Kost – Mexican fare that’s too costly to be enjoyed
80 Blue Jays Way
|Dinner for two with a bottle of wine||$250|
Kost is Charles Khabouth’s (ICONINK) latest restaurant, boasting a prime spot 44 floors above the sidewalk in the swanky Bisha Hotel. Kost elevates traditional Mexican cuisine and includes elements from the Baja Peninsula—all in a stunning backdrop with breathtaking views of the 6ix. After seeing my Instagram feed blow up with all things Bisha over the past few months, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
Strutting into the Dubai-esque hotel made me feel like I was une célébritée. The doorman hesitantly opened the black door. The meek receptionist whispered “hello” as I walked past. The dark, mysterious space—not unlike a bar or nightclub—lured me in almost intentionally. It was sensory overload, and I didn’t know where to direct my gaze. As I made my way to the hotel’s elevators, another guest, who was also waiting, asked if I was dining at Kost. He introduced himself as the hotel’s sales director and said that I would be blown away by the food and panoramic views. “Parfait,” I thought!
When the elevator doors opened on the 44th floor, the coastal-inspired décor and light, airy space provided a stark contrast from the dark lobby. Wicker chairs, sleek white sofas and marble-topped tables filled the restaurant. A baby-pink glow radiated from the Plexiglas bar. I was not offered to check my coat upon entering, so I made my way to the table. For a wintry Monday night, it was predictably quieter, and the typical Toronto pulse was absent.
Chef Ben Heaton (Estia) was at the helm of Kost’s open kitchen, and the menu offered a variety of Baja-inspired fare including twists on classic tacos and sharable meat entrées. Among the more inventive dishes was the pumpkin and persimmon salad. All had elements of coastal California cuisine fused with classic Mexican fare. Spicy habanero, chimichurri, and chermoula accents were intricately woven through the menu.
Our server was very professional, prompt and courteous. However, I wished he’d offered to check my puffy Moncler coat that took up extra space on my chair and prevented me from fully appreciating the beautiful space.
My guest and I decided to share a bottle of Rodney Strong Merlot, when first sampled, seemed quite pungent. Our good-natured server kindly offered to replace the bottle or provide a decanter to aerate it.
The menu had three main sections: appetizers, to share and sides. The panela cheese ($16) came highly recommended and arrived at the table like it was ready to be photographed for Bon Appétit. Having a consistency similar to paneer or haloumi, the fried cheese arrived with roasted grapes (à la Campagnolo) and a syrupy mixture of truffle and agave. The satisfying sweet crunch of crushed marcona almonds provided a textural component to round out the dish. C’était tellement delicieux, and I appreciated the innovation of using a Mexican cheese to make this dish fit with the restaurant’s theme. My guest and I unanimously enjoyed this, but I wish there had been a few slices of toasted baguette to accompany the cheese.
The tacos, another recommendation from the server, provided initial sticker shock. A whopping $45 for duck tacos and $35 for short rib barbacoa tacos. Craving tender meat, we settled on the barbacoa tacos. A huge platter with all the fixings arrived: chimichurri, shaved red onion, baby gem lettuce and fried shallots. We opened the basket of six soft-shell tacos that were stiff and cardboard-like in texture. What surprised me most of all is that Kost used flour tortillas instead of the more authentic corn variety. As for the barbacoa—Heaton was asleep when they taught this technique in culinary school. The fatty but flavourful beef was sliced into thick strips instead of tender, fall-off-the-bone shreds.
Unfortunately, the whole branzino ($35) was no better and lacked the oceanic freshness of similar varieties at Estia or Joso’s. Served with its black rubble coat face up, it was charcoal grilled on the bone to promote full flavour. A scant serving of mojo verde and Baja olive oil coloured the white oval plate. While the mojo verde was bursting with flavour, it was the only redeeming quality of the dish. Otherwise, it was très fade.
As a side, we ordered the fries served with habanero mayo and chili salt. The kitchen must have been at the bottom of the frozen fry bag because we received half- to quarter-sizes pieces of shoestring fries that were impossible à manger.
For a Monday night with a restaurant half-full of patrons, more emphasis should have been placed on the quality of the dishes being prepared at such an exorbitant price point. Any luxury hotel needs a top-drawer restaurant to match. Think Four Seasons and Café Boulud. The hospitality and the quality of food are on par with the high calibre brand. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same about Kost. It was lagging far behind the Bisha Hotel’s 4.5-star status.
Mme M. xoxo
Le rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.