Monday, November 9, 2009

Canoe, Toronto ON Canada

Read a list of the restaurant “who’s who” in Toronto and you’re certain to find at least one reference to the Oliver & Bonacini family of restaurants – and if that list is one of fine dining you’re likely to find Canoe at or near the very top of the list. Seated very high indeed, on the 54th floor of the Dominion Bank Tower (Bymark - my dinner 2 nights prior is located in the lowest floor,) and offering a lunch service throughout the week I knew I’d be making my way to Canoe at some point during my visit and fortuitously my friend was able to take the day off to join me. Calling to make reservations I requested a window seat for 1:30 and was told “absolutely” – intrigued by the menu I also asked if it would be possible to perhaps order something off the dinner menu during lunch – “not a problem at all.”

Arriving 15 minutes before our reservation and making our way up the speedy elevator to the 54th floor the restaurant was easily accessible and abuzz with a sort of energy that one doesn’t often see at lunch – actually, every single seat in the house was full, some with business folks and some far more casual. Browsing around I have to say I was astounded by the large windows and the view – the CN Tower, the ACC, Skydome, everything was so close and visible. Greeted promptly by our server, Greg, we were handed menus and a wine list while our waters were filled – a simple request of the dinner menu produced results only moments later with the caveat that he’d have to ask the kitchen before guaranteeing any orders off the later menu.

Left to browse the scenery and the menu for a short time we were faced with some tough decisions – aside from the fact that I don’t eat beef there wasn’t a single item on the menu that didn’t sound impressive – and my dining companion loves beef, so even that wasn’t overlooked. A short while passed before Greg returned to answer any questions and to see if we wanted anything besides water to drink. After a couple simple questions were fielded we each ordered two dishes with the likelihood of adding a third – a decision we both later decided to act on thus ending up with a total of six savories. Despite the busyness of the restaurant I will note that I found Greg to be the perfect “Casual professional” server – around when needed, gregarious and friendly, full of knowledge and suggestions – on par with servers at any of the Keller establishments stateside (my personal standards for great service.)

Kicking things off we were brought a basket of breads along with an impressive chickpea and sweet pea spread – no butter. Finding this quite interesting we delved into the three bread selections – a crispy white with plenty of spring to the interior, a hearty whole wheat that was toothy without being tough, and a beautiful walnut and cinnamon option. Tasting the spread first on its own, then on the bread I was struck by the impressive manner in which the sugar of the sweet peas complimented the nutty flavors of the chickpeas – almost a sweetened hummus in essence and definitely justifying a second bread basket.

Our first round of food arrived next with my friend receiving the “Mushroom Soup - no creme, no butter” and myself the Paillotte de Chevre with Walnut and Honey. Tasting only a bite of the Mushroom soup but listening to Heather ooh and ah about it with each bite we inquired how exactly this porridge-esque concoction was made and we were told that it was essentially a mushroom stock that they use for some of their other sauces with a puree of marinated pan seared mushrooms blended in. Thick, succulent – the very essence of the mushroom. My option was certainly a more heavy choice and featured thick round of ashy yet unctuous cheese similar to Humboldt Fog atop a crispy piece of cracker crust and topped with a single almond and lavender honey. Served warm and slightly melting the flavors of this dish melded flawlessly while the addition of the frisee, beets, and flowers served to add a vegetal component (and great visual appeal) to the dish.

Arriving next (shortly after that second basket of bread) our next course consisted of Applewood Smoked Duck Breast with Lingonberries, Salsify, and Spiced Walnuts for my friend and the Foie Gras with Sunflower Root, Pumpkin Muffin, and Walnut Pickle for myself. Taking only a single bite of my friend’s duck and salsify I will say that the rare meat was delicious and she very much enjoyed the dish. On my side, the foie was a beautifully cleaned piece - albeit small for the price – and the accompanying components were interesting to say the least. Crisp and woodsy the Sunflower Root was a nice balance in texture while the balsamic pickled walnut was the very definition of savory. Small and sweet the a small piece of baked sweet potato and a pumpkin-pumpkin seed muffin graced the left side of the plate and the whole plate showed a unique progression in flavors from sweet and soft to unctuous and creamy to crunchy and savory.

