You enter the Shore Club from the stylish new lobby of the Westin Hotel. Next door, the new Convention Centre is busily readying itself for a prettier life of useful purpose. Notwithstanding the fact that the four times I’ve paid the Shore Club a visit it’s been maybe half-filled, I would imagine – and Shore Club owner David Aisenstat has no doubt also imagined – its location is, or will soon be, brilliant.
It’s a brilliant looking restaurant – soaring, dramatic, opulent. It shows off best at night when the accoutrements (a cascade of globe lights over the bar, an impressive collection of art, trimmings of granite, mahogany and mother of pearl) really gleam.
This is a second Shore Club for Aisenstat, best known for the Keg Steakhouse chain. The first is in Vancouver, a third is set to open in Toronto. The maritime decor appears to be similar and, based on a visit to the western Shore’s web site, the bill of fare is identical. Chef Duane Keats – late of Luxe Bistro on York Street – is the man in charge of the kitchen, and of a corporate menu that’s long, meaty and expensive.
The food could well be beside the point here. At my first visit, despite a few appealing items, it did feel like this was a restaurant and cocktail bar where the deals struck and palms pressed would take precedence over the plate of steak and its standard sides.
The Caesar was indelicately doused, its modern, near labour-less presentation awkward to eat. A cold beet salad arrived on a hot plate, and was more a green salad that happened to have some beets in it. The fish special – tuna wrapped in potato – desperately needed seasoning. A lemon dressing on the arugula and watercress salad was uncomfortably acerbic. Southern fried chicken (the least expensive main dish at $26) was – perhaps authentically – salty, but salty nonetheless, its brown sauce icky sweet and side of fries nothing special. And my steak ($50 for the bone-in New York strip) struck me as very average, and came with a mildly curdled Bearnaise. At the same sitting it took fifteen minutes to be told the wine we had ordered wasn’t available, and another fifteen for our second choice to surface.
But on subsequent visits, this big new place seemed to be finding its stride, and I found myself quite snuggling into it. The service was scratching my every itch. I was comfortable in plush seating. Everything was delivered smoothly – if not quickly – by a small legion of very nice floor staff in old world uniforms. And that second stab at a Shore Club steak (bone in rib eye) ticked every box – flavour, juice, chew, seasoning – bang on. It was a monstrous hunk of meat, mind, and most of it was brought home in a stylish Shore Club bag.
You are encouraged to order sides. There are 21 of them on offer and they surely spike the bill. Though the portion was laughably large, the wedge of scalloped potatoes was a winner, lightly perfumed with nutmeg. It came home with the meat.
The bouillabaisse was quite nice, though not so much a fish soup as it was a heap of (perfectly cooked) shellfish, white fish, and salmon in a bit of broth (that clearly spoke of saffron and wine) served with a side rouille that spoke of garlic. I managed a quarter of it.
Upon my return I’d have the beefy short ribs again. They were brawnily seasoned, juicy and soft.
You really don’t need a starter here. Or else you could opt to make a meal of one. In which case, go for the steak tartare, minus its overcooked hard-boiled egg. Or the luscious shrimp cocktail. Others have let us down. The crab cake is loaded with crab, but its panko crust arrived burnt, its presentation (woody wedges of tomato, frisee) dull. The ceviche was a pretty hill of seafood, but both the scallops and shrimp appeared to have been cooked with heat before being doused with a citrus marinade, and had toughened up to squeaky rubber.
The Shore Club’s wine list is long, begins at $34 and climbs to $1000. There’s some choice at the lowest end, but the markups are discouraging.
Though I’m a carnivore to the marrow, I confess I’ve never been much of a steakhouse girl. No doubt there’s an audience for this kind of meal, but I should think a waning one. It’s a throwback concept, gastronomically dull, filled with safe, familiar, protein-powered dishes my dad would have liked. Yes, this is a swanky looking place and it adds much-needed pizzazz to our downtown core, but the Shore Club menu doesn’t make waves for me, doesn’t forge any new trails, or tell you anything about the city in which you are dining. Surely we’ve moved on from our fathers’ restaurant. Time will tell.