Showing posts with label chanterelle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chanterelle. Show all posts

Alo Revisited in 2023 (Toronto)

As I recount my latest experience at Alo, I grapple with the final mark: would I still consider them a 9 or a “top pick”? There were dishes that were incredible, but then some that missed the mark. The tasting menu ($225 per person) was off to a shaky start when the canapés arrived.

We’re instructed to eat the four bites in a particular order. The first, an oyster with compressed cantaloupe and Iberico ham oil had a fishy essence without an acidic element (like the traditional mignonette or lemon) to help cut through the strong taste. It also seemed off that it wasn’t ice cold for something that should be served uber fresh. The first bite was a bust.

Slowly, the redemption started with the beautifully presented uni tart, which was made even creamier with a thick crème fraiche on the bottom. While this wasn’t mind-blowing, it was at least not repulsive.

After the fishy oyster I had doubts about the mackerel tart, but this was unfounded as the meaty fish was very clean tasting and well balanced with bright pops of the daintiest tomatoes and fruit. Indeed, there was an ocean-like essence from the caviar, but it wasn’t overpowering.

The canapés ended with a foie gras and strawberry jelly tart that created a sweet and savoury element. This was surprisingly good and wonderfully rich.

It’s unclear if Alo is pandering to Michelin inspectors as the procession of Japanese dishes just seem out of place at a French restaurant. Sure, I can understand if they want to throw in one dish that’s has a Japanese influence, but to feature a handful was just too much.

Moreover, some dishes just can’t live up to what you’d be served during an omakase meal. Chef Patrick Kriss should drop the madai course, a sea bream paired with chili oil, caviar, and kumquat. Like the oyster, it was fishy and warm. Give me this fish cool with freshly grated wasabi and soy sauce any day.

The kinmedai was better, the red snapper was at least cold and refreshing with the oh so finely julienned radish in the centre. The various oils complimented the fish nicely and this was an improvement over the other sashimi course. If Alo must have a sashimi course (why would it), one is enough.

Having a soft spot for chawanmushi I wouldn’t be opposed to this remaining on the menu. The actual steamed egg was hot and silky, but then enhanced with lovely French and Western elements: smooth foie gras tofu cubes, fragrant truffle paste, crunchy radish, sweet corn, and crispy chicken skin. All this amongst a pool of reduced capon broth. What an incredible dish!

At this point, the meal started having an upward trajectory. The chanterelle mushrooms were so meaty and cooked to the point of perfection – no longer raw and spongy but not too wilted either. Paired with spinach, artichoke, and a luscious whipped egg sauce, it was so delicious that I wanted to lick the bowl.

The seared scallop and roasted mussel continued the ascent with its superb execution. The scallop was seared beautifully and super sweet and the mussel so tender ending with a lovely clean finish that it’s unlike any mussel I’ve ever had. Paired with a savoury foam and parsley sauce, these were the perfect seasoning not overshadowing the seafood’s natural flavours.

At the beginning, we were asked if we’d like to substitute the rice dish for foie gras (supplemental $40). Why anyone would want to miss out on the Koshihikari rice with Dungeness crab is beyond me. Koshihikari is a short grain rice that’s cultivated to be used in many dishes, including risotto so that it has that creaminess but also a more distinct grain that Arborio. The risotto was cheesy and savoury with bits of snap pea added to give it a crunchy pop of freshness that was so good that I longed for more. To elevate the dish, thin slices of wagyu beef topped the dish, so that as it melts the fat seeps into the rice. Do not replace this baby.

A boneless lamb chop follows seared to perfection and having a lovely charbroil taste. As you have a cube of the meat with the garnishes, each bite tastes so different – whether it’s the peel tomato, fried shallots, or patty pan squash. Somewhere down the line you sample the the olive stuffed with sausage, which is good but a bit heavy, so I’d recommend saving it for the last bite.

Alas, the meal bell curves with the last savoury dish being mediocre. The striploin was fine, slightly over cooked, but at least having a nice grilled essence. Yet, it’s the miso sauce that really threw me off and added a weird funk to the steak. Perhaps if we upgraded the dry aged angus to the Japanese A5 wagyu (supplemental $90) it would pair better, but as it stood the sauce was a bust. Moreover, the deep-fried eggplant tempura garnish was too seedy and bitter.

The only saving grace was the pain au lait that gets paired with the striploin. It’s just as fluffy and fragrant as I remembered. I absolutely love Alo’s bread, so much so that they even gave us an order to go, what a sweet and unexpected gesture.

Normally, sorbet palette cleansers can be really tart and pungent. Alo tones it down with their take on strawberries and cream where the layer of cream at the bottom helps balance out the frozen Italian wine with strawberries and the champagne foam.

Dessert progresses with a tasty meringue with peach mousse and vanilla cake. Garnished with a verbena lemon sauce the dessert is a nice balance of sweet and sour. After so many dishes, I’m glad it’s a lighter finish that still has a sweetness that satisfies.

It wouldn’t be a French meal without a box of petit fours, presented in a lovely tree box. I love that they made a mini lemon meringue to pay homage to Aloette downstairs but it’s not nearly as good as the sister restaurant as meringue is so small that the bite was fairly sour. The passion fruit caramel was too sticky and the chocolate caramel too sweet. It was the simple strawberry gelee that was just right, enhanced by the fruit’s natural flavours and a great consistency. I felt like Goldilocks going through the petit fours trying to find the perfect bite.

Save room for their canale as it’s a lovely combination of crispy caramelized shell and fluffy moist interior. Consequently, it also paired perfectly with a cappuccino ($6).

The roller coaster food aside, Alo does excel at service. There’s a lovely chill we-don’t-take-ourselves-too-seriously vibe with the 90s rap playing and the entire staff sporting New Balance kicks. Everyone we encountered was so friendly, professional, and knowledgeable that we knew we were in good hands.

As I reached the end of the post, I’m still grappling with whether Alo is one of my top picks. Ultimately, I decided to give them a 9, but only by a hair. Their blind tasting menu had some incredible dishes, but also a number that were mediocre. I just hope Alo isn’t trying morph into something they’re not only to keep their Michelin star. Sure, include one or two Japanese-inspired dishes in the menu (my picks are the chawanmushi and koshihikari risotto), but make sure the French dishes are the prominent part of the menu, it’s your pain au lait bread and butter, Alo.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 163 Spadina Avenue, 3rd floor

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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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