Like playing with your food? Then follow Contributor Andrew Wagner-Chazalon’s advice and include Lot 88 on your list of top Orillia restaurants to visit
A great meal isn’t just eaten, it’s experienced. We don’t just enjoy the flavours and textures, but also the scents, the look, and even sometimes the sound of the food.
The cooking stones at Lot 88 invite us to take that one step further, to engage with the act of eating itself. It’s a luxurious eating experience, intimate even, and it’s an experience that bears repeating again and again.
Lot 88 is the latest addition to a tiny chain of restaurants (there are sister restaurants in Winnipeg, Sudbury, and North Bay). The Orillia Ontario location opened in August and has been gathering buzz on the local food and drink scene ever since. When we visited on a Thursday night in February, the restaurant was busy; weekends it gets full, and reservations are recommended.
On the Stone at Lot 88
Cooking stones – sometimes called steak stones – have been showing up in restaurants for a decade or more, but this is their first appearance in this area. The concept is simple: meat is barely seared in the kitchen, then brought to the table on a slab of stone that has been heated to 600 degrees. Diners slice a bite-sized piece of meat and lay it on the stone where it finishes cooking in seconds.
There are several advantages to dining this way. The most obvious is that it gives you total control over the degree of doneness, and even allows you to vary it bite by bite. No wondering if your definition of ‘medium rare’ is the same as the chef’s. Cooking on a stone also ensures that every bite is hot – the stones stay at cooking temperature for 45 minutes or more.
Best of all, cooking stones turn each bite into an experience. They invite you to slow down and give the food your full attention – a worthwhile act in a fast-paced world.
Cooking stones work their best when the meat is of high quality to begin with. That’s something the folks at Lot 88 understand: the Certified Angus 10oz California Cut I enjoyed was incredibly tender. It sliced easily, cooked quickly, and melted in my mouth.
I ordered the pepper steak (the sauce comes in a separate container) and also had a side of blue cheese crumble, allowing me to vary the flavours with each bite. But quite honestly, I ate much of the steak completely unadorned and just enjoyed the simple flavour of excellent beef.
Stone cooking is also available for lamb, salmon, lobster, shrimp and scallops, as well as various cuts of steak.
A Diverse Menu
But there’s more to Lot 88 than stone cooking. The menu is diverse, eclectic even. Mains include seafood fettucine, pad thai, a vegetarian buddha bowl, parmesan-crusted chicken, and a couple of different burgers. Appetizers range from lobster bisque to vegetable tempura to mini Yorkshire puddings with shaved beef. It turns out the selection is the result of a simple curating process, with the owner of the restaurant putting together a menu of dishes he has enjoyed and knows others do too.
It’s a personalized approach to menu creation, and it works, partly thanks to excellent execution by the kitchen staff.
My companion began her meal with an old classic, escargot au gratin. Served in mushroom caps and a lush garlic butter, they were prepared perfectly, a beautiful retro reminder of long-ago steakhouse dinners.
I opted to start with oysters – something that is rarely seen on menus in this area. The oysters on offer were a delicate PEI oyster, a bit smaller than the more common Malpeque, flavourful and sweet. They were presented with two different hot sauces, a nicely balanced mignonette, and a bowl of fresh horseradish, showing an impressive attention to detail.
For her main, my companion chose the butternut squash ravioli. Served in a lush garlic cream sauce, the well-crafted ravioli were accompanied by grilled mushrooms and shrimp and topped with a drizzle of white truffle oil and crisp-fried sage. It was an excellent dish, artfully prepared and served.
Getting Our Just Desserts
The dessert menu is simple and well-chosen: crème brulee, baileys cheesecake, tiramisu, and chocolate lava cake are all here, along with a couple of surprises.
The cocktail and wine menus are also well-defined. There are just a dozen cocktails on offer, but it’s a delightful mix of classics, the not-often-seen (hello Kir Royale!) and innovative creations. My Paloma (a classic mix of tequila and grapefruit juice) was elevated with rosemary simple syrup, a dash of lime-tequila liqueur, and a sprig of rosemary for garnish.
Lot 88 offers superb food and excellent value, particularly if you take advantage of the recurring specials. Thursdays, bottles of wine are half price (and yes, they will cork the leftovers for you to take home) and oysters are discounted. Other special nights include half price appetizers, and a prix-fixe menu ($60 per couple).
To learn more about this exciting new Orillia restaurant, visit their website at https://lot88steakhouse.com/orillia/.
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon is the managing editor and CEO of Dockside Publishing, and writes about the luxuries to be found in Muskoka and throughout Central Ontario