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The lobby may have been bustling – I suppose probably nothing out of the ordinary – but I was thankful to be able to pass the long lines of school children and tourists that awaited their own chance to take the long ride up. No, I didn’t simply walk by for lack of courtesy; it wasn’t with indiscretion that I found myself at the front of the line. It just so happens that I wasn’t in the same line at all. It turns out that if you’re visiting the CN Tower to take a look at the menu, rather than just the view, you can walk right past the eager visitors as they try to muster enough courage for that first tentative step out onto the Glass Floor. I felt fortunate to have come across this pleasant surprise, because after hearing so many good things about the Tower’s 360 Restaurant, I’m not sure how long I would have been able to stand waiting in line. Moreover, I had skipped breakfast for the occasion. I was hungry.
When I finally stepped out of the elevator and found my way to my table, I took a moment to look out on the view that so many others had come to take in. When reviewing a restaurant I usually try to avoid focussing too heavily on location or ambience – the food is what’s important – but it’s hard to dispute the fact that 360’s location is part of what defines its unique dining experience, and sets it apart from that of other restaurants. And so I kept the restaurant’s slow rotation in mind as I made my way through my meal.
I was looking out at the harbour when my appetizer came. I had ordered the prosciutto, which was served alongside an organic arugula salad, aged parmesan cheese and a colourful variety of roasted peppers and tomatoes. From my first bite I could see that every facet of the dish had an important role to play. It seemed apparent that each flavour had been carefully chosen, not just for its own qualities, but for the harmonious relationship it built with the tastes and textures of other ingredients. I could see it in the subtle but firm way the thin slices of parmesan offset the tangy acidity of the salad’s vinaigrette. I could taste it as the understated saltiness of each thin strip of prosciutto drew out the fresh, bright sweetness of the roasted tomatoes. It didn’t take long for me to finish my plate, and for my view to shift westwards. Left with a satisfied palette and a mounting interest, I looked down at the countless cars rolling lazily along the Gardiner, and watched the office buildings and subdivisions gradually give way to rolling hills.
I didn’t start into my entree right away. By now I was looking northwest, to the Entertainment District, to Queen West, and all the countless days and nights spent there. I could smell my entree now, the succulent, tantalizing short ribs, their luscious merlot braise, but still I did not eat. My mind was elsewhere. It’s hard not to reflect, looking down at so many people, filling the city with memories, just like the ones I couldn’t help but begin to recall. It arrested me, it drew me in, and I sat there for a long while before I could finally give my meal my whole attention, and I began.
But it did more than just get my attention. The ribs were more soft and tender than I could have hoped, and my knife glided through it with such ease that I wondered whether I needed one at all. Alone, both in taste and consistency, the cut of meat was subtle, simple, and gentle. But, I soon found that, like my first dish, the accompanying tastes and textures were what drew out the meal’s deep-seated qualities. While the delicate sweetness of sweet potato and onion accentuated the luscious fruitiness of merlot, the spicy, distinctive taste of horseradish asserted the rib’s savoury, meaty flavour, making it focussed, pointed. At the same time the creamy mash complemented the tender, melt-in-your-mouth quality of the ribs, and the light, crunchy bitterness of the greens emphasized the entire meal’s deep and velvety richness. With the enticing, engrossing way that I found my meal coming together, it was hard not to look out again at the view below me. I was now facing north, to the heart of the city. From way up here you see more than just a view of downtown. It just so happened that today I was seeing something as simple as the right mouthful of food coming together with me, and the city, like ingredients in a dish, becoming part of the greater whole. I don’t know, call it the big picture, call it what you want. For a while it felt like I was doing more than just enjoying a meal.
It took a conscious effort to regain my focus, and with my thoughts still sprawling past my plate, I directed my attention towards dessert. Of course I felt it my duty to try the restaurant’s signature dessert, their chocolate tower. As I started to dig in, it was a labour to keep the dessert standing, but I felt obliged to do so, because with all the effort that was put into making the tower look good, the view from atop it was almost as impressive as the real thing. The chocolate was well matched by the juicy berries and refreshing melon, as well as the strawberry and vanilla cream that skirted it. Though it was thick and creamy, the mousse was neither too rich or heavy, nor bland or airy, and drew my meal neatly to a close.
As I began sipping thoughtfully at an espresso, I found myself looking back at the harbour. My meal had come full circle, and, in just over an hour, my table had as well. I was amazed at how different the view of the lake looked. While I had only been here the span of a single meal, I felt I had gone farther than a lap around the room. As I said, I try not to focus too much on a restaurant’s location, the ambience can never overshadow the menu, but The 360 Restaurant is different. It offers something unique, not simply because it’s the only restaurant that offers such an impressive view, but also in that it’s something you can make your own, an experience that will be as different as each individual that sits down for a meal.