Our third courses were decided on late but turned out to be our favorites of the afternoon – for my friend the Steak Tartare with Potato Chips and Pepper, Onion, and Yolk and for myself an appetizer from the dinner menu entitled Yarmouth Lobster with Yukon Gnocchi, Crispy Sweetbreads, Creme Fraiche, and Preserved Lemon. As I don’t eat beef flesh I skipped the tartare but was told it was “amazing.” As for my dish – without exaggerating this is probably in my top ten dishes of the year. Flawless potato dumplings with a firm exterior yielding a creamy melt-in-your-mouth center were absolutely laden with fresh butter poached lobster and crispy pan seared sweetbreads while the whole dish was then topped with a creamy sauce of sweetened lemon and tangy crème fraiche. Half expecting the characteristic flavor of the thymus to overwhelm the delicate lobster I actually found that the lemon/crème/chives admixture served to mellow the sweetbreads while drawing forward the lobster’s sweetness. A wonderful take on “surf and turf” featuring two ingredients I’d have never thought to pair – the bite I spared to my friend led her to a resolution to return for a full plate of her own in the future.

After such a sublime meal and great service, Greg’s suggestion to “tempt” us with dessert really didn’t require much effort – we ended up ordering two. Starting first with the Dark Chocolate Truffle Cake with Sour Cherry Compote, Chantilly and Pistachio Ice Cream – it was good. A dark chocolate ganache well tempered in its decadence by the sour poached cherries and creamy Chantilly crème plus a dollop of smooth ice cream that tasted very much like salty Pistachios atop a pistachio cookie crumble – plenty of textures, temperatures, flavors, and nuance – during any other meal I’d have been quite impressed.

The dish that prevented my amazement with the cake was our second dessert – again a contender for top 10 of the year, this time in the sweets category. Sticky Date Pudding, Whisky Sauce, Cherries and Apples, Bacon Toffee Brittle, and Creme Fraiche arrived in a large bowl and really didn’t “look” to be anything special – at first bite however, looks didn’t matter one bit – looking up at Heather I realized she agreed. Steamed through and appearing to be somewhere between a custard and a bread pudding in texture the date flavors simply melted in the mouth while the whisky sauce ascended to the palate creating a flawless blend of spice and heat with the sweetness. Further enhancing the experience were diced pink lady apples and sweetened cherries smoothed out by the crème fraiche. Finally, adding texture was the Toffee – a creamy butterscotch with potent top notes of salt and pork that paired beautifully with the whisky sauce and the pudding both – to call the mélange of flavors well thought out would be the understatement of the year.

Settling our bill and talking a bit more with Greg as the restaurant had cleared out and they began to prepare for dinner service I was thoroughly impressed by his knowledge of the local dining scene and willingness to make recommendations of places both fine and casual – an experienced server who knows more than his own menu can be your best ally when traveling. Stopping for a few pictures of the skyline before leaving to get ready for that night’s Hall of Fame inductions I have to say I definitely “get” the appeal of Canoe and despite the fact that some may consider it to be a bit too “businessy” I personally found every aspect of the execution to be calculated, refined, and full of finesse – if I lived in Toronto this would definitely be my destination to impress out of town guests and on my next visit I fully intend to return for the nightly tasting menu.

School Bakery and Cafe, Toronto ON Canada

Monday breakfast in Toronto is a bit tricky – much like dinner on a Sunday it seems that most places are closed. Having already tried Aunties and Uncles as well as Bonjour Brioche a quick browse of the Toronto e-magazines led me to “School” – a restaurant decidedly far away from my friend’s place on King East, but seemingly worth the trip given the hours, online menu, and my enjoyment of long morning walks in the city. Having eaten plenty the previous day I got up early, showered, and prepared for the 8 mile walk with Toronto’s workday crowd beginning yet another week.

