Most Unusual Restaurants in Toronto: 360 Restaurant
If there is one edifice that screams "That's Toronto!", it is the CN Tower located centrally, adjacent to many other truly Toronto attractions. It's the first thing that stands out against our skyline and it's the often one of the first things tourists to the city want to check out. What many people don't think of when considering this tourist hotspot is fine dining with a definite focus on Canadian ingredients and dishes. Designated as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the tower houses the 360 Restaurant, named for the fact that the restaurant rotates a full 360 degrees every 72 minutes giving spectacular views of the entire city from over 1,000 feet above.
Coupled with free entry to the observation deck and glass floor, a lunch or dinner at the 360 is actually well-worth the price and this 2-for-1 deal is why it's particularly popular as a date spot, a business meeting venue, and especially a place to take out-of-towners. I can certainly attest to the latter, having treated many family and business visitors from all over the world to an evening above the Toronto. It is always a thrill for tourists.
But that shouldn't mean that locals can't enjoy it just as much. With Executive Chef John Morris at the helm, there's a strong focus on Canadian cuisine, drawing from all across the country for inspiration in his dishes. And who doesn't want to pick out their home or other much-loved local spot from high above city from once in a while?
Atmosphere and Decor
First things first: Nobody is coming here for the interior decor. As such, it's very simple and perfunctory, with a slight air of class. After all it does boast the world's highest wine cellar. Guests are here for the view.
After going through security checkpoints and taking the elevator up in an ear-popping 58 seconds, you're greeted with a vista you won't scoff at. It's important to note that the 360 shares the same common areas with the rest of the CN Tower and depending on the time of day and year, you may experience long lines to get into the building. At 4:30 PM in January however, there was no wait at all and it was in perfect time to catch the winter sunset. During my time, I managed to see the city in both the afternoon and dark of a winter night, all from the comfort of my seat.
Every other time I've come to this place, it's been quite busy but with that in mind, every other time has been in much warmer temperatures and better weather. It was strikingly empty which I found actually added to the atmosphere as I could enjoy the view from my seat at the window in peace. The only sound was the oldies coming from the music system. Even with every table taken during other visits, it never seemed too loud.
This is a menu made for Canadians at fairly affordable prices considering what it comes with. There is nothing that will shock you or anything that seems particularly unfamiliar. It is not the sort of hipster joint that is chock full of bone marrow creations or kombucha-pickled ghost peppers. It's basic and traditional but tasty, with a wide range of options for typical Western tastes.
It is a prix fixe menu where you can choose from a 2-course or 3-course options for $65 or $79 respectively. There is an a la carte menu as well for grilled meats and seafood, which is actually quite impressive considering the venue is not known for ocean-based cuisine. I'm resisting the urge to make a joke about Ripley's Aquarium which is right next door!
Starting with the a la carte menu, there is the choice between artisanal beef from Pine Meadows Farms as well as Ontario lamb and bison. The steaks range from $85 for 16oz rib eye to $75 for the other two. An 8oz bison tenderloin will set you back $80 and a rack of lamb is $79/pound. Seafood offerings were most impressive. The menu lists 3 choices for $95 each with the option of Atlantic lobster, east coast crab legs, or a surf and turf option. And then there is the seafood bar which consist of huge platters full of a large variety of seafood as well as appetizers from the ocean. The platters range from $65 to $395, and from one to three tiers! If you're in the mood for lobster, crab, mussels, oysters, shrimp, and smoked fish, this is by far the dish to order. Appetizers consist of shrimp cocktail or smoked salmon for $24, Malpeque oysters for $38, or seafood cocktail for $48.
The prix fixe menu starts off with appetizers, with only 2 requiring an extra $6. There are 2 salads, a hearty mushroom soup, duck parfait, beet and squash tart tatin, with smoked salmon and shrimp & grits as the more expensive of the offerings.
The mains consist of a well-rounded variety of choices for different palates and nothing too adventurous to scare anybody off, with the bonus of showcasing various parts of the country. There is a Newfoundland-inspired cod dish, a BC seafood dish with rockfish, clams, squid & mussels, a vegetarian risotto with ancient grains and BC mushrooms, Quebec-inspired brioche chicken, an Ontario super pork dish consisting of 4 different types, a vegetarian ravioli, Nova Scotian salmon fillet, and 45-day aged Alberta prime rib. The former is the only option that requires an extra $10 supplement. The sides that accompany the dishes are all very Canadian as well with root vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, and even sumac-dusted potatoes.
