CLOSED: Orote (Toronto)

There's something about a tasting menu that gives me a thrill - it's oddly freeing to detach myself from decisions and just be ready to experience. Almost like a rollercoaster for eating where I strap myself in for a ride and hope the track is enjoyable.

Orote presents a six-course menu ($78) where there are some decisions: a choice of main course  and whether you want any of the supplementary ingredients and courses. It's not overly exhaustive, I settled on the fish and as a table we decided to add on everything we could. Let the ride begin.

It starts off slowly, as we made our way up the dinner hill. The thinly sliced pork belly with boiled daikon and pickled parrilla leaves is a dish that's better as a whole than each of the individual parts. Yet, the kitchen needs to work on balance: there's too much parrilla so the acidity overwhelms the delicate pork belly and the chunk of irregularly cut daikon makes it really difficult to create a roll. If these ingredients were smaller, the diner would have a better opportunity to taste the paper-thin pork belly and its dusting of savoury shrimp powder. 

We begin to pick up steam when the skewer of lobster and pumpkin robata arrives. It was fantastic, each bite augmented with black garlic and bits of walnut. The spices and grilled preparation gives the lobster such a unique taste that I couldn't register the protein during the first bite, wow was it meaty. 

As we make our way to the top of the plunge, I'm momentarily skeptical of the "salad" course... there's an awfully large portion of what looks like unadorned leafy greens. We're told to make sure to dig to the bottom where we'll find poached mussels and a wonderful consommé. All in all, I didn't mind the  leafy greens and sticks of daikon, it made for a nice cleanser between the grilled lobster and the following dumplings. I just wish the greens were quickly blanched so it wouldn't cause the rest of the dish to cool down so much. Make sure you get every drop of the lovely soup. 

I was thrilled with the two plump mushroom and tofu dumplings. On its own it may seem a bit plain, but as I broke them apart and had bits of it with the bonito dashi, it was delicious. If there's one thing Orote does well it's their soups - they seriously should consider having a larger soup course. For this dish we added shaved truffle ($10) but it didn't make that much of a difference. Give me an extra bowl of dashi any day. 

For the main, I opted for halibut, a nice thick meaty piece that was cooked superbly. It just needed more seasoning - there was so much sesame sauce on top of the fish, yet it added more of a creamy texture than flavour. Even the broth served with the halibut wasn't as strong as the previous dishes. All in all, the main was fine, but not overly exciting. 

Had I known, I would have gone with the pork loin, which was way more flavourful and tasty. The pickled kale made me think of the dish as a lighter and less greasy form of braised pork belly with preserved vegetables, the Hakka mu choy cow yok (from the Cantonese dialect). The pork also went better with the bowl of miso yolk rice ($4), which I forgot to take a picture, but imagine a bowl of steamed sticky rice topped with shaved egg yolk and way too many green onions. 

The shared add-on dishes were sprinkled throughout the ride. Orote's chicken ssam ($12) consists of large mounds of cold shredded chicken topped with a slice of daikon. You can't really wrap it up like bo ssam, so it is slightly strange the dish is named chicken "wrap". I recommend including some of the pickled greens on the side: it would give the chicken more flavour and would provide diners with ingredients to make chicken ssam two ways.

If you're sensitive to salt, Orote is actually a great place to dine at as even the truffle rice cake and perilla seed ($25), described to us as a really creamy rich dish, wasn't overly heavy or powerful. Sure, the sauce was thicker compared to the broth that adorned other dishes, but it wasn't creamy in the traditional sinful sense. If anything, the best part of the dish wasn't it's "creaminess", truffle shavings, or the perilla seeds... it was the soft chewy pieces of rice cake.

Overall, the ride ended on a high: I thoroughly enjoyed the barley cream dessert, which is like a really fluffy panna cotta topped with finely grated chocolate shavings, puffed buckwheat, and black sesame. Creamy and light, it had a great texture that I wanted to savour, yet also wished I could just pop half of it into my mouth and allow the delicate sweetness to flood my taste buds.

The newly opened Orote offers a wonderful tasting option for those who are looking for a healthier meal that doesn't leave you feel stuffed and heavy. I can certainly see Actinolite's influences in Chef Kwangtaek Lee's menu. Though I urge Chef Lee to consider bringing in even more of his Korean influences into the dishes, especially in the mains and add-ons to really give it some pizzazz. As it stands, Orote is nice and solid, but there's the potential to make it really thrilling. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 276 Havelock Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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