Joe and Gary managed to find a general contractor with restaurant experience, who also had ties to a millwork company that could build the rich cabinetry and the $5,600 solid mahogany tables for the private dining room that would help define the Vertical look. But with various approval delays, they didn't start demolition until August. That was a month lost right there. And now that they were in a hurry, they couldn't get the union guys to move. A workman would start threading a pipe at 1 p.m., and at 2 p.m. he'd still be at it. "You can't drive these guys," says Gary. "They work till noon on Fridays. And if the contractor drives 'em too hard, he'll just get a grievance slapped on him and the whole job shuts down." Was it like walking on eggshells, Gary? "Hundred per cent."
CANOE: 12:05 p.m.
On the kitchen's two tiny printers, stationed at the garde manger and at the pass, the first order of lunch prints out-the pink copy for apps, the white copy for mains. Barry the sous-chef clips his white chit to the metal rail above him. "And we're off!"
Anthony Walsh, the day's expediter, still has some time before things get really hairy, so he spends a moment at the raw bar creating an "amuse" (short for amuse bouche, a little foodie treat) for Mr. Dee's table. He tells Vlad, the chef de partie over at the sandwich station, to shuck three raw oysters for him. From that request, Amanda at the garde manger knows what's up. "Twenty-six," she nods to herself. "The bigwig table."
At the raw bar, Walsh assembles the amuse in three bowls: Little flash-fried cubes of tuna set around a glistening oyster, sprinkled with onion water and topped with a tiny slice of tuna belly. When the plates are ready, the waiter takes two-Canoe servers are allowed to carry only two dishes at a time-and motions to the third. "You wanna take Mr. Dee's?" Walsh nods, and they whisk the surprise to table 26, where Mr. Dee receives Walsh like an old friend.
VERTICAL: SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER, 2005 While they worried about the construction delays, Gary and Joe tried to attend to the fun part of the job. They found a design firm to create an interior featuring clean, contemporary lines. They searched out the smallwares-stemware, dishes and cutlery-that would give their tables style. In the showroom of Globe Hotelware, a favourite supplier of Toronto's higher-end restaurants, they picked an angular dinner knife that no one else in the city was using; it cost nearly 11 bucks a piece but, hey, it stood on its edge.
They also worked on the menu. They'd already chosen their chef-we'll call him Marco-a young cook from southern Italy who was a friend of Joe's, and who both understood the refined Mediterranean style they wanted and wasn't so experienced as to be set in his ways. As construction continued, Marco came up with dishes and used the test kitchen of Nella Cucina, a culinary school, for tastings. And while the food was being devised, Gary and Joe set about hiring prep cooks and servers. That they were opening in late fall was a bit of a problem; a lot of good people preferred to hold on to the jobs they had rather than be uprooted so close to the Christmas season. That forced Gary and Joe to hire a few inexperienced staffers, based on potential.
While they crossed their fingers on that front, they watched their opening get delayed. The first of two building inspectors kept finding little issues that needed to be addressed-wiring, floor grates, the swinging mechanism on the doors of the handicapped washroom stalls. Each problem meant maybe half a day's work, but the inspector wouldn't come back to approve the work for a week and a half, and they couldn't move forward until he did. "One guy," fumes Gary, "cost us five weeks." Given the time of year, they figured that worked out to about $400,000 in lost revenue.
CANOE: 12:30 p.m.
Things are humming now. At the pasta station, Sassi slams a clump of capellini into his mouth to test for doneness, while at the garde manger Amanda gently chides Vlad as he finishes a shrimp cocktail-"Vlad, what do you have against garnishes? We have all this green stuff…"-and reaches in with sprigs of amaranth and arugula.
On the line, Nathan quickly sears blocks of flesh, positioned according to "colour" (rare is always on the right). Beside him, Barry the sous-chef churns out jewels of rare tuna, sliced thin, cherry red, and laid on beds of citrus grains. Though Barry's fairly new, he's handling the pace-he worked at Jump, under the rigorous rule of executive chef Filippo Mancuso, who likes to say of lunch there, "We're faster than fast food!"