Most Unusual Restaurants in Toronto: Figures
These are the figures that shaped us is scrawled above the secret entrance to what has to be one of the coolest theme restaurants in the city. These figures the wall speaks of are comic book characters, cartoon personalities, movie idols, and pen & ink superheroes which adorn every corner of the space. As someone who grew up with X-Men comics, well-worn Star Wars videotapes, and Wonder Woman action figures, this spot has been on my list of must-sees since it opened back in early 2017.
Situated up Avenue Road near Davenport, it's a bit of a wander outside the usual Yorkville bubble but for those itching for fancy cocktails, posh bites, and some stunning decor you will rarely find anywhere else, Figures is worth the trip. Owners and brothers Nader and Patrick Marzouk have created this upscale Yorkville homage to youth—specifically what really shaped us into the people we are now—to draw people in and remind them where they come from in a way that steers away from cheap sentimentality and elevates those influences to nostalgic art.
Atmosphere & Décor
The decor is clearly where Figures draws the most attention. If it wasn't for such detail, there is no way this resto-lounge would have made as much of a splash. From the small speak-easy styled entrance, to pressing the Captain America shield to open a door to the rest of the space, to the massive and mostly monochrome mural of a cacophony of characters and Pac-Man on the ceiling, Figures is about packing as many memories into one small fine-dining space as possible. Blink and you'll miss the Millennium Falcon and Death Star near the door. Nothing about the atmosphere is subtle. You are there to be immersed in nostalgia, not to take a glance and carry on with your meal.
The only possible concern about the space is that the interior is dark, very dark even at 5:30 in the afternoon during October. There seem to be sections that are purposely very dark. It clearly leans more towards the lounge end of resto-lounge. Music early in the evening was a good level and conversation was very easy.
After spending time in southern Spain in the birthplace of tapas cuisine, I'm always a bit hesitant when anyone in Canada mentions the word "tapas" in relation to their menu. Sadly, Figures falls into this strange idea that the only thing authentic tapas requires is small plates that you can share. I can't quite wrap my head around the idea of a single tapa costing $32 and being entrée-sized. Just because you offer side-plates and suggest sharing doesn't make something tapas. One can hardly blame Figures for the confusion however since it's a common misconception all over North America.
That said, the menu is limited but covers a fair selection of dishes From The Earth (vegetables), From The Sea (seafood), and From The Land (meat). Each section has 5 options rounding it out a nice 15 items in total.
At the top of the menu is the earth, consisting of various in-season vegetables from heirloom beets, to cauliflower with truffle, to a pasta of the day, all ranging from $16 to $26. The seafood selections range from halibut to scallops to shrimp, with the cheapest being $26 and the most expensive swordfish at $38. Finally, there are the options for carnivores. It only makes sense that the heaviest dishes sit at the bottom of the menu, also with the highest price tags starting at $30. With the usual offerings of lamb and beef, those patrons willing to step slightly outside a typical farm are also rewarded with Muscovy duck and venison, the former at $32 and the latter hitting $52.
Dessert has an excellent range of choices for anyone with a sweet tooth. At $12 is the ice-cream sampler. Following from that are doughnuts, tarts, and the real star of the dessert section: do-it-yourself s'mores for $18 per person! An artisanal cheese plate rounds out the offerings for $24.
There are really no such thing as appetizers at Figures. As our server stated, the plates are meant as tapas and are quite small. The closest things are the vegetables. As a huge fan of beets, I decided that my choice would obviously be my favourite root vegetable friends. My companion chose the foraged mushrooms. Both dishes were a decent size for the price and clearly made for sharing, even if the literal size of the plates crowded the small table. It would be hard to make me dislike a beet dish and this did not disappoint. There was a beet tartare with puree and French cheese garnish, a golden beet carpaccio with spiced pecans, and a beet puree smear. The tartare, although tasty, was lacking a bit of creativity and didn't really taste like anything I couldn't make myself. However, the golden beets with the nuts really appealed to me. The thin slices, the sweet taste, with the satisfying crunch and heat of the pecans really made the dish. The puree seemed like an afterthought only added to make the plate look good. It didn't add anything taste-wise as everything was already very "beet-y".
The star of the entire meal really was the foraged mushrooms. Again, it's difficult to significantly ruin mushrooms but some dishes are better than others. This was definitely one of the better ones in my life. Something of note is the lack of information given on the menu itself. My friend ordered the mushrooms not realising that it's actually in a pastry tart shell. A word of caution: For someone with any allergy at all, especially gluten sensitivity, dairy, or nut allergy, make sure to check with your server about what each dish actually is. There are whole components that are completely left off the menu. The pastry was excellently prepared, the tarragon and lemon curd sauce garnish added a great zing to the mushrooms, which were full of a savoury earthiness. Texture was clearly important as well and the crispy tart complemented the chewy chanterelles and oyster mushrooms perfectly.
For our "mains", I chose the U/10 scallops and my friend picked the server's suggestion of Muscovy duck. The scallops could have easily just been a starter as well, but for $34 I expected more. The plate consisted of 3 scallops on a puree of sweet potato, with some seared and diced sweet potato and a spattering of half a single stalk of sliced asparagus. It was an easily shareable dish but not worth the price tag. Even though the scallops themselves were simply beautifully cooked, they were not worth $10 a piece.
The same issue I found with the beets came back here: a redundancy of the accompanying ingredients. I'm not sure I understand the point of a sweet potato puree with diced sweet potato when there are so many other options that are also in-season, although it did look very pretty. It would be nice to mix it up a little. Maybe celeriac and sweet potato? Something other than double sweet potato. What tiny little bit of asparagus I found was a nice crispy addition but far too meagre.
