Showing posts with label steak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label steak. 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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Le Petit Chef (Richmond Hill)


When visual artists Antoon Verbeeck and Filip Sterckx got together to create animation projects in 2011, little did they know they would develop Le Petit Chef, a 3D projection dining experience that features a little non-speaking clumsy chef that finds himself facing hairy situations while creating dishes for his diners. If the Three Stooges were two inches tall and had any culinary talent, they might have become petit chefs as well.

In 2015, the duo developed Le Petit Chef as part of their Belgium company Skullmapping and created a video to showcase to potential clients. Posted on YouTube, the video was picked up by mainstream viewers and went viral. Since then, Le Petit Chef has stumbled its way onto tables worldwide in over 50 countries and even travels the world with Celebrity Cruises. 

The little guy finally made its way into Canada at Jokers Theatre and Comedy Club in Richmond Hill, where an intimate room hosts the dinner with two to three seating daily. At $129.99 (plus taxes and gratuities) for a 5-course meal, it’s probably not something you’ll visit regularly. Still, it is an interesting technology to experience and something you can bring children to as well – note, they suggest children be 6 or older and offer a ‘Junior Chef’ menu ($64.99) for those 10 and under. 

Without giving too much away, you enter the space and tables are already set with plates precisely placed for the projection. In case you fidget with the plate, when the animation begins, the video shows you where to move your plate back to. Before each course, a ~3-minute video is shown where Le Petit Chef creates a dish in a slapstick manner and when the projection stops your dish is presented in real life.


Despite having to serve over 30 people in short succession, the dishes were prepared well. The bouillabaisse arrives hot and the tomato saffron broth great to the last spoonful, even though it looked a little watery. Studded with a piece of fish, calamari, shrimps, and a mussel, the squid stood in for the octopus featured in the video, so while not necessarily accurate was close enough. 


It would be nice if Jokers creates something closer to the dish just seen in the video. The little chef throws lettuce leaves onto his caprese salad di bufala, but our plate is leafless, the bulb of fresh buffalo mozzarella simply adorned with wedges of tomato and a basil leaf. Not exactly screaming of a fulsome salad. 


Similarly, Le Petit Chef roasts an entire chicken for the third course, but when the smoked chicken and wild mushroom risotto was served it was merely a mound of rice with miniscule mushrooms to boot. Jokers could easily smoke a handful of chicken breasts and include one or two slices on top of the truffle-laced risotto to really enhance the experience. 


After the first three courses, I was a little worried: the portions were really small, I was already thinking of where we could go afterwards. I recommend Jokers add some easy and inexpensive ingredients to the dishes to make them look a bit more substantial: spinach or arugula for the salad, a piece of toasted baguette with the bouillabaisse, and smoked chicken slices for the risotto. 

Luckily, the filet mignon au poivre was much larger, the palm-sized steak cooked to the requested medium rare and covered with a lovely peppercorn sauce. The main also includes a host of sides with the roasted potato and parsnip purée being a little more substantial. 


Our French meal ended with a sizeable crème brûlée that was superbly done with a silky vanilla custard, a thin sugar crust that easily cracked on impact, and some fresh berries to create a colourful ending. In the end, we all left satisfied but not stuffed.


Indeed, the videos are a little cheesy, but the adults in the room laughed and enjoyed the experience as much as the younger guests. I liked the sense of whimsy created and was even disappointed when Le Petit Chef didn’t make his way back to say goodbye in the wrap-up video. I guess hospitality isn’t the strongest amongst the French. 

It would have also been nice to give something to the children to take home after the meal. Even a small token like a sticker decal would work wonders at enhancing the user experience and could also create word-of-mouth advertising if they’re stuck somewhere prominent. 

With the option of a 6pm or 8pm seating, we opted for an earlier dinner. It worked out well as we were invited to stay for the live-comedy show that was starting in an hour and could skip the normal $25 cover charge – not sure how long this perk will last. The entertainment line-up changes depending on the day, Jokers also features magicians, hypnotists, and live-band karaoke during the week. 

As a plus, for those who are still hungry, you can order more food from Jokers normal menu and the dishes look huge. Just look at the size of my Spanish coffee!