All extra side dishes are $11 a piece and it is recommended to order two. I found that two extra dishes are unnecessary as the plates are large enough to be filling.
There are 7 desserts to pick from, or add onto your a la carte order for $14. They are more creative, more Canuck takes on typical fine dining desserts with ingredients that we have come to understand as purely Canadian. It starts with the ubiquitous chocolate based dessert, here in the form of a "tower". Following up is the verrine with cherries, which is known as a slightly classier name for parfait, almost like a deconstructed black forest cake, minus the cake. There's the East Coast-inspired (and Scottish) cranachan which is a trifle-like dessert, a blueberry and maple syrup crème brulee, an upside-down cake, and for the less adventurous there are the typical cookies and ice-cream or sorbet.
If savoury is more your style after a meal, the 360 boasts a sizeable cheeseboard selection with Ontario and Quebec dairies highlighted.
It was a little early for a thick and hot soup and I wanted something more than a salad, so I opted for the beet tarte tatin having only a vague idea what that meant. The dish arrived quickly, well presented, and colourful. It was a little confusing as I saw no squash at all and it seemed more like a hunk of gratin-like pre-prepared beets thrown on a piece of plain pastry. The pastry itself was well-made and flaky but was certainly lacking any taste of squash. The beets were dry and bland, which was particularly unfortunate as I have had some of the best beets in my life at this restaurant in years past. The sheep's milk cheese, or as they claim yoghurt, was smooth, creamy and mild with fresh pea shoots to top it off. The best part of the dish was actually the complementary roasted hazelnuts. They not only added a burst to nutty flavour but also a nice hard crunch to contrast against the beets and pastry. The grape reduction was unnoticeable and far too meagre. It was a nice size for an appetizer.
Had I been paying better attention, I certainly would have chosen the bison tenderloin a la carte but with the prix fixe that was not available to me. I was torn between the Newfoundland cod and the Quebec chicken, choosing eventually to go with the chicken simply because the accoutrements were more to my taste. I'm sure the cod would have been quite a treat as well. I would have liked some information on the menu about the sustainability of the fisheries they draw from for this menu as that is a big concern, especially in the troubled East Coast cod industry. The fact that there is no Ocean Wise or MSC designation on the menu made me think twice about the fish.
The chicken dish was the only poultry offering in the entrées and is bound to appeal to even the pickiest eaters as it is a safe, tasty plate made with skill. The brioche crust was thin but adequate and as a huge fan of brioche, it was a great texture mixed with the juicy, spinach-stuffed chicken. The sprinkling of sea salt atop it actually added quite a nice zest of flavour. Usually the protein is the star of the dish but in this case, I feel like the vegetables played a co-starring role of equal importance, and even more flavour. The crushed potatoes were drenched in delicious chicken jus, the heirloom carrot puree was smooth, and the edamame beans were perfectly cooked, not too soft like many places overcook them to. There was the addition of about 3 whole cloves of mashed garlic to add bite and the maple butter sauce rounded everything out with a pleasant sweetness. It may not have been a particularly bold choice of entrée, but it was a satisfying one in the same way as a home-cooked meal.
I also picked up a side of brussel sprouts with chestnuts because I thought all the carbs and protein could use some healthy greens to balance the meal and found them to be perfectly cooked, crispy with a nice char to them, but there was something very sweet about the glaze that was a bit distracting to the overall flavour of the sprouts.
Three courses was definitely the way to go. Dessert was possibly the best part of the meal and it was huge! As I have a certain sweet tooth, it's always a bit of a challenge to pick just one sweet treat. The Dark Chocolate Tower called to me with its coffee and orange tinges but as this was meant to be a Canadian experience, I had choose the East Coast Cranachan, mostly because I had no idea what it was and the idea of partridge berries in January seemed too good to be true. Sadly, it was. The dish was covered with raspberries instead. Not a partridgeberry in sight. Considering the raspberries were a mixture of fresh and freeze-dried, I was surprised that there weren't dried partridgeberries instead.
