Bent Restaurant, Dundas West, Toronto, 647-532-0092
Bent, the most recent of the Susur restaurant endeavours, had been rumoured about for close to a year, so it was no wonder that I was excited to dine there, when news of its opening, hit the foodie trail. We’ve dined at Susur’s restaurants for years, here in Toronto and New York, but were especially excited to see how Bent would come off, being that it is largely run by his two sons, Levi and Kai Bent-Lee, and the family affair doesn’t stop there, we also knew that the interior had been designed by Brenda Bent-Lee, the mother of Levi and Kai.
Though, usually when picking a restaurant to dine and cover for the Wine Hobbyist, reviewing the wine list is a must, and it is often the reason why any restaurant is picked; a certain inquisitiveness about this or that listed on the wine list, and why. With Bent, however, I could see they choose to go the standard restaurant wine list, with nothing to ooh over. Their sake list, however, well that was another story. Bent’s sake list was an impressive collection of sake brands such as Kubota, Nanbu and much more, including two special house blends. So, my intent that night was not just to enjoy expectantly delicious food, but to get schooled in the way of sake, as well.
Walking up to Bent and seeing the giant illuminated arrow, directing you to the restaurant’s entrance, was something I didn’t expect, as it had you guessing and wondering if the interior would resemble more of a diner or a chic commune. Entering, however, made it clear that the interior feel of the restaurant was that of casual hipster, with glimpses of elegance. The white tiled walls and tiled backing you face, as you sit at the bar, are reminiscent of the ideal diner, but when being coupled with the fantastic and determined patron benches, the endearing and daring qualities of Bent’s decor, suddenly make sense.
As usual, I choose to sit at the bar looking to have as much guidance as necessary, to enjoy the Sake’s that Bent had to offer, but my first drink, nevertheless, and like normal, was a cocktail, ordered to see the stylings of the mixologists in command. I ordered something called the ‘Georgetown Storm’ ($15); a blend of El Dorado 12 Yr rum, mixed with Homemade Ginger Beer. Being from Guyana, the country of El Dorado rum, I had no choice and as expected, the cocktail was fantastic and much preferred with homemade ginger beer, versus the ginger reduced ‘stuff’ offered at other establishments. Once the cocktail was finished, my wanting of sake exploration kicked in, so we ordered several dishes, to pair our sake and wine’s with.
We ordered the Vodka Scallop Shot ($13), Coconut Shrimp Soup ($7), Tuna Watermelon Ceviche ($16), Tar Tar ($10), Smoked Cod Taro Taco ($15), Duck Salad ($15) and the Braised Spiced Short Ribs ($22). Everything was designed to share and though much of the menu is a play on seafood, raw and cooked, the variation into meats was substantial enough to entertain all palates.
Now that the food was ordered, the business of sake was necessary. We first asked for suggestions, but quickly learned that though the sake list was impressive, the knowledge of those serving it was not. We decided to venture on our own, and ordered a small bottle of the Indigo Wind Sparkling Sake. A superb choice, as it made me think that if Champagne and Sake were to have a baby, this is what it would taste like. We paired the sparkling sake with the Vodka Scallop Shot, the Tar Tar, the unforgettable Smoked Cod Tacos and the Tuna and Watermelon Ceviche, which was more watermelon than tuna, but regardless, all went smashingly with the sparkling sake. We then perused the wine list and ordered a glass of the Chianti to work with our duck and braised spiced short ribs.
To wrap up the night, and though no dessert menu exists at Bent today, all diners were treated to the chef’s dessert creation, which amongst the sweet delights was a Green Tea Chinese Doughnut that practically melted in your mouth. We paired the desert with another small bottle of sake, the Tozai Snow Maiden Nigori ($38).
Though I went to bed dreaming about sparkling sake and smoked cod taco’s, I couldn’t help but think about the things that will prevent me from adding Bent to my short list of top pick Toronto restaurants. Yes, we understand the restaurant is new and by default so too is the staff, their lack of knowledge in the sake’s offered and their nervous and very lengthy regurgitation of what it was we had on our plates, was cute, but not what I was hoping for, while spending $300 on Wednesday night’s dinner. More so, the expected ‘ah ha’ moments that come from your palate’s delight were far too few. Aside from, the Smoked Cod Taro Taco and the Braised Spiced Short Ribs, there wasn’t much else to rave about.
With the rising number of Toronto restaurants, of all types and cultures, there is simply way too much competition out there, for a Wednesday night dinner like what we experienced. Though I am rooting for Bent to succeed, and I am thankful for the sparkling sake discovery, I still question the operations and service.
Bent, to me, is the kind of restaurant that has to go through transformations and a few growing pains, before it really gets into its own. So, we’re not saying we will never go back to Bent, just not anytime soon.