All in all, not a bad way to spend $200 and five hours on a Saturday night. It was a night full of laughs – first with a cartoon chef and afterwards through much racier jokes from local comedians. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Richmond Hill, Canada
 Address: 115 York Boulevard


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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Enigma (Toronto)

Enigma’s 8-course tasting menu is priced smartly: at $230, it’s not an eat-here-every-week affair, yet it isn’t so costly as to become seemingly prohibitive unless phrases like my yacht also escapes your lips (Sushi Masaki Saito, this is directed to you). It’s a place to visit if you are celebrating an occasion or to really unwind, which is where I found myself a couple of days before Christmas. Another year of work was in the rearview mirror and the holidays were about to begin – why not get it started with a bang?

I wanted to give my brain a rest… no more decisions, just feed my body with provisions and provide a few hours of blissful conversation to melt away the stress. It seemed to start in that vein as a warm shot of Enigma’s immune booster was presented at the table. Yet, before we could cheers to good health, a host of decisions had to be made: did we want a juice ($75), cocktail ($130) or wine pairing to go with the meal? Did the occasion need some extra indulgence because we could get a spoon of sturgeon caviar ($80) added into the lobster chawanmushi or have an extra alba truffle dish? Please… just let the table have the lovely warm ginger citrus shot before inundating us with pesky decisions.

Luckily, once the pairing and supplementary questions were out of the way, we didn’t need to decide on anything else, other than what steak knife to use – more on that later. Instead, we were treated to two delicious snacks: a wonderful corn tartlet made from an impossibly thin crispy shell holding a buttery sweet corn espuma studded with popped kernels and other crunchy nutty bits that made me moan; and a chicken skin sandwich piped with a lovely miso-butter mousse. Yum!

What looks like a salad comes next, baked leaves of black cabbage, kale and spinach piled around squash and a smoked foie gras centre. Each bite is rich and oily… much too oily for my taste.

The lovely beetroot tuna cannoli were more up my alley, the sheets of ruby beetroot sandwiching chunks of tuna in a horseradish cream. Or the following kombu poached potato where chunks of soft humble potato were augmented with creamy uni and lovely crispy potato frizzles that made me want to lick the dish.

Of course, the chunks of delicately barely poached through lobster are delicious, but that silky egg of the chawanmushi was the star, each bite filled with so much flavour that made me wonder if this was going to be the peak of the meal.

This was paired with a crispy lobster kromeski, a crispy croquette that was tasty, but nothing compared to the egg, and a seaweed salad that could really benefit from being cut into more manageable bites.

In a gimmicky manner, a box of knives is brought to the table, and we’re asked to select one for the meat courses to come. It’s a strange interlude, perhaps meant to create excitement or a sense of participation. While it wasn’t a distraction I minded, it also didn’t really add much to the meal either and is likely annoying for the two staff members who needs to occupy themselves with the task.

Quite frankly, the following BBQ Iberico pork was so melt-in-your-mouth that I could have cut the coin of loin with a butter knife. It was a sing from the heavens type of dish that makes me appreciate the prized Iberico pig. The white peach salad, XO sauce, and dollops of apple gelee all did an excellent job at complimenting the pork.

Executive Chef Quinton Bennett comes out for the last savoury dish and explains that he uses PEI beef as he loves that the cows are finished with potatoes to give the meat an extra richness. The steak didn’t disappoint, and the accompanying king oyster mushrooms were fantastic dusted with bone marrow and the pickled onion petals such a lovely contrast against the meaty plate. Now that’s a way to finish.

Dessert begins with a plate of fallen leaves made from various juices. It’s a beautiful start, our spoons brimming with crispy textures and sweet flavours that made me wistful that the meal was nearing the end.

A trio of petit four are presented with a lovely wafer cake, citrus gelee, and a really large indulgent chocolate truffle.

All this is to warm us up for the fruit tree, which Chef Quinton cheekily tells us to get our cameras ready to “Instagram the hell out of the dish”. It’s certainly the most photographed dish of the menu, the gleaming red apples just calling out to the picked and eaten. 

