Restaurants & Bars

Ontario (inc. Toronto)

A Splendid-o Sunday Suggestion for Superb Service (lengthy review + pics)


Restaurants & Bars Ontario (inc. Toronto)

A Splendid-o Sunday Suggestion for Superb Service (lengthy review + pics)

BokChoi | | Dec 7, 2008 02:32 PM

Thanks to all the CHers out there that suggested Splendido for a wonderful evening out on a Sunday. The family came in from out of town and we all sat down for a stellar meal. They came in with high standards as they frequently dine in the best restaurants around the world, and in their hometown of Vancouver. They are even acquaintances of Chef Pino Posteraro and thus Splendido had its bar set quite high in terms of Italian-based fare. Apologies ahead of time as well due to the low-lighting of the restaurant as the photos are not of the quality I would have liked. The rating scale is based on my expectations for a restaurant at this price point, as well as a comparison between each of the dishes.

The table decided for a mixed ordering of plates: Half went with a la carte choices, the rest for the tasting menu. Little did we know we were in for a very long evening, but we had a wonderful experience and were even treated to a nice tour of the kitchen by the talented Chef de Cuisine. As one can tell, I guess I can be pretty verbose so this probably contributed to the 4hr meal.

Before we were presented with our menus, we were treated to a ‘pre-amuse’, or Canapé selection. Included was a puree of squash that was mildly spiced, a wonderful and light-tasting white bean puree and finally a ‘cheese puff/cracker’ (I forgot the exact names). It was a great way to whet the appetite before taking on the daunting task of navigating the menu.


After selecting our courses, we were presented with our amuse: a wonderful piece of seared fish atop what appeared to be glass beads, but it was just beautiful and well-formed foam.


Next up, David’s charcuterie platter. The highlight was the foie gras sous-vide of course. But there was another liver side that was amazingly rich and soft as well. I believe you can see it melting on the serving platter. The brioche was light & fluffy - a much better pairing than the typical toasts. The salame and prosciutto were very flavourful as well, but were similar to what you would receive at Nota Bene. Rating: 4/5


The room itself was very understated and nothing at all what I would have pictured for one of Canada’s best restaurants. I am used to more ‘over the top’ glamour, I guess. It was intimate and very warm.


The tartare was the first course to arrive. Utterly amazing. The texture is rivaled only by the exquisite dish I had at Jean Georges in NYC. The taste though bested JG’s version IMO. It was very luxurious from the avocados, yet subtly sweet due to the saucing. The quail eggs were a marvel. They were perfectly prepared with its centre slightly oozing. There were not too salty and the flavours paired so well, as did its texture, with the tartare. Perfection! Rating: 4.75/5 (okay, so maybe not completely perfect, but a Solid A+ effort). Texture is what set it apart from NB’s version IMO.


The plating at Splendido is very similar to Nota Bene. One can interpret that as they may. I did not get to sample the beet salad, but I reckon it would be similar to the one offered up by Nota Bene (at least in terms of quality of ingredients). Rating: N/A

Beet Salad:

Even though my SO had all intention of sampling each others dishes and diversifying our “Splendido menu-portfolio” we accidentally duplicated a number of courses. I guess our attention to detail for menu items needs to be taken up a notch. Here is a repeat course of the Charcuterie platter:

The lobster course was to follow next. Butter poached, which I guess is a nod to Keller’s invention, the lobster was sweet and succulent. The texture was spot on and the flavours were very strong. Not to mention that there was a shaving of truffle atop this already rich dish to take it up even further. Talk about guilding the lily, but I am never one to turn down truffles, nor say anything negative about a dish that includes them. Suffice it to say, this was not a shy dish in the least! There were too many things happening with this dish, so I couldn’t give it a higher rating. It was simple, and what it was doing it did well. I just would have wanted something a bit more exciting so took marks off for creativity. Rating: 3.75/5


Next up, Scallop Gnocchi: The scallop was perfectly seared and formed a magnificent crust. Inside, the scallop was sweet and a touch raw – just the way I like it. I love it when the centre is left uncooked and it is still cold. The sweetness of the natural scallop is really allowed to show through. The Gnocchi themselves were also amazing. Great textures and fun to eat. This was the second dish that I ordered in error that matched my SO’s. My only consolation? Even more truffles… Rating: 4.25/5

Scallop Gnocchi:
Regular a la carte Gnocchi:

Sweet potato agnolotti’s stole the show in the next dish. The pulled duck confit was forgettable and did not have a great texture. It was also salty against the already salty broth of squab. It was a bit tough, but if it were crispy, it would have been an excellent foil to the silky smooth texture of the agnolotti. The pasta saved the day due to its sweetness. Without this contrast to the salty broth, the dish could have been ruled a bit of a failure. But the pasta… amazing! It was like eating candy it was so sweet. The texture was amazingly refined as well. On its own it too would have been too sweet, but alongside the broth, it was a marvelous creation. I guess that was always the intention of the creator – that they would be consumed in unison. Rating: 4.5/5


The Chef created and presented a complimentary course to follow the agnolotti. It was a classic Italian pasta with a topping of braised ox tail - a very simple preparation. The textures of the ox tail were perfect and had touches of the fatty gelatinous pieces I have become familiar with in Chinese interpretations of this dish. The pasta was skillfully prepared (al dente) and provided a nice bite to go with the oxtail. A touch salty, but who can complain about a complimentary course? Rating: 3.75/5 (but I guess 4/5 because it gets points for being free


Ox Tail Ragu:

