Hits and Near-Misses at Messis

Zagat called it French.  Is it?  I’m not exactly sure.  Messis is fine dining, certainly, but I don’t know if one should restrict it to a single fare.  The owner likens it to restaurants of Europe, so maybe we’ll simply call it European.

We were a little uncertain as we walked into the restaurant as there seems to be no one to greet you as you enter.  Given the size of the dining room, I suppose there’s no room for such a thing.  So we made our way directly to the bar and told them we had arrived.  A little too casually, the server offered us whatever table we’d like, and when I opted for the lone table by the window, I didn’t realize this meant we’d be in the line of traffic throughout our dinner.  My err, but no matter.

A plate of breads along with oil and balsamic vinegar was placed before us relatively quickly, and so we began the meal.  The white breads were a little doughy around a few of the edges, but the hardier wheats were excellent, very robust in both texture and flavor.  We lapped up the vinegar and oil primarily with the former, leaving the hardier breads to stand on their own.

In celebration of my wife’s birthday – for the second time as we’d already celebrated it with our friends in Los Angeles before the move – it was only appropriate that we have a full meal, and thus an appetizer was required.  We chose the goat cheese phyllo triangles, and we were not disappointed in the least.  The two triangles are laid across a bed of arugula, sun dried pears, Juliann beans, and sauteed confit tomatoes in an herb vinaigrette and puree of eggplant.  Whether eating the phyllo, eating the greens, or eating them together, eat bite was a joy.  The flavors blended unexpectedly well.  The texture of the triangles was a bit tough at times, though I’m not sure it could have been otherwise with phyllo dough, and the eggplant was too mild to match the rest of the dish, but these were minor details when set against the richness of the cheese, which had picked up the pear to add a touch of fruit to the flavor.  Delectable.
Goat Cheese Phyllo Triangles: 4.5/5

I am not a wine aficionado, knowing just enough to identify what goes with reds or whites and the ‘t’ is silent when pronouncing “pinot”.  I also am quite the lightweight, so we decided to split a glass of their Salvalai Pinot Grigio.  This was a somewhat difficult choice as our entree choices matched different styles, but it seemed a better choice than a red.  Rather than having to sip at my wife’s glass, they offered to simply split a single glass, which was much easier, and we’ve noticed you actually tend to get about a glass-and-a-half this way at many restaurants.  Messis is no exception.

My wife opted for one of the specials, a pan-seared British Columbian halibut and shrimp.  The shrimp were blackened around the edges, and the flavor could not overcome this flaw.  It was an unfortunately poor choice for cooking method, I think.  The halibut, on the other hand, was done very well, flaky and seasoned lightly and served in what else but butter?  Roasted mini-potatoes and fennel with spinach parted the seafood along with wedges of what the menu listed as beets.  If so, they were golden beets and tasted quite a bit like pumpkin.  Perhaps it was simply a squash?  It’s hard to say, having never had gold beets before.  I didn’t mind them but found the fennel bland.  My wife loved the fennel but shunned the beets.  To each our own, I suppose.  It’s a shame that the shrimp were so charred; otherwise the dish would have been excellent.  The wine matched so well, even I noticed.
BC Halibut: 4/5

Not in the mood for beef but not wanting dinner to be merely seafood, I opted for the New Zealand rack of lamb in sweet onion balsamic compote.  The lamb was done very well but had nothing special about it until combined with the compote, which was heavenly.  I almost wanted the compote on its own!  The side was a sweet corn, tomato, and parmesan polenta, which didn’t seem to work for us.  It came out more like a corn casserole than a polenta, and the combination of so many other things drowned out the parmesan, which I had been looking forward to.  The broccoli, pepper, and green beans were a fair addition to fill out the entree.
Rack of Lamb: 3.5/5

The wait staff was not completely on their game in the evening as our server offered no plates for split dishes and even completely forgot to furnish flatware to my wife before dessert.  There was a great deal of activity, and they seemed quite busy, though there seemed to be some side conversations going on as well, which, in my view, left them distracted.  As also noted, everyone seemed a little too casual.  While I don’t mind casual, I still like the service to be somewhat more attentive.
Service: 3/5

I had noticed a few recommendations online for the strudel for dessert, and it was the first thing that hit my wife, so that was the order: two rolls of phyllo stuffed with wild blueberries and white chocolate with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, garnished with a halved strawberry.  We were a bit split on this dish.  I found that cooking of the blueberries, combined with the richness of the chocolate, dulled their flavor.  She disagreed wholeheartedly, finding the berries a complement to the richness.  I sometimes struggle with certain subtle flavors, so I’m tempted to defer to her on this, but my wife also has rarely found a dessert she didn’t like.  Regardless, the ice cream, while melting too quickly, was a wonderful combination with the strudel.  I don’t know how two rich flavors can combine to be not so rich, but these did, and I am happy for that.  And who can complain about a fresh strawberry?
Blueberry Strudel: 3.5/5

I’ve heard Messis called one of the most underrated restaurants in Toronto.  Having not been to enough places to really tell, I can’t confirm or deny that opinion, but I will note that for the price paid, Messis offers excellent food with only a few messis… er… misses.

Messis: 3.7/5
97 Harbord St, Toronto
Messis on Urbanspoon

About Matthew

I am a student and teacher of Christian spiritual formation, currently engaged in Ph.D. work at the Toronto School of Theology and University of Toronto. I also serve on the advisory council for Grafted Life Ministries and occasionally mentor others via various means. For fun, I dabble in multiple unusual art forms, collect gemstones, and read whatever strikes my fancy.
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