Showing posts with label scallop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scallop. 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


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Shunoko (Toronto)


Shunoko reminds me of Shoushin, before it was awarded a Michelin star and their tasting menus now start at $330. The restaurant quietly opened in the spring and was relatively unknown unless you’ve visited their previous location at Yonge and St. Clair. It’s helmed by Chef Jun Kim whose father and uncle both owned sushi restaurants in Korea.

While Shunoko offers an a la carte menu, it’s their omakase that drew my interest. The promise of twelve pieces of sushi, four “tastings”, and a dessert for only $100 seemed too good to be true. I arrived with lowered expectations and was blown away by the experience.

Best yet, there’s also a $30 wine pairing that’s an appealing contrast to the traditional sake pairings. Chef Jun notes that he likes wine, especially natural ones, and prefers its subtle flavours when paired with sushi. He likes to just crack open bottles with friends, while eating sushi, and see what works. Up first, a flute of light dry cava from Barcelona, a classic wine to pair with fish.

The meal started with a cube of cold tofu topped with spot prawn and ikura (salmon fish roe). I’ve never been a fan of the texture of raw shrimp. Shunoko’s was still a bit gummy, although less so than some establishments, but could be even better if it was quickly poached. The combination of briny ikura and soy was also a tad salty, working well with plain tofu but detracts from the shrimp’s sweetness.

Luckily, the following sea bream with ginger dressing was a hit. The sauce reminds me of the concoction used on salads, excepts less vinegary and having a thicker purée consistency. It goes so nicely with the slices of meaty fish, giving it a warm feeling, even though the dish was served cool – you must taste it to understand. The bits of chives rounded it off so nicely.

The first nigiri of the night was fluke wrapped around sisho leaf and topped with a piece of its fin. A lovely fresh start with a bit of interest from the chewy fin piece.

It’s followed by the chicken grunt, which is the strangest tasting fish I’ve ever had. While it looks like it comes from the sea, it has the taste of chicken, especially the chewiness of its skin. There’s a gaminess to the protein that’s mellowed a bit by the chives but could use something stronger like chopped scallions and ginger. While not my favourite bite, it’s nevertheless interesting to try.

Chef Jun simply tops the sea bream with rock salt, which while simplistic changes the taste of the classic fish. It’s savoury and neutral so that you can also enjoy the warm creamy rice, that has a lovely soft consistency but could use a splash more vinegar.

The amber jack was nice and meaty and had a light spicy essence from the pepper leaf topping it. But what made this piece shine was the French cider pairing. The cider must be aged in barrels giving it an olive scent. Yet, when you drink it, there’s a mellow sweetness that finishes off so smoothly, not like the overly fruity and bubbly canned cider you’d find at the LCBO.

One of our favourite pieces of the night was the yellow tail finished with ponzu and chives. It’s perfect for the warm whether, so refreshing and bright.

If Chef Jun didn’t tell me the next piece was striped jack, I’d almost think it’s horse mackerel as there’s such a meatiness to the fish. All while still having a clean neutral finish.

It’s at this point in the meal that the restaurant seemed to be in full swing, the four tables for two and the approximate nine chairs around the sushi bar were almost at capacity. Given Shunoko offers an a la carte and two omakase menus, it’s quite the feat to juggle.

From what we could tell, Chef Jun concentrates on the omakase experience while the other sushi chef focuses on the rest. The sous chef also fills in as the sommelier, explaining what we’re drinking and how many courses it should last.

The biggest flop for me of the evening was the scallop with truffle oil. Oh, truffle oil, such a powerful seasoning that can work with neutral fatty items but overpowers the scallop until it almost tastes bitter. At least it was paired with a gewürztraminer, the wine’s slight sweetness helps to counteract some of the bitterness. It was a lovely version of the German wine, ending with a buttery finish.

Shunoko’s horse mackerel was so refreshingly clean that it’s a testament to Chef Jun’s expertise. He knows how to prepare and neutralize a cut that can sometimes be so overly fishy.

The following Portuguese sardine was a tad gamier, but when paired with onion helped to ensure any fishiness was offset. Surprisingly, the fish was delicate, perhaps it’s because I’m normally familiar with the packed canned variety. This was paired with a French sparkling rosé, a lovely summery wine to finish the tasting.

Oddly, it was the blue fin tuna that had a gaminess, for what is normally a crowd-pleasing piece. I’m wondering if the chef mistakenly called the cherry salmon, which was listed on the board, tuna instead as this really didn’t taste that much like blue fin to us. If it were salmon, it would make more sense, like a concentrated slice of the fish.

I thoroughly enjoyed the bonito that had such a different creamy finish than most establishments. The lightly smoked fish was topped with ponzu and daikon for a bit of freshness.

Another “first taste” of fish for me of the night (aside from the chicken grunt) was the phantom fish. Despite looking like a traditional white fish, it’s rich in taste – almost like a mackerel and bonito morphed into one – so was aptly adorned with shallot to give it a punch. It’s a fascinating fish as it emits a taste that reminded me of the ocean. Let me know if you try this and feel the same.

