Went to Bero last night as a party of 8, and bottom line, this was the best meal I've had in Toronto in a very, very long time.
The space is small and simply, but warmly decorated. Enough soft surfaces and low music so that even when the restaurant was full, I could still speak and have my friend at the far end of the table hear me. A bloody (and most welcome) miracle, in my books.
The menu at Bero gives you three options: 1) a 4-course meal for $52, where you choose your 4 dishes from the 12 items on the left side of the menu, 2) a 7-course tasting for $84, listed on the right side of the menu, and 3) if you have at least 8 people, you can do a family-style dinner of all 12 items on the left side of the menu for $72 (with the likelihood of an extra treat or two thrown in). Option 3 is what we did and I truly can't recommend it enough.
Chef Matt Kantor is creating dishes with flavours and sophistication that I think no one else is quite doing in Toronto. There's an incredible amount of thought and care put into the construction of each dish and the flow of the meal. Now this is where I have to strongly recommend the full family-style menu — I found that the sequence of the dishes contributed hugely to my experience. The first 4 courses were these gorgeous, light, summery dishes exploding with the most wonderful flavours. Then we moved onto the gnocchi and mushroom courses that were beautifully rich and deep, while still remaining bright (don't ask me to explain that better, I'm clearly not a professional food writer! :). Then the 3 "meat" courses, all different, all delicious. And finally the 3 dessert courses, that were beautiful and difficult to choose a favourite from. If I had only had 4 courses and selected them myself, I'm not sure that my meal would have been as transcendent as it was.
One of the things I loved was how interesting and sophisticated the dishes were, but how they were still accessible.
Photos below. I'll try and recall the dishes, but there were a lot and I didn't take notes. We've asked Chef Kantor to email us full descriptions, so I'll come back later with better descriptions. Note that the quantities of the plates in the photos were for half the table, except for the soup and the peaches, which were individually plated.
Course 1: white gazpacho. Delicious soup, with these bright pops of flavours and textures from the orange blossom infused cucumber and a couple of other veggies.
Course 2: heirloom tomato and compressed watermelon with tomato marshmallows and parmesan cream. He separated the marshmallows from the tomatoes for us because of a lactose issue with of us. So many flavours here — the best surprise were the fried capers that added crunch and a great contrasting saltiness to the dish. It made us all start to ponder what we could use fried capers in.
Course 3: ceviche (European bass, I think) with poblano peppers, pickled onions and grapefruit ice. So fresh and summery. Once again, full of bright flavours.
Course 4: nordic shrimp with chermoula (a spice mix), cilantro puree, lettuce and banana "biscuit". Amazingly tender little shrimp brought to life with the chermoula.
Course 5: bone marrow gnocchi with fried shallots and garlic butter sauteed snails. Oh dear lord. These were THE most delicious gnocchi I've ever had. Melt in your mouth richness that was light as air. I could have eaten an enormous bowl of these and died happy.
Course 6: mushrooms, glorious mushrooms. This is no longer on the menu because no one was ordering it, and I'm so very sad for the loss, as it was my favourite dish of the night, next to the gnocchi. A timbale of shiitake mushroom, charred king oyster mushrooms and perfectly cooked chanterelles. Served with a vanilla and red onion sabayon that was swoon worthy.
Course 7: deconstructed arroz negro. A black rice croquette with perfectly cooked squid (braised in beet juice for an amazing pink colour), piperade and a delicious saffron mayonnaise. This was probably the weakest dish for me, mostly because of the balance of the ingredients. I wanted more piperade and mayo relative to the croquette. Still good, just not as awesome as the other dishes.
Course 8: lamb. Sous vide lamb saddle with wattle seed, with purple potatoes, zucchini and an avocado buttermilk cream. Delicious, tender lamb with a subtle flavour from the wattle seed.
Course 9: duck. Seared duck breast and duck confit wrapped in leek, over a smear of black garlic and a leek puree, with corn pudding and freeze dried corn. Really delicious with the garlic and leek providing huge flavour hits. And that corn pudding was ridiculously good.
Course 10: "surf and turf". Tender poached pork over chick peas and octopus. The octopus was so tender and had great flavour from smoked paprika. While this was very good, I felt the dish paled a bit next to it the more flavour-packed dishes in the other courses.
Course 11: "pre-dessert". I had picked some perfectly ripe Niagara peaches that morning and asked Chef Kantor if he wanted some. He ended up making a ridiculous dessert out of them: caramelized onions, warm peaches and star anise ice cream. It was OMG amazing. I never would have thought to pair these flavours, but the savouriness of the onions against the star anise and the peaches was simply perfect. It's one of the best and most interesting dishes I've ever had. He needs to put this on the menu.
Course 12: strawberries with strawberry mousse over a caramelized white chocolate ganache and a milk sorbet over a beer "soil". My favourite of the desserts on the menu. Essence of strawberry and the ganache was like a perfect dulce de leche. Great combination of textures.
Course 13: crème catalan with cardamom and blueberry. Really good.
Course 14: flourless chocolate cake with halva and eggplant frozen yogurt. A surprising and surprisingly delicious combination of flavours. I didn't like the yogurt on its own, but it was delicious when combined with the cake.
And that was dinner. Remember, this was all for $72. Service was excellent, too.
My apologies to the chef for butchering any of the descriptions and for the crappy phone photos. For really beautiful photos, you can check out the Toronto Life preview: http://www.torontolife.com/daily-dish...
If I had to choose 4 courses from the current menu, my recommendation would be:
2) Gnocchi (seriously, don't even consider getting anything else for this course)
3) Lamb or duck
The chef said that they will be changing the menu pretty regularly, as what's in season changes or as they get bored with a dish. They've only been open 3 weeks and they've already refreshed the menu once.
Please do yourself a favour and go to Bero. The closest comparison for quality and composition that I can think of is what Victor Barry is doing at Splendido. But Bero is a different kind of experience (neither better nor worse) and the value is amazing, especially the family-style meal.
Photo 1: the menu
Photo 2: the chef hiding behind the gazpacho