Showing posts with label tasting menu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tasting menu. Show all posts

Minami (Vancouver)


Prior to my meal at Minami, I did realize it was the sister restaurant of Miku. What I discovered that evening was that the restaurants were named after the daughters of the owner – is he the father-of-the-year or what?

While Miku is known for their flame-licking aburi creations, Minami’s inventiveness goes beyond the blowtorch and into how dishes are visually presented. We decided to see the restaurant in action with their Minami Shokai tasting menu ($150) and a premium sake flight ($35), which we hoped would sip well with all the food.

Slices of miso duck arrive laid on a slightly stale and hard puff pastry, which does little to add to the dish other than make it look more substantial. The duck breast, just cooked through, was a lovely balance of meat & fat and the miso just enough to give it flavour. It’s an interesting choice to start with such a strong protein, yet when paired with fruits helps lighten the dish.

Traditions are certainly thrown out the window as sushi comes before sashimi, six eye-catching pieces of it. The lovely creations take time to prepare, so the rice arrives too cold (and could benefit from more vinegar). I guess you don’t go to Minami for the rice, instead the gold leaf that caps the chu toro, a delicious and lovely show piece.

Personally, I prefer the simpler sushi: the bit of yuzu jelly and wasabi used with the kani helped bring out the crab’s natural flavours without too much fuss; and while the kinmedai was a bit chewy the fish was nonetheless refreshing against some of the heavier pieces.

Minami should consider blowtorching the wagyu tableside as it’s not the greatest cold and I’d skip the uni unless it’s a great quality as it added a slight metallic taste to the sushi. While sampling the surf and turf roll, all I could taste was orange and seaweed so sadly neither of the main elements really shone. Luckily, the bite of salmon maki helped end the dish on a higher note.

Their saikyo-miso sakekasu (try saying that three times fast) marinated sablefish was divine and I liked that other than a dollop of caviar they left the fish sauceless. I’d suggest having the fish first and leaving the “sides” until the end - the honey glazed endive goes nicely with the dish, while the way too oily shiso tempura does not.

You must love the presentation of the sashimi as the billowing dry ice flows around all the fish. Luckily, the seafood was fresh as well and the tuna always a lovely treat. Minami ever so briefly chars the cuttlefish before adding the pops of juicy roe and while this goes fine with soy sauce it would excel with a thicker sauce. Finally, I liked the fresh sweet spot prawn and their use of the entire shrimp as the deep-fried head was crispy as heck and the perfect nibble to end.

The A5 Japanese wagyu stole the show! While it could have been seasoned a little less, the wagyu was so buttery and decadent that I didn’t want the bites to end. Luckily, Minami isn’t stingy with the prized beef, you receive a decent quantity of steak and quite a few sides as well - a lovely crispy potato pave (layers of potato baked) and roasted heirloom carrots.

As a palate cleanser we are brought a plum sorbet popsicle with tart sparkling water… I had the sorbet but skipped the much too fizzy water, give me sake any day.

Despite detesting Bounty bars, the coconut mousse with chocolate was a lot better than I expected. Placed into an impossibly thin chocolate shell, the dessert certainly looked like a coconut and the light mouse and dark chocolate went rather nicely together.

Interesting elements like the house-made coconut noodles were delicious and I could see them using them in a dessert ramen, which could tie-in the Japanese tradition of ending tasting menus with a bowl of noodles. Note to chef: feel free to borrow this idea!

Another reason to visit Minami is their awesome location in Yaletown. What an ideal street to be on with the all the bars and patios, a great way to start and/or end the meal. Whatever happens, when you’re going for the shokai experience, go big or go home. 


Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Vancouver, Canada
 Address: 1118 Mainland 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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Richmond Station's Chef Menu (Toronto)

There’s no better way to get into the mind of a restaurant than through their chef’s menu. At Richmond Station, every two weeks, their chefs create a tasting menu ($120) with an optional beverage pairing ($75) that tests ideas in progress (some finding a permanent home on the a la carte menu) and others simply showcasing the amazing ingredients available.

Their late July menu started us off with a selection of canapés, a great way to begin so diners have something to nibble on while waiting for the main attractions to arrive. We start with the salmon tart filled with finely chopped salmon, onion, and dill aioli creating a fresh savoury bite. The pastry has a soft crispiness that’s a little unexpected – it tastes like thinly compressed shortbread. The fish was great, but the shell made me ponder.