Finally, something that actually tastes like blue fin tuna, this piece consisting of the belly cut with more chopped tuna on top! Finished with a light floral shisho flower and rock salt, this was another favourite of the evening.

Shunoko’s miso soup must be made with a fish bone broth as there it’s creamy, rich, and has a slight oiliness. Whatever it’s made with, it’s delicious and hearty, even containing some crispy napa cabbage.

Usually, when the soup is served, the meal finishes and turns to dessert. At this point, Chef Jun comes over to ask if we’d still have room for a hand roll. While I was getting full, how do you turn down another taste? He ended up presenting us with a hefty roll filled with sea bream (?), marinated mushrooms, and sisho leaf so there were so many flavours wrapped into one crispy shell.

Imagine our surprise, when the nigiri procession continued with the last piece – a tamago taco. If you’re worried about leaving the restaurant hungry (I’ll admit, my husband and I usually get something from McDonalds after some omakase meals), it won’t happen here. Shunoko’s tamago was three slices wrapped around rice. It was slightly too cold for my taste, but with its sweetness perhaps its meant to be enjoyed like a custard dessert.

Only, we were presented with actual dessert: a rich coconutty taro ice cream. It’s so creamy and delicious that I thought they would have made it in-house, but we’re advised it’s purchased from a third-party. Boy, would I like to get my hands on a take-home pint. There’s a lovely, toasted taste to the ice cream, perhaps it mixes in crispy coconut chips?

If the above sounds like too hefty a meal, Shunoko offers a “Nigiri 10” menu, which consists of ten pieces of sushi (essentially ten of the pieces that is part of their omakase menu), tamago, and miso soup for less ($67 during our dinner). Best yet, this menu doesn’t require pre-ordering with reservations, so if you find yourself walking by Shunoko and have a hankering for good sushi, you can walk-in and enjoy. 

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3220 Yonge Street


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Wild Chicory (Toronto)


Do you have a favourite neighbourhood restaurant? It’s that place you head out to for an impromptu meal, somewhere that offers a solid menu with reasonable prices, and you know you can likely score a table without waiting too long. The food may not be Michelin quality, but you’re usually not disappointed, and the menu’s varied enough that you’ll find something to eat. If I lived in the Yonge and Eglinton area, Wild Chicory could be one of those favourite local haunts.

Their menu is extensive, with several starters that would work well as “tapas” or even act as a main with a side dish, for nights when you don’t have a big appetite. The flavours of the Seoul chicken ($16) were decent – a combination of sweet, sour, and spicy – but could use more gochujang for heat and less rice vinegar as it was a tad tart for my taste. Crispy and juicy, these would have been even better if it arrived hotter.

My husband hypothesized that the chicken likely got cold as they were waiting on the rice nuggets in the crispy pork belly ($17). Indeed, they were searingly hot, very crunchy and addicting – the best part of the dish. Disappointingly, the pork belly wasn’t actually crispy. Perhaps it’s because the big chunks of meat are difficult to render and the dish would be better served as slices so there’s a larger surface area. More likely, there could just be too much hoisin sauce covering everything, which I did find overpowering and would have worked better smeared on the plate so diners can adjust the amount they want on the pork.

The problem with such strong-tasting starters is that the mains feel bland in comparison. A special that evening was the beef rib ($28) that was prepared to tender but not too soft. However, a thick piece of beef needs liberal seasoning to permeate into the meat. When I was having it au natural, it tasted plain. Luckily, the dish did come with a creamy sweet corn bisque and barbeque sauce, two things to dunk the beef into. What impressed me most were the sides, a light creamy potato salad that was bursting with flavours and a crispy and fresh coleslaw.

In the coast to coast ($38), only the scallops were seasoned perfectly, the bit of salt enhancing the beautifully crusted seafood that arrive just cooked through. The salmon was okay, not overly flavourful but at least had a lovely crispy skin. If it was done a touch less it’d be even better since the dish doesn’t come with a sauce and the fish tends to dry out quickly. Meanwhile, the leek and pea barley was too mild and so over powered by the lemon foam that it started having a bitter undertone. Perhaps, it could have been saved with salt.

Maybe I was lucky I didn’t finish the barley as it left me room to share Wild Chicory’s tiramisu ($12), it was delicious… the perfect balance of soaked lady fingers and mascarpone laced cream. Shaving chocolate on top was a nice touch, but I’d still add a touch of cocoa powder as its bitterness would better balance the dessert. Consequently, the tiramisu’s sweetness did go particularly well with an espresso martini ($17), which had a slight bitterness that diluted the sugariness.