Where the scallop dish was tiny and uncreative, the Muscovy duck was quite a surprise, literally. As mentioned in the previous section, you never know what you're actually going to get when a plate comes out. Maybe it will be just as described on the menu. Maybe it will have a whole other half that isn't mentioned at all! For the Muscovy duck dish, there was a wonderfully rare breast drizzled in a delicious, light gravy... and then a large helping of sweetbreads (which seemed undercooked to our taste), and a pate of foie gras mixed with something else that we could not name.
Had my companion known the dish came with foie gras, she said she would not have ordered it as she has a moral aversion to it, especially since Figures gives no indication of the sourcing of any of their ingredients. I too refuse to eat foie gras. Furthermore, sweetbreads are not generally something you should surprise people with.
Not everybody is cool with eating a pancreas or thymus gland. Personally, I find it unacceptable for a restaurant to just surprise guests with anything they like when the menu states duck, blood orange, and sage only. Interestingly, the sage could not be tasted at all. She called the dish a "mess". In terms of value, the sweetbreads and foie gras certainly made the dish much more of an entrée than an appetizer and the price made slightly more sense.
There is a strange inconsistency in the dishes at Figures and that comes out in the desserts as well. The cones are priced for what seems like a reasonable $12 until you find out you get about 4 tablespoons of ice-cream in tiny little cones. There is nothing special about these. I expected that they would be adorned with some fun superhero or comic-themed decorations. That was not the case at all as you can see by the photos. The flavours were not particularly noteworthy either consisting of chocolate, vanilla, lychee, and what was meant to be coconut but tasted like a repeat of chocolate again.
However, the s'mores for only $6 more were huge! One person gets 3 s'mores, complete with handmade butternut squash marshmallows, graham crackers, 4 types of chocolate, a selection of greenhouse fruits, and caramel sauce. This was more of the type of dish I expected from Figures. The chocolate pieces were formed in spaceships and the Joker.
The best part is they bring a small firepit to the table and you can roast your own marshmallows and put together the s'mores yourself, any way you'd like. It was a great end to the meal and very filling. Exactly the type of fun thing that someone would expect from an establishment that draws so much inspiration from childhood and youth.
Clearly, Figures is dedicated to the boozier side of the business. They have a huge wine list and a very extensive cocktail menu, with 10 comic-inspired choices, as well as 10 classics with a twist. My companion went with the Dumb Grandson Pep Talk, a vodka-based cocktail with a cute flower garnish. I took the server's advice when I asked for the "coolest looking drink" and went with her informed suggestion of the Johnny Blaze. It is fantastic if you enjoy scotch, or if you just like a little bit of a smoke show before you drink.
If you are looking for something involving fire instead of smoke, the Maleficent is the best choice and if you want some foam art, check out the Rarely on Target which features a stormtrooper's head.
These comic book and action hero cocktails all range from $17 to $21 and feature anywhere from 1.5 to 2.25 ounces of premium liquors.
The classic cocktails are high-quality versions of many of the most popular offerings at many other bars and cocktail lounges. These again range from $16 to $19 for 2 to 3 ounces of liquor. At the very end of the cocktail menu is another feature: Zombie Punch which includes 3 rums and absinthe! It's $30 for 2 glasses and looks as good as it sounds.
Like all fine dining establishments, Figures sports an exhaustive wine list with 22 reds on offer mainly from California, Chile, France, Italy and Spain. This is followed by 10 fine red wines from all over the world. Be aware that just one bottle of Italian Merlot from this list will set you back $3,100. These are not wines for amateurs. 12 white wines from Canada, USA, France, Italy and more round off the list.
At the end of your meal, there is a digestif menu as well with lovely selections such as cognacs, absinthe, grappa, port, and if you're really looking to splurge, Hennessy Paradis.
If you're out to drink to impress in Yorkville, you'll feel right at home in Figures.
From the lovely and welcoming hostess who explained the history of the artwork in the foyer to our excellent and prompt server, Zoe, we found everyone was very knowledgeable and friendly. Zoe knew just what we were looking for and at one point, someone who may have been a manager was very instrumental in helping me decide which desserts would look best in photographs! Although a bit slow between dishes, the entire night went smoothly and no issues were had.
What I particularly enjoyed was the attitude of everyone working there. When going out in Yorkville, you never know if you're going to end up uncomfortable in a snooty upscale eatery or in a relaxed, yet still posh-enough, watering hole. I can safely say that Figures is not at all pretentious when it comes to customer service. Everyone is treated well and kindly and that alone may be a reason to come here for a few late night drinks if you're in the area.
Immediately after the meal, I walked out satisfied enough but not particularly full. The price of the mostly small dishes was something of a stumbling block for really getting a proper full stomach. Within an hour of leaving, I was hungry again and grabbed a snack on the way home. Figures appears to suffer a bit of an identity crisis as there's something just slightly strange about a geek-inspired lounge selling $2,000 bottles of wine with $52 venison tapas as opposed to other comic book-inspired ventures like the very casual Bam! in the Beach neighbourhood, or Action Burger in Brooklyn, NY.
There are some things that Figures does exceptionally well and others where it only reaches the mediocre level. The misunderstanding of tapas, the inconsistent pricing, the surprise additions to the menu, and the lack of anything really creative or integrated into the theme on the menu all lead to questions about the quality of my overall experience. However, if you are aware that you are not going to get superb bang for your buck and the food is not on the same level as many other fine dining restaurants in the area, but you love exceptional ambience, decor, and want fun cocktails with some nostalgia mixed in, you will definitely have a good time here.