By Maria Ricossa

In a time of complex menus, in which basic cuisine is infused, defused and all too often confused, The Mizzen’s offerings are refreshingly uncluttered.

My guests for dinner tonight are Hal Eisen and Andrew Bottecchia, art directors for the new season of The Designer Guys, and actress Dixie Seattle – who this Summer will grace the stages of the Stratford Festival. These people always have something to say, and candor is not one of their short suits.

The bread, a test of a restaurant’s mettle, comes hot and freshly baked accompanied with a butternut squash dip. A little too sweet – we are picky, aren’t we? – but very tasty nonetheless.

Hal and Andrew appreciate the presentation of the Malaysian shrimp & chicken spring rolls; these delicacies are positively popping with flavour. The clay pot mussels exhibit true star quality, with an equally talented supporting cast of roasted tomatoes, fennel, zucchini and potatoes in a rich, luxurious broth. Everyone swoons. The arugula & grilled mozzarella salad, however, is lacking a bit of spirit. The arugula is too young to have anything sage to say, and these tomatoes should really be outlawed this time of year. Turning the table, however, the large leaf spinach salad is delicious – good and crunchy, with yummy sugar-roasted pecans and gorgonzola.

Chef Duff Lampard says his goal in the kitchen is to prepare dishes wherein the quality ingredients speak for themselves. He hits the mark in the entrees. Dixie, the evening’s carnivore, orders the steak & frittes and we immediately begin fighting for bites of this perfectly seared beef and its delicate roasted mushroom sauce. The frittes are sublime, served in a really nifty cone. In fact, we later find ourselves nibbling on them cold.

Hal and I have the wood-roasted cherry snapper, fresh off the hook and raring to go. It is served elegantly in a deep bowl, with two generous fillets, resting atop sautéed veggies with a Chervil butter sauce that has the good sense to simply stand back and present the fish in all its glory. Yippee!

For some reason, Andrew won’t share his rosemary & sea salt roasted chicken. How he gets away with it at this table of very assertive diners I’ll never know. But I notice his hand guarding the plate, so it must be something special.

Our Designer Guys gush over the look of the pretty tomato, leek & smoked red pepper tart. Dixie and I argue over the pan-seared gnocci. She adores them, but I think the braised garlic cream sauce is too pushy. I’m Italian, so I win.

Twisting each other’s arms, we go for the sweets and, as one, dive into the white chocolate & raspberry Crème Brulé. The warm chocolate bread pudding – so light and airy that it nearly floats off Hal’s plate – is heavenly.

Speaking of the divine, the wine selection at The Mizzen is also beyond the ordinary, but by that time I wasn’t taking notes.
Maria Ricossa is a Toronto actress who appears regularly on stage and screen, most recently starring in The In-Laws and Degrassi, the Next Generation.