Arriving shortly after 8:30am the restaurant was largely empty with only 4 other groups divided between the two main rooms. Having walked through the rather redundant collection of condos, coffee shops, and gas stations en route I honestly had to wonder how people ever even decided to come to School given its location. Browsing around the small main room I eyed the bakery counter as a tall, thin man yelled from across the room “you can sit anywhere ya like.” Taking a seat in the middle of the dining room I browsed around at the kitschy concept – clocks, apples, chalkboards, bookshelves – and waited nearly 5 minutes before finally deciding to get up and help myself to a menu – a single piece of paper attached to a clipboard.

Browsing the “all week brunch” menu I instantly felt the bait-and-switch at play – the menu was approximately 1/3 the size of the online menu and lacked three of the items I’d considered ordering. What was left on the menu, aside from oddly high prices given the lack of high-end ingredients, was admittedly interesting and as such I decided to sample two of the more unique choices. With my decisions made easily 10 minutes before my sleepy-eyed (and questionably hung over) waiter made his way to my table I picked up a copy of the newspaper and entertained myself by reading about the Leafs, the HHoF inductions, and the game I’d been at the day before.

When my server finally arrived I placed my order for a coffee and two items – the coffee was Illy and was as good as expected – finally, a decent coffee at a brunch spot – unfortunately the selection of artificial sweeteners was “nutrasweet only, bro.” Returning to my newspaper and listening to the awful children-singing-crappy-music soundtrack of the restaurant I next watched my server flirt with a young lady who’d entered only 1 minute ago, filling her coffee eagerly and taking her order for a parfait within 3 minutes of her sitting down.

Waiting only approximately 15 minutes before my pair of dishes was delivered my server brought the dishes to me and asked if I wanted a refill – assenting to this offer I set down my paper and settled in to enjoy. Beginning first with the hot option, Orange Cinnamon French Toast with Valrhona Drizzle I was instantly displeased – the bread was essentially an undercooked (IE, doughy inside) thick white bread with minimal flavor, the oranges were no better than those sold at the local Wal-mart (No-Frills for the Canada crowd,) and there was so little chocolate sauce (note, the menu calls it “sauce” while I prefer drizzle) that I wondered how it could even be counted as an ingredient. After many great breakfasts on previous trips I can undoubtedly state that this was the worst French Toast I’ve had in years.

Fairing somewhat better than the bread was my second dish - Toblerone and Banana with Frozen Nougat. Essentially a whipped caramel-milk parfait topped with perhaps an ounce of Toblerone and 1/4 of a fresh banana the dish ate like a light ice-cream and was plenty sweet. Tasting this early in the meal and being so bored with the “toast” I actually spooned nearly 1/2 of the nougat atop the French toast – the combination of the two, at $18, was actually pretty good – albeit lukewarm.

Thoroughly unimpressed with the service and food I requested another cup of coffee to go and having heard from a friend that their cupcakes were excellent decided to take a chance – selecting a Viva Puff and a Peanut Butter Banana to go. Paying the bill I left a better-than-deserved tip and made my way out to the streets, saving the cupcakes for later. Wandering up to Sonic Boom to pick up a few CDs I’d been eyeing the day before I decided to stop into the Green Beanery for a coffee (an excellent Ethiopian blend) and to try out the cupcakes. While the Peanut Butter Banana was heavy and dull with a frosting that tasted largely of sugar crystals, banana flavoring, and an oiliness reminiscent of Crisco, the Viva Puff was actually quite superb with the fluffy marshmallow topping complimenting the deep chocolate cake well. An additional surprise of the Viva Puff occurred on further mastication when a bite released a large pocket of delicious raspberry filling that made a mess of my hands, but a great memory on my tongue.

Overall I cannot imagine a single intelligent reason why one would go to School for breakfast unless perhaps they were a young female who only wanted a parfait (I mean, can anyone screw up a parfait?) While the cupcake was good and it was nice to finally find a diner/restaurant with good coffee, the service, scene, music, and food was vastly below average and the location obscure at best. While Monday breakfasts in Toronto do appear to be few and far between, I personally think that even Tim Horton’s is a more educated choice than School.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Colborne Lane, Toronto ON Canada

All in all I’m of mixed feelings about “molecular gastronomy.” While the best meal of my entire life was at Alinea and many consider El Buli to be the best restaurant in the world I have to say that I was largely unimpressed by Cantu’s Moto and while the food of Jose Andres was good I imagine it would’ve been better using traditional cooking techniques. Planning out my visit to Toronto I’d heard good things about Colborne Lane and since I was visiting many decidedly “safe” choices during my visit I decided to give the local ‘mg’ outpost a try, it was particularly convenient that unlike many of Toronto’s best they are open on Sundays. Additionally, at $109 for a ten course tasting the menu looked like a veritable bargain and on communication with the restaurant I found event coordinator Allie MacDonald quite pleasant and helpful.

