The former Top Chef Canada finalist is putting the finishing touches on his new restaurant, which, pending permit approvals, he hopes to have open in two weeks.
“The menu’s done, the staff is hired and the meat locker is done,” says chef Rob Rossi of his first restaurant Bestellen. ”The appliances have to be cleaned up but they’re pretty much operational. I’ve been making charcuterie and stocking up. We’re just waiting for the last bits of the city permits so the inspectors can tell us what to do before we go any further. It’s possible that we’re open in two weeks.”
Looking around at the exposed wires and dust and debris of Rossi’s space at 972 College St. (which used to be a convenience store), it’s hard to believe the Top Chef Canada runner-up that this place will be ready to open in a fortnight. But ask any restaurateur and they’ll tell you that one of the biggest hurdles of opening a new place is just getting greenlit by city hall. “If the city doesn’t get back to us in a week, then we’ll be well into December,” Rossi says.
Rossi left his position as executive chef at Mercatto earlier this year to open Bestellen with Ryan Sarfeld, who used to be the front-of-house manager at the restaurant (he was at home under the weather during our visit). As with Acadia and the just opened Mexican-centric Grand Electric, which already had lines out the door in its first week of opening, it seems like the formula for a thriving restaurant is to pair one young chef and one front-of-house manager who already worked together at an established restaurant. (Acadia’s owners worked at Colborne Lane, Grand Electric’s at The Black Hoof.)
“For me, to have a successful restaurant you need people invested in it, meaning the chef needs to own half of it or the whole thing because that’s where the passion comes from,” Rossi says. “I don’t think you can hire people to do what an owner would do.”
Bestellen, which means “to order” in German, won’t be a beer hall or a place that serves strictly German food, but its menu will emphasize meat.(A meat locker with a big glass window is one of the focal points.) The menu will have dishes like crispy sweetbreads with a white garlic puree and Brussels sprouts, house-baked breads, a dry-aged beef burger ground in-house, baked duck egg with andouille and fried bread, potato nudi with speck and black trumpet mushroom raviolo with brown butter and quails’ eggs. As the paintings on the wall indicate, there will be suckling pigs that’ll serve up to a dozen people. Those who are tired of the pork can order beef: 8 oz. tenderloin on the bone, a 16 oz. striploin on the bone and a 32 o/z ribeye, all Wellington county beef that’s aged 40 days and cooked sous vide. The menu is split into bar snacks ($4 to $6), small plates ($9 to $15), mains ($19 to $27) and desserts.
For the past few weeks, a rotating door of chefs have been coming in to check on the progress of Bestellen, navigating past the pile of furniture in the front—including church pews purchased from Smash—and testing out the dozens of vintage orange chairs Rossi bought from the University of Toronto. On this visit, fellow Top Chef Canada alum Steve Gonzalez (pictured with Rossi above at right) dropped by in between his quests to find a space for his own restaurant.
And no, fellow Top Chef Canada finalist Connie DeSousa and her restaurant Charcut had no influence on Rossi or Sarfeld. “It’s weird because people think I just worked at Mercatto so a lot of them thought I’d be opening an Italian restaurant,” Rossi explains. “I’ve actually been doing this stuff for a long time and kind of fell into Mercatto. Before Mercatto, I worked with Scot Woods [formerly of Lucien] at Habitat [formerly at 735 Queen St. W.], where we always cooked offal, made sausages and did our own butchery.”
Looking at the meat locker and the pigs being painted on the wall (modeled after an old carving of a swine Rossi picked up), the question of whether diners are getting meat fatigue comes up—especially with this being the year in which pork belly has been on practically every menu.
“I don’t think people will ever get tired of eating meat,” Rossi says. “Even restaurants that don’t claim to be meat-centric serve mostly meat because there are only so many vegetarian dishes one can serve. But I’m not screaming from the hilltops that this is a meat-centric restaurant and I’ll take care of vegetarians who come here. We have small plates where you can get a 3 oz. portion of sweetbreads and not get the meat sweats. I’m cooking what I like to eat and I’m not going to put things on the menu just because they’re the coolest thing right now.”