After reading countless blogs and articles hyping the restaurant's opening, I excitedly paid a visit to Origin last night.
I arrived with my dinner companion at 8pm last night. The room was 80% full but it seemed much busier as there was a wealth of staff and the open kitchen had flames licking the ceilings and pans clanging about.
The space itself is quite attractive. Exposed brick, rough wood for the kitchen-bar, floor, and artwork, all illuminated by funky lights and chandeliers. What was most eye-catching were the table-tops. From afar I thought it was speckled granite but it's actually this gray, porous material that looked like rocks you might find at the sea shore. The chairs are comfortable as is the plush banquette, if a bit low.
The menu seems scattered, with tastes from North Africa, Spain, Italy, China, Thailand, and a billion other countries. Normally I'd find such a composition off-putting, as if you're in some tourist restaurant in Bangkok serving pad thai alongside cheeseburgers and pasta primavera. But we accepted the culinary challenge of mixing and matching and dove right in. We asked for the dishes one after the other as not to confound our tastebuds.
1. Burrata + pesto + romesca
This was the weakest of our choices but was still okay. Two bite-sized pieces of grilled calabrese bread were topped with a mound of Ontario burrata sitting in romesca sauce with a drizzle of pesto. The bread was rather tough and made for a poor base. The burrata itself was tasty, but I wish they could get the creamier Italian kind. The romesca was flat and almost tasted aioli-like and not the rich, almond and red-peppery flavour I was hoping for. Would probably not order again.
2. Bangkok beef salad + peanut + mint + mango + fried onion + nam jim dressing
This dish was a standout. The combination of ingredients was not revolutionary, but was perfectly executed to yield a mouthful of flavour each time. The toasted peanuts provided a crunchy counterpoint to the juicy beef strips while the mango and mint tropicalified the dish. The fried onion and nam jim dressing held the whole dish together and gave it its Asian exoticism. Definitely re-order.
3. Grilled rock hen + dates + olives + harissa
This was another menu option that sounded pleasant but you feel like you've had it before a thousand times. Not so here. What I think is the restaurant's hallmark is it's effort to take interesting, approachable dishes but execute them with expert skill with a little flair.
Two little pieces of breast meat and two little drumsticks were juicy and could be eaten without the sauce. But that would be a crime. The mixture of diced Kalamata olives with dried dates and harissa (piri piri chili peppers, I had to Google it) was mop-up worthy (if only they served bread - we didn't ask for any). The union of sweet and spicy and salty was perfect. I wish they had JK-style jars filled with the sauce that you could buy (or steal). Also a re-order.
4. Miso glazed black cod + mushroom broth + jerusalem artichoke puree + crispy soba
Another example of a dish you've had last month, but are happy to have it here again, but better. The black cod is appropriately firm in stature but crumbles at the sight of a fork. The mushrooms retain their bouncy texture while cozying up to the jerusalem artichoke puree (which tasted suspiciously like parsnip). The wild card in this dish was the addition of truffle oil, not listed on the menu. While I think it worked, perhaps other options might have been a tad better (maybe wasabi mixed in the puree?). The deep-friend soba sticking out of the bowl is addictive. It tastes like a cross between a breadstick and raw angel hair pasta. Eat it. Another re-order.
The wine list was somewhat anemic and definitely on the pricier side. We had an $80 bottle of 2007 Penley Estates Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly over-priced (retails for maybe $30) but nevertheless it was a nice, if fuller-bodied, accompaniment to our meal.
For a restaurant in its first week, service was very good, with regular water and wine refills as well as replacement cutlery after every dish. Before even ordering, a waitress brought a ceviche dish which we thought was a generously sized amuse-bouche. Feeling guilty, I asked her if this was complimentary, upon which she realized her error and ran off, sadly with the dish.
Unexpectedly, another friend today wants to do dinner somewhere new and asked if I had any recommendations. Guess where I'm going for the second day in a row.
BTW, the restaurant has a blog with the menu and a good pic of the kitchen area. I'll be trying out the kitchen-bar tonight. http://origintoronto.com/blog/
109 King St E, Toronto, ON M5C, CA