[This article first appeared on Vacay.ca on August 12, 2013.]
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Steven Salm has opened 14 restaurants in his career. That would be impressive for anyone in the restaurant business. Consider that Salm is 29 years old and the feat seems astounding. The transplanted New Yorker’s most ambitious and likely finest achievement debuted on a Monday afternoon soaked with sunshine and a champagne sprinkle of rain.
It’s called the Chase and the Chase Fish & Oyster Bar — two restaurants, one building, four floors apart. Anyone would crown the combined 10,000 square feet of dining flair as Toronto’s new “It” spot without even pulling up a chair. The space is that phenomenal. The rooftop, home to the Chase, features lounge chairs on the patio, a wonderfully stocked bar, and lavish decor in the interior that’s bracketed by attractive glass walls.
“This is the most relaxed I’ve been in eight months,” Salm said on opening day, smiling in the way people smile after they’ve finished a marathon — half excited with the achievement and half astonished at what they’ve just put themselves through. “I thought we would do half the size of what we did, but the real estate is so good and the opportunity really excited me.”
New Yorkers Salm and David Chang of Momofuku have invigorated Toronto’s dining scene with culinary ambitions on a massive scale. Momofuku Toronto opened last September in a terrific 6,600-square-foot property adjacent to the Shangri-la Hotel. It features three restaurants, a cocktail lounge, and the recently opened Milk Bar. The Chase restaurants are in the historic Dineen Building, a circa 1897 heritage space.
Executive chef Michael Steh oversees both two restaurants, which have separate chef de cuisines and diverse menus. The oyster restaurant, which debuted four days earlier, flies in fresh seafood from both coasts of Canada. It’s offerings include Oyster Po’boy Sliders ($11), a Lobster “Waldorf” Roll with candied walnuts and apple ($28), and decadent seafood platters ($50 or $110). The upscale rooftop kitchen sources local ingredients and also features some seafood dishes from abroad, including a delicious grilled octopus with pork sausage, salsa verde, and piquillo peppers ($23).
“We want to reset the bar for fine dining in Toronto,” says Steh, who has worked at Splendido and Reds, a favourite spot for bankers in the Financial District. “I think a lot of restaurants get away with things in this city that they wouldn’t in a place like New York. I think competitiveness is something that’s been lacking in Toronto for a long time. Steven has a lot of competitiveness and that is why I jumped aboard. He brings a drive for excellence that’s contagious.”
Salm moved to Toronto more than three years ago to help Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment launch the acclaimed Real Sports Bar & Grill and e11even, a good restaurant that’s a block from the Air Canada Centre. He made his mark in the Big Apple with the BLT Prime New York chain. With the Chase restaurants, he has re-imagined a building founded as a 19th-century retail clothing store. Tucked away on Temperance Street just off of Yonge Street, the restaurants are sure to enjoy plenty of business during the Toronto International Film Festival next month. Despite the eyesore of condo construction going on across the street (a nuisance that’s hard to escape in the city’s downtown), the rooftop is still an escape from Toronto’s aggravating traffic and busy streets. The project is also a sign of improving economic times. Salm said he wanted “to take the Mom and Pop approach you find in a lot of Toronto restaurants to a grander scale.” Four years ago, at the height of the economic recession, that notion wouldn’t have gone very far. Financiers are more confident now, though. With the upscale Chase, Salm has made it clear he believes big, bold statements in fine dining are on their way back.
“I think the city is on the cusp of some great developments. There are tremendous things about to happen in Toronto,” he says.