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

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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


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:




Yukashi Japanese Cuisine (Toronto)


In my youth, all-you-can-eat and chicken teriyaki was what came to mind when thinking of Japanese cuisine. Boy, have things changed. Now, the word that I associate with Japanese food is omakase – the concept of leaving it to the Chef to decide what to eat.

Generally, omakase menus aren’t the most wallet friendly. At Yukashi, while still pricey, they attempt to cater to different price points with 4-course ($75), 9-course ($150), and the one-week advanced notice Yukashi menu ($300+). There’s even a la carte options for those who don’t want to leave their taste buds to chance.


Eight stools flank the bar and kitchen area. These seats around the chef’s table are definitely the ones to try to reserve. Dinner starts with Chef Daisuke Izutsu grating wasabi, a noiseless affair until he breaks the silence and tells us we’re being too quiet. He gets us chatting and warmed up by passing around a miniature version of the grater so we can try to guess what it’s made from (inside out shark skin, if you want to sound knowledgeable).

Meanwhile, Chef Jin Lee tinkers in the kitchen. He doesn’t speak to the group, but is coordinating the staff within to make sure the hot dishes arrive at a well-timed pace.  Like the warm deep-fried sesame tofu appetizer that has a chewy soft consistency like mochi, but nutty and savoury. Flavoured with a thick fish sauce, it’s then topped with yuzu zest and wasabi to give it a fresh element.


Their “soup” course is actually a hearty chawanmushi, the egg custard surrounding slices of charred mochi and sweet clams so you’re greeted with different flavours with every bite. The pea sauce covering everything was a nice spring element but could be saltier, especially when the crab paste dumpling was also fairly neutral. Nonetheless, it was a tasty dish.


If you’ve been to other omakase restaurants in Toronto, generally sashimi and sushi will follow to finish off the menu. At Yukashi, they serve kaiseki cuisine so while you receive raw fish, there’s not an ounce of grain accompanying it. Kaiseki strives to use seasonal ingredients to create dishes with different textures and also highlights its natural flavours. Above all, it’s recognized for beautiful plating where an ingredient’s colours are used to create dishes that could be considered an art form.


The otsukuri embodied the concept perfectly where an array of fishes were dotted across the plate and combined with painstakingly slivered and twirled garnishes. While it comes with a dish of sweet soy, there’s also ground salt, yuzu zest, juicy seeds (to calm down the soy’s saltiness), and a host of other items to flavour the seafood.

Three fish are included: the famed otoro or cubes of fatty tuna that’s best described as sushi butter; a chewy red snapper; and the most interesting addition… smoked yellow tail. Cooked over a warayaki stove that uses smouldering straw, the yellow tail smells like a cigarette butt and even tastes a little like tobacco. While the flavours can be a bit overpowering (try it last), it’s really different from other fishes offered. In lieu of ginger, there are potato stems that have a juicy spongy texture and acts as a palette cleanser.


After having the otoro, their signature dish pushed my richness quotient to its limit. The uni niku starts with slices of Mizayaki wagyu: one that’s fattier so it simply melts and a relatively leaner slice that’s more flavourful. If it weren’t enough, the wagyu is then topped with uni (the creamy insides of a sea urchin) and foie gras. It all gets a good torching so that the fats heat up and meld together. Then try your best to wrap the glistening tower inside half a shiso leaf, and eat.


Chef Izutsu notes he got the idea for the signature dish when thinking of something that would have decadent elements that work together or alone. Indeed, it smelled amazing and if you like really really rich items you’re in for a treat. I’m glad there were only two slices … anymore and I’m not sure my stomach could handle all that fat. 

After having the sashimi platter, I thought we already had the “fish dish”, but then another intricately assembled seafood platter arrives, even prettier than the otsukuri. They call this the harvest plate and there’s so much to taste and discover: a cold seafood medley that’s almost like a ceviche except flavoured with a cherry blossom and sake (?) foam; marinated shrimp; roasted fish; deep fried bamboo shoot; lotus root; and skinned tomato. It’s certainly gorgeous to look at, but merely tastes okay as each element had to be prepared ahead of time so isn’t at its peak.


Between the seafood and meat dish, the chef serves the amuse bouche - monk fish liver with pickled radish. While it looks like it would be another heavy item, the pickled radish helped to balance the warm liver that tasted like a lighter foie gras. A good bridging bite.


In seeing the meat dish, I had high hopes that it would be amazing. Something that contains sakura sticky rice, duck, and egg yolk butter… what?! In reality, it sounds better than it tastes. We’re instructed to “break” the egg yolk butter into everything and mix it up. I abstained and broke off pieces and mixed it in every bite. This was a good call as the yolk really didn’t taste like much and the oiliness would have been too much. Meanwhile, although the duck had nice flavours and was tender, I was a bit disappointed that it was so cooked through that the texture resembled beef.


While you usually think of tempura as items dunked in a thick batter, at Yukashi it’s an intricate roll made from tile fish, shrimp, tofu skin and shiso. While it’s deep fried, it’s not battered so you end up with a relatively light dish, especially with the fruit sauce that accompanies it. Although I was expecting something savoury and crunchy, in hindsight, after all the heavier dishes proceeding the tempura, it was nice to have something delicate. 


Likely the simplest dish of the evening, the rice and dashi soup was also my favourite. I really needed that umami-filled hot broth that when mixed with the rice created a congee-like bowl. Restrained elements of kelp, seaweed and salmon roe kept it hearty and humble. I could have used another bowl.


In preparation for dessert, Chef Izutsu brings out what looks like a large cantaloupe. After breaking through the rough exterior, the fruit is pale green, a shade lighter than honeydew. I had my doubts … fruit for dessert? How boring. But then, I’ve never heard of a muskmelon.


Yukashi flies them in from the Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan, where these fruits are so coveted that people wait for hours and pay upwards of ¥16,000 (or about $200 Canadian dollars) a fruit! They command this price as all the small buds are removed at the beginning of the season so that each vine only grows one melon. All the nutrients and resources are directed into one fruit to create the juiciest and sweetest melon I’ve ever had … so maybe melon is better than red bean mochi ice cream.

Back to why I think scoring one of the eight seats around the chef’s table is important – it’s all about the experience. There are some delicious dishes at Yukashi, but there are also others that are pretty to look at but tastes satisfactory. So, what really made the night a success was being able to chat with Chef Izutsu. 


While prepping he’s serious and zoned in. Afterwards, a playful side comes out and he loves to chat (if you’re a chef, let him know as he’ll want to visit your restaurant). It's also a shared event with the other guests sitting around the bar – whether it’s seeing their reaction to dishes or eavesdropping on their conversation with the Chef. The experience is why omakase is now a phrase that elicit excitement for me. 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 643A Mount 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!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this: