PORT – A scenic culinary destination with exceptional hospitality
Just outside Toronto’s borders lies a vibrant culinary scene—you just have to know what you’re craving and where to go to satisfy said cravings. Being a long-time fan of Toronto’s Maple Leaf Tavern, I recently ventured to Pickering to experience its sister restaurant, PORT. Overlooking the picturesque waters of Frenchman’s Bay, PORT is a culinary destination that’s further elevated by its scenic backdrop.
During the summer months, it’s almost impossible to snag a table on PORT’s patio—and it’s no different in the dining room during the cooler months. This upscale-casual restaurant with globally-inspired fare is consistently packed with regulars.
As for the layout, the restaurant has two spacious dining areas. One of them is more informal with a bar and plenty of large screen TVs mounted on the walls. Both areas have wood accents, high ceilings and pops of grey and royal blue from the furniture and banquettes, giving the space a nautical feel. But the main focal point is the open kitchen, where the team calmly juggles pizzas going into the wood-fired oven as well as an endless succession of plates.
Although PORT has been a long-time culinary destination in the east GTA (it opened in 2008), Stephane Renaux recently joined the team as executive chef. Hailing from France, Renaux is a skilled chef with a strong foundation in French cuisine and has put his personal touch on the menu. Much like the menu at Maple Leaf Tavern, PORT’s offerings feature a wide variety of familiar flavours with an elevated twist—all using fresh, local ingredients: a luscious bacon-wrapped filet with double baked potato, succulent brick smoked chicken and wood-fired truffle mushroom pizza are just some of the current offerings.
As we settled into our cozy corner banquette with a prime view of la cuisine, my guest and I clinked our glasses—one filled with a refreshing Paloma Italiana cocktail and the other, a light beer by Town Brewery. True to PORT’s philosophy, the wine list featured mostly New World varieties and gave a nod to local Ontario producers. Pour commencer, we shared the calamari ($18), fried Brussels sprouts ($12) and truffle fries ($9).
Masquerading as a starter, the calamari was a memorable dish of the evening. Rings of perfectly-tender grilled calamari were combined with heavenly mixture of garlic aioli, arugula, pine nuts, capers and burnt lemon. It was one of those dishes where I couldn’t put my fork down. The textures were multi-dimensional and the flavours were divine, making it a main event in my eyes. Likewise, the Brussels sprouts came highly recommended by our server and I’m glad we listened. Oftentimes, Brussels sprouts can be waterlogged and soggy, but PORT’s were perfectly crispy. Hits of spiced honey pleased my palate with each bite. Freshly-cut and served with a side of garlic aioli, the truffle fries were overflowing from their bowl and didn’t take long to devour, much like the other starters.
Our entrees, both the spaghetti nero ($28) and Fogo Island cod ($32), were well-presented. Made with squid ink, the spaghetti had a rich, briny flavor with a faint hint of sea saltiness, making it the perfect pairing for the accompanying lobster. A spicy arrabiata sauce coated the noodles and a dusting of grated Parmigiano tied everything together.
As for the Fogo Island cod, the portion was generous. The white-fleshed fish rested on vibrant carrot puree and sauerkraut, and was topped with a dollop of herbaceous pesto made from carrot top. While the dense, melt-in-your-mouth fish complemented the carrot’s subtle sweetness, I felt as if the carrot was given the spotlight instead of the protein. If I could change one thing about this dish, I would have used less puree. I did, however, appreciate how the carrot was used from root to tip. The presentation was gorgeous and colourful as well, showcasing the passion and care that PORT prides itself on. We rounded out our meal with a delicious New-York style cheesecake topped with berry compote.
From the moment I entered the restaurant, I felt like PORT was wrapping me in a warm embrace. Everyone I interacted with throughout the evening—from the general manager, Julian, to our server, Tevin—was extremely attentive and genuine, which heightened my overall experience. Compared to many Toronto restaurants, the hospitality was unparalleled, making it easy to understand why the restaurant is consistently booked. Without a doubt, PORT is a popular community gathering spot, and I’ll definitely be revisiting for a leisurely meal on the patio this summer.
Mme M. xoxo
La 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.