Luma serves up a whole lotta Group Love on Valentine’s Day

So for many single and couples in Toronto, Valentine’s Day comes with a bit of dread.  So much anxiety and pressure built up over a fabricated holiday to share your feelings for another.  My life partner, Simon and I decided to keep it cool this year.  We wanted to do something that we felt was relevant to both of our interests (food), relevant to both of our wallets and relevant to both of our lives (being social).

That’s where the Luma Group Love package comes into play.  Luma (the Oliver and Bonacini restaurant at the TIFF Lightbox) held a pre-fixe menu for solo foodies ($25/per person) or groups of three or more ($50 per person).  For those that were ‘riding solo’, you got to saddle up to the Communal Table and share your evening with a night of fabulous new friends.

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We took our seat at the communal table seated amongst a diverse group of new friends.  The table was set with a beautiful array of Valentine’s Day candy and the wait staff started us off with a lovely drink titled the ‘Icebreaker’ (double black cherry infused bourbon), which did just that.  All of us went round-table and introduced ourselves and what we did.  Finally once we were all done, we cheers to a fabulous Valentine’s Day.

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Now a dinner like this may not be for the brave at heart.  Having to make conversation over a great meal with strangers for at least one hour might get awkward and trust me, at times, it did.   But thankfully we had our wonderful servers who had impeccable timing and always made us feel like we were the stars of the evening.  Well that is, next to the food – of course.

Our Ted Allen looking waiter served up one-half dinner theatre style theatrics and one-half food guide for the evening, as he told us everything would be served: “family style, because group love and sharing is caring”.

First up, platters of Fritto Misto of squid and fanny bay oysters fried up with duck egg and radish crudités were put onto the table for all to enjoy.  Each person had their own oyster and each section of the table had their own Misto platter, so we didn’t have to fight over who took the last piece.   Next up, we were plated what (at first) looked like art.  Beautiful and delicate pieces of smoked trout and celery root in a deep bowl which our server then ladled in a lovely herb creme fraiche base.  Can I just say that I wanted to lick the bottom of the bowl.  I thought it may have been a bit rude of me to do so, but the chowder wasn’t heavy or too creamy.  It was rich and perfect.

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We decided to keep the juices flowing by ordering a carafe of Punch Drunk Love (rose, passion fruit liqeur, juice and lemonade).  It reminded me of Beyonce and for that, I thought it would be a good choice.  Verdict: it made me Drunk in Love. I may or may not have sent Simon a text midway through our meal that read: “I think I’m drunk” because clearly I’m old and a lightweight now.

Our next grand dish was the Lemon & Rosemary Cornish Hen served up with a warm chicory & chicken liver salad and a yukon gold potato & kale dauphinoise.  Simon had never had Cornish Hen before and he was won over immediately.  Where as my favourite thing was the potato, which whilst fumbling around trying to dig into this accidentally sliced through half a lemon.  Yep, I’m a class act.  Note: I did not eat half the lemon, just almost ate half of it.  Also: the chicken livers – so baller.  I am proud to say that our side of the table may have taken the salad home with them because: waste not, want not.

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By this time, we were beginning to feel sluggish with Luma Group Love feels and food.  Not only that, our dinner reservations began at 9PM and it was it was nearing 11.  I felt that we were at an authentic Italian style family feast.  The dishes and courses would not stop coming and while I was feeling quite blessed (and well, Punch Drunk Loved) — I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through the dessert course without at least unbuttoning my jeans.  However, I took one for the team and dove into (without falling into a food coma) my Warm Chocolate Cake and Salted Caramel Chicharrones.

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This evening was everything I could have asked for food-wise and budget-wise.  I mean, I rolled out of Luma with a 3 course meal including 2 solid desserts for $25!  This deal was better than any other Valentine’s Day evening out.  I mean, let’s be real: even if we had cooked dinner and bought a bottle of vino, it probably would have cost as much as our Luma dinner date (or more)!  But thanks to Luma, they guided our entire evening plus gave us some rad new friends and I didn’t have to do the dishes afterwards.  This was something I am so thankful for.

Best part?  They are offering this amazing special for just ONE MORE DAY!  For those that live in Ontario and celebrate Family Day, you should march your butts over to Luma & partake in the Group Love menu.  You can be like me and stuff yourself silly all in honour of FAMILY!  Then pass out in a wonderful blissful food coma.

