After running the Danforth Foodland grocery store for 30 years, the Pavlou family began to notice the decline of their neighbourhood. Restaurants were shuttering, and the strip was losing its night-time vibrancy—which is why when Eleni Gountanos (née Pavlou) noticed that Davos (formerly Myth) had closed, she decided to take a stab at injecting some vigour back into the Greek quarter that she grew up in. “I want to make the Danforth a destination,” she exclaims over the thumping soundtrack at the opening party for 417, the Danforth’s newest resto-lounge.
There are precious few classical allusions to be found at 417: there are no mosaics, urns or Ionic columns to be seen, and the name comes from its address. Instead, the décor plays off of Pavlou’s favourite elements: water and fire. Recessed blue LED lights contrast with copper newel posts, and with the lights turned down and the music turned up, it’s easy to forget you’re in a restaurant on the Danforth. On its inaugural night, 417 opened with a trial by fire. Over the course of the evening, about 500 guests—some of whom, admittedly, could have blended seamlessly into an episode of Jersey Shore—filled the split-level space to enjoy a tasting menu. The kitchen’s endurance was remarkable, considering the fact that it was the kitchen’s first run, and chef Kai Zyganiuk, who trained under Jonathan Gushue (Langdon Hall), had been working for 23 hours straight.
Zyganiuk was teaching cooking classes at the Evergreen Brickworks when he stumbled on an ad seeking a chef with an imagination worthy of full creative control of the restaurant’s menu. Zyganiuk shrewdly took neighbourhood geography into consideration while menu planning: “you have to take pre-existing notions of what diners on the Danforth expect,” he explained, which is why Zyganiuk designed a menu with a Mediterranean flavour profile anchored by regional Canadian ingredients. A prime example of his Mediterranean-Canadian mash-up: a herb-roasted Ontario pickerel served on a bed of chive orzo ($24). Other dishes include a vine-ripened tomato and melon gazpacho ($7) and braised beef ravioli with black truffle cream sauce ($22), not to mention desserts that go beyond resto-lounge clichés, like an almond cake with candied fennel, anise streusel and white chocolate crêmeux ($8). Will 417 make the Danforth a nighttime destination again, as Gountanos hopes? Check back in a year or so.