Cooking with Alison

Review of Toronto’s Top Steak Houses (UPDATED)

In Red Meat and Eggs, Reviews on November 11, 2014 at am

I used to avoid steakhouses altogether, because I had only ever received disappointing, over-cooked, and over-priced meals (often with a side of snobby customer service) from the steak houses that I had been to.  Luckily, John, who loves steak houses, introduced me to some very good ones in the city.  Now we both love going out for steak.  It is a rare treat for us, so it took over a year to eat my way through some of the best rated steakhouses in Toronto.  Here are my reviews.  Please note that I always order the rib eye steak and I order it rare.  Also, I do not like eating at chain restaurants, so you won’t see Ruth’s Chris, The Keg, or Outback Steakhouse on this list.

Peter’s Fine Dining ($$) – Favourite Steakhouse in Markham, Best Char-Broiler, Best Value

Peter’s Fine Dining is in Markham, Ontario. Although the outside of the restaurant looks old and small, the interior actually has a nice, old-school steakhouse decor that doesn’t feel old, dark, or dingy. As always, I had the bone-in rib eye, rare. It was very good. I also tried the rack of lamb chops, which was surprisingly excellent. Perhaps the best lamb chops I’ve had. In terms of the steak, the quality of the meat isn’t as good as Jacob’s Steakhouse, but the texture of the meat was soft and tender. Also, the char-broiled steak gave a great char-flavour that wasn’t as good as a charcoal grill, but much better than the regular broiler that other steakhouses use. Everything we ordered was cooked beautifully (prime rib, lamb chops, ribeye) and the portion sizes were massive, especially the prime rib. I would say that this steakhouse gives the best value overall. The complimentary bread was nice and soft, toasted and warm. The French onion soup was fine (not as sweet as some other restaurants like to make it). Finally, I’d like to add that I love that this restaurant didn’t go too heavy on salt, like so many other restaurants. I highly recommend Peter’s Fine Dining. I am especially glad that we gave this restaurant a chance when my previous favourite, Barberian’s suddenly started dropping the ball. Update: Little touches that are nice include a fresh rose gifted to all female customers at the end of their meal and a complimentary dessert if you are celebrating a birthday.

 

Barberian’s Steakhouse ($$)

Update: From my original review, I had named Barberian’s Steakhouse, “Best Char-Grilled Steak, Best Value, Most Consistent”. However, I went two more times after I posted this review and both times the rib eye was tough and far too chewy. I no longer recommend Barberian’s Steakhouse. Instead, I recommend Peter’s Fine Dining. Please see my original review of Barberian’s Steakhouse below and my newly added review of Peter’s Fine Dining above.

I have now been to Barberian’s Steakhouse several times, and my rib eye steak is always cooked perfectly, even though I order it rare against the waiter’s recommendations to have it medium or medium-rare.  Sometimes the marbling in the rib eye steak can be chewy if not allowed to cook long enough, but I haven’t had this problem at Barberian’s.  In my opinion, Barberian’s puts the best char marks and charcoal flavour on their rib eye steaks.  Their rib eye steaks are perfectly smokey without tasting burnt.  They also make a very good rare prime rib.  Just be sure to go early in the night if you want your prime rib to be rare and juicy.

They have good appetizers and sides as well.  For example, their onion soup is the cheesiest I’ve seen.  In the past, I’ve found their soup to be far too salty, but the last time I was there, it was just right.  They may have changed the recipe.  I hope so!  Also, if you go to Barberian’s, be sure to order the baked potato, because it comes with feta cheese, real bacon bits, and sour cream.  I also love their house-made horseradish sauce.  Also, their cheesecake is heavy, but not bad.

I don’t, however, like the decor at Barberian’s.  I find it too dark and dingy, and old-school for my taste.  I keep going back for the food, service and prices, but I’m always in a hurry to leave as soon as I’ve finished my meal.  Our servers have always been great, as well, but they tend to be very busy.

This is my favourite steakhouse in Toronto, because they are the most consistent in both food and service, they have the best char-grilled steak, and they offer the best value price-wise.  The quality of the beef used at Barberian’s doesn’t measure up to the more expensive steakhouses, such as Harbour Sixty or Jacob’s, but I love Barberian’s char marks and flavour (and prices) so much that I don’t mind.  However, if you are particular about the breed of cattle, the source of your steak, or the number of days it has been aged, you will probably like Jacob’s Steakhouse more (see below).