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Steven Salm and Michael Steh Set to Bring Stellar Seafood to Downtown Core

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Proprietor Steven Salm – Photos by Yuli Scheidt

This past Thursday May 23rd a baker’s dozen of media types donned hard hats and got a very special tour of the spaces that will shortly be two unique dinning spaces in Toronto’s Downtown core. Proprietor Steven Salm, a New Yorker who is having a big love affair with Toronto, and Executive Chef Michael Steh have taken up residence in the Historic Dineen Building at 10 Temperance just off Yonge St. And they’ve been busy.

The tour began out on the street with some hearty chowder from The Chase‘s food truck. The chowder was rich and full of vibrant colours, elements evident in all the dish served up. From the delicate burnt orange of the oysters to the bright green of the peas; the flavours came through and blew away any notion of chowder being standard and boring.

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The Chase Chowder

The Chase food truck has been making the rounds in the Financial District this past week ahead of the restaurants’ opening. You’ll find it there tomorrow and at the NE corner of Yonge and Bloor on Thursday serving up Lobster Rolls among other eats. You can follow the truck’s adventures at ChaseTheChase.com

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Steven Salm & Exceutive Chef Michael Steh

With the warmth of the chowder in our bellies the real tour could begin. The group was escorted down a cobble stone lane-way to the rear of the Dineen Building. We were met with the skeleton and frame work that will become The Chase Fish & Oyster on the main floor and the custom elevator still under construction that will whisk guests up to the 5th floor for The Chase. Two separate restaurants, with their own kitchens and staff.

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Chef de Cuisine Nigel Finley, Steven Salm, Executive Chef Michael Steh

Stepping passed what will become a large open glass entryway, we entered The Chase Fish & Oyster. Large skylights let in beautiful afternoon light, cascading across exposed brick as far as the eye can see. Two Roman archways marked the entry way to the bar, yet to be constructed. Here the group was introduced to Chef de Cuisine Nigel Finley, known for his time spent at Bloom and more recently Catch. Chef Finely expressed his intentions to bring sustainably sourced seafood and local ingredients to The Chase Fish & Oyster and we got a taste of just what he meant by that.

Throughout the tour all those involved in the projects communicated the importance of sustainably sourced fish and seafood, as well as the need to bring humble and thoughtful seafood dinning to Toronto. When asked about whether either the ground floor space or the 5th floor restaurant would be open for lunch hours, proprietor Steven Salm said he was interested in doing so, but also thought that brunch could be a viable option. Possibly a risky venture in an area that all but becomes a ghost town when the office workers have gone for the day. It’s a refreshing notion and we look forward to seeing how The Chase tests those waters.

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Steven Salm outlining construction and décor plans

After a tour of the main floor where Mr. Salm outlined all the details of the planned décor, including a hook-shaped bar and nautical flags adorning the Cathedral-height ceilings, we were taken to a lower level. Planned for this space are private dinning areas, restrooms, but more importantly General Manager and Sommelier Anton Potvin‘s wine reserve. At first glance it all just looked like the catacombs under Paris but with a little imagination one started to see the potential. Past the new framework and electrical bits you could really see the charm of the Dineen Building at the forefront of all these plans.

To ascend to the 5th floor future guests will take the custom built elevator but for the purposes of this Hard Hat tour the group had to make use of the existing lift in the Dineen Building. Here we got to peek our heads into the newly opened Dineen Coffee Co. An impeccably beautiful space that perfectly melds modern needs with old bistro allure. A wonderful addition to the area, not unlike The Chase.

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Exceutive Chef Michael Steh in the future space of The Chase on the 5th floor

Once on the 5th floor we were greeted by floor-to-ceiling glass and what has to be one of the best views around. Being on the top floor has its advantages, such as the planned roof top patio, where guests can order from the bar without having to go inside, as the bar will traverse  both inside and out made possible by custom made windows.

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Lobster in avocado with seasonal dressings

The structure is key to these two restaurants. The separate kitchens and staff ensure the spaces give different experiences and define them as different presences while both focusing on fresh, innovative, seasonal dishes. Both are grounded in the Chase Team’s philosophy of upscale dining that’s thoughtful, approachable, and social. Offering New Canadian food, using the techniques lured from the Italian, French, Asian and Latin American traditions.

As GM and Sommelier for the two restaurants, Anton Potvin stressed that while there will always be room to play he will focus on solid wine choices and that the two spaces will share a liquor license, allowing them to pull from the same reserves.

Opening this Summer The Chase and The Chase Fish & Oyster are set to take on those old-hat, preconceived notions about dinning in Downtown Toronto and what a seafood joint in this town looks like.

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