You heard it here first: The Shops at Don Mills is a great place to meet successful chefs. Earlier this year, I checked out the new outdoor mall and stumbled upon celebrity chef Mark McEwan promoting his upscale grocery store. Then last week I was back at Lawrence and Don Mills — thanks to the launch of Joey Don Mills — and got a personal tour of the new 9,000-sq-ft restaurant by the Executive Chef himself, Chris Mills.
While I’d never heard of it before, the Joey Restaurant chain already has 18 locations and is well known on the west coast of Canada. As a broad reference point, I’d say it’s similar to Milestones in terms of the casual, contemporary vibe, but the decor is a definite step up. And based on what I tried at the media launch, the food is tastier, spicier and more exciting. Chris designed the menu by putting a unique twist on classic dishes and scouring the planet for some of his favourite ethnic dishes. He’s traveled to many different countries, including Japan, where he became one of the few Canadian chefs to ever appear on the Japanese version of Iron Chef. Here he describes what battling Morimoto in Kitchen Stadium is really like:
Despite his half-point loss on Iron Chef, Chris clearly knows how to use the right ingredients in the right way. The best thing I tried was the Panang Prawn Curry Bowl ($16.99, shown left) boasting red coconut curry cream with Thai basil and peanuts. Considering the menu is obviously westernized, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of kick contained in this dish and disappointed that I was only served a taster’s portion. I’d happily fork over my hard-earned cash for a full-sized version. The Bombay Butter Chicken ($16.99) comes with toasted almond basmati rice, grilled naan bread and lentil papadum. It wasn’t quite as spicy as I’d like, but it’s a valiant, flavourful effort.
The most highly-anticipated item was their infamous Lobster Grilled Cheese ($14.99). “We love to do twists on classics,” Chris explained. “Although I like rich and luxurious food, I also like simple and classic food.” Here he chose to remix the classic tuna melt, by switching out the tuna for Atlantic lobster. Rather than pairing it with a Kraft single, he uses brie and cheddar, which makes this one very decadent sandwich. Personally, I thought it could use more lobster (of course I did!), but I very much enjoyed the accompanying cocktail sauce for dipping instead of the expected ketchup. In comparison, the Ahi Tuna Tacos ($9.99) weren’t as exciting as their description: Seared rare tuna with sesame ginger coleslaw and wasabi-lime aioli. All those wonderful flavours got lost in the thick, crunchy shell.
In terms of ambiance, Joeys knows how to make an impact. The sweeping back-lit staircase is the first thing that catches your eye when you walk in. There’s a traditional sit-down restaurant to the right and a bar on the left with many flat-screen TVs for the rowdier crowd. Since there isn’t a traditional food court at the Shops of Don Mills, and a trip to neighbouring Jack Astor’s is one of my least favourite things to do on this planet, I’d definitely suggest popping into Joey Don Mills to find out what the west coast no longer has over us.
Joey Don Mills / 15 O’Neill Rd, Shops at Don Mills, Toronto