I have written extensively about this restaurant below (for my first visit). My brother wanted to come and I begged my way to join him for the return. The biggest change was evident as we walked in - the place was jammed with people. My previous visit was sparse due to COVID and staffing issues. So while the food overwhelmed, the atmosphere underwhelmed. Today, the atmosphere was hopping. Every table was full through three rooms and a courtyard. It provided a terrific vibrance and energy to the place, which was heartening to see.
One of the two founders left the business earlier this year and I wondered if that would effect execution. This meal was truly stellar, but had a number of misses as well. I chalk it up to the sheer quantity of dishes our group of 6 ordered (the waitstaff was wide-eyed) and the amount of food pumped out of a pretty small kitchen. It was impressive.
The operation itself is a juggernaut. We walked in to a completely full restaurant at 6pm and left a still-full restaurant at 10pm. The wait staff was superb, top to bottom. Available, present, hard-working, friendly, easy, welcoming - everything you would want in a place like this. Lots of small things to appreciate - from always standing aside to allow guests free passage, to staying on top of waters (and almost never messing up the still and sparkling glasses), to allowing me small tastes of 3 wines before I found the one I wanted. Complimentary Joe Beef hats were thrown our way for our (belated) birthday celebration.
Front of house sparkles - it's an environment you truly enjoy being in.
While the food was not as mind-blowing as my first visit, there was still plenty to love. Standouts for me was the salad (which was huge and uber-fresh), every single sauce (and there were many!), the veal chop (not as good as last time, but what could ever achieve that??) and that duck! Often, cherry sauces are strong and powerful, smacking you in the face as it interrupts the duck and begs for its own attention. Not this one. Subtle but super present - a perfect complement to the terrifically cooked and seasoned breast. We plowed so quickly through the first one that we immediately ordered a 2nd.
There were definitely some misses. The spot prawns were head-scratchingly odd in both presentation and flavor, the small salad in the 5-dish appetizer was amateurly overdressed and I found the lobster salad fresh but uninspired. Given that they removed their signature lobster spaghetti from the menu (due to product costs), this appetizer definitely landed poorly.
But the garlic pesto under the snails was insane, as was the truffle/beef/onion jus in the fois gras cream appetizer. And that strawberry shortcake finished strong.
Joe Beef is still a destination. It is worth a visit and I will gladly return. Bring a very healthy appetite and lots of friends. Share everything. Go overboard. Be gluttonous. It's what this restaurant was designed for. And they still carry it off with aplomb.
The first time I gave my son fried dough, he took a bite, looked at me in wonder and asked "Dad...how do they make it taste so good?" This same question and look of wonder plagued me through every dish at Joe Beef.
My expectations were already through the roof. I spent 7 hours learning about this place and its founding chefs, Dave & Fred. Research highlights included an outstanding interview with David Chang (embedded below) and a brilliant writeup titled "I Puked at Joe Beef and It Made Me A Better Man."
I knew what to expect.
Still, they easily surpassed every superlative with the first few bites. And kept going. The #3 restaurant on Canada's 100 best list is every bit as good as its reputation and then some. You can feel it when you walk in. It's not a bold swagger, but the restaurant has a quiet confidence that says "We know we're that good."
Joe Beef specializes in old school French gluttonous eating. Nothing fancy or froofy here. Just super high quality food, generous portions, terrific wines and really fantastic flavor.
The food speaks for itself. The photos show how great these dishes are. A few minor missteps were overshadowed by the rest of the dish. For example, the halibut was slightly overcooked but drown in one of the best sauces I've ever enjoyed. "How can it actually be THIS good??"
These dishes were glorious. Completely on brand. Executed with aplomb.
The accompanying wines were also perfect. We opened with a delicious white burgundy (one of my favs). When I began telling the waiter what type of red wine I would like with the veal chop, he quickly waved me off as if to say "I'm bringing you the perfect one." He was right. This southern French wine was light and drinkable but with solid spice and the perfect veal chop pairing.
Even this restaurant was suffering with staff shortfalls due to COVID. "We only have 4 guys in the kitchen tonight." he explained, when I asked about the empty tables on a Saturday night. Our oustanding waiter and busser were stretched thin with a pretty full dining room, but they were engaged, present and friendly. Their expertise and investments added a great deal to the experience.
Joe Beef is friendly, easy, accessible and straight-up delicious. The vision for this restaurant translated fully and completely in the experience. There may be no greater compliment to give.
While it is impossible to compare a place like this with Disfrutar (my favorite restaurant experience yet), Joe Beef slides into spot 1A. Calling it 2nd is to place it too low.
That said, if I had but one meal left, I know precisely where I would go.
Replying to Steven Smith