Showing posts with label strawberry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label strawberry. Show all posts

Actinolite (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 971 Ossington Avenue
Type of Meal: Dinner

Actinolite is what I'd imagine Noma to be like - except with a focus on Canadian ingredients and much friendlier on the wallet. Like many restaurants they use local suppliers but gone one step further by starting their own garden. Controlling their food source allows them to strive for peak freshness by picking ingredients right before serving. What they don't grow and buy, they forage from the town of Actinolite (as noted on their website). Somehow knowing that their forging happens outside of the city was a relief as the thought of eating vegetation out of the Don River (which may be perfectly safe) was a bit alarming. 

There are two menus available, the 7-course Chef ($85) or a 4-course summary ($55). The summary menu offers larger plate sizes, so you won’t be starving afterwards, but does mean you’ll miss three of the dishes. During our dinner summary diners would have missed out on the radish, squid and egg ones - the biggest loss being the egg dish which was a favourite of my husband and I. Wine pairings are an additional $65 and $40, for the Chef and summary menus, respectively.

We decided to go with the Chef’s menu which true to form was seven courses. There are no amuse dishes at Actinolite, just a slice of sourdough bread with olive oil. At least it's really good sourdough; crunchy exterior, soft interior and enough salt within the dough that you could eat it plain. 

The first radish and carrots course was supposed to resemble a garden with halved vegetables served with soil butter, crunchy grass salt and other crunchy bits. Soil appears to be the up and coming ingredient that's growing in popularity worldwide and noted for its mineral properties. Luckily, at Actinolite the soil is incorporated with whipped butter and light tasting, so much so that it's unclear if real soil is actually used as there was no grittiness at all. 

Next came four spears of the most scrumptiously grilled asparagus. We were advised it was cooked on a Big Green Egg, which my husband proceeded to explain is one of the best grills for temperature precision and its smoking properties. The asparagus was cooked through and hot yet still crunchy with a light smoky flavour. Served with a nettle puree (a relatively neutral flavour), cold thick sour cream and spruce flowers this was a wonderful dish.

Our waitress warned us the squid was chewy, and she certainly wasn’t wrong as I gnawed on it for a while. Undeniably, the squid’s texture wasn’t my favourite and personally would have preferred the addition of shrimp and fish so that it’d be more of a seafood salad and less rubbery. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a total miss as having been marinated in a tart vinaigrette and served cold the dish was refreshing. With juniper berries, olive oil and a flavourful wild ginger gelee we found it almost acted as a palette cleanser.

Eggs are a staple ingredient but when prepared well can also be luxurious. For this dish, Actinolite poached the egg slowly so that it arrives gooey and hot in the middle. Topped with light shavings of summer truffle (a very delicate flavour) and pops of onion from the chive blossoms it was a lovely egg. Simple wilted spinach surrounded it and helped mop up every drop of warm yolk that leaked out.

The halibut was perfectly cooked with a beautiful golden crust and tender meaty interior. I did find the watercress puree on the bottom overwhelming bitter and was taken aback at first. Luckily, it was served to the side so I could lift the fish off and enjoy the halibut by itself. An ingredient I’m starting to get tired of is foam; yes, it’s decorative but in most cases adds little to the dish itself. At Actinolite their foam was made with fish stock and what a genius idea as it actually complimented the fish quite well. Various sprigs of minty herbs accompanied the fish and although I appreciate the naturalness would have preferred a hot cooked vegetable (more of the delicious wilted spinach would have been better).

Our last savoury dish of the night was sweetbread or the sheep’s thymus (neck/throat gland). Lightly floured and pan fried the sweetbread was fairly good and really just tastes like tender dark chicken meat. Sitting on a bed of wilted greens and topped with these tart berries the dish was an interesting mix of sour and salty flavours, with the berries cutting the fattiness of the sweetbread.

To end, a dish of fresh strawberries with cheese curds – a seemingly healthier version of strawberries and cream. With sweet drizzles of elderflower syrup and a delicious hay dust, despite its simple presentation, this was a satisfying dessert. Every speck of dust, drop of syrup and crumble of curd was wiped up with the plump sweet strawberries by the end!

Actinolite’s menu is so different from what you’ll find elsewhere in the city. Dishes are simply presented allowing the ingredients themselves to be showcased and patrons to enjoy their natural tastes. Throughout the meal so many different flavour were presented; sour, bitter, sweet and salty all represented at different times. But, what struck me most was how perfectly Chef Cournoyer seasons everything; each element was salted (for my taste) to the right strength to compliment the other ingredients.

In addition, you still feel good after all seven courses – the dishes felt healthy and light so I didn’t get a gluttonous feeling afterwards. It’s also a good choices for vegetarians as so many dishes featured non-meat ingredients prominently already.

With its small dining room and friendly dressed down staff the restaurant has a laid back atmosphere. It was comfortable and made me feel like I was eating in the countryside despite the busy Ossington street just outside the window. Do yourself a favour and try it once, you may just fall in love with all the tastes fresh produce has to offer.

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - 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!