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Mixed bag from Ray Bear 

Celebrity chef Ray Bear’s latest enterprise, MIX Fresh Kitchen, is only good, not yet great.

It was in fine dining that Ray Bear made his reputation—one he has spent a lot of time cultivating since his Gio days in 2006. After the closure of Bear in 2009 there was a lot of curiosity about his movements, which got interesting last summer when he announced the opening of MIX Fresh Kitchen in the former Capital City Diner space.

My first visit to MIX is for an early dinner. The restaurant is busy, humming with conversation and servers zig-zagging through the impressive dining room on various tasks. Our server is pleasant and honest with his recommendations.

We decide on "when pigs fly" ($12), a pork back ribs and buttermilk chicken wing combo, as an appetizer, and the mac and cheese ($10) and MIX burger ($14) as entrees.

The ribs and wings are plated beautifully, with a brush to apply the sauce, served on the side. Both meats are dry and flavourless. We leave them half uneaten. The mac and cheese is better—thick and creamy—but relies too heavily on the smokiness of Oulton's bacon for flavour.

The MIX burger ($14) also features meat from Oulton's Farm, this time ground beef. The patty is tucked into a house-made grilled bun along with jalapeno havarti, guacamole, tomato, lettuce, salsa, grilled red pepper, spicy mayo and more of Oulton's bacon.

The toppings come across everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-y, but work very well together. Unfortunately, the patty is overcooked, and the bun—a so-called brioche—is heavy, dry and bland, sapping what little moisture there is out of each bite I take. The generous portion of accompanying homecut fries are nicely seasoned, and very tasty.

The pesto chicken pizza ($12) is a simple pizza with basil pesto from Four Seasons Farm, an organic producer in Maitland, combined with smoked mozzarella and chicken confit. It's a delicate mix of flavours that tastes good, but feels flat without much sweetness or acidity to punch it up.

We leave thinking that Mix is by no means a great restaurant, but solidly good. It doesn't really have the distinct personality of a restaurant with a well-reputed chef, but it does have decent prices, a menu that heavily features local products and friendly service. In a word, it's fine.

I return for weekend brunch a few weeks later. Service is, again, wonderful.

I re-try the burger. It's a little better, but the patty is still a little too charred for me, and needs all those toppings for moistness.

The mac and cheese on the brunch menu adds locally harvested lobster to the mix. It's really good, creamy and luxurious with the slight sweetness added to the smokiness. The accompanying house salad is, on the other hand, hideous. The vinaigrette is aggressively acidic, to the point where we each wince upon taking a bite. Mealy tomatoes dot the salad, and a brown, wilted leaf sits on the top.

We also try the Eggs Benedict, which feature applewood smoked back bacon and corn-ricotta cakes in place of ham and English muffin. The eggs are wonderfully cooked, with a slightly runny yolk. The little corn pancakes are a delightful alteration; they are airy, but heavy enough that they are not lost against the bacon and egg. They make the dish feel special. Crispy homefries round out the plate.

If I separate Ray Bear from the equation, perhaps I would have a different impression of MIX. But when someone works so hard to cultivate a reputation, is that what he really wants? Ultimately, he's gone from fine dining to "it's fine" dining. But if that's fine for him, it's fine for me.

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