(My first review, so please don't be harsh. I'd like to also apologise for the quality of the pictures, but it was dark there and a lot of wine. Also sorry for my english, it's not my native language)
There are different types and levels of restaurants. For example, ethnic places - Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indianб etc. Toronto is famous for those restaurants where a tasty dinner might cost less than making it at home. Then there are more expensive chain restaurants where you get the same type of food in any place with the same name. The prices in those eateries vary and most of the time they are undeservedly too high (why would I pay 20$ for an entree at Milestone's when I can pay 24$ for a main course at a restaurant of the next type?). And for the next level there's a big jump - not so much in prices, as in quality. Prices are higher but not too much, whereas quality, originality and service are much better. You wouldn't eat there every day - you'd get bored - but once or twice a month would be ideal if your wallet can afford it. And then there's another level - expensive! Very expensive! Those ones that are mentioned in glossy magazines, modern book and not advertised on posters. A dinner at such a place is a celebration, special occasion! Not just because of the prices, but because you shouldn't really go there often. If you eat a toast with caviar, smeared with fois-gras and covered in truffles on the subway on your way to work everyday, then all those wonderful and exclusive ingredients: caviar, fois-gras and truffles will become something ordinary, boring, dull. So, those restaurants are of different caliber, where you go not just to eat, but to relax and food is not the most important part of the meal. I've been to restaurants of all those levels... And last week I discovered that there's another level - Splendido!
Although Splendido opened in 2001, I only found out about it a few months ago and since then I've been thinking about going there. Last week my boyfriend took me there to celebrate our four year anniversary. The night was absolutely wonderful with amazing food that was accompanied by an outstanding service.
We come into a restaurant and our coats are promptly taken but no numbers are given. We are a little bit surprised, but figure that it's such a small place with so little people and we can find our coats later. The room is small, it only has about 16-18 table and only 4-5 of them are taken. In the basement there's a big party room in a cellar that keeps over 1000 types of wine. Our floor has a kitchen with a window (I so wished to go up there and take a look, but I didn't) and a small bar in the front. An average age of patrons is about 40 and it makes sense because the place breaths with respectability, maturity, and luxury. The room is not modern at all, it's very simple - tables with white crisp table clothes, dimmed light, candles, round plates with Splendido logo, heavy mirrors in big frames and little stools for bags and purses (very unexpected and very convenient).
Servers do not look at your age and are ready to answer any questions including questions about money. They know that it's not a cheap eatery and they don't look down at young (we are in our mid to late 20s) patrons which happened a few times at other places. Each server knows his or her job, knows every little detail about each dish and which wine would go well with it, but there's a sommelier at this restaurant for it.
We are led to our table and the server moves a chair for me. And after getting up twice during the dinner not once I had to sit down by myself, each time someone would almost run to move the chair. We are offered some water and a few minutes later a Champagne cart is wheeled to our table. A young and knowledgeable guy explains that it's Splendido's tradition to offer a glass of champagne or sparkling wine before dinner. It's our anniversary so we agree. He proceeds to explain each bottle that he has today: Peller Ice Cuvee, Moet et Chandon and some other french one that I don't remember the name. Without going into an uncomfortable territory about money and prices, he manages to tell us which bottle is cheaper and which one is more expensive (this is what I call service). We order Peller sparkling wine, not because it was the cheapest, but because we are going to a Peller Icewinemaker's Dinner the next day and I'd like to try their product. I mention that icewine dinner to the guy and we spend a few minutes happily talking about those type of events, Niagara wineries and wines.
After we had a couple of minutes to sip our sparkling celebratory wine, we are brought a stand with little hors d'oeuvres from the chef. Tiny shot glasses with Cream of Celeriac Soup with Apple Foam, Cheese Crackers and Chickpea (or white bean?) Puree with Rosemary and Lemon. I don't eat celery, don't like the taste, so I only try the soup. I can appreciate how smooth and creamy it is with the contrasting airy apple foam, but it's not my thing. The cracker is perfectly light and flaky with a distinctive cheese taste (I think it was Parmigiano-Reggiano), very similar to the cheese cookies I make. The Puree is nice with a strong herb taste, but the portion is too small to really talk about it.
stand with appetisers
The menus are brought only after we are done with those little appetisers and not extremely hungry anymore. There's not much choice, only about 5-6 appetisers and the same number of entrees, but I am more interested in their tasting menu. That is why I wanted to go there and this is what I know I'd like to have.
A few minutes later another young server comes over and mentions my camera, he says that he saw me taking pictures and assumes that I enjoy food and I'd like to continue taking pictures of the dinner, and because of that he thinks that I am going to order a tasting menu. I am amazed!!! We order two tasting menus with wine pairings and I mention my dislike of celery.
They bring us really tasty bread with butter and we cannot stop eating it, because it's so good, chewy and crusty. And a few minutes later we get an Amuse Bouche: Hamachi Sashimi with Fried Onions and Citrus Marinade. It's very light with an interesting combination of textures.
And then an amazing "dance" is starting to happen: used plate is taken, crumbs are swept, a wine is brought and explained, a few minutes later, after we get a chance to sample the wine, discuss its taste and nose, a dish is brought and every component is explained. And this whole sequence is happening again and again without a hitch, without a delay.
Pairing of food and wine is very good except for the first one, and I am very glad that we decided to have our wines as well; the meal wouldn't be complete without it. The first pairing is really not a good one. The wine is not bad by itself, the food is also excellent, but together they get lost.
