Restaurants & Bars Ontario (inc. Toronto)

Less than Splendid-o

Yum2MyTum | | May 13, 2008 07:59 PM

I've been debating whether to post this one, but decided I had to as I haven't seen anything but the highest of praise for the above named establishment.

I went last week with a group of dining companions, really, really wanting to be wowed by chef David Lee, who has been battling it out with Susur Lee for Toronto's culinary crown - at least in the eyes of some of this city's food press.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.

We all ordered the tasting menu. Service, we agreed, was well orchestrated - to a level we hadn't experienced in Toronto. As impressed as we were, each choreographed swoop made our party a little nervous; I couldn't help but remember with fondness the professional and much lower-key service I have experienced at Scaramouche.

On to the food itself:

The three-tiered pre-amuse was enjoyable; in particular, I enjoyed the shot of fresh pineapple juice rimmed with chili salt, and the vanilla-scented blossom was a beautiful touch.

The amuse was ... well, whatever it was, it clearly it wasn't memorable. I was not impressed with the foie gras course, which was served with a nice duck prosciutto. The vegetable course, a rapini crunch, was delicious, but very, very simple. I enjoyed the sweet pea soup, but it pales in comparison to a recent soup I experienced at Langdon Hall. Soft-shell crab was a big disappointment for me; it was simply a full crab, accompanied by nothing particularly interesting, and all I could taste was batter and oil, although it was not particularly greasy.

The suckling pig and sous-vide pork torchon were a definite highlight: the suckling pig was intensely flavourful and the pork torchon was oh so tender. I loved the preparation. I sampled both options for mains - halibut with fiddleheads and ramps, and a bison dish - and both were quite nice. The bison in particular was wonderfully cooked, and the accompanying gnocchi was heavenly: quite possibly the best gnocchi I've ever had.

The dessert was a light and lovely finish to the meal: a yogurt pannacotta, with fresh and sweet bing cherries mascerated in amaretto and an almond meringue. I loved its simplicity.

Here was my issue with the meal that evening:

The chef cooked with an appreciation for his ingredients: he kept dishes simple (I must have used the word 5 times now) and restrained, making it clear that he wanted to showcase natural flavours, rather than dazzle with unexpected flavour combinations. He did what he wanted, and he did it well; the thing is, what he wanted was very... plain. And honestly, a little boring.

While I can absolutely respect his principled approach to cuisine, for that price ($135 per person plus wine, tips and tax), I expect to be wowed. I have been wowed in this city at a cheaper price: Susur, of course, leaps immediately to mind.

In all, I can guess at where the chef is coming from; I can understand the accolades he's received - sadly, I just don't agree with any of it.

88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

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