by Lauren Mote & Jessica Grajczyk
An interesting thought crossed Poivre Media’s breakfast writer Jessica and I the other day. I had mentioned that in the interest of doing yet another riveting review of a brunch spot, and a Christmas brainstorming session for two writers, we decided doing a conversational review would be an interesting way to distinguish our respective reviewing styles.
“Wow, Voya’s grand wooden doors open on their own as we walk towards them! Suddenly I feel underdressed!” Jessica laughs. “We should be running home right now to trade in our jeans and salt-stained boots for little black dresses, impractical heels, satin gloves and long cigarette holders. Is it too late to do a re-take of our entrance? This is definitely one of the nicest restaurants I’ve been to for breakfast. Lauren, I know you’ve experienced Voya in an evening soiree setting, but how do you feel about it in the sunshine?”
“I like that Voya aspires to recreate certain dimples from 1920s-40s decor. It honestly reminds me of a modern supper club. I always expect to hear powerful piano tunes amongst a thick layer of cigar smoke and dim lights, at any time of day. Voya’s manifestation of art deco brings the charisma from over three decades into the dining room, with contemporary appeal; ‘era specific’ details hang from the walls, dangle from the ceiling and sit on the floors – the periwinkle and dark wood chairs with silver stud lining, the clean lines of the banquets and white tables, the crystal chandeliers and mirrors (both constructed with circles at the forefront – geometric focal points are extremely prominent for this artistic style). Umm… history lesson?”
Not a moment too soon we are saved by the bell – Manager Carole Morton interjects graciously to show us to our table and we continue our interview.
“Periwinkle… one of my favourite colours, and words! Now, on with the show. As we discussed, you and I are more keen on the savoury rather than the sweet for breakfast,” Jessica asserts as she inspects the menu. “I usually like going against the grain but this sounds fabulous – the Voya Omelet: cave-aged Gruyère, organic cultivated and wild mushrooms, and a tomato salad. Just out of curiosity, how does aging in a cave improve the taste of cheese? And where are these so-called cheese caves? Sounds like a neat day trip.”
“Okay, let’s discuss,” I laugh. “The French word ‘cave’ actually means ‘cellar’. The French translation of the label ‘cave aged’ in French is ‘caverne âgée’, which literally takes us underground into a cavern. Traditionally gruyère cheese comes from the Swiss town of Gruyères. This cheese has moderate fat, is made from cow’s milk, and is simple and nutty in flavour. By law, it must be firm and without holes, while the French version of the cheese has holes. The Swiss one is usually aged for 10-12 months before it’s released. Either way, the cheese wheels rest in a cold, dark ‘holding area’, like a cave, for a minimum period. This gives the cheese a golden rind, and softer yellow interior.”
“Hmm, sounds delicious! Perhaps a trip to Gruyères is in order, but for more than a day of course,” she laughs. “I love how the menu is divided into four sections: Small, Sinful, Large and Sweet. The Sweet section offers choices to make any savoury lover convert. Next time, I’m going to try the Voya Smoothie (apparently I’m into the Voya brand), which is a blend of coconut milk, peanut butter, orange blossom honey, banana, and vanilla sorbet. Lauren, are there any sweet items that call out to you?”
“Jess, you need to know something sad about me: not only do I have a twisted love for savoury food, but early in the morning, I never look at the sweet section for long enough to create memories. Can I just have a plate of meat?”
And with that, we decide to start with the all-natural charcuterie plate, which is something Jessica wouldn’t normally opt for in a breakfast situation, as she is a pescetarian (a vegetarian who eats sea-animals and wears leather boots).
“Looking at this lovely assortment makes me long for my meat-eating days,” Jessica remarks while biting her top lip. “I’ll try to do my part on the cheese and pickles though. The fact that Voya has their own smoker in the back is impressive.”
To my delight, my big ol’ plate of meat arrives in a timely fashion. “These house-made meats are on par with Oyama at Granville Island. The Serrano ham is light, and succulent, the chorizo spicy and chewy. Sous Chef Tret Jordan overloaded the plate with meat, and I really appreciate that. Hopefully I’ll have some leftovers to snack on later; lord knows I love meat in the afternoon.”