Using my GPS to navigate via automobile to the restaurant I have to admit I’d have never found it otherwise. Tucked away on Colborne Street (not Lane) I was somewhat disappointed that there was no valet and I ended up self parking for $10 at a lot about 200 yards away. Making my way into the restaurant I was amused by the blue lighting (highly reminiscent of Alinea’s violet) but somewhat taken aback when I walked through the doors and found myself at an unattended hostess stand in an empty bar. Approximately 2 minutes passed before the bartender (also the host, busser, and server along with one other individual) greeted me and led me to my seat at a long communal table in the center of the room. With the restaurant less than 1/3 full this evening I didn’t really mind the table but had the place been buzzing and full I must say I’d have not been pleased.

“I understand you were interested in the tasting menu?” stated my server. When I replied to the affirmative I additionally asked to see the menu and asked if the tasting borrowed from the menu – “absolutely” I was assured – and as it turned out every item I received was indeed on the nightly menu (save for one which we’ll get to later.) Browsing the room I have to admit that despite the low lighting the overall feel was quite like Moto – somewhat refined but also edgy. An additional note is that the in-house soundtrack is provided via Ipod playlist and that evening consisted of songs by U2, Alice In Chains, Neko Case, and others – while I heard another pair of diners complain about “this noise” I personally found it quite excellent and haven’t enjoyed music as much in a restaurant since Los Angeles’ Providence – the progressive soundtrack matched the food well, in my opinion.

Filling my water the server asked “Shall we get things underway” and when I consented he disappeared to the downstairs kitchen and reappeared shortly with the nightly bread selection and a dish described as my “amuse from the kitchen.” Beginning with the bread I was served two options –an “air bread” with Pepper and Pumpkin Seed and a buttery brioche paired with whipped cow’s butter. Crispy and light with salty seeds contrasting the spicy tang of the pepper spread I quite liked the air bread, though a single stick was hardly enough and I had to ask for more when the server swept away my plate without asking if I wanted a refill. The brioche was largely unmemorable on its own and the butter, albeit light, was nothing to write home about.

The “amuse” was titled Aloe Vera - winter squash + black garlic + pickled mustard seed + sage and consisted of a frozen gel of squash puree on a stick accompanied with a sweet blend of spices that largely led the dish to taste “Italian” in essence – sweet and creamy with a bit of spice, yet pungent with a long lasting effect on the palate. A good way to start things off and a pleasant way to open the senses to the upcoming and more progressive tastes.

The next dish delivered was entitled Fluke Sashimi - yuzu + cauliflower + avocado + black sesame and consisted of a checkerboard of thinly sliced fresh fluke topped with multiple flavors including sour yuzu, creamy avocado, crispy nori and cauliflower, and spicy sesame. Akin to some of the textures at Laurent Gras’ L20 in Chicago this dish was clearly intended to explore the manner in which different ingredients can highlight different flavors of a mild fish and it worked quite well – much like the amuse this dish was well placed in the menu and seemed a very logical progression in the tasting.

Scallop - clotted coconut + sweet chili dressing + citrus fruit + nitro crème fraiche arrived next and proved to be the first “wow” moment of the evening. A single large scallop anchored this dish and was absolutely flawlessly prepared – caramelized on the outside, raw at the center, fresh and sweet as can be. Accompanying the scallop was a dollop of sweet and creamy coconut cream atop a pile of tangerines and grapefruit, dehydrated coconut foam flanking the dies, a sweet and mildly spicy dressing, and small balls of liquid nitrogen frozen crème fraiche. Despite using starkly contrasting flavors and textures this dish was absolutely brilliant and no component went overshadowed while each contributed to highlighting the quality of the scallop. Most impressive I found that the combination of the two forms of coconut plus the citrus fruits created a taste and mouth feel similar to a “floating island” meringue.

