187 Bay Street, Commerce Court South, concourse level
Fine dining and healthy eating have never exactly gone together. Luxurious sauces, marbled steaks and decadent desserts are a far cry from the salads without dressing and those awful “diet plates” of cottage cheese and melba toast that we tend to think of as low calorie meals. And pious health food restaurants serve up hefty portions of morality but the food at those places has never been known for being especially tasty.
Four aims to change that.
The newest feather in the cap of Executive Chef Gordon Mackie and SIR Corp., Four offers an entire menu designed around healthier cooking techniques and fresh, seasonal ingredients. With no item on the menu over 650 calories, diners can enjoy food that is not only healthy, but actually quite delicious. No… really.
Chef Mackie explains that the kitchen staff has had to rethink the way they create a meal. The deep fryer has been removed and the Four chefs now look to steamers to cook items like fish, and rely on brighter, livelier side dishes such as ratatouille, succotash, roast potatoes and sauces based on miso or tomatoes instead of butter.
Culling flavours and techniques from around the world, Mackie and Chef de Cuisine Craig Harding offer up a selection of items with influences from Southeast Asia, Japan, Mexico and even Africa. This is less about fusion cuisine though, and dishes such as the skinless grilled chicken breast with a yogurt and tikka masala sauce or the buckwheat noodles remain authentic in taste, texture and presentation. Contemplative spicing adds flavour in place of excess fat. Even the grilled beef tenderloin (which is amusingly the lowest in both calories and fat of all the mains) is a generously-sized portion packed with flavour and cooked to a gorgeous scarlet pink inside.
Mackie’s menu also considers food allergies and other health concerns, with options for vegetarians, and gluten-free dishes, including sandwiches at lunch, for celiacs. To keep the calorie counts down, inclusion of cheese and dairy is minimal, often used only as a garnish – a boon for customers who might be lactose intolerant or allergic to casein.
Appetizers include a spicy hot and sour chicken soup, grilled calamari atop a mixed bean salad, and a stunning beet salad served with pear and goat cheese. Most appetizers are generously portioned and could serve as a small main when paired with the flavourful miso romaine salad.
The 176-seat room, formerly Soul of the Vine, is also undergoing a redesign. Known more as a lunch destination for Bay Street types, the new décor with its neutral colours and natural elements of wood and stone, alongside sleek and modern details of glass and stainless steel will make Four a perfect after work spot for cocktails and tapas. Ranging from heaping bowls of steamed edamame, to quartets of small bites of dishes such as scallop ceviche, Kona kampachi tartar and poached shrimp with golden gazpacho, the snack food at Four may well be some of the best in the city.
Cocktails to pair with those small plates are categorized into the elements of fire, earth, water and wind, with names such as Tidal, Gale, Green Goddess and Lust. The wine list is completely organic and bio-diverse with an excellent selection available by the glass, so customers counting calories don’t have to worry about finishing off a full bottle.
It should be noted that Four doesn’t force the calorie counting on its customers. Chef Mackie wants diners to be able to enjoy their meal without worrying about every bite, although a nutritional information sheet detailing calories, fat, fibre and even the daily percentage of key vitamins and minerals is available upon request.
“The point is not to add up every calorie,” Mackie says. “The approach is still about the people we serve and I want it to transcend previous connotations of healthy eating so it becomes a type of food that just makes you feel good about what you eat.”
Following that same philosophy, Four’s desserts will mimic the selection at sister restaurant Petit Four. Served up in shot glasses, the selection of 8 or 9 desserts such as carrot cake, tiramisu and raspberry cheesecake all clock in at under 200 calories. As much as I wholly enjoyed the concept behind Four and the selection of dishes I was able to try, the desserts truly won me over. For the calorie conscious, dessert is often the first thing to go, even though our brains generally always want to end a meal with something sweet. The small serving size is just enough to satiate the sweet tooth, without the guilt that would accompany an unnecessarily massive piece of cake.
Apparently the dessert system has proven exceptionally popular; Chef Mackie reports that Petit Four is inundated with catering orders and many nearby offices are using the teeny sweets to replace a traditional cake for celebrations, allowing everyone to have their dessert of choice (wasn’t that an episode of The Office?).
Four will open to the public on Wednesday, February 27th, and will be open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Appetizers and small plates range from $3.50 to $11, pastas are $12, and other mains range from $16.50 to $26. Desserts are a delightfully reasonable $2 each.
It’s taken a long time for fine dining restaurants to realize that healthy cuisine can also have outstanding taste. Four does away with the old stereotypes of healthy food being boring, tasteless or downright odd, and offers fantastic and innovative cuisine in a sophisticated yet comfortable setting. Sure beats that cottage cheese and melba toast.