The Art of Table-Side Service
by Woody Siklis (for Dine magazine)
We love the old-school steakhouse, the warm ambience, the sounds of cool school jazz and ‘50s pop that transports us to a time of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the Rat Pack. We have come to Peter’s Fine Dining for this kind of experience–one where the staff are dressed in formal wear and respect the niceties of service.
No sooner do we sit down than a wicker basket brimming with toasty, warm, buttery garlic bread, and side dishes of pickles and meaty Greek black olives in olive oil are brought to the table. We are sitting in comfort admiring the accoutrements of the restaurant–crystal chandeliers, elegant paintings of pastural landscapes, a stone fireplace, and lush carpeting. We feel like we are dining in a castle. But what’s this? The hallway is covered in Kiss memorabilia: signed Kiss T-shirts, magazine articles of Kiss, and photos of Kiss performing on stage. This shrine to glam rock seems totally out of place until we are greeted by the owner of Peter’s, Tom Colomvakos, who looks like he could be a member of the band. Turns out that whenever the band is in town, they dine at Peter’s.
What do the Demon and Starchild order when they dine here? Apparently, the Caesar salad and a platter of steaks and ribs is fit for these rock n’ roll gods. We begin with tender puck-sized scallops, seared and served in a beurre blanc sauce. Four colossal shrimp are accompanied with a tangy cocktail sauce. The escargot is cooked beautifully in garlic butter, to the optimal à point.
And now for the Caesar salad. It is expertly prepared table-side by our waiter extraordinaire, Steve. He wheels the ingredients out on a cart draped in a black table cloth like he’s about to put on a magic show. He whisks eggs, fresh cloves of garlic, lemon, anchovies, Dijon mustard and Greek olive oil. He does not cut corners, but rather nurtures the salad with such love. We are transfixed by the show. Steve is the interlocutor between the kitchen and the diner, sharing with us his process. Rich, creamy with bright acidity, and a hint of cracked pepper, this is the most tantalizing Caesar in Toronto. One bite, and we’re singing “I Was Made for Loving You.”
Steve returns with his magical cart to prepare the legendary Steak Diane. Named for Lady Diana Cooper, a society beauty from the 1930s, its innovative preparation took American steakhouses by storm in the 1950s and ‘60s. It’s not often seen on menus today, but what we have discovered is that Peter’s does not shy away from complex preparations.
We feel like we have front row seats at a cooking show as Steve prepares the sauce. In a hot pan, Steve blends the cream, mushrooms, chives, Dijon mustard, and then sprinkles in the pepper and salt with such finesse that would make Salt Bae blush. The sauce simmers. We are mesmerized. Flames shoot up in the air, as he splashes brandy into the pan. Steve rhythmically ladles the sauce over our medium rare USDA prime tenderloin, and plates it. The steak is so rich, luxuriating in its savoury sauce and I am enjoying it so much. It’s not a complicated recipe but it requires finesse, and we appreciate it. It is seared and seasoned to perfection, with a vastly flavour-forward sauce that balances earthiness from the mushroom, richness from the cream, and a pungent jolt from the Dijon mustard.
The beef has me in a carnivore’s paradise, as I ravenously enjoy every bite with the ferocity of a T-Rex. This is a recipe that has stood the test of time. One of my dinner companions has ordered the double cut lamb chops. It’s a generous portion of thick, pan seared chops splashed with lemon and olive oil and a delicious aroma of charcoal. Oh what I wouldn’t do for one of those chops, but alas, she wouldn’t share.
Our sweet ending is a classic Bananas Foster. We all gaze with childlike wonderment as Steve flambées the bananas in rum and drapes them over a lush scoop of vanilla ice cream. A velvety confluence of temperatures from the warm bananas to the cool ice cream, accented by the cinnamon, brown sugar and essence of rum are like a warm embrace of my palate. Bananas Foster dates back to 1950’s New Orleans, and has remained an institution there ever since. It’s a real treat to get a sweet taste of the Big Easy in Toronto.
As we get ready to leave, Colomvakos, our consummate host with inimitable hospitality, provides each of the women in our party with an individual long stem rose. They blush at the uncommonly gracious gesture. The waitstaff are all so experienced in the craft of table-side service as a part of their hospitality. Rarely can we find a restaurant quite like Peter’s. Everything is nurtured with as much love as a grandmother puts into her cooking, within the atmosphere of a castle and with a hint of Kiss. Peter’s cuts no corners, values the customers’ respect, and honours traditional service for an essential steakhouse dining experience.