Like the first bite of the meal, you’re greeted with a fluffy heavenly cream that’s wrapped around a slightly savoury dill laced salad centre that really works. A fantastic last bite that takes Enigma FOUR days to prepare. Boy did I feel guilty for not taking a few more photos.

To end, tables are given a goody bag for breakfast. My only complaint, and the reason why Enigma did not score a 9 out of 10, is that these takeaway bags are made per couple. If you’re dining with friends (like in our case) and do not live with your dining companion, it makes for an awkward end to the meal.

Enigma, if you’re going to give something away, just make it so that each person gets something to go. Or keep it simple and have everyone leave with just the menu. Either way, the meal was great, why have someone leave on a strange note?

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 23 St. Thomas 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:


Selva (Toronto)


Self-coined as the world’s first immersive, multi-sensory art resto bar, Selva’s accolade is debateable. Indeed, the restaurant is a visually stimulating environment, and I could taste fresh ingredients that might be found in a jungle, but there were other senses missing:

  • What could I smell other than the pungent deep woodsy citrus aroma of the magrud lime that seemed to be part of half of the dishes? Possibly if even a few dishes were served in a cloche encapsulating an aromatic scent or if a powerful broth is poured table-side, it would help emit a smell to add to the sensory experience. At the very least, using diffusers in the non-dining room portions of the restaurant that lets out a “jungle” aroma could check this box.
  • Unless you count the dishes that could be eaten with your hands, there’s not a touch element to Selva.  Maybe they could incorporate this by changing up the cutlery and plates for certain dishes (serving the ceviche on individual leaves, creating savoury cotton candy, or even dehydrating some ingredients so that it becomes an edible handheld vessel). I know, these are all things that are difficult to create, but if you’re going to call yourself multi-sensory…
  • And finally, there weren’t even any sounds that reminded me of being in a jungle, the easiest sense to create. Of course, Selva shouldn’t become a reincarnated Rainforest Café (who is old enough to remember this place?), but even adding noises at the entrance and in the restrooms – the same areas with the diffusing scents - would help.  

This is all to say that Selva is hardly a multi-sensory experience, especially not the first in the world. If anything, my dining experiences at Alinea or even Hutaoli’s Markham location would be way more multi-sensory. Nonetheless, Selva is still a lovely environment to dine in: there’s something about the brightly coloured foliage hanging from the ceiling and beautifully presented dishes that puts you in a good mood. And the gorgeous artwork all over the restaurant’s walls, ceiling, and floor by Clandestinos Art is certainly something to behold. Would it be strange to commission a replica in my dining room?

It pains me to say this, as I deeply respect Chef Nuit and love her other restaurants, but Selva’s menu needs an overhaul. The best dish of night, unanimously agreed upon at our table, was the eggplant dip ($18 plus an extra $6 for the guacamole). It was such a nice thick consistency, but also flavoured in an interesting manner with shrimp paste (?) and chili so there’s an umami spiciness to the meaty vegetable. Even the shredded mint on top was a great touch. On the other hand, the guacamole is run-of-the-mill and could benefit from a twist to make it special, whether it be the addition of finely chopped chilis or Thai herbs. All in all, the dips are beautifully presented with an array of fresh vegetables and warm crispy tortillas. In retrospect, I would have happily had the entire platter to myself as a meal.

Perhaps I’d add on the yellowfin tuna ceviche ($18) as a starter to get the sole smell element once we squeezed the magrud lime and that distinctive aroma engulfed the table. Plus, it’s a decent dish with the delicate soft tuna contrasted with plenty of crunchy ingredients (roasted peanuts, grilled corn, celery, pickled onion) and slices of red serrano chili adding a light spice. If anything, the ceviche could use a bit more salt and oil to balance out all the acidity.

The meal starts to go downhill from here… literally as each successive dish is presented it’s worse than the one before. The grilled sea bream ($36) is still fine: while it could be taken off the grill sooner to keep the flesh moister, the skin had a lovely crispy texture. The lemongrass sandwiched in the middle of the fish was a great start, but surprisingly didn’t really diffuse any flavours into the flesh. Once we added pieces of pickled chayote, onion, and a dash of yellow pepper sauce the flavours improved, but the fish could still benefit from more salt. Who knows, maybe the sea bream was actually seasoned perfectly, and I just couldn’t taste it over all the raw garlic used in the tomato rice. Wow is this garlicky, beware to people who are on dates.