“I have to be honest here,” says Jessica. “I don’t often have appetizers with breakfast but I could definitely start now. I really like the chewy toasted sourdough, the cheeses (cream brie and percorino) and the tangy cornichons. There just isn’t enough pickle service at breakfast in my opinion.”
“Jess, you’re only saying that ’cause you don’t eat meat…”
“I’m serious! I love pickles! I thought the eggs baked in brioche with smoked bacon and olive oil béarnaise might make me get back on the baconwagon for a second. That one puts a whole new spin on the old school toast-dipping practice. Sounds delicious.”
“Personally, I get excited when I see a menu that uses local and well known ingredients in unexpected ways,” I say. “Discerning palates knew all along that lobster during the wee hours of the morning was a hit, however, to see a lobster terrine with crab on the brunch menu is surprising, but for all the right reasons.”
“Okay, now let’s talk about my Voya Omelet. I love the creamy, oozing gruyère and the tender texture of the mushrooms. The frisée and tomatoes and simple vinaigrette are a nice counterbalance to the richness of the omelet. How are your eggs, Lauren?”
“Anytime candied salmon is used for a different application than eating pieces by the handful out of a paper bag will win me over quickly. I once made candied salmon and scrambled eggs for my mum when she was visiting from Toronto, and she was impressed. This is the first time I have seen it served in a restaurant, and believe it or not Jessica, Marc-Andre’s is better than mine! He paired it with a thin crêpe, filled with goat cheese, spinach and spicy paprika. I appreciate this spicy marriage of “working” flavours so much. It becomes a more enjoyable experience to have something mindful, rather than bacon and eggs all the time.”
Our bottomless coffee cups find their way back to the server’s tray, and we decide it’s time for a cocktail. “I was originally in the mood for a mimosa but this 12 Days of Christmas cocktail feature menu is just too tempting,” says Jessica. “I couldn’t very well let such magnificent sounding drinks remain unsampled in favour of the traditional breakfast beverage! So, for my dessert, I’m having Simon Ogden’s ‘Ralphie’s Red Ryder’ mostly due to the inclusion of green chartreuse and rosemary – two of my favourite ingredients.” We witness Bar Manager Jay Jones lighting the rosemary on fire for Jessica’s drink.
“I was leaning towards the cocktail with Advocaat egg liqueur, because this creamy cocktail addition is old-school, but bourbon wins my heart every time. The ‘Loretta Snow’ cocktail developed by Jay Jones, is a delicately balanced blend of bourbon, Lillet, white chocolate and egg white. Where you, Jessica, are a firm believer that you can never have enough pickles, I counter your argument for bourbon – I think there’s never enough time in the day to savour all the splendors this southern spirit can offer me.”
“You know this is such a proud environment to work and dine in; the service is excellent, everyone is super attentive and nice. We’re early birds, so we’re getting some extra special doting from everyone,” Jessica concludes.
We head back to the kitchen to chat with the masterminds behind our wonderful breakfasts. Line cooks Bryan Satterford and Owen Lightly happily pose in some action shots, and we thank Sous Chef Tret before getting a glimpse though the window at the Voya smoker out back. We have a quick visit with Saba (maintenance man extraordinaire and ex-Lumiere legend). I take some last-minute mug shots of Jay Jones, the dining room and the elegant bar/lounge, and Jessica grills Jay on the glassware, “What’s with the Santa cups?”
“Traditional glasses for mint juleps…” Jay says with a smile.
As the Breakfast blogger for Poivre Media, Jessica will always have a soft spot for the classic ‘greasy spoon’ breakfast joint, but thanks to Voya, her appreciation is growing for breakfast in finer packages. I know it’s not hard to find great breakfast that doesn’t break the bank in this city, but I think I’m closer to getting Jessica to check out places reserved for “special occasions” a little more often. Granted, it’s a bit pricey if you’re expecting Elbow-Room Cafe caliber billfolds, but in my world, the pursuit of food and happiness becomes worth it… this is why I’m always broke!