Arriving next on the menu was a somewhat heavy dish, but a great one none the less. Titled Aged Cheddar Soup - brown butter + coriander sprouts + white grape + green apple the dish was presented as what appeared to be a sheet of glass topped with fruits and sprouts on the lip of a bowl. Finished tableside the server poured a creamy soup onto the “glass” which shrunk like a 1980’s shrinky-dink and disappeared into the foam of the soup. Special effects aside I spooned a bite of soup into my mouth and was instantly impressed by the light and airy texture of the soup and the manner in which the sharp bite of the cheddar was foiled by the sweetness of the fruits and the essence of the coriander. While I cannot be certain as I didn’t ask, I also detected an air of lavender and perhaps champagne in this dish and the overall flavor was very well balanced on the tongue and full on the palate – Impressive.

Following the soup, a refresher of sorts before beginning the heavier proteins - Beets - Irish stout + pink peppercorn + tarragon + toasted almond + garrotxa. Featuring a variety of beet varieties, textures, and greens along with a toasted almond tuille over a broth of stout and peppercorns the dish was quite light and flavorful. Interestingly, while the dish’s title suggested beets to be the primary flavor, for myself the essence of this dish lied in the soft and creamy goats cheese which served to enhance the beet and smooth the stout.

Kicking of the proteins was perhaps the best dish of the night and perhaps the best fish dish I’ve had outside of L20, Providence, and Guy Savoy in the past year. Titled East Coast Halibut - sweet potato + lychee + tomato and lime chutney + coconut broth the dish was presented as a flawless filet of fresh halibut topped with tomato/lyme chutney served over a smear of creamy cinnamon sweet potato puree. Again finished tableside, this time with the addition of a warm coconut and champagne broth I was immediately struck by the tenderness of the halibut flesh and the crispiness of the skin. Having become somewhat disenchanted with the homogenous sous vide texture propagated by Thomas Keller I quite appreciated the variance in texture and proceeded to add the lychee and pineapple lining the bowl to the broth forming a sweet yet savory fish stew not unlike the halibut at L20.

Next up on the menu was another great dish, and this time featuring an item I’d never before tasted. Lamb Loin - cannelloni + quinoa + licorice yogurt + medjool date + borage at first seemed somewhat standard – well prepared lamb, a puree of sweet dates, chewy quinoa, and borage. The two things that separated this dish from average, however, were the dehydrated licorice and creamy licorice yogurt plus that incredible cannelloni stuffed with roasted lamb neck. Featuring a level of fattiness akin to foie gras, pork trotters, or sweetbreads the cannelloni was absolutely bursting with flavor and texture while the contents simply melted on the tongue releasing the very air of spring lamb.

At this point in the meal I was asked by my server if I was “ready for the sweets?” A tad alarmed as I’d communicated with Allie before the meal that if the foie gras wasn’t on the tasting I’d like to add it as an additional course I inquired of the server how many sweets there were – “Three, this is a 10 course menu” I was told. Counting back on the dishes I noted only 6 at which point I was told “the amuse is counted as a dish.” Finding this quite strange I inquired about the foie and apparently my server had never been made aware (though Allie assured me later by e-mail that he should have been) but he would ask the kitchen. Disappearing for a moment down to the basement kitchen he quickly returned and stated “no worries, the chef will be glad to improvise.”

Waiting only approximately 10 minutes while enjoying some Red Hot Chili Peppers and REM my server soon appeared with a true masterpiece of innovation - Foie Gras - orange + huckleberry + foie gras parfait + hot foie brioche. Featuring a generous portion of seared foie gras (perfectly cleaned) atop a split piece of grilled brioche accented with orange the dish was further embellished with dollops and streaks of orange and huckleberry puree, a hemisphere of foie/fruit parfait, and dehydrated almond butter with the overall “feel” of the plate being that of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Having had a dish remotely similar in the past I can say without doubt that this preparation was vastly more effective and the foie textures and flavors were beautifully complimented by the accoutrements – even the manner in which the dehydrated nut butter soaked up the juices from the foie seemed intentional and decadent.

