One of the great destination restaurants in the heart of the historic Distillery District in Toronto is Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill, located on Tank House Lane across from the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. With its lively upscale, yet relaxed atmosphere and a sumptuous menu of delectable seafood and land fare, there’s bound to be an exciting selection for everyone in your party for that special occasion out on the town.
If you are out to dine on a gorgeous summer night, be sure you sit outside and make use of their beautiful patio – hands down, it’s the best place to enjoy your meal. My review partner Vance and I lucked out on the day we went and were able to enjoy the hot sun paired with the cozy and friendly vibes from the inviting wait staff who are personable, detail-oriented, and highly knowledgeable of the menu.
On this scorcher of a weekday evening, Vance and I excitedly decided to indulge on a bottle of Riesling to accompany our meal. We went with the chef’s selection from the oyster bar that was an assemblage of their very best. The oyster selection ranged from east coast (Malpeque from Prince Edward Island and Beausoleil from New Brunswick) to west coast (Kumamoto from Washington, Fanny Bay from BC). I’m not much of an oyster connoisseur and am far from familiar with the differences between east coast and west coast but I thoroughly enjoyed the assortment we were given. The oysters varied in richness, brininess, and density. Exploring them paired with the lovely sauces – a classic cocktail sauce, a spicy mango, and a cucumber mignonette – elevated the whole experience. The spicy mango was an instant favorite.
With our palettes thoroughly enticed, we were ready for the starters. Vance opted for the Creole Gumbo with shrimp, mussels, sausage, and okra ($10.95) while I was immediately drawn to the Ceviche of Pompano made with leche de tigre, sweet potato, poblano pepper, corn nuts, shallots, and cilantro ($14.95). Yes, corn nuts. Aside from the hearty fish and the spritely tang of the sauce, the crunch of the corn nuts were my other favorite component of the dish. On a completely different note, the gumbo was hearty and comforting; it was spiced just right, tender rice, hearty bits of okra, sausage and juicy mussels.
When it came to mains, I found myself drawn to the Lobster Parpardelle, a rich and luxurious pasta dish served with fresh lobster and wild mushrooms in a black truffle cream sauce ($27.95). Vance also decided to venture down the outlandishly lavish route and opted for the Surf and Turf – a 6 oz tenderloin, that he requested served rare, paired with a 4 oz butter-poached lobster tail served with crushed potatoes and seasoned vegetables in a red wine jus ($48.95).
‘Decadent’ does not even begin to describe the experience of this meal. The parpardelle was tender, the sauce was velvety, the mushrooms and lobster pieces were robust and hearty. When our server came by to check on us, she commented that the parpardelle is indeed one of the star attractions on the menu and a favorite in the winter for how rich and hearty it is. Yes, the dish is indeed delightful and I savored every mouthful, but I can understand how richness is better suited to the winter months.
Vance’s steak was buttery soft prepared rare, properly red and melting inside. The lobster tail was indeed sweet, delicate and buttery. The red wine jus blended all the accompanying flavors together beautifully and was properly soaked up by the potatoes. The roasted vegetables were bursting with flavor. This, too, was a very extravagant dish that, though amazing, might have gone down a bit better on a cooler day.
Yet, as full as we both were afterward, we could not ignore dessert. I opted for the Roasted Pear with Whipped Ricotta served with a quinoa, pumpkin, and sunflower seed brittle ($8.95), whereas Vance – never one to turn down chocolate – chose the Chocolate Pistachio Terrine served with tangy cranberry compote, crunchy meringue, and a burnt marshmallow ($10.95).
I was surprised when the desserts came to see that there were two halves to the roasted pear making for one large dessert! I think it’s great for two, a hefty dessert for one. I certainly needed help. What I loved about the roasted pear was that it wasn’t drenched in sickly sweet syrup. It’s light, not entirely sweet, the natural delicate sweetness of the pear shines here. It’s tender and ‘pears’ very well with the ricotta and the bit of honey that drizzled over. I loved the rough, grainy texture of the brittle against the smooth ricotta and pear. It, too, wasn’t overly sweet and surprisingly wasn’t hard on the teeth. It was a great choice.
The chocolate terrine was like a denser brownie. It’s made for chocoholics. The pistachio bits inside make for added texture, flavor and colour that pairs well with the chocolate. And the sharp tang of the cranberry compote is necessary to cut the richness of the chocolate. The meringue bits and the burnt marshmallow were great touches.
Of course, there are other intriguing and eye-catching options on the menu that I would certainly like to try at my next visit including the Organic East Coast Mussels served in a Thai yellow curry sauce with sweet basil, crispy garlic, and kefir lime ($19.95), the Crab Gratin – crab dip with gruyere and provolone cheeses served with yucca chips ($15.95), and the Spanakopita Cannelloni served in a roasted tomato sauce with feta cheese, pistachio, preserved lemon, mint, and dill ($22.95).
Pure Spirits is a great destination restaurant that’s perfect for a celebration, a night on the town, a special evening with a loved one, or just to impress the boss. Be sure to check out their Summerlicious lunch and dinner menus for something different. The staff is friendly and attentive; the menu is exciting and exquisite. You’re bound to have a great time. We certainly did.
Review and Photos by Samantha Wu