East Thirty Six
36 Wellington St. E. | 647.350.3636 | eastthirtysix.com
I like two things about East Thirty Six. First, every item on the menu is a shared plate, so you can try a lot of things at once (germaphobes, relax: you can order them as all-to-yourself mains). Second, I like the wizardry with alcohol. Bottles of infused syrups, tinctures and liquors are made in-house. And they’re amazing enough on their own, but once combined into a cocktail, they’re enough to make your tongue weep.
East Thirty Six was formerly Lucien, a quintessential French restaurant. Anyone familiar with Lucien will recognize the layout and the ironwork, but gone are the gloomy Munster-esque crystal chandeliers and dark interior. This is Lucien-lite. The food is French-influenced, but to call it French wouldn’t be fair. There’s a colouring-outside-the-lines approach here that a diehard French chef would disdain.
My guest and I try East Thirty Six one evening between work and a show (located across from the Sony Centre, it’s the perfect in-between). Despite the brighter interior, it’s still a dark place — which might explain why it’s not busy. Nearby places with patios are attracting crowds on this gorgeous evening.
We start by sharing the pork caillettes, little pork meatballs stuffed with chard, placed gently on tiny toasts and impaled with a skewer ($9). They are simple, yet tasty. The tang of the chard is unusual, but it works well with the sumptuous pork.
We debate whether to order the bone marrow with chicken liver parfait ($16), but my guest says she’s a “non-organ meat person,” taking the position that bone marrow is an organ (nope, it’s a tissue).
But she decides to play it safe and orders the wild salmon with sorrel, crème fraiche and beluga lentil ($24). When it arrives, it’s disappointingly overdone. Still, the sorrel, crème fraiche and beluga lentils are a good choice for salmon. I suspect when all these elements come together, this dish would be outstanding. But not tonight.
I’m feeling adventurous and try the sweetbread — a pseudonym for the thymus and pancreas glands (best just to call them sweetbreads) ($15). The meat is soaked in a buttermilk brine, smoked, lightly fried and served with chorizo, poblano, pistachio and romesco sauce. They are light and crisp, with some zing from the chorizo and a smoky flavour. As sweetbreads go, these are excellent. My companion maintains her no-organ-meat position and declines a taste.
We both agree that cauliflower is not an organ and order it. The vegetable is cooked with butter and thyme for a few hours and finished off in the oven to provide a gentle crispness. Then it’s served on a bed of brown butter sauce, hazelnuts, capers, and parsley ($8). This is one of the best ways I have had cauliflower and the crunchy capers are unexpected and innovative. This is a standout dish.
Overall, the menu is heavy: lots of cream sauces, butter and other normally forbidden foods. The French influence is evident. Not so much, though, on the wine list, which is dominated by a mix of well-priced old and new world wines.
It’s the cocktails that are really worth a try. Priced between $12 and $14, they’re made with all manner of tinctures, essences, nectars and syrups. There are some unusual but tasty combinations (including one refreshing number that includes muddled cucumber, gin, chartreuse, lillet blanc, coriander syrup, Peychaud bitters and coriander tincture). With cocktail hours running from 4 to 7 p.m., you have no excuse not to give this a try.
East Thirty Six is an interesting restaurant that’s ideal for after-work drinks. Plus, with an upscale selection of shared plates, it’s a nice alternative to the usual Bay Street offerings of truffled frites and oysters. The dark interior and heavy menu, however, are a challenge in the summer weather — especially when people are eating lighter and want to be outdoors.
Judge Foodie’s verdict
Highs: great cocktails, great after-work drinks place
Lows: a bit too dark and cloistered, menu items tend to the heavy
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. Follow Judge Foodie on Twitter: @Judge_Foodie