  

Jacob’s & Co. Steakhouse ($$$ – $$$$$) – Best Experience, Best High-End Steakhouse, Best Decor

After being seriously disappointed by Harbour Sixty, I was worried that Jacob’s Steakhouse would be a huge waste of money, too.  But it surpassed all of my expectations.

The decor of the dining room is beautiful, modern yet soft, light and airy, and classy and sophisticated without being pretentious.

The staff at Jacob’s don’t just prepare and serve you a meal, they make a genuine effort to provide you with a thoughtful and memorable experience.  Our  wonderful experience with Jacob’s started with our reservation.  The person on the phone asked if we were celebrating anything special.  When I told her that we were celebrating our anniversary, she said that she would give us a nicer table.  We were seated at a table with a window view.  One of the first things that our waiter said to us was, ‘Happy Anniversary!’.  Then he offered us complimentary sparkling wine.  The service was excellent and pleasant throughout the night and our water glasses were never more than half empty before they were refilled (and we drink a lot of water).  I found it strange, though, that we were never offered freshly cracked black pepper.  After our meal, our waiter brought us two complimentary truffles on a plate that had ‘Happy Anniversary’ written out in chocolate.  It was the nicest anniversary dinner and Jacob’s truly went out of their way to make it special for us.  That’s just the service!

The menu and selection at Jacob’s is exactly what I expect from a true steakhouse.  You have options in terms of the country of origin of the cattle, the breed, the farm, and the number of days aged.  The prices ranged from affordable ($50-$60) to extravagant (>$600).  We ordered the USDA Prime Black Angus ribeye aged 60 days, Snake River Farms wagyu tenderloin, duck fat fries, and mushrooms.  Their signature appetizer is their caesar salad, which is made tableside.  John has had it before and said that it was quite good.  Instead of bread, they served popovers with whipped butter.  The popovers were large in size.  They had a nice, buttery and moist texture, but they weren’t memorable in flavour.  Also, they were far too heavy for a meal starter, in my opinion.  I absolutely loved the accompaniments that came with our steaks: sesame ponzu dressing, chimichurri sauce, blue cheese and double smoked bacon cream cheese dip, and a variety of sea salts.  There was plain coarse sea salt, smoked sea salt from England, and my favourite, charcoal sea salt from Hawaii.  I couldn’t get enough of the charcoal sea salt.  It added that char flavour that I was missing from char-grilled steaks, because Jacob’s cooks their steaks under the broiler.  Both of our steaks were cooked to our liking and both had prominent and distinct beef flavour.  The beef tasted almost earthy to me.  My rib eye was beautifully marbled and incredibly tender.  John’s wagyu tenderloin was even more flavourful and tender.  My only complaint is that they used too much thyme when cooking the steaks.  I found the flavour of thyme to be overpowering until I added the charcoal sea salt.  The sauteed mushrooms had just the right amount of butter and they weren’t overly salted.  The duck fat fries were slightly disappointing.  Although you could really taste duck fat on them, John said the fries were much crispier the last time he ate at Jacob’s.  He sent the fries back and although they came back crispier than the first batch, they still weren’t as good as what John remembers having before.  We didn’t try any of their desserts (we usually go to DT Bistro for their incredible desserts and caffeine-free tea).  I also want to let you know that at the end of your meal, Jacob’s gives you complimentary muffins to take home.

Although Jacob’s Steakhouse is pricey, we felt that our meal, service, and experience was well-worth it.  We will definitely go back again, but we’ll likely wait for a special occasion.  😉

  

Harbour Sixty Steakhouse ($$$) – Most Overrated

This restaurant is tricky to find and is in an old building with a strange layout.  Although, I like the traditional decor, the dining room that we were in felt very narrow.  I was very surprised that I didn’t enjoy my meal at Harbour Sixty.  I was even more surprised by how poor the service was.  In my opinion, this steakhouse is highly overrated and over priced.  I paid much more for my meal at Jacob’s Steakhouse and left that steakhouse a very happy customer.