Luckily, I didn’t have to think for long as my mind was blown by the buttermilk oyster. It is SO good! What a genius idea to use buttermilk and herb oil as the flavouring – the creaminess combines wonderfully with the silky briny oyster, while still having a touch of acid. Ultimately, it allows the oyster to finish sweeter. Move over red onion mignonette, let’s hope buttermilk rains supreme.  

Our server suggests we follow the oyster with the thick tomato bisque, which was fine but not nearly as great as the oyster. Be sure to dig to the bottom of the teacup, that’s where you’ll find pieces of Parmesan crisps that add a salty hit to the soup.

Following orders, we sample the profiterole last as its sweet and salty filling (perhaps a liver mousse with maple syrup?) brings an almost dessert-like finish to the canapés. Personally, I think Richmond Station should consider including one of these with the bill, in lieu of the typical chocolate (the restaurant does put a sweet and salty spin on the mignonettes), as it’s unexpected and ends the meal on a lighter note.

It’s no surprise that the summer menu features a host of seafood: the starter, a scallop crudo, takes a fresh clean scallop and adds bits of radish to enhance the soft shellfish. I love the diced pickled jalapeño that add an unexpected hint of spice, which is calmed by the lime crème fraiche. I’ve always associated Richmond Station with meat (likely because of their famous burger), but this menu shows they do seafood well.

We’re advised the summer squash salad is created from things grown in their garden – barely cooked rounds of zucchini and sweet, peeled tomatoes sitting on a surprisingly rich squash purée that’s spiced with miso. Somehow, they created a feeling of having a “warm” salad without raising the temperature.

The black sea bass was steamed to perfection and the mound of mushroom foam, once mixed with the vermouth cream, creates a comforting cream of mushroom taste – an unexpected and enjoyable twist. While the dish could have become heavy, once you pop one of the Saltspring Island mussels into your mouth, the acidic bite resets the taste buds.

In terms of food, the only slight slip on the menu was the honey-glazed Muscovy duck. While it was cooked well and had great flavours, our piece had a chewy silvery bit running through the meat. Since the duck was left as a larger piece (likely to ensure it stays warmer), that grizzly flaw made it difficult to cut thinly and made for a chewy bite.

My recommendation, if there is a tell-tale silvery sign after cutting into the duck, is for the kitchen to proceed to slice the breast into thin slices… even at the detriment of the meat arriving cooler than normal. In this case, perhaps pour the au jus from a hot vessel tableside to bring heat back into the dish? It’s just a shame when you can’t enjoy the duck to it’s fullest because you have a mound in your mouth that you’re chewing through like Bubblicious.

Cheers to the duck sausage, which was delicious, especially when mixed with a bit of creamed Swiss chard, chanterelle mushrooms, and sour cherry jus.

Richmond Station was smart to serve their pillowy soft bread with the duck, so diners don’t fill-up on the warm milky creation. Normally, I would have devoured both, but by the end of the meal I could only have one. In hindsight, I should have skipped the cup of tomato soup to save room for the roll.

Dessert brought us a custardy vanilla panna cotta topped with tart stewed gooseberries, berry sorbet, and meringue pieces. Like many of the other dishes, Richmond Station seems to always like to feature at least two flavours – in this case sweet and sour – to keep every bite interesting.

The petit fours bring the meal full circle with a fruit tart made with the same crust as the salmon… yes, I still remembered the shortbread like shell by the end of the meal, and it works better for a sweet.  

While the food was a hit, service could improve with two slight adjustments:

  • Richmond Station’s cozy upstairs dining room doesn’t make it easy to hear people – especially when they are wearing a mask. I’d recommend having the chef remove their mask when explaining the dish or letting the maskless servers do the talking, as I could only catch every third word of the explanation and didn’t have the heart to keep asking them to repeat themselves.
  • If need be, slow down the food service to give the front-of-the-house enough time to do their part. For example, we had to follow-up on our drinks that hadn’t arrived by the time the canapes were presented – champagne goes so well with oysters that it would be a shame not to have them together. And there was an instance where a dish was presented before the cutlery was set – to their credit, the chef noticed right after explaining the dish and went to get the cutlery… at the same time our server arrived to lay it out. I get it, there’s a staffing shortage so these things will happen. Perhaps, slowing down the pace of how quickly dishes are coming out will give servers (especially new and inexperienced ones) more time to complete all their prep work.

