For 50 years, Carman’s Club steakhouse operated on quiet Alexander Street, in downtown Toronto, in a Tudor-style Victorian house a puck’s throw from Maple Leaf Gardens. During those five decades, the clubby steakhouse was a favourite of celebs and NHL hockey players.
Following owner Arthur Carman’s death in 2010 and the restaurant’s subsequent closure, businessman Jason Huang bought the business in 2011. After a three-year, $800,000 renovation and a spelling change (to Carmen’s Steak House, to honour the eatery’s history), the restaurant reopened in November, 2014.
The renovation has de-cluttered the space and restored its beautiful stained-glass windows and light fixtures, and kept its upscale steakhouse ambience — white tablecloths; leather banquettes; wainscoting; working fireplaces. View the entire restaurant on Google Earth.
On the plate, executive chef Forrest Liu delivers skillfully rendered steakhouse classics.
Caesar salad is excellent, its crisp romaine leaves moistened with a vinaigrette hinting of anchovy and buzzing with lemon. Quinoa, sweet peas and jasmine sea salt emulsion are fitting accompaniments to perfectly seared scallops. Meltingly tender black cod perches atop spinach risotto.
On to the main event — steaks, available as Canadian prime, USDA prime and Snake River Farms wagyu. Liu prefers to sear his steaks on a flat-top griddle, for better flavour and juiciness (but he will grill steaks on request), and the results were first-rate. The 6 oz. Canadian prime ribeye, cooked precisely medium rare, as ordered, featured a juicy, red centre and good char, while the thick-cut 7 oz. Canadian prime striploin possessed a satisfying mineral tang. On the side were buttery mashed potatoes and al dente sautéed veg.
To finish, there was silky crème brulee scented with coconut and garnished, cleverly and deliciously, with bits of crumbled cookie.
Buyouts are available for the restaurant, which seats 150 people and accommodates 175 standing, cocktail-style. There are four private rooms, seating 14, 30, 40 and 60.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 25 years and, during that time, has critiqued almost 1,000 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.