At Harbour Sixty, we were given an antipasto plate.  The cheese that they served was the best.  It was mild and similar to feta in texture, but creamier and lightly salted.  The flavour of the cous cous, however, was overwhelmingly strong in parmesan flavour.  Also, the olives they served were not gourmet.  We ordered the bone-in rib steak, porterhouse steak, twice-baked potato, mushrooms, and onion rings.  The portion sizes of the steaks were far larger than any other steakhouse.  Also, the quality of the meat was quite good, being soft in texture and having good beef flavour.  The steaks weren’t over cooked, but the outer crust on both of our steaks were burnt and tough.  Their steaks are cooked under the broiler, and I much prefer char-grilled steaks.  I also didn’t like that the spice rub they used on the porterhouse steak was overpowering in flavour.  The spices didn’t taste bad, but when I eat steak, I want to be able to taste pure beef flavour with nothing added other than sea salt and pepper.  In terms of the side dishes, in my opinion, the twice-baked potato was nothing special with a one dimensional creamy taste, the mushrooms were too heavily buttered, and the onion rings were bland and crispy as opposed to crunchy (my preferred texture).  The onion rings were so unappealing that we barely ate any of them.  It would have helped if the onion rings had come with any sort of dip.  We didn’t try any of their desserts (we usually go to DT Bistro for their incredible desserts and caffeine-free tea).

Most surprisingly, was how bad the service was, considering the dining room wasn’t even full.  Although our waiter seemingly had a smile and a good attitude, the quality of the actual service that was delivered was very poor.  We kept having to ask for our water glass to be refilled, no one ever checked up on us during the meal, and the wait times were long.  For example, it took us a while to be able to find our waiter so that we could ask for the bill.  Then we had to wait a long time for him to actually hand us the wrong bill.  The bill he gave us was for a different table and it was 50% more expensive than what ours was supposed to be.  We waited again for him to correct his mistake and then had to wait even longer for him to bring the machine so that we could pay the bill.  So, needless to say, I don’t plan on returning to Harbour Sixty.  I’ll happily stick to Barberian’s and Jacob’s.

 

The David Duncan House ($) – Worst Steakhouse

Update: The ownership of The David Duncan House has changed since I posted this review. I haven’t been to the restaurant since the change in management, but from what I’ve heard, it is Much better now. I will update this review once I’ve given the restaurant another chance.

I was very disappointed in the food and dining experience at The David Duncan House.  It was, by far, the worst steakhouse meal that I have ever had.  Taking into consideration that we were dining with a local celebrity whom our waiter immediately recognized and acknowledged, I can’t even imagine how much worse the other customers had it.  I had the rib eye steak and here is a list of my complaints:

  1. The restaurant was not busy when we placed our order (it was before 10 pm), but we still had to wait 45 minutes between finishing our appetizers and being served our main courses.
  2. Six of the eight steaks that we ordered were overcooked, one of which was extremely overcooked.  We ordered rare or blue rare steaks and received then well done or medium, at best.
  3. The meat didn’t have much beef flavour and the texture of the meat was quite dry.
  4. The steaks were overly charred and tasted burnt. Also, they were too heavily salted for my taste.
  5. The mashed potatoes were lumpy.
  6. Although the waiter had a good attitude, I didn’t like the way that he handled our complaints about the overcooked steaks.  He said that he would send the steaks back as many times as needed to have them cooked right.  But, quite frankly, I expect a steakhouse to cook my steak perfectly the first time.  Also, we were starving by this point and couldn’t risk having to wait another 45 minutes to get our steaks back.  We even told the waiter why we weren’t sending the steaks back, but despite our complaints about the overcooked steak and long waiting time, he made no attempt to rectify the situation.
  7. I will say, however, that their desserts were quite good.  The cheese cake and chocolate mousse bomb, in particular, were very good.

 

Smith Brothers Steakhouse Tavern ($) – You Get What You Pay For

The Smith Brothers Steakhouse and Tavern is a very popular restaurant, because of the affordable prices, and the fun, casual, and laid-back atmosphere.  It feels more like a bar than a steakhouse.  I was disappointed with the food, but at least it wasn’t expensive.  Here are my thoughts on the meal that we had:

  1. My biggest complaint is that two of the three steaks that we ordered were overcooked.  We all ordered medium-rare rib eye steaks, but two of us received steaks that were cooked to medium.  A manager must have noticed that we weren’t happy with our steaks, because he came over to ask us if everything was okay.  When we mentioned that the steaks were overcooked, he gave us a coupon for our next visit (with a short expiration period) to make up for the mistake.  Although I never intended to return, I appreciated the gesture and the customer service.
  2. They claim that their beef is wet aged for 28 days, but I found that their rib eye steak had very little beef flavour.  Also, my rib eye steak was dry and slightly rough in texture.
  3. Our meals came out of the kitchen suspiciously quickly.  Since the restaurant is very large and is often full of customers, I suspect that their steaks are precooked.
  4. The steaks were so salty that they were almost inedible, and it tasted like they had used cheap iodized table salt as opposed to, the more appropriate, sea salt.
  5. There were only light grill marks on our steaks that didn’t lend enough of the desirable char flavour.
  6. We sampled a few of their sauces.  The mushroom cabernet sauce was overpowered by the wine flavour, the peppercorn cream was too creamy and one dimensional, and although the bacon and bourbon sauce was the most complex, it was too salty and not smokey enough.
  7. Even the freshly ground black pepper had little pepper flavour, which made me question the quality of the restaurant’s ingredients.
  8. However, their baked potatoes were excellent.  I don’t normally like baked potatoes, but I couldn’t get enough of theirs.
  9. Also, they served wonderful warm bianco rolls from Aces Bakery.  The bread had a beautifully thin and crispy crust.
  10. We ordered the sizzling mushrooms as an additional side, and although the flavouring was nothing special, we loved that the button mushrooms were whole and very small.
  11. We also tried the ice cream.  The strawberry ice cream was good but the vanilla ice cream was too sweet and left a strange aftertaste in our mouths.
  12. In summary, you get what you pay for at the Smith Brothers.  Overall, the quality of the ingredients is not on par with other steakhouses, and the food and sauces are lacking in balance, complexity, and sophistication.

 

 

Reds Wine Tavern ($) – Most Surprising

Reds Wine Tavern isn’t a steakhouse, but I wanted to mention it, because the best steak I ever had in a restaurant that wasn’t a steakhouse was at Reds.  I ordered the steak frites.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how perfectly my rib eye steak was cooked and, above all, how soft and tender the meat was, especially considering I ordered it rare.  The meal came with a good price, too.  I did not, however, like the truffle parmesan frites.  They were overly fried, soggy, greasy, overly salted, and lacking in parmesan cheese.  The waiter said that they were very good and very popular, so maybe we just went on an off night.  We didn’t try any of their desserts (we usually go to DT Bistro for their incredible desserts and caffeine-free tea).  I liked the decor, the host was wonderful, and although service was fine, our waiter’s attitude was passive aggressive and rude.  Although I don’t plan on going back, I think that Reds wine tavern is a great place to go for drinks.

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  1. I have heard great things about peter’s fine dining in markham. If you ever go there, I would be interested in hearing your review.

    • Thanks so much for writing! It’s funny you should mention Peter’s Fine Dining. I was considering putting it on my list of steak houses to try, because I’m in the Markham area very often. For example, I did try Day and Night. But John tried Peter’s Fine Dining about a year ago and said that it was as expensive as Barberian’s but not as good as Barberian’s. So I haven’t made any plans to go. If you end up trying it, let me know what you think!

      If you’re interested in trying Day and Night, the prices are very good. Day and Night is a higher-end Chinese steakhouse. Note that Chinese steakhouses are slightly different from a Western steakhouse, in particular the sides they offer and how they prepare the sides. The flavour of their angus beef was good and it was cooked as per our orders. They also had the Best raw bar selection when I went. I didn’t love how they cooked the steak, because it tasted like something I could have easily cooked at home, and I thought that the salad dressings were lacking sophistication. But note that they give you a large selection of salad dressings to choose from. Also, I really didn’t like the service. My family liked Day and Night. I still prefer steak houses that cook their steaks on the grill. Beware of Day and Night Groupons. Read the fine print for restrictions and you’ll see that they’re actually not a good deal.

    • Hi E loves food! I ended up trying Peter’s Fine Dining recently and was quite impressed so I wanted to let you know! I had two consecutive disappointing experiences at Barberian’s after I wrote my original review and so we started looking for new options. John had a disappointing meal at Peter’s Fine Dining the first time he went and so it took us a while to give it a chance. But we’re glad we did. Excellent value, well cooked, and they use a charcoal broiler which adds great flavour to the steaks. I’ve updated the post. If you end up trying Peter’s Fine Dining for yourself, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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