In fact, the tomato rice would go better with the grilled Denver steak ($30), which by itself is forgettable. The thin under-blade cut of beef was overcooked, but thankfully due to the marbling remained tender. It just doesn’t have a lot of flavour: like the fish, it could be seasoned more, and the sriracha-looking condiment was a sweet pepper sauce that doesn’t really add anything to the steak. If the beef was served over a bed of tomato rice perhaps the garlic in the grains would give it a punch of flavour and the beef’s fat and juices mellow out the rice. At the very least, I’d replace the sweet pepper sauce with a more traditional chimichurri, perhaps made from the leaves from the baby radishes and carrots used in the dip platter, a bit of Thai basil, and bird’s eye chili for a Chef Nuit inspired touch.

The corn fritters ($14) were shaped too small so they resembled popcorn corn versus a fritter and could have benefited from being drained longer so it wasn’t as oily. If the batter truly incorporated red curry paste and lime leaf, the ratio of spices to flour needs to increase as it didn’t taste like much. In fact, we really couldn’t even taste the corn.

Yet, the fritters were still better the fried calamari ($18), which I couldn’t stomach more than two pieces. Firstly, the sweet and sour sauce covering the bottom of the plate, rather than being served on the side, meant the sesame batter fell off the calamari leaving us with chunks of syrupy batter and naked squid. The calamari were also cut much too small so without serving spoons it was difficult to pick up with a fork.

In general, I’m surprised a restaurant that creates a family-style menu doesn’t include sharing utensils with their dishes. I finally asked for an extra spoon and fork with the fish, but these were cleared away with the sea bream and it seemed like a pain to ask for new ones with each dish. If you’re serving a sharing menu, especially under COVID conditions, providing tables with proper serving utensils is key. Moreover, swapping out the plates after every few dishes would be even better as by the end of the meal those small plates were messy.

And the worst dish of the night was also the last – talk about not ending with a bang. The shrimp in the tacos ($46 for 6 servings) were over done and rubbery and the amount of salsa, guacamole and red pepper sauce that arrive for six tacos is comical, there was enough for two tacos at best. Especially when paired with corn tortillas, which are such dry wrappers that need a lot of sauce and ingredients to stand up to the rich earthy corn flavour. In retrospect, had I known there was a lack of condiments, I would have asked for the tacos to be served with the lettuce instead.

We all grumbled over the make-your-own factor of the dish… did we seriously just spend $46 for a Chilli’s experience? Maybe this is meant to be the “immersive” factor where you feel like you’re foraging the ingredients to create your own meal, but the dish really doesn’t work in a dark restaurant where we could hardly what’s on the plate – boy did I feel old having to whip out a phone to see all the garnishes. Maybe if our table had more than one tealight in a wax-stained holder (that we had to request) we could have seen better. Selva, if you’re going to keep serving these tacos, please just make them for the table. Give me those pre-made tacos in an accordion metal holder any day.

On top of the lack of sauce and lighting, without any tongs it was impossible to pick up the julienned cabbage, lettuce, chayote, mango, red bell peppers and onion with a fork. We eventually had to abandon the unsanitary mass of forks diving into the same plate and use our hands instead. If you’re afraid of germs or eating with people you’re not close with, skip this dish. On second thought, even if you’re eating with your partner who’d you gladly swap spit with, I’d skip the tacos.

So, what made us stay after dinner for another three hours and close the place down? What Selva has going for it is their great vibe and pleasant service – Alexa came by to check on us frequently and those cocktails just seem to keep flowing. Maybe we should have started with shot and six drinks. Afterwards, all inhibitions would disappear, and I’d dive into each dish like a cave person. Final verdict of Selva: it’s a perfect place for drinks and dip but not for dinner.


Overall mark - 5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 221 Richmond Street West


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: