Last Friday, I went to Thuet. I was excited.
I would not go back.
The website said that Chef Thuet's wife, Biana, selects the wine matches for the tasting menu. When we ordered the 8-course tasting menu, however, our waiter told us that the bartender would be selecting the wine pairings. Ok, I thought, a bartender in this type of place may know his stuff. Well, I don't think he did; or, maybe he didn't care.
The amuse bouche was a deep-fried ball of salmon mousse, or so I was told. It just tasted like a deep-fried potato puff to me. No distinct salmon (or any other) flavour.
The second course, and others, were messy, confused dishes with too many ingredients and elements. It was veal carpaccio, with a mound of tuna tartare atop it, and with a side of sea urchin ice cream, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar strewn about the plate, also. Sea urchin ice cream? Ok, I was intrigued when I saw that on Iron Chef, but what the hell was it doing next to my veal carpaccio? When the dish arrived, the small quenelle of ice cream was partially melted. As it continued to melt into the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the dish evolved into a nonsensical, soupy mishmash. The veal carpaccio was, itself, quite good and would have made a perfectly good dish without all the other stuff. Ditto the tuna tartare. Screw the sea urchin ice cream altogether.
The dishes and wines came very fast. The wines began to accumulate. The servers did not care; they kept up the obviously unpleasantly fast pace. I don't think they were trying to rush us, because the place was not crowded at all; just 50% full, perhaps.
Another dish was even more crowded with clashing ingredients and ideas. The bottom of the bowl had a nice smoked Pacific salmon. On top was a small cucumber gelatin ball filled with a few caviar eggs. Next door was a ball of avocado puree. Furthermore, there was another tartare of some Alaskan fish. All of this was laid in a clear broth of "gazpacho water" which was subtly nauseating. Like the other dish, this one melted into a muddy-green hodgepodge of avocado/tomato water with pieces of fish struggling to maintain their distinctiveness.
Foie gras was deep fried and breaded like a chicken finger, to its detriment, I think. It was served with sliced strawberry and a strawberry sauce. Not bad. Hard to go far wrong with deep-fried foie gras. It was nice to have a dish with a clear central ingredient, unmuddled by a bunch of other stuff that didn't fit together.
A duck dish was also well focused and well executed. Nice sliced duck breast, with a rich brown sauce. Similar to what one gets at other restaurants. It was paired with a very good wine. The waiter always failed to give adequate particulars of the wines selected for us by the bartender. But, this red was very good so I asked for details. I never got them. The waiter had very little interest in providing anything more than perfunctory service, at best.
A hearty oxtail rissotto with typically strong truffle oil was quite good, but served with a very weak rose wine. Huh??
I will not detail all of the 8 courses herein. You get the picture.
Dessert was an adequate blueberry panna cotta topped with apricot ice cream, sided with a very nice Ontario icewine. This, and the red we had with the duck, were the only 2 wines that were very enjoyable. Of the other 5, at least 3 were Rieslings. 1 was a Pinot Gris that tasted like that Santa Margherita plonk. They mostly tasted like cheap wine that lacked any special quality. Again, particulars were not provided.
The espresso was good.
Our bill, with tip, was $520 for two people. Which brings me to remember my dinner the previous day at Peponi's Grill, a most unpretentious restaurant on Gordon Baker Road. They serve Indian food in the African style, typical of the Ismaili Muslim Indians who lived in Uganda to be eventually kicked out by the madman Idi Amin.
At this dinner for two, the total bill was about $75. We ordered a lot of food; it's hard to spend that much at Peponi's.
We started with 4 samosas (2 beef, 2 chicken). They are excellent. Well-spiced, intricate, plumply filled with a tight, thin, non-greasy wrapping.
Peponi's feature 3 homemade sauces, which are all wonderful and at the table. One is a coconut-green chili chutney that is very hot and very delicious. The other is a red chili sauce; also delicious and nicely different from the green. Finally, a sweet tamarind sauce which gives great balance to the other sauces.
We ordered Jera (cumin) Chicken. Wonderful. Big chunks of good-quality white chicken meat, simmered in a heavenly cuminy spice blend, with onions and cilantro. We also had their signature dish, beef ribs (what some people call Miami ribs), which are well-marinated in citrusy tamarind goodness and made nicely tender. We ate 'em with our hands and we didn't leave any. We had masala fish, which was a nice filet of white fish, covered in a semi-sweet tomato-curry gravy. The sweetness made a nice contrast with the other, mostly spicy, food. A side of "mogo" (chunky cassava fries) was really good and satisfying in its simplicity. Great for dipping in the incredible sauces.
All the food was sided with superfluous spicy french fries, which we simply ignored. But, they will substitute a salad or naan if you want. We had a few of their naan, which are absolutely wonderful, fresh, and subtly spiced.
The bottom line is this: I enjoyed Peponi's immensely more than my Thuet meal, which cost almost 10 times as much. Thuet's cuisine seems designed to impress upon the diner his ostensible genius and originality for its own sake. Its primary purpose is to make a bold statement about the chef, rather than satisfy and please the eater. And, the wine pairing, done by a bartender, was a bloody rip off. There was no thought put into the pairings. I felt like they were just trying to get rid of wine.
Peponi's cuisine is pure authenticity and deliciousness.
I know I am comparing apples to oranges: a fine dining experience to a mom-and-pop ethnic joint. Truly, I usually enjoy both. But, in this case, I was so disappointed by Thuet, and so incredibly pleased at Peponi's.
At Peponi's, seeing us enjoy, the chef/owner came out and spoke to us about the food. At Thuet, no one bothered, which, I suppose, is just as well. By the late middle of the meal, we were all just going through the motions.