was strolling the new AGO (still very much under construction and unfortunately not all that exciting sans access to the secret rendezvous stairwell) and decided that this was an opportune moment to solo-dine as i hadn't done it in a while. it was quite fortunate because after i was seated i noticed a familiar name as chef de cuisine, martha wright.
before i divulge a few details about martha, i've got a few words to write about the space though i'll try not to get into how i feel about ghery's work. the cafe is on the concourse level but has access to the restaurant via a central staircase leading up and also a 2-storey opening. the use of only hard surfaces, i suspect, will lead to a lot of noise issues between the two dining areas and makes it a bit sterile. it seems that there is a second and potentially larger space on the other side of a major dividing wall which i assume will mostly be used for private functions. i did not get a look at this space but it is saved from any cafe noise. the long wall with the gift shop entrance is primed with a repetitive metal structure just begging for bottles and bottles of wine. but as the bar area near this display wasn't ready yet, it may be a while before it's filled. i am not a fan of the open space separated by low walls, it reminds me of dining at acqua and being in the middle of a mall.
onto the food. no wine list was provided and i was told by the host that the server would discuss the options with me. a pounding headache prevented me from imbibing so unfortunately i don't have much to report on that.
bread - didn't pay too much attention as it wasn't very special, but really liked the oyster shell full of flaky maldon salt as an additional topping along with room temp butter.
iles-de-la-madeleine scallops in shell with quebec foie gras - covered with a sabayon (at least that's how they described it though my understanding is that it is usually a dessert) and on top of finely diced shallots sunken to the bottom of the foie gras oil, the scallops were barely seared and were very tender and just a bit sweet. the richness of the creamy "sabayon" plus the unctuous seared foie was a bit overwhelming for the scallop and had to be eaten separately to fully appreciate their flavour. the foie was quite adequate for quebec origin and appeared as nicely seared cubes. no matter though, i cleaned up every bit of the remaining liquid and sauce with the variety of bread provided ($16, member pricing)
pickerel - perfection. the squash sauce pooled at the bottom of the plate was very tangy (server suggested wine, i think perhaps a touch of vinegar) and a bit sweet, so i wasn't sure that it would complement anything else in the dish. i was wrong, it was fantastic with the crispy skinned and perfectly cooked fish that flaked easily but was very moist and exuded freshness. i was a little confused as to why they would pan fry the side of romanesco (takes away from its aesthetics, which is the only thing going for it), but it certainly tastes much better this way than raw. the creamy sauteed leek was a great rich component to balance out the fish. ($23, member pricing)
quince tart with wildflower honey ice cream - was highly raved about by staff and didn't quite disappoint. did not like the very dense pastry crust for this take on tart tatin and the slathering of honey on the tart itself was initially welcomed but became cloyingly sweet. the quince was lovely and well caramelized but the wildflower honey ice cream stole the show. it was a bit light but really picked out some of the floral notes from the honey and had a nice smooth texture though was possibly a bit too airy. loved the honey comb bit tucked in underneath mostly for it's addition of texture. ($10, member pricing)
martha wright is on the ball and i'm glad she has resurfaced. it was no coincidence that my meal was seafood focused.
service seemed a bit nervous and while generally quite good at not letting water glasses empty nor taking too much time between courses, i was only asked how my dish was after i had dug into dessert and was halfway through. no questions during eating the app nor the main and if they were awful, that would have certainly been no fun for me. they appeared to be scanning the room constantly and so i'm confused as to how they missed this step.
i would undoubtedly go again though the member discount (10%) makes it within a more appropriate pricing range. if you want great fish, and i know a few of you out there are looking for it, the AGO might just be the new place to go.
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