worry not; Chef Mathew Sutherland established his reputation in the late nineties by churning out continental cuisine at The Town Grill in Cabbagetown. His fresh ingredient trademark and signature dishes are nicely in place, even if we have to trek past Forest Hills to get to it.
Fat Cat has a narrow frontage, but the logo above the doorway is eye-catching enough that it will stick out amongst the local wedding dress stores. The interior is small and long, but never completely overcrowded. A long granite bar owns the place, while stained hardwood floors and unobtrusive tables and chairs adds warmth to the room.
Fat Cat seems to have a loyal following already in place, as many familiar faces grace the tables throughout the week. A good mix, and the room is at its best - both in performance and vibe - when half full.
Now for the signature dishes, thus being the sautéed foie gras, provimi veal tenderloin with sweetbreads, and the prime striploin with green peppercorn sauce. If you haven't tried these dishes, there's no need to look at a menu on your first visit to Fat Cat
The sautéed foie gras is a minimalist triumph, served delicately on a toasted crostini with Cloudberry compote. The Prime Striploin with mustard and green peppercorn sauce is a perfect cut, on every visit, with its thyme-scented mushroom & potato croquette, with braised kale makes a big plate. is well-executed and a classic choice for beef. Provimi veal tenderloin and sweetbreads are a rare treat, with the shallot and Madeira sauce, accompanied with a Brussels sprouts and onion salad to bring it all together.
You'll find plenty of depth in the small menu beyond the intellectual-property laws, though. Short and to the point, appetizers include the public domain goat chévre and caramelized onion tart; and roasted quail, superbly plated with du puy lentils. Breast of Duck, which is pan roasted and served with wild Burberry sauce; B.C. Salmon with saffron pérnod cream sauce; and the rack of lamb, tamarind glazed, and served with a warm chick pea salad.
Dessert list includes the standard créme brulée and lemon tart. But Fat Cat served up this dish called the Banana Cobbler, which was the route to go here. Great finish.
The staff is a fun crew, yet scattered when busy. But all in all this is a great time, this little bistro, way, way up on Eglinton. Once you’re in Sutherland’s hands, you will be thankful you ventured out.
Fat Cat also offers up the Chef’s Table. Leave yourself in his creative hands, and be served a culinary feast, inventive dishes of tiny proportions, one dish after another. Go forth!
No Smoking. Reservations recommended.