We were smart, in years gone by, to be wary of hotel restaurants. Catering to transient business types and the tourists who flock seasonally to our region, they were generally not on the radar of the locals – except, perhaps at noon-hour by those on an expense account looking for a comfortable, private place to lunch and talk shop. And though usually plush enough, they were also mostly expensive and dull.
The model of churning out tepid, please-all food was mostly abandoned in the 1990s. Some hotel kitchens went a bit overboard in their rejection of conventional options. (The Arc Lounge and, more recently, Perspectives in the Brookstreet Hotel, come to mind.)
But this one â€“ The Capital Dining Room of the Delta Hotel â€“ hasnâ€™t.
After two weeks of jolting dining in rowdy, aggressively trendy eateries here and in Toronto, I rediscovered the pleasures of the Capital Dining Room, a windowless rectangle of dated comfort – well spaced tables, oversized armchairs, timbered walls, shiny chandeliers, and an odd collection of glass trophy cases stuffed with furred and feathered creatures. Just yer basic hotel dining room, traditional, old fashioned and banal, run with efficient grace by Maitre Dâ€™ Robert Hughes for as long as there have been stuffed owls in the walls. Maybe longer.
You expect, in this space, typical hotel food. And certainly the food is not in the least ground breaking. But, under the leadership of Chef Kenton Leier, it is solidly good.
Consider his scallop starter. Seared to crusty perfection and milky within, the scallops are paired with a fat shrimp set in a lime butter sauce. Leier then poaches two blue mussels, perches them on top of a red lentil cake, pretties the plate with puddles of saffron and basil oil, and crowns the assembly with wisps of crispy fried leek. It struck me as $16 well spent.
Gentle lemon grass scents a delicate duck broth, while peppery wontons filled with duck confit, Hen of the woods (or maitake) mushrooms and baby bok choy plump up the bowl.
Wild salmon arrives as moist as salmon should be, with a ruby heart. The fish is given a chunky lobster crust, a band of prosciutto, and a sweet yellow puree purÃ©e for company. Fingerling potatoes, bok choy, white asparagus, steamed edamame and cubes of roasted mango round out the plate in satisfying ways.
The house Lamb is paired with mustard, mint and rosemary (as lamb is fond of being paired) and with a crisp and soft rosti potato enriched with Gorgonzola. All green sides: asparagus, sugar peas, broccoli, all nicely done. Another standard, beef tenderloin, is paired with a chorizo and potato hash, and with meaty king eryngii mushrooms in a red wine reduction sauce.
For dessert, we share a plate of treats: a blueberry maple crÃ¨me brulÃ©e, a cranberry white chocolate tart, a blob of hazelnut ice cream and a soft, dark, dense, chocolate brownie. All delicious.
I could swear the stuffed owl was grinning as we waddled out, our parking ticket stamped.