I’m going to be brutally honest. The first time I went to Ricarda’s, I was not impressed. Well, let me rephrase: I was not impressed by the food. The first time I went to Ricarda’s was for the grand opening in July of 2016, and I found it to be extremely ostentatious. There were acrobats hanging from the ceiling and models walking around in giant plastic bubbles. There was a bountiful seafood bar, fresh pasta bar, and an open beverage bar. Not to mention the fact that the restaurant is in a GIANT space and is beautifully decorated. Nevertheless, I sadly found the food to be sub-par. There wasn’t a single dish I tried that wowed me that night.
For that reason, I wasn’t in any hurry to return to Ricarda’s; and quite truthfully, had I not received an invite to return to the restaurant for a Mother’s Day meal, I don’t know when I would have gone back. But I’m so glad that I did, because my second visit completely changed my opinion of this restaurant (and I’m not just saying this because I was invited in). As always, I like to keep it real with my readers. So, I’m going to give you the low down on what I would like to call “Ricarda’s 2.0” because something clearly changed for the better in between then and now!
Inside the QRC West Building at 134 Peter St., Ricarda’s is in a prime piece of real estate in the Toronto Entertainment District. Fun fact: the QRC West is a heritage building and used to be the Weston Biscuit factory in the early 1900s. Ricarda’s occupies the majority of the ground floor, Attico (an adjoining bar) is in the atrium and the rest of the building houses corporate offices.
The décor in the 170-seat dining room is mainly black and white, with pops of colour from the chartreuse leather banquettes and brass accents (but not in an ugly 80s kind of way). There are floor-to-ceiling windows, dark wood and marble tables (you know how much of a sucker I am for marble!).
There’s a separate bar and cocktail lounge adjacent to the main dining room and a bakery and café with a grab-and-go counter. One of the major attractions inside Ricarda’s is the open kitchen, where you can watch the chefs to prepare your meal in front of you from one of the experience booths. Another neat feature is the wall of greenery behind the hostess, which supplies the kitchen with fresh herbs.
The Ricarda’s Experience
At first blush, the ambiance in Ricarda’s makes you feel like you’re in a supperclub. But it’s even better than that because it’s an all-day restaurant that’s open 7 days a week! The restaurant hours are 7 a.m. to 10 or 10:30 p.m. on weekdays (the bar is open later), 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. There’s also a Jazz Brunch on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., which I’d like to go back for. But at $55 a head plus an additional $30 for alcohol, it may be a little too rich for my blood! Full restaurant hours can be found here.
The à la carte menu designed by Chef Eranga Nanayakkara and Chef Guillaume Ballestin is Mediterranean, with influences from France, Italy, Spain and North Africa. As an all-day restaurant, you can find breakfast, lunch and dinner fare. When I went for the grand opening, the food seemed continental (think pasta in cream sauce, prime rib etc.). In reading past reviews, I see that the offerings were different, so I suppose they are constantly updating the menu. On this visit, the dinner menu had a good selection of meats, fishes, shell-fish, homemade pastas and flatbreads. With mains ranging between $19 and $42 for dinner and between $15 and $25 for lunch, dining is more upscale here than casual, but the generous portions justify the cost.
The Food and Drinks
Okay, so now the part you’ve all been waiting for: the food….ahhh, the food (cue angels singing). I went with my parents, sister and two nieces, all of whom are picky eaters and can be hard to please. However, each of us truly enjoyed our meal and found the service to be very friendly. We ordered a good selection of starters, main dishes (which were easily shared), dessert and a couple of drinks. I, myself, was blown away by each and every dish that we had – and we ordered a lot!
We started with the Lobster Sliders ($23), Candied Walnut Salad ($19), and Tuna & Salmon Crudo ($21), which was more than enough to share! Both the lobster and mini brioche buns were so buttery and rich. The French fries in a mini basket were perfectly cooked and a nice accompaniment to the sliders. The gorgonzola cheese in the salad packed a punch, but was tempered by the candied walnuts and the balsamic reduction. The crudo was fresh and citrusy.
I don’t think there is any such thing as going overboard when it comes to lobster, so I obviously had to try the Lobster Stew ($42). It had a generous serving of a whole Boston Lobster with savoy cabbage poached. I had absolutely no reservations about slurping up all the rest of the broth when I finished the lobster! The skin on the Baby Red Snapper ($24) was crispy, and the parsnip puree was rich, but not too heavy. The garlic foam, micro greens and flowers were flavourful additions and pretty elements on the plate.
You guys know I don’t really eat dessert. But my little niece, Franka, helped out with the Pistachio & White Chocolate Gift Box ($12). She’s also my cutest hand model to date!
I must say, my first visit to Ricarda’s did not do it for me, but my second time around was a home-run! I guess the lesson to be learned is that you should give places a second chance before making a final judgement. Restaurants often experience hiccups in their first few weeks (or even months), and their menus take time to perfect. Whatever happened to Ricarda’s in between July of 2016 and now, I’m very happy about, and I would definitely recommend this place for a good fine dining meal.