A restaurant that serves matzo ball soup — for 12 bucks! — is getting right out on the edge. Not in the way you’d imagine. OK, it’s not pork belly (God forbid) with kimchee and palm sugar blah blah blah. It’s simple and old school and traditional.
But you’d best be careful when you take on tradition. Serve a Jamaican a bad patty and you’re screwed. Make a soggy empanada for an Argentinian and your life is not worth living. Matzo ball soup is like that. For us Jews, it’s sacred. If the matzo balls are hard or the soup thin, you’ll be talked about for years. And not in a good way.
So seeing matzo ball soup on Arthur’s menu was a shock. They dare! First the bad news. It’s not as good as mine or my mother’s or my Bubby’s or Bess Olfman’s. But it’s pretty damn good. The veg are al dente, the stock authentic, the matzo balls credible.
Arthur’s, matzo balls and all, is a homage to Arthur Salm, who was the dad of Chase Hospitality Group president Steven Salm. Arthur’s comes to us from Chase, which also owns the Chase, the Chase Fish and Oyster, Kasa Moto, Colette Grand Café, Planta, Planta Burger and Palm Lane. This is their first uptown venture: Two+ storeys at Yonge and St. Clair, 156 seats, a bar and for spring a 60-seat rooftop terrace.
The dining room is a cool tall octagon with deep leather chairs in dark brown and latte, spacious tables and servers who positively ooze grace. They’re friendly and attentive, clearly well trained. It’s strange seeing matzo ball soup and pastrami in such a glam space and with such silken smooth service. But this ain’t yer Bubby’s deli, and clearly Arthur was a pretty snazzy dude, because much of the menu is fancy shmancy (in a good way), and the prices are what my Bubby would have called meshuggena: $38.95 for one crab cake?
Arthur’s personal memorabilia cover the walls of the restaurant foyer, and his imprimateur is all over the menu. It is so old school: Beef stroganoff. Who even remembers beef stroganoff? This rendition, served with fettucine, is superlative, beef cheek braised into juicy tenderness, with mushrooms and sour cream, its sauce a complex triumph.
Oysters Rockefeller, which is usually abused by heedless cooks who overcook the oysters and the spinach, is very good, neither spinach nor oysters overcooked.
The $38.95 Dungeness crab cake had better be impeccable, and it is, its little side salad cleverly anointed with fresh tarragon leaves.
So many blasts from the past: Shrimp and avocado salad with Marie Rose dressing – the pink mayo that our grandmothers favoured. Calf’s liver. Dover sole. Lobster thermidor. They also do Arthur’s casual faves — a cheeseburger, pastrami on rye, smoked fish with bagel. And because Chase Hospitality does (and believes in) Planta and other non-meat restos, 25 per cent of the menu is plant-based.
For dessert they brought back baba au rhum, the eggy rum-soaked white cake from the ’50s. It’s wonderful, and thanks for the lime-zesty whipped cream on top.
I never met Arthur, but having tasted his son’s homage to dad, one can easily imagine a dapper older man popping in to his local at Yonge and St. Clair and ordering a dry martini with his crab cake.