At least bill settlements are kept simple. Richmond Station’s prices already includes gratuities, so when you ask for the check, they just add on taxes. The pay machine arrives with the total inputted and ready to tap. So, finalizing the transaction is simply a snap. Don’t worry, I’ll stop doing rhymes now. 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1 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!

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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


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!

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Quatrefoil (Dundas)


For my husband and I, each summer brings a week (at least) of staycation, where we take time off work and spend it exploring Toronto and its surrounding cities. Any locality that’s a 2 hour drive or less is fair game for a visit and after four years there’s still plenty of places to see.

Hamilton and its surrounding neighbours have been a favourite haunt. A typical outing consists of driving for an hour, hiking through beautiful scenery to stretch our legs, changing as discretely as possible in the car, strolling through a quaint town, and having a lovely meal to cap off the day.

August 2019 brought us to Dundas, Ontario and dinner at Quatrefoil. Their town is made for the eco-conscious with numerous stores selling sustainable and earth-friendly products (I found some great reusable produce bags for grocery shopping).  The end of the walk lead us to a quiet side street and a house that’s morphed into a restaurant. While the outside is a historical home, the dining room looks rather modern, complete with Instagram friendly white marble table tops.

On Fridays they offer a five course tasting menu ($72 a person) with wine pairings (additional $55). Like traditional meals, it starts off with an amuse bouche, a portion of braised veal cheek situated on a light tapioca cracker with dollops of crème fraiche. It’s a tasty bite, but a tad salty even with the tangy yoghurt.  


Followed by a great selection of bread including brown sugar pumpernickel (great combination), chewy French bread, oily poppy seed puff pastry, and a decent cheese and chive puff. It’s an enticing place and I had to try a bit of everything.


Quatrefoil presents beautiful plates. The seared sea scallop arrived with a lovely golden crust and while it was starting to split, the centre was cooked perfectly remaining tender and sweet. The buttery sauce was lightened with strawberry vinaigrette and the dish kept fresh with sweet spring peas and crunchy fennel. It paired wonderfully with the Chablis.


For a sweet and savoury course, I rather enjoyed the compressed cantaloupe salad. The melon was squeezed until the juices are removed so you get its sweet essence but it doesn’t overwhelm the other elements. It went nicely with the creamy whipped ricotta and the garlicky pesto and arugula keeps the dish savoury. It’s all topped with slices of summer truffle – eat these with the ricotta as with the strong pesto its mild flavours become lost.


The apex of the night was the Arctic char where the fish’s meat was flakey and tender but the skin could be a touch crispier. Paired with a tomato vinaigrette – a popular choice - at Quatrefoil it’s seasoned beautifully so you get a fresh tomato jus that’s also flavourful. The warm quinoa base acted as a great side.


Sadly, the last half of the meal is where the menu starts to falter. Tenderloin, when left in a longer cut, can be finicky to work with given it’s thicker in the middle and tapers off at the end. This leaves the thickest part of the steak arriving medium rare while the rest of it was really overdone – the heated plate probably didn’t help.


Without a proper steak knife, cutting through the thinner portions was difficult. Yet, the passable beef aside, the rest of the dish was tasty – the red wine and shallot jus lovely and slightly thickened so it clings to the meat. All the accompaniments were also great: meaty maitake mushroom, crispy broccolini, and the scrumptious potato and cheese croquette… it was the highlight of the dish.


The strawberry crémeux looks pretty but is a really sad dessert. Our waitress takes a fairly long time explaining all the individual sorbets (yogurt cheesecake, strawberry, and strawberry cream) and describes the dish as having an olive oil cake. It took me a while to realize that this “cake” was actually the crumb that propped up the decorative leaf.


I’m done with the deconstructed dessert and wish the preparation would just go away. If this is meant to be a trio of sorbets than give a larger scoop of each and call it that. Meanwhile, if this is meant to be a cake than just create a cake. As it stands, the meagre portions and laying each element out on a dish just seems like a lazy excuse to not employ a proper pastry chef.

Sweets are definitely not Quatrefoil’s forte, even the final bites were a letdown: the cappuccino macron too sweet and while the dark chocolate and strawberry truffle had promise (well balanced flavours and good quality chocolate) the shell was too thick.



Nonetheless, the friendly service and easy going pace of the dinner is what makes dining at Quatrefoil a treat. They were also accommodating, allowing me to get half a wine pairing so that I could have a taste with every dish without falling asleep on the hour drive home.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Dundas, Canada
 Address: 16 Sydenham 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: