Dining on the skinny at Four // Judge Foodie

Can a restaurant serve up good food at 650 calories or less?

By Kirsten Thompson

On Wednesday August 8th, 2012


187 Bay St., Commerce Court South, Concourse Level
416-368-1444 | fourtoronto.com

FourI had heard a lot about Four, the subterranean little sister of street-level Far Niente. Accessible from the PATH, Four is a sleek urban space — the walls are black, the bar is glass, the waitstaff wear Lululemon — filled to capacity with its lunchtime crowd of suits. Or rather, skirts. The crowd has noticeably more women than your average Bay Street lunch spot, and the men are mostly of the lean metrosexual variety. This could be because Four’s “gimmick” is that everything on the menu is under 650 calories. The steak-and-wine crowd have fled, aghast.

So, can you actually feed people a flavourful, filling lunchtime meal when you’ve set yourself a caloric ceiling of 650? Well, yes and no.

Yes, you can get some good food here (and you can get some good wine as well, especially if you are keen to try some of the better organic or biodynamic selections that are becoming increasing popular). However, since the goal is to stay under 650 calories, sacrifices have been made.

My dining companions were divided on Four. My first companion, a lithe pescatarian and yoga aficionado, loved that he was able to order from a wide variety of appetizers and entrees instead of suffering his usual fate of menu marginalization. He ultimately settled on the Jail Island salmon ($20, 425 calories), which was elegantly plated with bok choy and fingerling potato, alongside lime salsa and coriander. The salmon was competently done, outshone by the flavour and freshness of the vegetables.

I tried the miso romaine salad ($6, 157 calories) with carrot, red cabbage, flax seed crisps and a honey miso dressing. The lettuce was fresh, but the dressing was sparse and my flax seed crisps were only intermittently crispy.

A subsequent visit with another dining companion, this time a sturdy lass given to running long distances at the crack of dawn, was less successful. She ordered the steamed edamame ($5, 163 calories) and the bison burger ($12.50, 489 calories). The burger is grilled medium rare as requested, but is a bit on the dry side. The jalapeno mayonnaise redeems it, adding a bit of kick as well. The multigrain bun was fresh but my companion thought the bun-to-burger ratio was skewed unfavourably. In any event, she didn’t find it filling enough…to the point where she called me later that afternoon to see if I wanted to join her for a snack.

And this is the dilemma of Four: to reach that magic 650 number, something has to go. What is sacrificed is usually portion size and/or fat — which, in all but the most creative of dishes, tends to result in a small portion, bereft of sauces and other flavour enhancements. Of course, you can always add on dessert; a server will appear tableside with a tray of layered dessert “shots” (e.g. pecan banana caramel, tiramisu, etc). At 220 calories apiece, and only $2.45 each, there is little downside here. In fact, get two — they travel well in their little plastic cases.

Service here is knowledgeable and swift — we were in and out in less than 50 minutes each time and were never once made to feel rushed. The low ceilings and hard surfaces tend to reflect sound,  however, so the lunchtime roar is exactly that — a roar — and conversation can sometimes be difficult. 

Those in search of a place that can effortlessly accommodate gluten, lactose or casein sensitivities will embrace Four. I would return as well, but I would choose my dining companions with care.

Judge Foodie’s verdict:

Highs: the guilt-free dining, the portable desserts, the vegetarian/pescatarian/locavore/etc-friendly menu, the timely service

Lows: the portion size may be a problem for some, the noise

Kirsten Thompson is a Toronto-based research lawyer and commercial litigator. Since her call to the bar in 2000, she estimates that her restaurant to courtroom ratio has been approximately 14:1. Thoughts? Comments? Ideas for a review? Email her.
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