That said, the greenhouse raspberries were good enough and I particularly enjoyed the dried berries as they were really crunchy and packed full of sweet and sour flavour. It helps that I love raspberries. The oat shortbread was overwhelming as there was so much of it. But it had to be in order to scoop up all the custard and whipping cream which was piled really high. After an app and main, I could only finish half of it even though it was the perfect blend of sweet and creamy.
To call the drink options substantial would be an understatement. If you are a wine drinker, this is likely a heavenly list to choose from. The wine list should more aptly be called a wine book featuring wines from Canada, and all over the world. It is 9 pages of whites, reds, desserts, champagnes, and ports. There is bound to be something to please everyone who wants wine. The servers are all versed in the options as well. The food menu also comes with a pairing list to help narrow down your choices if you aren't up to scratch on fancy wine knowledge. The bottles range from $45 for California white to $3600 for a 2000 Château Lafite Rothschild merlot. So, if you're a wine connoisseur or just an everyday Joe, you'll find something tasty. Certain wines are also available by the 6 or 9oz glass.
If you're not in a wine mood, there is also a cocktail list with Canadiana names like Gord's Last Word (which is likely an homage to Gord Downie, or possibly Gordie Howe or Gordon Lightfoot), Toronto Islands, or CN Spritz, all for fairly recognisable cocktails. There's nothing "craft" here. These are just crowd-pleasers with fun names. They will run you from $16 to $20. I sampled the Beamsville Bing which comes with a collectible glass. It tasted a bit too heavily of grenadine for me but I'm sure it would appeal to many others.
There is also a fair selection of Ontario craft beers, from $9 to $14 a pint. They specialize as well in Canadian spirits featuring distillers such as Dillon's, Tag No. 5, Ungava, Screech, Crown Royal, and Gibson's. Specialty coffee is also available.
For people who'd prefer not to drink, there are non-alcoholic cocktails for $12 and juices for $7.50 with more fun names like Centreville Refresher or Walk On The Edge. There is also a selection of coffees and teas for $5. I opted to go with a classic cappucino which is made with decent Lavazza coffee and had a wonderfully thick foam that made it a pleasure to drink. I do think the 360 could go with some local roasters for their coffee to bring more flavour and Canadiana to their offerings.
As a fine dining establishment, it's not surprising that the level of service is high. I found the CN Tower employees, host, bussers, manager, and servers all very attentive and friendly. My server was chatty and engaged but never in a pushy way, and made me feel quite welcome even though I was dining alone. He often stopped by to make sure everything was going well or just chat and I found like they really valued my presence and comfort. It is important to note again that I never felt suffocated or uncomfortable with the attentiveness and it was never overwhelming. It was the perfect balance. It was also appreciated that the manager checked in as well. I think one of the highlights was when the sun was setting in a very beautiful and unique way, a few servers were taking photos of it as well and it just felt very nice to see that the staff appreciates the view even if they see it every day. I feel like that enthusiasm in your staff reflects well on the workplace and service itself.
After taking my leftovers and collectible glassware, I wandered down to the LookOut (observation deck) and the Glass Floor, as both are included with a 360 Restaurant reservation. I can't say I've ever been to this restaurant and not have my guests want to check out the CN Tower itself afterwards. At the time I was there, very few others were around and due to the weather, the SkyPod and Edge Walk were closed, as well as the outdoor area of the Look Out. It was a nice end to the meal to slowly wander around the CN Tower in near quiet, just watching the winter city at night. The meal itself was filling and although it is not the best food or drinks I've ever had, and it's certainly not going to win a Michelin star, it was a satisfying meal and when taking into consideration the free access to parts of the CN Tower that cost $36 normally, it seems like a pretty good deal for a gourmet and unique experience.
The 360 Restaurant is a good place to put on your list if you want to entertain some out-of-towners or business colleagues. The atmosphere and service are pleasant, the food is tasty, and the view is unparalleled in this city unless you're renting your own plane. You can be assured that any tourist will be happy to dine here, and it's not a bad spot to take a date either. While there are many, many other high-quality fine dining establishments in the city, none come linked with a 360 degree view of the entire city at sunset.