Fellow Chowhounds....Mystify by a somewhat sub-par and dissappointing dining experience at one of Toronto's finest establishment three months ago (an off night, perhaps?!), my gourmand brother-in-law and I decided to give Splendido a second chance!
Contrary to the dreadful wet weather that confronted us during our previous visit, this time, we arrived at the restaurant under a gorgeous, balmy November sky (an omen for good things to come?!). At the entrance, we were greeted by a most charming and smiling host, Yannick, who escorted us into the spacious and inviting dining room. We were given a table adjacent to the 'open-kitchen' window, where we can observe closely Chef David Lee's every move in preparing his creation.
Well seated and ready to be served, we both opted for a 'modified' 8 course tasting menu with wine pairing. During our former visit, we too were planning to have the multi-course tasting menu. Unfortunately, on that particular evening, the main entree featured 'Rabbit served two ways'. To one of my guest, the thought of having to eat 'Bugs Bunny' was a little bit too challenging for him. Consequently, we settled for the 3 course Table D'hote instead. Although the first two courses were artfully presented, however, we did find the portions a touch on the miniscure side. These insufficient portions unfortunately impeded us from fully savouring the true flavour of the dishes. On the other hand, when our main courses arrived, the exact opposite happened. The portions of our entrees were 'overwhelmingly huge'! (my rack of lamb comprises of 5 mega size ribs, whilst my guest's organic strip loin coming in at at least 14oz). Presented in such an excessive and monotonous form, though delicious, our meal quickly turned into a tiring burden.
Well, past is past and now is now. This time around, every facets pertaining to our meal was carried out to near perfection. The portion of the dishes were impeccably judged and well balanced. All ingredients used in the preparation of our meal were beaming with market-freshness. The taste of the food, from amuse bouche to mignardises, were utterly sublime and exquisite. One element which really stands out, I thought,was how diligently David Lee uses his complex and refined sauces to augment and brings out the flavour, texture and fragrances of the dishes. A true testament of his training under the Michelin 3 star super chef, Anton Mosimann!
Our meal began with a complimentary canape of miniature leek tartlette and organic salmon ,cuit sous vide, topped with Oesetra caviar. The amuse bouche was an intensely fragrant scrambled organic egg with white truffle shaving. These, we paired with our aperitif, a glass of Moet & Chandon Rose Champagne, vintage 1996.
First course was 'Alberta Bison Carpaccio with Zigante White Truffle' drizzled with Chianti single vineyard extra virgin olive oil and aged Fini balsamic vinegar. (Paired with Chenin Blanc, 2004, Rudera, Stellenbosch, South Africa). Wow! What a start!
Second course was 'Nova Scotia Lobster, cuit sous vide, sandwiched with fresh Pacific sea urchin roe'. On the side was a small porcelain dish of steamed egg custard in Tamari soy topped with ginger essence poached B.C. Dungeness Crab - a dish so tasty that even Chef Kaji of Sushi Kaji would have applauded! (Paired with Chablis 1er Cru, 2002, "Vau de Vey", Chateau Maligny, Burgundy)
Third course was 'Line Caught Boston Skate Wing' topped with diced bacon, sweet onion coulis and rested on a bed of sauteed spinach with a creamy Pommery mustard sauce. The Gewurztraminer, 2004, Malivoire, Niagara Peninsula used to pair with this dish was superb and can easily be mistaken for an Alsace Grand Cru VT. The skate medallion was pan seared to perfection, crispy on the outside, moist and flaky inside. It was soooo good, we almost asked for seconds!!
Fourth course was a huge slab of, again, perfectly 'Seared Corn Fed Artisinal Foie Gras and Duck Pastrami'. The foie, due to the way the duck was fed with whole grain rather than grain paste, was more dense than the normal 'Le Ferme' version and tasted more intense. The Sauterne apple sauce accompaniment was unbelievably 'Yummy'. The duck pastrami, resembling traditional Magret de Canard was blasted into heavenly territory by a wild mixed berries/wine reduction scattered with morsels of Riesling marinated raisins. ( Paired with an 'interesting' Pinot Noir, 2003, Forest Estate, Marlborough, New Zealand.)
Fifth course was 'Double Beef Consomme, Porcinni Mushroom Tortellini, Black Truffles' This dish contained so many fragrant components that, just by smelling the different aromas is more than suffice to satisfy the senses! This was paired with Amontillado Sherry, Savory and James, Jerez, Spain, which we totally forgot! The reason being that the consomme was so intensely flavourful that we were fully engrossed into consuming every drop of it!
Sixth course was 'Smoked Bacon Wrapped Northwest Territories Caribou, Poached Gnocchi, Fricasee Chestnuts' This was paired with the 'Star of the evening', Ca' del Merlo, 1996, Giuseppe Quintarelli, Veneto, Italy. A great dish paired with an equally great wine! What more can one say, except may be, that the Caribou was impeccacbly grilled and was 'melt-in-the-mouth' tender.
By then, we were already 90% full. So, we decided to hold our cheese course to only two choices. A 7 years old Gouda and a rare Italian 'cow,sheep,goat'milk cream cheese. These were paired with a 10 year old Tawny Port.
To round off an UTTERLY UNFORGETTABLE MEAL, our unusually dedicated, knowledgeable and professional waiter 'Adly' bought us a beautifully presented dessert platter. 'De-constructed Bruce Peninsula Courtland Apple Tart, Calvados Ice Cream, White Chocolate Shavings'. This was paired with Rutherglen Muscat, Campbell's, South Australia.
With meals from almost 70 European Michelin star restaurants as well as a whole slew of dining stalwarts located in food meccas such as New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Tokyo etc., under my belt. I believe I have had my fair share of unforgettable meals over the years. However, I would have never imagined, that one day, a meal from a Toronto restaurant would make it into my 'Best-of-the-Best' Gold List. BRAVO SPLENDIDO!! For diners in Toronto, a greener pasture would be difficult to find!!
With Michelin still a few years away from compiling a red guide for Toronto, may be, meanwhile, our best reference guide - Toronto Life should consider promoting Splendido to a 4 1/2 stars rating!!!