Now, moving on to the sweets (for real this time,) the first was brought in an ice bowl and appeared largely like multiple colors of dirt and confetti. Described on my take home menu, this dish was called “Dulce de Leche - blueberry snow + malted milk + apricot salt” but I do believe this was a misprint as the dish was described to me as Saffron Air, Black Olive, Dark Chocolate, Malted Milk – and this flavor seems much more accurate. Not too far off from a combination of “dippin’ dots” served at myriad venues plus David Kinch’s “dirt” at Manresa in texture the overall flavor of this dish was actually not far from raw cookie dough with the black olive and malted milk forming a bitter-sweet “dough,” the saffron air adding a buttery/spiced top note, and the chocolate – well, chocolatey.

The primary dessert of the evening was a source of “wow” for many others, but the trick went largely unappreciated by myself – having talked extensively with my waiter (who also appeared to be a bit of an epicurean) we both rather figured this would be the case. Titled Warm Doughnut - nitro ice cream + passion fruit + pineapple the dish was “prepared” tableside in that a bucket of liquid nitrogen was brought out and crème fraiche was poured in creating a big smoking bucket – unfortunately, unlike Heston Blumenthal’s British mg temple, the servers did not plate the dish tableside and had to return to the kitchen to have it plated. Returning shortly the dish was presented and actually tasted quite excellent with the tangy ice cream pairing well with the hot apple donut and fruits on the plate. For myself the key to the dish was actually the gingerbread crumble beneath the ice cream – it was superb.

The final item of the night harkened back to my New Years trip to Moto last year – a single mignardise counted as a course. Entitled Iced Coffee – bombs the dish was a single malted pellet of baileys and coffee entrapped in a liquid nitrogen frozen crème fraiche shell atop a smoking pot – again a nice special effect. Popping the capsule into my mouth I quite liked the melding of the icy shell and the warm interior and like the coconut emulsion at Moto it was gone in a bite and lingered on the palate.

When the meal was completed I chatted with my server for a bit – he’d seen me taking pictures and asked for my blog which I gave him, then settled the bill, and then made my way for the door. An interesting restaurant to be sure and in my opinion quite a bit more impressive than Moto, but far lacking compared to what is being accomplished at Alinea, Providence, or L20 in terms of progressive food. While some dishes were astounding – particularly the halibut and the scallop, plus the spontaneous foie – others were merely good and it was as though someone thought that by adding “tricks” people would think them better. At $109 I have to admit the tasting was a bargain since I got the foie, but I personally feel that if you advertise ten courses the amuse and mignardise should not be counted in those ten – Keller doesn’t do it, nor does Kinch, Cimarusti, or Gras – if you want to count it, don’t call it an amuse when you serve it. While it might sound nitpicky, I really do believe that Colborne Lane has the potential to be the best restaurant in Toronto with a few modest refinements – the chef is clearly talented while the front of the house is attentive, witty and effective - a formula that works quite well.

Conviction, Toronto ON Canada

Present in many incarnations since debuting in 2005 as a Bakery and Bistro, Marc Thuet really doesn’t need much of an introduction in Toronto’s dining scene. Classically trained, uniquely creative, and often cited as a master of complex flavors, Thuet’s Bite Me was locally and critically celebrated but unfortunately not exactly what the chef and his wife/Business partner Biana Zorich were looking for – given these things and the chef’s personally “rough” history the next step was a bold one. Opening shop earlier this year Conviction reads like something from a social worker’s dream – a high end business intended to be staffed by ex-convicts. As a fan of great service as much as great cooking I have to say that the concept sold me – how exactly would they pull this off, using largely unrefined servers to deliver a refined dining experience?

