I lose 65 calories after a ten-minute spin on the excersize bike. Hmmm. This means it’s gonna take me almost an hour to work off a Tim Horton walnut crunch donut destroying once and for all the cherished illusion that an hour’s workout gets my metabolism racing in carb-crushing mode. I leave my health club at my hungriest and then have to run the gauntlet of the hi-cal temptations which flank it.
A fit, buffed acquaintance tells me there is no need for all this calorie angst. A friendlier enviro for gym rats exists at Stratus, the Toronto Athletic Club’s restaurant atop one of those TD Centre giant I-Pads by Bay. You don’t have to be a member to lunch in the clouds. The space is as effervescent as a petillant wine, a dramatic and welcoming room, long windows offering a panorama of downtown with Porter flights skimming the lake. Yellow and orange shiny tiles frame the windows, the walls are neutral gray, the place fizzes with negative ions. Lunchers range from designer sweats eating iconic salad to Bay street suits. Everyone looks extraordinarily cheerful including the waiters. Water is the jus de jour except for one emeritus partner, the ghost of business lunches past. He sips a martini with a twist. We want to cheer.
We order a pleasant glass of Butterfield Chardonnay,$9, and feel great. This is the way to reward oneself after gruelling pool lengths and surviving a session with the Spanish Inquisition aka personal trainer. I have the mushroom soup $10 — sublime. I think it was Wolfgang Puck who pioneered the ineffable wild mushroom soup a few decades ago, and this hybrid, which includes farmed fungi, is even sleeker, an intense broth of atoms of buttons, portobellos, shitakes. And it’s more ecologically correct. Word from England suggests that the wild mushroom forage has gone too far. Enthusiastic amateurs, urged on by the likes of Jamie Oliver and anxious to prove their fresh’n’local chops, are depleting the forests of the favourite diet of deer, rabbits, mice and insects such as flies and beetles. Hey there humans, stop being so greedy.
Chef David Ross’s kitchen has another wonderful soup, a tawny Thai broth filled with shitakes, onions, a few slices of tiger shrimp $10, so rich and satisfying it could make a whole meal. The beef carpaccio is equally flavoursome, a coral carousel of transparent discs spiked by chimichurri sauce, onion, garlic, olive oil, which could be better defined, leaves of nutty aged Asiago and a glossy pea shoot salad.
Don’t expect Maryland lump crab in a crab cake here. But still, the crisp patty of well-seasoned strands $24 with charred tomato aioli is good although the accompanying black tiger shrimps seem overgrilled, but then the black tiger is one tough hombre. The plate’s runaway hit is the salad. Now here’s a presentation to turn on any salad-phobe. A coil of cucumber is wrapped around a mildly astringent bunch of leaves small enough to be eaten easily and with little enokis tucked among the greens. For once I eat all the salad.
Omelets are the dieter’s security blanket.. Stratus’ omelet $20 is stuffed with home-cured Juniper smoked salmon and gruyere, such a good and complementary pairing. At another lunch, we throw calories to the winds and have a blow out – fish and chips. Panko-crumbed Ontario perch is perfect with tartare sauce $23 and a small mountain of **** sweet potato fries. Terrific. Not so the South-Western Chicken Supreme $23 which fails to deliver on its implicit promise of Tex-Mex spice. Sliced, grilled chicken breast is moist but otherwise without any redeeming gastro importance. It’s poised on top of hefty chunks of romaine lettuce tossed in an effete ranch dressing which has never kissed garlic or onion. This kitchen’s flaw is its’ erratic use of spice/seasoning. Even the cornbread croutons and sprinkling of grilled corn are bland.
Is it fair to even suggest desserts in this milieu? The dessert menu is longest of all! Is there a saboteur at work? I’d say yes, except the two desserts are such downers. The chocolate mousse cake with cherry compote $9 has the fibre of a cake mix and the mousse is heavy. But it’s ethereal compared to the apple tart with caramel glaze and cinnamon icecream. The tart $9 turns out to be a cakey apple mush. We finish neither – and feel virtuous.
** 1/2 Stratus 36th Floor, 79 Wellington W. 416-865-1924 Wheelchair accessible. Breakfast/lunch only. Lunch for two, food and tax.Food and tax for two: $100