The first time we had dinner at the Press Gang, we were seated in a small alcove, at a very private table. Candles nestled in niches along a stone wall, the music was right and the lighting was low. My husband looked around, gazed deep into my eyes and whispered, “This would be a great place if you were out for a romantic dinner.”
As opposed to dinner with your wife, I suppose.
Anyway, five years later, there’s still no doubt that the Press Gang is an incredibly well designed dining room; the interior has enough nautical touches to give it a personality without so much that it becomes tacky. The oyster bar, all dark wood and lighted columns, provides a lovely space for a drink and lighter fare and along with the aforementioned tables for two there are enough big spaces to hold larger groups.
The menu, although small, covers all the bases. Chicken, seafood, beef and pasta are all available, in pretty standard forms with nothing too exciting in the way of preparation. The half-dozen or so nightly specials are on a separate sheet, and list slightly more inventive fare (tuna with ginger beer reduction, pheasant with smoked jalapeno-tomato coulis both pique my interest); but as a reviewer, it’s my habit to stick to the regular menu—generally, readers don’t want to read about a wonderful special that may not be offered regularly.
We start with one of the more interesting appetizers, oyster fritters ($15), and the “Chef’s Call” soup of the day ($6). The oyster fritters is a plate composed of three oysters in a delicate batter, fried and served with pickled ginger and a spicy Thai dipping sauce. It’s a nice presentation, and the oysters are superb, but $15 is a bit steep for three oysters. The soup is also delicious; a vegetable-curry soup with fish stock that has loads of flavour and just enough curry for a pleasant bite.
Although the restaurant is very busy, our server is attentive; but she doesn’t quality-check our main courses. Fortunately, there is no need to. The medallions of beef tenderloin ($36) are cooked perfectly, as is the salmon in phyllo pastry ($27). The beef is topped with a small piece of foie gras that is, alas, icy cold, almost as if it were thrown on as an afterthought. Whipped rosemary potatoes are delightful on the side, and the vegetables (broccoli, peas, bok choy, red pepper) cooked al dente.
The salmon fillet must be at least eight ounces; it’s a huge portion. Unfortunately, the phyllo dough soaks up much of the sauce, and because the salmon hasn’t been seasoned before being wrapped, it ends up tasting a little bland. The wild rice-white rice combo is also lacking in the flavour department, noticeably so given that almost everything else has been seasoned so well. Still, these are not big things, and we enjoy the main courses very much.
On to dessert, a pecan apricot tart ($8) and flourless chocolate espresso cake ($9). The tart is served with a tiny scoop of ice cream, which it doesn’t really need, but who am I to turn away ice cream? The chocolate cake is the best version of a flourless cake I’ve ever had—the texture is silky, almost mousse-like, and the hint of espresso keeps it from being too sweet.
Overall, it’s an excellent dinner, and a great place for a night out—romantic or otherwise.
The Press Gang5218 Prince Street423-8816Nightly, 5:30pm-12am
Plan your night out. Review Liz Feltham’s reviews online at: www.foodcritic.ca
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