Maybe I’m mellowing in my increasing age but,in the past month, I’ve added 4 new meals to my all-time top 10 (all in Spain unfortunately) and, for the first time in many years, have returned to a new restaurant in Toronto, less than a week after my first sampling.
There is a small thread on L.A.B. but I wanted to highlight it, as it’s probably the most impressive ‘affordable’ opening I’ve discovered in Toronto since the early version of Czehoski (now unfortunately a totally different place).
So what excites me? In this case a stream of ‘unexpected’ taste sensations, particularly highlighting different textures that show creative minds at work and a re-thinking of conventional preparations.
I’m torn between a full description and being deliberately vague – as part of my enjoyment came from the unexpected twists within each dish – and that surprise will be diminished if I reveal all the ‘secrets’. Suffice it to say that I returned less than a week later and forced myself to try all ‘new’ dishes because I already trusted this chef to wow me.
So I’ll restrict myself to the menu descriptions (for the most part), as these give the ‘flavour’ of what to expect and still obscure some of the novelties.
So far 5 appetizers tried (all between $8 and $10). By a small edge I give the prize to the ‘Chilled Bison Two Ways’, one a tartar and one shaved. Similar flavours but totally different textures (and some interesting ‘condiments’). For sharing, a superb ‘Root Vegetable “Calamari” – this is a vegetarian dish – just ‘appears to be Calamari’. And then I rated both the ‘Non-Green Salad’ (yes, indeed, the salad doesn’t have ANY green content!) and the Cream Ale Consommé with parsnips, as must-haves; the salad was exciting – again textures, and the Consommé has even better textures, although the flavours in the soup are a little more exotic. That just leaves the Pogo Chicken Wings – but something has to come bottom! Not as exciting for me, but still pretty good (I prefer more spices in my wings).
On to the mains. I still haven’t worked my way through all of these (only 4 so far) and next up will be the Carrot Risotto with Silver Leaf ($18).
It’s hard to pick a favourite, so I’ll go by price. The most expensive item on the menu is 8-hour steak with carrot, beet and onion cakes ($27). Slow cooked and then seared. Loved the accompaniments (texture again, as well as flavour) but I don’t get excited by beef (in general) although I’d happily have this dish again. Second most expensive (at $24) – Lamb Cooked Sous-Vide with cigar smoked gnocchi. Loved the perfectly cooked gnocchi, the vanilla aromatics of the lamb and a couple of other surprises. At $23 the Pan-Seared Arctic Char was perfectly cooked and the pear salad that accompanied it gave a superb texture lift and a freshness. I also tried the Sweet Potato Perogies, with pickled watermelon, which were super-hot (temperature wise), so take care with these ($17).
For dessert – let’s just say that I will NEVER fail to order a dessert here – astonishingly good – all under $10 (except a creditable cheese plate at $11). The Apple & Cheddar tart is AMAZING (takes 20 minutes so if you want this, order it earlier). Just do it!
The Mayan Chocolate Brownie should be the choice for all chocolate-lovers. There’s also a Chocolate Pot de Crème which has a Pear & Wild Ginger Compote. On my visit the pot de Crème had superb textures (several different chocolate ‘textures’) but the ginger/pear was swamped by the chocolate. Still if you like chocolate, chocolate, chocolate then this may be for you. The compressed Fruit Melon Broth with Edible Flowers is much more delicate – good but didn’t wow as much.
The wine list is small, but well-chosen. The low-end is under $40 with a good choice at around $60 and a couple of splurges.
And service was excellent (but admittedly they weren’t very busy) and very knowledgeable. Some of the dishes prompted questions and all were fully answered. And a full description was given as each dish was served. A couple of the main plates weren’t warmed – but I’m struggling to find something to criticize at these prices.
Did I say I went back less than a week after my first visit? That’s REALLY unusual for me. And my third visit won’t be long coming – if I can get a reservation! Small – only seats around 30 and open evenings only Tue-Sun. I hear they don’t have a (working) mailbox, so call after 6:00.
L.A.B. (Live and Breathe)
651 College St, Toronto, ON M6G, CA
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