The Donald would be right at home here. Stock is a grand room with big pretensions: The ceiling is triple height, the tall walls garnished with splendid decorative plasterwork and the occasional huge crystal, and a wash of mauve light plays over it all. Tall sprays of orchids set off the windows. The restaurant’s logo is a dollar sign.
All of this led me to expect a serious restaurant. But has The Donald seen the menu? It reads like a steak house. Filet mignon. New York strip. A 32-ounce bone-in ribeye. Wagyu striploin. A 14-ounce veal chop for $48. As per usual in a steak house, the meat comes on its own so you have to order (and pay for) veg and spuds. There is also salmon, bass and three pastas. Yawn.
The starters are so boring-sounding you could fall asleep reading them. I mean really: Caesar salad. Crab guacamole. Lobster salad. Steak tartare. Chicken soup. Shrimp cocktail. C’mon. It’s 2012, fellas.
There is enough sweet fresh crab in the crab dish, but it’s essentially boring. The chicken soup is perfect chicken broth with good dumplings afloat. The charcuterie collection is impeccable but not exactly ground-breaking. The wild-mushroom soup (an Oliver & Bonacini signature) is rather like the Canoe mushroom soup: a good, smooth puree with strong truffle-oil perfume. Perhaps not a coincidence: Stock’s executive chef Todd Clarmo spent 15 years at Oliver & Bonacini in their various restaurants, ending as chef at Canoe and then O&B corporate exec chef. His right hand at Stock, chef Paul Benallick, was chef at O&B’s Auberge du Pommier.
Does The Donald even know Stock exists? Word on the street is that the developer simply paid to use the Trump name. The Toronto Trump Hotel is owned by Talon International, which is owned by husband-and-wife team Val and Inna Levitan. Ms. Levitan seems to be in charge of Stock.
Let’s say Stock wasn’t on the 31st floor of the glitzy new Trump Hotel. Imagine, let’s say, that it’s a bistro on Yonge Street north of Lawrence. Would you go there? Would you even be interested in hearing about it?
The apps taste as unexciting as they sound, and the mains are close behind. Is my 14-ounce veal chop $48 worth of fun? It is cooked perfectly and is indeed a charming piece of flesh, but the tarragon taste in the Béarnaise sauce is MIA. They do better with peppercorn sauce, which is veal jus reduced with green peppercorns and a lot of cream. The blue-cheese butter on top of my steak one evening is also very good. But cream and butter can make almost anybody look good. The steaks are perfectly cooked, well-aged Pennsylvania beef, but does the world need another 12-ounce New York strip for $48?
As for sides, the Brussels sprouts with pork belly and onion are not browned but buttery, with big, fat chunks of pork belly and golden baby onions. Truffled mac and cheese has lots of truffle oil and breadcrumbs on top and is ultra creamy but lacks enough cheese to give it bite. And, P.S., somebody forgot to brown the top. The frites are double fried and very good, with a wondrously thick truffled aioli.
Still, I’m not too sure I’d cross the street for either the sides or for any of Stock’s three pastas. Chitarra and lobster is slightly too al dente pasta with a good hit of perfectly cooked, very fresh lobster in chili-kissed tomato sauce. There are ricotta ravioli with mushrooms, and pleasant gnocchi with braised rabbit.
None of this is bad food. Indeed it’s quite good. It’s just that the sell is so big.
The servers, who are much more marvellous than their kitchen, are forever telling you how great everything is. But really it is only they who are great. They know their food and they treat everyone as if they are The Donald. I poke enthusiastically at the cooked-down fruit chutney with the charcuterie, and, as if by magic, there is the server, saying: “Would you like more chutney?”
They sell the chocolate desserts hardest of all, praising the pastry chef’s “chocolate lab” to the skies. They make you schlep to the chocolate bar to look at the daily selection. But I find their vaunted chocolate lab ho-hum, not the chocolatier of my dreams, and I say this as a lifelong chocoholic. Milk chocolate bar with peanuts is raw peanuts atop pedestrian milk chocolate. Quick, somebody get me a Reese’s. Dark chocolate bar with dried cherries and almonds is very good dark chocolate but also unexciting. Perhaps if the almonds had been toasted I’d be happier. The truffles are pretty good but you can get better elsewhere in town.
And perhaps we could do without the shouting. A design miscalculation has placed both the bar and the mezzanine party space directly adjacent to the dining room, and sometimes there are after-work revellers kicking back to synthesizer rock with a heavy bass. Not so friendly to fine dining. Nor is my mood friendly when, having paid almost three hundred bucks for dinner for two (with a total alcohol content of three glasses of wine), they charge us $25 for valet parking. No wonder Stock’s logo is a dollar sign.