The mains came next. The sea bass was very buttery and the skin was exceptionally crisp. This dish was perfectly executed. Dollops of caviar punctuated the white of the dish. However, since it wasn’t my dish, I didn’t get to sample those jewels (darn). SO had the bison. This was the true revelation of the meal. I have never sampled such a tender piece of bison in my life before that moment. I didn’t realize a beast could be responsible for generating such textures. It was much like a veal it was so tender. But the flavours were much more pronounced than the subtly sweet veal’s meat would have been. It was served wrapped in bacon, which I guess added a textural component to the buttery-smooth tenderloin. As well, alongside it was a segment of boudin noir (which I was introduced to in NB’s tarte version). The braised red cabbage was also a nice semi-sweet, yet bitter side to add depth to the dish. I had ordered the lamb, even though I was so tempted to try the much touted Steak by JustPete. In retrospect, I should have ordered the steak as I only enjoyed 1 of the 3 preparations of lamb in my dish. The tenderloin was melt-in-your-mouth tender, however, the saddle was a touch tough (especially when so easily juxtaposed against its neighbour) and the neck was not as exciting as it sounded. It was apparently cooked two ways, with one being fried. It was crispy, but not enough to justify all the work that apparently went into it IMO. The flavours came out nicely due to the nature of that cut of meat and the preparation method, but it was still just “okay” for me. I love neck, but this was just nothing special. Rating: Bison: 4.75/5, Sea Bass: 4.25/5, Lamb: 4/5

Sea bass:

Next came the wonderful kitchen tour. Earlier in my meal, I had merely been looking toward the kitchen and pointing ever so subtly trying to estimate the size of the kitchen. Our waiter was so perceptive that he came over and immediately inquired if I had any questions. He then answered my inquiry and offered to arrange a kitchen tour with the Chef de Cuisine later that evening. I was so impressed.

For dessert, I ordered a cheese plate tasting. For demonstration purposes only (oh why couldn’t I get a knife and fork to just dig in?) an entire tray of luxurious cheeses were presented and described to us. I was too lazy to try and pick a few to try that I ordered a half serving of each. SO had the apple crumble that came with their taster and the other dining companion offered up their dessert because by now they were much too full to even consider eating a final course. All the better for me! I substituted the crumble for a soufflé. Unfortunately, the desserts were a let down. The apple crumble was similar to something I would find at a much lower-class restaurant. It was unremarkable. Solid, but not something I would order again. The soufflé also fell flat for me, both in taste and touch in presentation. Maybe it was late at night at the pastry chef had packed up and left for the evening, but that was my experience. The cheeses were all a delight and it was exciting to sample each one. I noted that a few were similar to ones offered on the cheese plate at Nota Bene, including the Tiger Blue. Why I got an order of the Beemster, I will not understand, as I already know I enjoy that cheese and could have just gone to SLM or the Cheese Boutique to pick up a wedge for a fraction of the price. Oh well! I guess the same could be said for the rest, but I wanted to sample them all – I was being greedy I guess. The toasts they were presented with were brushed with olive oil and well crisped. The cheeses were presented with sliced apples to cut the richness and introduce a touch of sourness. I am a huge fan of their wooden plank/trunk on which the cheeses are presented. I need to buy one for myself. Rating: Cheese 4.5/5, Soufle 3/5, Apple 3/5

Cheese Presentation:
My cheese plate:
Apple Crumble:

And I cannot leave out mention of the service. The service was truly second to none. I was in awe at how capable every single staff member was. They knew their roles and each added their personal flare. I noted that when one staff member started describing the components of a dish, but a similar dish was presented at the opposite end of the table, by perhaps a more seasoned server, the junior staff quickly bowed out and allowed the more senior one to fully describe the dish so as to not confuse the table. The glasses were always kept filled. As a game I started counting how long my glass would stay empty before a waiter came by to refill it – I got to about 5 seconds as the longest duration throughout the evening before someone came by! Utterly amazing IMO. Everyone was so knowledgeable of what they were presenting. Everyone was also so well-mannered and eloquent. Due to my terrible memory, I requested a listing of the cheeses I sampled in order to write it down for my records. Our head waiter later presented a itemized list with descriptions of each cheese and their country of origin. It was above and beyond what I had requested and is a vivid illustration of how amazing the service is at Splendido. My dining companions from Vancouver were so impressed with the service that they commented several times about it during and after the meal. They were very pleased with my restaurant selection mainly as a result of the service they received.

In summary, we all thought the food was great at Splendido. The dishes were classic and ably prepared. However, my only complaint would be that I would have wanted more excitement. The meal did not blow me away in terms of tastes, but the service no doubt did. I think if you chose your dishes well, you could have a remarkable meal at Splendido. If I were to do it again, I would order the tuna tartare, agnolotti and the bison (or steak, if I’m feeling gluttonous), skipping dessert. My dining companions also felt the food was a bit lacking compared to other places they have been, mostly comparing the pasta dishes to Cioppino’s in Vancouver. I felt the food was of course a class above Nota Bene, but considering the price difference, I don’t think I can say it provides value for the premium. I kept my expectations low based on a friend’s recommendation and as a result was pleasantly surprised by the food. The service though is unbeatable and created a very memorable experience. This is not a restaurant that I would return to regularly, mostly because the price is outside my comfort zone and the food is not really up my alley. But for what they do, they do it quite well: Classically prepared Italian inspired dishes. The portions are generous and you live completely satiated. The service leaves you wondering why no one else seems to be able to get it this right in the city? I guess that is why Splendido has built such a reputation for itself over the years in terms of quality of service. All I can say is that we were all happy with this recommendation and my dining companions returned to Vancouver with a very pleasurable dining experience.

Cheers and Happy Eating!

88 Harbord Street
tel 416.929.7788

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