The first appetiser is Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna "Maki", Nori Puree, Crisp Rice, Cucumber and Avocado Puree. Tender, melt in your mouth tuna that is a little bit sweet and succulent; chopped and mixed with green onion that really emphasizes the silky texture of the fish. Nori puree, imitating maki taste. Smooth avocado puree. Crispy pickled cucumber. All of these components together mix to become a firework of tastes! The wine that's served with it is Traminer, 2005, Palmina, Santa Barbara, California, USA. It's light and crisp but as I mentioned above doesn't really go well with the tuna.
The next food and wine pairing is quite unexpected and one of my favourite of this meal. Quebec Duck Leg Confit, Parsnip & Celeriac (removed from my plate) Salad, Honey Truffle Vinaigrette. The wine is Pino Gris, 2004, Domaine Schoffit, Colmar, Alsace, France. The unexpectedness of this pairing is not only in white wine with duck leg, but in the sweetness of the wine. I think it is 2 or maybe even 3 in sugar levels. The sweetness of the wine pairs absolutely wonderful with the saltiness of the duck confit. Very soft parsnip puree, crispy salad, a few pieces of sweet potato fries together with salty duck produce a wonderful wintery dish, although it is not one of my favourites. I find that the duck is a little too tough for my taste. But together with the wine, that course is fabulous and the complexity is out of this world.
The last appetiser is a little unusual: Seared Digby Sea Scallop, Boudin Noir, Quince Apple Puree. It is paired with another white wine: Pouilly Fuisse, 2003, Cuvee Hors Classe, Auvigue, Burgundy, France. That wine goes surprisingly really well with Boudin Noir, maybe because the texture of it is unlike Boudin Noir that I tried at Nota Bene. This one doesn't have a texture of a sausage, it is more like an airy mousse or a souffle, light and lusciously buttery. One of the highlights of the dish is cabbage - tender but still crisp, sweet and stewed in either stock or butter. Sweet and sour apple quince puree is a perfect match to cut the fattiness of the Boudin Noir. I can't say that the Scallop is a star of this dish, it is as much a star as Boudin Noir. The scallop is perfectly prepared with a little bit raw centre. I have to confess, I like overdone scallops and I like the rubbery texture, so those "perfectly" cooked scallops is something that I don't usually enjoy. But this one is an exception. Nice caramelized sides of the scallops and almost raw center are perfect together.
scallop & boudin noir
Next comes our first main course: Veal Osso Bucco, Porcini Carnaroli Risotto. It is matched with Barolo, 1999, Vigna Massara, Castello di Verduno, Piemonte, Italy. The wine is absolutely amazing!!! It smells like earth and blueberries. It smells like Italy, the country I've never visited. With each sip it feels like I travelled through thousands of miles and I am actually there, in Italy. The wine works really well with heavy Osso Bucco and strong risotto. The server explains that the marrow from the bone is taken out, mixed with butter and it's used to make risotto, which is infused with the bone marrow taste. This is another very wintery and warming dish. It's so ideal and comforting that it reminds of something cozy and homemade, and only porcini dust, big white plate and a perfectly paired wine in the glass bring me back to reality of a restaurant.
The final main course is my favourite: Cumbrae Farms Beef Tenderloin, Pulled Beef Brisket, Guajillo Thyme Jus, Caramelized Onions and Rosti fried in Duck Fat. The tenderloin is expertly prepared - medium rare. Although I don't really like this type of readiness, I prefer medium, it's amazing. The texture is unlike any other I've ever tried. It's soft, but not mushy, it has a perfect crust that is an amazing contrast to the center. The taste is to die for and bacon makes it even better!!! Rosti brings this entree to another level with its soft creamy texture in the middle and crisp outside. It's an ultimate comfort dish - meat, potatoes, and onions - heaven! I liked the brisket as well, but it doesn't really add anything in terms of extra complexity or flavours. This course is paired with Chateuneuf du Pape, 2004, Domaine du Pegau, Rhone Valley, France. The pairing is the best of all of them, the flavours dance together in my mouth in perfect harmony.
Then there is a cheese plate with a sampler of dessert wines: Port, Icewine and Madera. There are eight cheeses to choose from, we have six and seventh is a compliment from the chef. I like most of them but one really stands out - Riopelle (sp?), it tastes like... Fall... Autumn! It tastes like a Sunday morning in the middle of October, when I wake up and realize that it was raining at night, but now the rain stopped and the sun is shining, the air is still damp and it's a little chilly, it smells like wet fallen leaves... That is the taste of that cheese. We even ask if we could buy it from them, but unfortunately they only have a piece left for the cheese board. And another surprise highlight is an apple slice brought to accompany the complimentary stilton. The apple is dehydrated and then rehydrated in caramel and mustard. Soft, melting, caramel apple changes into something spicy and peppery after a few bites - magic!
Finally we have a dessert: Almond Sponge Cake, Amaretto Mascarpone, Espresso Bean Ice Cream. It is matched with a nice shooter glass of almond-espresso cocktail: "Mio Amore Dolce", Amaretto/Amaro Culano/Expresso. The dessert is really something! Soft, bright and... splendid.
After the meal (that took four hours) we mention to one of the servers that it's our anniversary, he asks our names and congratulates us. A few minutes later he returns with a card signed by the chef and manager. We are pleasantly surprised and happy about it. While we are paying another small treat is brought: Coconut Financier. Those little things really make a good service into something outstanding.
Amazed with food and service we leave our table to go to the entrance and we see two servers waiting for us with our coats. That thing, that little gesture moves an outstanding evening into a whole different category.
Do I want to go to Splendido again? Yes! Absolutely! When? I don't know. Maybe in the summer when the menu is going to have a lot of seasonal fruits and vegetables. But maybe I'll leave this restaurant for some other special, very special occasion so that my memories of this place wouldn't mix and blend together with memories of other restaurants, so that another evening at Splendido would stand out in my mind and not become something ordinary.
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