E-mailing the restaurant to inquire about the use of photography and the possibility of ordering a dinner item during the weekend brunch I was greeted very pleasantly by Biana herself who stated that photography would be no problem and the chef would be glad to show off his talents. After talking with my host for the weekend she agreed that Conviction seemed like a good choice and reservations were made for 12:30 – hopefully plenty of time to dine and make it to the Hockey Hall of Fame Charity Game at 2:00pm at the Air Canada Centre.

Arriving ten minutes early my friend and I ascended the narrow stairs up to Conviction’s beautiful second floor location overlooking King Street and were greeted by a very pleasant young man at the hostess stand. Collecting on our reservation the host said they’d “been expecting us” and confirmed that he’d heard we made a special request and he would let the kitchen know we had arrived. Led swiftly to a great seat overlooking the street we were both impressed by the unique items being enjoyed by neighboring diners as well as the beautiful layout of the room, art, and tables. Moments later our server arrived – a short, friendly, and somewhat flamboyant fellow – who delivered menus and offered drinks. Clearly somewhat new on the job, especially the brunch (by his own admission,) I have to say that there were many aspects of the service that were less than perfect – menu descriptions inaccurate and water refills slow and requiring repeat requests, but overall it didn’t distract from the meal and everyone we dealt with was very pleasant.

Waiting approximately 25 minutes before my first dish arrived I can most assuredly say the wait was worth it. Complexly entitled Foie Gras Casserole with Maple Syrup Glazed Sweetbreads, Boudin Noir, Grapes, Pineapple, and Truffle Foam this amalgam of high end ingredients was small in portion yet enormous in taste, texture, concept, and “wow factor.” Featuring high notes most predominantly from the maple syrup and the pineapple with powerful base notes from the crisp sweetbreads and unctuous foie plus a lingering truffle “breath” and the savoriness of the sausage it is hard to imagine the experience without tasting it, but the only dish as complex that I’ve experienced recently was the egg-jar at The Modern. Sweet yet earthy, fatty yet vegetal, crisp at times and other times smooth as silk – all in all brilliant and a different experience with each bite.

Enthralled with appetizer it was only a short time before the main dishes arrived – for my friend the Omelette pizza à l’Éspagnol with ashed goat cheese (a dish I unfortunately failed to taste as I gushed over my own dish and she finished this rapidly and happily) and for myself the Pain perdu sandwich with seared smoked pork loin and maple syrup. An enormous dish featuring two thick slices of buttery Brioche that had been perfectly pan caramelized the sandwich housed two thick slices of smoked peameal crusted pork loin and was then doused in fresh maple syrup, fresh fruits, and a pomegranate reduction. As one might imagine given the ingredients this dish was fantastic – a flawless concoction of sweet and fruity, buttery and crispy, and salty and savory. Enormous in portion and weighing in at only $17 I would personally consider this one of the best dining deals I’ve recently experienced and would strongly recommend it to anyone who loves French toast, pork, or simply great food.

With neither of us “stuffed” and both of us very happy with the food and experience so far we decided to split a dessert and requested the order be somewhat expedited given the time (around 1:20 when we placed the dessert order.) Arriving in only ten minutes we were next served Bread and butter pudding, chocolate ice cream and crème anglaise. The most “classic” of the dishes of the afternoon, this dish once again impressed the eye and the palate. Featuring two heavily buttered slices of croissant pudding topped simply with chopped strawberries and creamy anglaise and served in a pool of melting chocolate ice cream I have to admit that this was an excellent bread pudding but I personally would have opted for a somewhat less dark chocolate to avoid overwhelming the nuances of the pudding itself. As it turned out, though, my friend loved the ice cream while I indulged in the pudding.

Finishing up the meal I paid the check and thanked our server for the excellent meal – he assured us he would pass the compliments along to the kitchen, as well. After a quick trip to the restroom we made our way down the stairs still reminiscing of the wonderful food and were en route to the Air Canada Centre by 1:40 – perfect timing that put me in my seat only 5 minutes before the ceremonies began. Cheers to a chef willing to take chances, both in his food and in his service, especially in today’s economy – having had a number of great meals in the past years I can say without a doubt that I’d take breakfast at Conviction over anything that NYC or Chicago has to offer and I look forward to whatever Chef Thuet decides to do next.