First Look: Montecito, Jonathan Waxman's Toronto Debut

By Suresh Doss  |  July 15, 2014

The wait is finally over. One of the city's most hotly anticipated restaurants, Montecito, has finally opened its doors to the public. Spearheaded by the celebrity chef and movie director team of Jonathan Waxman and Ivan Reitman, the massive restaurant raises the bar for dining in the Entertainment District (behind the TIFF Bell Lightbox). We've been closely watching the space being transformed over the months, and we finally got a look at the (nearly) finished restaurant this week.

Montecito is a multilevel culinary emporium. General manager Jimson Bienenstock took us on a tour, showcasing each corner of the restaurant that has been dressed to meticulous detail. Adding together the main dining room to the bespoke cocktail lounge upstairs (soon to be opened) and the 50 seat patio out front facing Adelaide Street, Montecito can seat a total of 320 diners.

The restaurant is the latest joint project between Ivan Reitman and Jonathan Waxman, who have been friends for decades. This is their first venture together. During a recent conversation, Waxman extolled his desires on creating a seasonally driven menu that highlights the best ingredients in the country. "I have access to so many ingredients here, and I'm confident that we can do a better job in Toronto than New York. There's so much access to great ingredients," said Waxman. While he oversees the culinary program at Montecito, he leaves the cooking to Matt Robertson (Reds Midtown) and Gaetano Ferrera (Scarpetta). The goal is simple: Find the best local ingredients, and showcase the best local artisans. ​All seafood items are natural and sustainably caught. 

There's also some serious talent behind the drink menu. Jimson Bienenstock (George, Soho House) and sommelier Stephanie Guth (Pied à Terre, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel) have created a hugely approachable wine list, while Bar manager James Taylor (Barchef) oversees both of the restaurant's bars. 

We recently had a chance to experience Montecito first hand, and here are our highlights.

299 Adelaide St. W.; 416-599-0299

  • You had me at bubbly

    We've never seen quite a bubbles list like this before. Bienenstock, a well-known bubble head, wanted to create a unique selection of grower champagnes. His debut list is an impressive list of hard-to-find and delicious wines that he's gone to lengths to source. You won't find any Veuve Clicquot on the menu, but instead more unusual (and delicious) sparklers, priced from $135 to $900 

  • Roast chicken

    The menu rotates daily and showcases the best possible local ingredients. But some of the Waxman classics will always be available, like the slow roast chicken. Half a bird is slow cooked and then seared to crisp up the skin. It's served with a buttery herb salad and topped with a little salsa verde.

  • Kale salad

    The colours and flavours at Montecito are driven by Waxman's California flair. The kale salad is one of the best in recent memory, fresh and crisp with anchovy dressing, and given some nutty complexity with the right amount of pecorino. 

  • Margherita pizza

    Two pizzas are available at the restaurant; we tried the classic margherita. A simple but perfect combination of buffalo mozzarella, chunky tomato sauce and basil. 

  • Bespoke teas

    We think the tea program will be an instant hit at Montecito. Over a dozen teas from local tea producer Pluck are available. Pluck uses local ingredients to create wonderfully aromatic blends.

  • Seafood

    The menu is especially strong with seafood; we tried the albacore tuna tartare. It's served on a crisp baguette that's a perfect complement to the chunky, buttery pieces of fish. 

  • The return of charcuterie

    Toronto once sat in the centre of the charcuterie universe, with many restaurants presenting outrageously dressed boards of cured meats. The trend may have subsided recently, but chef Gaetano Ferrera wants to bring it back. He's partnered with local producer Dolce Lucano to create an assortment of classic cured meats, and a few interesting spins. 

  • Drink up

    There are two cocktail lounges at the two-floor restaurant. The main bar adjacent to the patio features a carefully curated and approachable list of drinks concocted by bar man James Taylor. Try the gorgeous gunners (pictured) made with lime leaf vodka, Montanaro Bianco vermouth, house strawberry tonic and bitters made from Pluck teas. In the coming weeks, a second bespoke bar opens on the second floor where Taylor hopes to up the ante on unique cocktails. 

  • Wines

    The restaurant has created its own Montecito private label wines. "I wanted to showcase the truest expression of certain grape varietals, and we ended up producing these four wines, which are great examples of what these grapes can produce," said Bienenstock. The Pinot Noir is our favourite, but also try the Russian River Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or the Chardonnay. All wines are available by the glass.