- Pick 6ix
- Location: 33 Yonge St. (at Wellington St.)
- Price: Starters, $7-35; Tapas, $15-$18; Mains, $19-$45; Sushi ordered individually for $12/2 pieces with larger platters on offer
- Atmosphere: A club-meets-sports bar with thumping R&B and hip-hop.
- Drinks: House cocktails ($12-16); 10 wines on offer by the glass ($13-$35)
Long before Pick 6ix served a dish or poured a drink, we knew that it would be loud, flamboyant and expensive. Ownership (hip-hop deity Drake is a minority partner) and location (the Financial District) can often dictate a restaurant’s personality.
Pick 6ix, in a space that was once a Houston’s Bar & Grill at the base of a Yonge St. office building, wants you to feel decadent. It’s decked out in accents of gold and royal blue, with the R&B/hip-hop cranked up and plenty of preening women and rubber-necked men. There’s a VIP room and a VVIP room.
This social mix of celebrity buzz, pummeling bass and pricey too-sweet cocktails means everyone is on the make here. While on a photo shoot for this column, the Globe and Mail’s photographer was offered free booze and connections to Hollywood in exchange for taking a diner’s new Tinder profile pic. Meanwhile, Drake quietly watched the Raptors game with a female companion and a burger in the VVIP room, surrounded by his security detail. Just a regular Tuesday night.
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Pick 6ix bills itself as an upscale sports bar. Makes sense, given it’s within a five-minute walk of Air Canada Centre and the name is a triple entendre alluding to a football interception, a sports bet and Drake’s nickname for his hometown. Despite the many TVs showing the Raptors playing, few patrons are watching. They’re much more interested in the game of taking selfies than basketball.
It’s not surprising that Drake would try his hand at a restaurant (he gave the Susur Lee-owned Fring’s its name and was rumoured to be a partner, remember). More intriguing is why other celebs haven’t in Toronto. The former Degrassi star is only the second celebrity to buy into the downtown resto scene since the awful Wayne Gretzky’s (I’m not counting Mark Wahlberg’s Wahlburgers). Meanwhile, restaurant co-ownership in New York and Los Angeles is almost like a celebrity rite of passage. Even Zach Braff is a part-owner of a Manhattan oyster bar.
Regardless, Drake’s connection seems to be more cheerleader than investor. He did host LeBron James for the inaugural bash in January, but Pick 6ix’s main partners are Nessel (Chubbs) Beezer, Drake’s head of security, and Dutch businessman Sabah Nissan. (Drake last year performed at an extravagant bar mitzvah for Mr. Nissan’s son in Amsterdam.)
Montreal chef Antonio Park, who earned accolades serving his mosaic of South American/Korean/Japanese cuisine, is also a partner and lends culinary credibility. Mr. Park already has a mini-empire of restaurants in Montreal that includes his eponymous fine-dining sushi restaurant and Kampai Garden, a beer hall with Asian tapas. This is his first venture in Toronto.
In theory, this place should be my dream come true: a raucous sports bar that serves fancy Asian food. Pick 6ix isn’t what I had in mind, though. For one, sports are secondary here, but I can live with that. Less so: with the flawed club-like service and middling food.
On one weeknight visit, a hostess checks off our reservation on her tablet and can’t figure out where to seat us in the half-empty room. She leads us across the restaurant to the other host station, chats with her colleagues and disappears. We’re left standing there, confused for a minute before a third person tells us our table in a far corner is being prepared. At the end of the evening, another staff member drops my jacket upon retrieval from the coat check and doesn’t apologize.
Small quibbles, sure, but they underline that the vibe is more club than restaurant. If you’re not in Drake’s entourage or about to drop four figures on a few bottles of Ace of Spades Champagne, you get the feeling that you don’t matter.
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Table-side, service is more welcoming but servers held a tenuous grasp of the menu. On my first visit, the bubbly server came with a manager to deliver multiple plates of food and neither could identify all the six fish on the nigiri plate. They left, and neither came back to fill in the missing gaps of knowledge. On my second visit, the server successfully (although nervously) identified the six fish, but only repeated the same four-word description (“cold-climate, less fruity”) when asked questions about the glass of Nova Scotia white wine I ordered (too acidic and austere for me). She memorized her one page of notes for the pop quiz and knew little else.
For a chef who comes as celebrated as Mr. Park, the food is disappointing. His specialty is sushi and he sources quality fish (at $52 for 12 pieces of nigiri, you do pay for it). But his team also needlessly adorns every piece of sushi with a dollop of caviar, bits of gold leaf or a marinated konbu. It’s Instagram pretty, but there’s a functional flaw: You can’t dip the nigiri fish-side in the soy sauce. Instead, you have to dip on the rice side. Multiple times, the nigiri fell apart. A pity, since the tuna and amberjack were both top-notch.
The hamachi crudo starter is delicious until you’re reminded later that you spent $28 for five bites. Same goes for his tasty empanadas – two small pockets for $18. It’s no challenge to blow through $80 for a cocktail and two plates of food and still walk out hungry.
Prices aside, there are technical faults and a lack of imagination in the kitchen. A grilled albacore dish ($24) arrives so freezing cold that the temperature mutes all flavors. A braised short-rib ($38), slow-cooked for eight hours in Korean flavours, is delicious on its own but the sides – a cauliflower floret, a broccoli branch and two cherry tomatoes – are what I’d expect at a convention centre rather than from an exciting chef.
The karaage fried chicken dish, with wasabi mayo and maple-infused gochujang ($12), is very tasty, but many restaurants these days make good fried chicken – it’s hardly a milestone of top-flight dining.
The celebrity connection, deep-pocketed investors and its location among the big banks will likely ensure that Pick 6ix will succeed as a business. The cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore held their promotional party there last month. Hockey players stop by after a Leafs home game. Bay Street bros are flocking to drink there after work. Pick 6ix is a hot club. As a dining experience, well, that’s a different story.