Celebrity chef Mark McEwan has a culinary empire in the city of Toronto with many established, fine dining restaurants that includes Bymark, North 44, One Restaurant, and now his latest restaurant endeavor Fabbrica. The restaurant’s mission is to create the most authentic Italian cuisine from fresh ingredients, many that are sourced directly out of Italy. Located at the trendy Shops of Don Mills, Fabbrica has become the subject of my next restaurant review. In the past I’ve been to one of his other restaurants, Bymark. It didn’t live up to all the hype in my opinion at the time so I’m hoping that Fabbrica could help change the perception I already have on the Mark McEwan Group.
Fabbrica was chosen randomly when me and my friend arrived at the Shops so a reservation was not made. The hostess told us that the only spot available at the time without a reservation was at the bar. That was completely fine by us since you still can get the full restaurant service when sitting there. The atmosphere of the restaurant has a very casual feel. Unlike many of Mark’s other fine dining restaurants which is very formal, you could wear shorts and a t-shirt here and not feel out of place.
I knew that coming into this restaurant I wanted to try one of their pizzas. I had read before that they are baked in a wood-burning brick pizza oven from Naples, so I feel it adds a little bit more authenticity to the cuisine. Fabbrica offers 6 different types of pizzas and as I do quite often now I will ask the waiter for a recommendation. Since we sat at the bar, our bartender was also our waiter as well and took down our orders. He recommended to me their Fungi Pizza because he said it’s something you can’t really find anywhere else. Why? No tomato sauce is used. What is used as the sauce is Truffle Cream. I’m always willing to try out something different and unique so the Fungi Pizza was an easy sell to me. However, sometimes trying new things and taking food risks pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. This time the risk did not pay off and I ended up ordering something I couldn’t even finish eating, and no it was not because I was full.
The truffle cream was so incredibly rich, oily, and salty that it was extremely hard to stomach. Since the truffle cream replaced the tomato sauce it was lathered throughout the whole pizza so because there was so much of it, the richness of it was too overbearing and it felt like I was eating a block of butter at times. I have always been able to finish the food in front of me in its entirety at restaurants, but it wasn’t until here where I could only finish 75% of it and had to doggy bag the rest home. Again it wasn’t because I was full but because I knew that if I continued on, my stomach would not like me very much the next morning. In their defense, this pizza was probably meant to be shared so in small portions it probably wouldn’t have tasted the way I experienced it. I did manage to learn and take away one thing from this experience though. Always tomato sauce. Always, always always.
Truffle Cream, Mozzarella, Mushroom - Cost $20
The second main dish was much, much better than the pizza and it’s their Salmon. Although I believe Salmon is one of the easiest fish to cook, this salmon was cooked to perfection. The skin was beautifully seared with a crisp glowing skin and the fish itself was extremely moist and tender. The sauce and caponata vegetables on the side complimented the salmon well and elevated the dish in its presentation. My only gripe with this dish was the portion size relative to its price. It was a fairly small piece of salmon priced at a hefty $28 that came with no sides. We actually ordered a side of potatoes to go along with this salmon that came with a cost of an extra $10.
Seared Filet, Winter Caponata, Pine Nuts, Preserved Lemon - Cost $28
It was time for dessert and the first one that was ordered was the Tiramisu Bombolone. We originally thought that this was going to be the popular coffee flavoured Italian dessert in its cake form, but our waiter quickly pointed out that it was a spin on that in the form of their homemade doughnuts (a.k.a bombolone in Italy). Again we were quick to try out this new take on Tiramisu but unfortunately again we were extremely disappointed in the result. The doughnuts were very bland. The espresso sauce drizzled on top was not enough to bring out any sort of sweetness to the dessert as it was overpowered by the tastelessness of the doughnut. There was barely any filling inside (if any) which might have made the doughnuts more flavourful and interesting if there had been more of it. To me I didn’t feel like there were any tiramisu elements in this dessert (taste, look, or texture wise) besides the espresso sauce so having Tiramisu in its name is a little misleading.
Espresso Sauce, Marsala Cream, Cocoa - Cost $11
The last dessert we ordered was the Fabbrica Sundae and it was ginormous to say the least. On the bottom of the sundae is a half baked cookie, then there is a scoop of vanilla gelato, some strawberries, toffee crunch, whipped cream, and caramel sauce. The best part of the sundae was the vanilla gelato and the strawberries, everything else I could have lived without. The cookie felt like it was unbreakable. It was so hard and doughy that it was very difficult to cut through with my spoon to eat it along with the gelato. The toffee crunch was a little too sweet for me and I would have preferred as I said more of the gelato and less of the whipped cream that seemed to have taken up half of the sundae. Out of all the many ingredients in this sundae, the cookie was definitely the worst part of it.
Vanilla Gelato, Half Baked Cookie, Chocolate, Toffee Crunch, Caramel, Strawberry - Cost $14
One cool thing worth mentioning here is their doggy bag system. I’m not sure if this is the same in all of the McEwan Group restaurants but when you pack any food to go as left overs, you are given this “claim check” ticket at your table. When you have paid and are ready to leave, you bring the ticket stub to the hostess at the front and she would then provide you with your take out box with the left over food before you walk out the door.
Something I do want to warn people here are with their refills on soft drinks. I ordered a coke in the beginning and the whiskey glass they serve it in is not very big at all. Half of the glass is filled with ice so finishing it takes no time at all. This may be a bit naive of me, but most places I’ve been to lately offer free refills on your soft drinks. I’m sure you know where I’m taking this now, but at the end of the night my cup was refilled 4 times. In hindsight I shouldn’t have assumed that the refills would have been free because had I known I would have just stuck with the first one. It turned out that they charged me 4 times at $3 a glass each so what probably was only one can of pop poured out 4 times in a small whiskey glass ended up costing me $12. Second thing I learned here. Always ask if a refill will cost more money, or your sip of coke will cost you a staggering $12 or more.
Unfortunately again I was left with a bad impression on another restaurant owned by Mark McEwan as did my friend. Albeit it was not the worst restaurant I’ve been to, not by a long shot even, but when you put a stamp on it saying it’s part of the Mark McEwan Group my expectations heighten. It may be the fact that I picked all the wrong dishes to try, but I expected much more coming from such a renowned chef such as Mark. If you do venture into this restaurant one day, I would highly suggest to avoid all the dishes above (besides the Salmon) and maybe a more enjoyable experience will be in the cards for you.