Ah… an espresso martini, my go-to drink lately for elongating a meal to make it last a little longer. And time is what you have at Wild Chicory: you’re not being rushed to leave or warned about a two-hour seating limit. That’s how neighbourhood spots should be – walk-in, choose something new or order a favourite, and then just sit back and enjoy.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 525 Mt Pleasant Road


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

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20 Victoria (Toronto)

If you love tasting menus like I do, Twenty Victoria likely offers one of the most affordable ones in Toronto. Through a prepayment on Tock, the non-refundable six-course meal is set at $175 per person and is inclusive of gratuities (but before taxes) meaning the only thing that needs to be settled at the restaurant are drinks (beverage menu prices also includes gratuities).

That evening’s menu was casually paperclipped onto the drink menu and was rather cryptic, each dish described using two ingredients such as trout & egg. A quick scan of the December offering left me surprised by how seafood forward Twenty Victoria’s winter meal would be, a welcomed change in my books.

But first, a plate of “snacks” arrives, two one bite wonders including a delicate crispy salt cod croquette and a dollop of sturgeon caviar placed on goat cheese and radish. Both worked to wake up the senses and the radish a refreshing and stronger substitute for the traditional blini.  

The first dish, kanpachi and oca root, combines slices of raw fish with a root vegetable that’s described as “a cousin of the potato” and tastes like a starchier jicama. While it looks like sashimi, when the kanpachi is mixed with the crunchy diced oca root, olive oil, citrus, and basil seedlings, the dish tastes more ceviche. It was a vibrant starter that happened to coincide with tropical music being played in the dining room (a mere coincidence), the happy music putting us at ease that it wouldn’t be a stuffy meal.

What seemed like A LOT of sauce arrived with the trout and egg. Yet, the whipped hollandaise-like sauce carried a lightness that didn’t overpower the rich fish and even worked solo with pieces of fallen fish roe. Ultimately, throughout the menu, we found the balance of richness and lightness was what made Twenty Victoria excel – serving a decadent ingredient with something refreshing or at least restrained so that you can continue through the menu without feeling gross.

Pairing chopped walnuts with scallops wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it wasn’t terrible either. The slightly cooked through nuts added a bit of texture against the soft scallops, which were perfectly seared and served with a lovely creamy sauce. In this dish, the raw celery (?) leaves provided a bright element to counteract the buttery condiment.

With the scallops comes their bread course, a magnificent loaf that needs to be sold to go. Hot and crispy, the dark brown crust breaks away to reveal a milky airy centre. It’s their version of Japanese milk bread, which makes complete sense after the explanation as my husband found it resembled a lighter brioche while it tasted like a richer pain au lait for me. Regardless, I only wish I didn’t devour it all as the bread would also go well with the next dish. My advice for you, save a quarter.

Admittedly, I was disappointed to see the ‘lobster’ in the turnip and lobster dish rendered into a sauce, albeit a deliciously rich and silky bisque. It’s that richness that elevates the sweet slender turnip, an ingredient that hardly gets diners excited. Twenty Victoria’s turnip was a great consistency, neither too mushy nor too raw, and when slathered with the lobster sauce and topped with a black truffle does make the root vegetable more palatable.

The lamb was cooked to perfection, and I love that there was a sliver of fat and/or skin on one side that formed a crackling to compliment the tender meat. I wouldn’t have thought to pair lamb with maitake mushrooms and kelp, but both crunchier vegetables went nicely with the delicate tenderloin adding interesting textures in lieu of the traditional mashed or roasted vegetable side dishes.

Prior to dessert, we were asked if we’d be interested in a cheese course, something not listed on the menu. Of course, we obliged, and it was a great way to finish off the wine before diving into a digestif. Large ribbons of Niagara Gold arrived with crisp lavish bread and a slightly sweet quince. Having had this prized local cheese on other occasions, served as a traditional wedge, the ribbons completely changed the cheese’s taste allowing it to cover the tongue and almost melt away. Indeed, cheese please!

The pastry of the carrot pie was a wonderful thickness and consistency, holding its shape but breaking apart easily to mix into the carrot filling. I would have liked the pie to be sweeter, especially since it was paired with tangy unsweetened whipped buffalo cheese and a sea buckthorn syrup. I guess its neutrality helps balance the much sweeter lemon and ricotta cake, a warm moist cake sitting in a light syrup, so the dessert almost feels like a sticky toffee pudding, except with a hint of citrus and not quite as sugary.

Some diners were surprised that Twenty Victoria didn’t make it onto Toronto’s Michelin guide. With their amazing food, it’s certainly a strong contender. I sense that with a couple of small tweaks they could get there … assuming the added stress is something their chefs want, of course.

For example, expanding their tableware selection would help. When someone splurges on champagne ($35) and not a mere sparkling wine, ideally, it’d be served in a flute as opposed to a regular wine goblet.

If I were to get really picky, offering a wider fish knife or a shallow spoon with a dish like the trout and egg, would make it easier for patrons to spoon the sauce and fish roe onto the trout for a more fulsome bite. Yet, it comes back to whether Twenty Victoria even cares. Right now, dining there just seems so carefree, especially when trying to obtain a reservation. Star or no star, it was a shining meal for me. 

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 20 Victoria Street


Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
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!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this: