Toronto’s best steak tartare
Toronto seems to be in love with steak tartare (aka, beef tartare) right now. We took a writer from Wine Spectator on a tour of our favourite wine bars last year, and she remarked that it seemed to also be a tartare tour. Yes, we ate a lot of raw beef. And why not? Steak tartare is a beautiful side with a wide variety of wines, from robust reds to minerally whites to formidable rosés.
Perfect steak tartare, for us, is pretty much the classic preparation. Although at Drink Toronto we are ok with the odd left turn, as long as it all works out and the dish does what it needs to do: deliver top-quality beef in a setting of sublime seasonings. While we're partial to the yolk on top, inviting a perfunctory stir and a few oooos and ahhhhhs, we're open to a little prettying up in the name of creative freedom. For us, the perfect tartare is chilled and has a nice bite. The cornichon and capers should be apparent, and not overwhelmed by the other seasonings (which is a common rookie mistake). The texture is key — there are far too many wet, overly tangy and mushy tartares out there, the result of too much mustard and Worcestershire and — shudder — a food processor. If it ain't hand-cut, it ain't the real thing. Period. Top quality beef deserves the respect of proper knife skills and a sublime touch with the seasoning.
So here are our top tartares — and believe you me: we've tasted and re-tasted in order to be absolutely sure.
Archive Wine Bar
909 Dundas St. W.
Joel and Joshua Corea have been turning out one of city's best greatest tartares for almost a decade, from their delightful wine bar on Dundas West. I'm giving this one an extra star (even though we're not ranking these reviews). It's just an all-out favourite, a mix of 50:50 petit tender (shoulder) and beef heart. Joel says that the quail egg yolk is the perfect amount to bind the 60 grams of beef. The sauce and seasonings are a house secret, but Joel notes: "Always hand-cut to order. It’s classic simplicity, we don’t add any fancy or obscure ingredients."
64 Spadina Ave.
The newest place on our list, Bootleg Smokehouse, lends a smokey twist to a tenderloin tartare seasoned with house-made pickles and jalapeno oil. It's sublime, not too smokey and beautifully textured. Look how pretty it is! And it tastes just as lovely. The jalapeno oil is a nice touch, lending a contemporary edge. But this does not stray too far from classic style. Tenderloin makes it super smooth and soft. So it's not as chunky as others.
60 Yorkville Ave
Well, you can't very well write about steak tartare and not include a French brasserie now can you? I shudder just thinking about the ire and outrage we would spark on social media. The tartare here ups the ante, seeing your Parisian classic and raising you an old school throw back with the seasoning done table side. Ooh la la. (EH)
1320 Queen St.
A hidden gem in Parkdale, this teensy-weensy hole in the wall is packed every night for the stunning French classics and inspired dishes. Of course the tartare is absolutely killer and that gorgeous layer of bright green chives on top, against a bright yellow egg yolk makes this tartare uber instagramable. (EH)
Cote de Boeuf
130 Ossington Ave.
This cozy little wine bar is also a butcher shop, and the owner-chef Teo Paul spent time in Paris, where he obviously learned to do tartare proper. This stand-out tartare is hand-cut to order (need I say that?) and studded with capers and chunks of cornichon. The fresh ground pepper and Maldon salt on top of the egg yolk is a nice touch — as are the old-school diner plates. Even better, there's lots of open bottles of wine lying around. If you go for lunch, just know that your afternoon may be less than productive.
Drake Mini Bar
150 York St.
This is where you can find us most Tuesday before Wine School, getting the protein in before a taxing night of tasting great bottles (insert LOL emoji here). Seriously though, Drake Mini's got a great tartare – it changes regularly, as when the teensy bar opened the dish had more of an Asian slant with toasted nori, sesame and other umami goodness. Its current incarnation returns to the classic French with tangy mustardy tang. (EH)
Pairing wine with steak tartare
"For a pairing with the tartare we tend to suggest light to medium bodied reds decent amount of acidity. Cool climate reds usually do the trick. The lighter bodied wines do not over power the delicateness of the raw beef. The acidity helps the wine cut through the richness of the tartare and clean the palate for the next bite. Coming onto the list tomorrow (Thursday) is a Pinot Noir from Savoie in eastern France. The producer is Dupasquier." — Joel Corea, Archive Wine Bar
1161 Dundas St. W.
This dish would make any tartare fan happy. Classic, almost effortless in appearance, which belies all of the correct-ness that went on behind the scenes to make it this way. This is a zippy, mustard-forward tartare, and the beef is well-chilled. Perfectly hand-chopped, the texture is all that great tartare should be. And the baguette is toasted just right, crispy but slightly yielding — and a generous number of toasts too.
153 Yorkville Ave.
Always an impressive stop on our Yorkville tours, STK's menu is both familiar and creative. The tartare is has a slight spin on the French classic adding kimchi oil to the mix, and instead of a raw egg yolk, tops the decadent square of raw meat with a poached egg. I devoured this for lunch with a side of frites and felt great about my decision. (EH)
1 Richmond St. W.
We have to declare this our top pick. Richmond Station butchers whole animals in-house, and hangs and cures them to perfection. Chef-owner Carl Heinrich tells us this is three-week aged inside round, which he likes because its lean and tender but not fatty. He also loves its texture, and we agree. It's firm, but yielding. Quite magical, really. (Note: For the tartare we tried, Carl says all the credit goes to chef Hayden Johnston.) We love the drier style, which Carl chalks up to the long dry aging. (Ding! Wet steak equals wet tartare!) We can't get enough of this amazing tartare, served with pommes Kennedy wedges that are cooked, sliced, pressed, fried... in beef fat. Oh, man. Just know that right now, the tartare on the menu at Richmond Station is lamb, because Carl has some insanely great lamb from a local farm. The beef tartare will be back... but if you beg, with tears in your eyes, they may just do it for you, special. Tell them Drink Toronto sent you!