CORNWALL, Ontario Walking up the stairs to Table 21 is like walking out of the country and into the city.
This second-floor steakhouse and oyster bar in the heart of downtown Cornwall imparts a sense of elegance from the first step in the door. The long, steep flight of stairs, with step-by-step lighting, is something special itself.
Once upstairs, the feeling of elegance was affirmed by the furnishings and décor nothing particularly fancy, but definitely classy with a contemporary look. A photographer shooting pictures of several posed tables for the restaurants website enhanced the urban feel.
Except for the folks at those tables who were spiffed up for the photo shoot, garb for the rest of the guests seemed quite casual, even shorts, T-shirts and ball caps including us, four guys out for dinner and not celebrating a special occasion.
The menu was skillfully printed on large chalkboards on the wall and reinforced on heavy marbled paper, simply typed in a plain font and devoid of any fancy descriptions.
However, the dozen or so starters were definitely fancy, with offerings like seafood bisque, jumbo prawns, beef carpaccio and lobster poutine. A similar number of entrees included four varieties of beef (filet mignon, porterhouse, rib-eye and New York strip) along with lobster, swordfish, lamb and veal osso buco.
Its a menu from which, quite frankly, wed have no problem enjoying one of everything!
We didnt need menu descriptions. Ryan, our server, had ready descriptions for us at his fingertips. His shabby-chic attire vintage sport jacket, plain black pants and white shirt with a wide tie and tie clasp complemented the surroundings, as did his competent and relaxed demeanor.
The crusty bread that arrived with the menus was accompanied by what first appeared to be sun-dried tomato butter. But we definitely tasted cheese. Chevre, we thought? Nope. Ryan told us it was sun-dried tomatoes and cream cheese.
The starters we chose were all good: raw oysters ($2 each), raw scallops ($3 each), beef carpaccio ($12) and lobster poutine ($16).
Yes, poutine has gone upscale. A generous portion of freshly cooked and picked lobster meat was served with some crispy matchstick frites and a smooth, delicious gravy. No cheese curd, though. While the lobster was good and plentiful, it was somewhat overwhelmed by the gravy.
The carpaccio was lovely, raw beef sliced paper-thin and meticulously arranged on the plate, set off with wisps of red onion and caper berries, small grape-sized capers with their stems still attached. It only lacked for a drizzle of olive oil. Perfectly toasted French bread crostini accompanied.
The oysters on the half shell were from New Brunswick, fresh as could be and just the right size, too.
Wed never had raw scallops before. These appeared to be merely fresh scallops placed in a scallop shell. Mignonette sauce (shallots, peppercorns, vinegar), grated horseradish and lemon wedges came on the platter.
Entrees were all excellent as well, and nicely plated.
Filet mignon with cherry blossom sauce ($31) was a melt-in-the-mouth 8-ounce cut of tenderloin cooked perfectly to our request of medium-rare. It had a pocket sliced and stuffed with blue cheese just before plating. The cherry blossom sauce included both sweet and tart cherries that really complemented the blue cheese.
The 18-ounce (thats not a typo!) rib steak with peppercorn sauce ($32) was another treat. The steak had great texture and a great grilled taste. The sauce was quite flavorful. It was obvious that this was a top-quality cut of meat with flawless marbling.
Ryan recommended that we have the steak cooked to a temperature of medium, allowing the marbling of fat to melt and distribute. Our table of carnivores, all strictly medium-rare types, thought long and hard about it, but in the end, went with our gut feeling: medium-rare.
We soon learned that Ryan, in fact, gave us sound advice. The steak came from the kitchen somewhere between rare and medium-rare, closer to rare. I guess weve been in too many north country restaurants where you have to order your steak cooked one temp less than you really want it in hopes that theyll get it right.
Steakhouse steaks tend to come out a bit less than ordered, rarely overcooked.
Swordfish was not available the night we were at Table 21, but they substituted halibut for the preparation with mango chutney ($29). It was a beautiful piece of fish with an excellent rub, spicy but not overpowering, reminiscent of Old Bay seasoning, but cooked just a smidge too much for our liking. The chutney was excellent as well, balancing the bronzing spices with a lovely fruit.
I never met a lamb shank I didnt like, and the lamb shank Casablanca ($29) was a standout. It was extraordinary. The meat on the two shanks literally fell off the bone into a marvelous, rich gravy subtly laced with cinnamon and other Moroccan spices, most likely cumin and paprika. It doesnt get any better than this.
All of the entrees were served with roasted mashed potatoes piled on a lightly marinated and grilled portobello, all smothered in a saucy blend of slow-cooked bell peppers, onions, carrots and asparagus.
We passed on dessert.
But did have a few beers along the way. The selection goes from a Mill Street organic through Guinness, Stella Artois and Corona to the ubiquitous lights: Bud and Coors.
On draft they have Delirium Tremens, Barking Squirrel and Moosehead. The Moosehead is a typical American-style lager, originally from the Maritimes, clean and uncomplicated. Barking Squirrel is an amber lager from Ontario with significant hops and a sweet finish. Delirium Tremens is a Belgian ale with complex tastes esters, fruits, spices, metals that Belgian ales are known for. At 8 percent alcohol content, its not a beer for a long session!
Dinner for four, not including the beer and before tip, came to $193.08. The prices, although a bit on the high side, were well matched for the value received.
Our server, Ryan, did a nice job of balancing the demands on his time and the needs of his customers. He did a great job of taking care of the entire dining room by himself. His pacing was laid back and certainly appreciated.
Table 21s sister restaurant, Truffles Burger Bar is located on the street-level floor.
We reviewed Truffles and its exotic camel, elk and kangaroo burgers earlier this year (see http://wdt.me/FWD9KE).
This is an impressive big-city steakhouse in the little city of Cornwall, Ontario with a personality all its own. It was a great experience. Well be back again.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table 21 Steakhouse and Oyster Bar
157 Pitt St.
Cornwall, Ontario, Canada
A big-city steakhouse in the little city of Cornwall with a personality all its own.
HOURS: 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday
APPETIZER PICKS: Lobster poutine, beef carpaccio
ENTRÉE PICKS: Lamb shank Casablanca, filet mignon with cherry blossom sauce,rib-eye with peppercorn sauce.