Sunday, November 8, 2009

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.

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