Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Splendido - 04/11/2009

88 Harbord St.
Toronto, Canada
(416) 929-7788

After a more adventurous first night in Toronto, we opted for something a little more traditional the second night. We arrived fairly early and were seated immediately. A few minutes after we sat down our server brought out a trio of canapes for us to enjoy while perusing the menu.

Canape 01: Pineapple Juice - Wasabi Ginger Foam
First up was some sort of fresh pineapple juice/soda. We were advised to drink this before the wasabi ginger foam dissipated. The mouth-puckering tang of the pineapple juice was tempered by the faint spice from the foam. A very cool and satisfying combination

Canape 02: Spinach and Blue Cheese Tart
I couldn't taste the blue cheese specifically but I did get a concentrated savory flavor that was very satisfying.

Canape 03: Black Pepper Parmesan Shortbread
A really nice simple starter, this had a chewiness and flavor that reminded me of the delightful Gougeres at CUT.

Cucumber Gimlet
I asked the bar to make a cucumber gimlet and though they were unfamiliar with the drink they were more than happy to oblige. Splendido's presentation came with heavy emphasis on the cucumber, which while a bit one-dimensional, gave the drink a light refreshing tone that I quite enjoyed.

Bread - Rustic Sourdough and Multigrain
Fairly prototypical breads. The rustic sourdough had a nice yeastiness that flowed into a bitter finish while the multigrain had a firmer texture and nice nutty sweetness.

Amuse: Cumbrae Farms Beef Tartare - Potato Crisp, Crunchy Mustard, Soft Boiled Quail Egg
The tasting menu kicked off with a petite steak tartare. Typical beef tartare uses ground beef but this used a coarser cut, resulting in a nice pliant texture very satisfying to chew. The quail egg added a nice textural wrinkle and the mustard provided some welcome flavor but the star of this dish was clearly the beef. One of the better tartares I have had in a while, I wonder why they don't put this on the regular menu.

Speaking of the beef, we were told it was sourced from Cumbrae Farms, a concern of smaller family farms in the Toronto are. They don't follow the strict production standards needed to be labeled organic but they do use traditional methods for raising their livestock; relying on high quality feed while eschewing hormones and chemicals. The group also handles much of the processing including dry-aging the beef themselves and their efforts could be seen in the concentrated beefiness of the tartare.

01: David's Charcuterie Plate - Toasted Brioche
One of the most elaborate presentations of charcuterie I have seen in a while. What stood out about this plate was the variety both in terms of the meats and the preparations. I appreciated the medley as it offered a multitude of flavors and textures, something not seen on the typical charcuterie plate.
·Beef carpaccio with pickled hon shimeji mushroom and gelée
·Bergamosco(sp?) sausage
·Chicken liver with foie gras
·Crispy pig's ear with sauce gribiche
·Foie gras terrine with four-spice (pepper, cloves, nutmeg, ginger)
·Boar's head with crispy mustard
·House-cured maple bacon
·Duck prosciutto

02: Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna "Maki" - Nori Purée, Crisp Rice, Cucumber
I had gotten the impression of Splendido as a bit more formal and traditional restaurant so the second course, an elegantly deconstructed tuna roll, came as a bit of a surprise. Despite being a tuna roll, I thought the most interesting elements were the liquefied seaweed and flash pickled cucumber. The former was surprisingly intense while the latter had a delightfully crisp texture and an evenly balanced acidity.

Speck Family Reserve, Henry of Pelham, Ontario, Canada, 2007
I typically shy away from North American Rieslings, having been disappointed too many times. This still had some sweetness, but it also had a strong minerality and stone fruit notes.

03: Tunisian Octopus & Chorizo - Maltagliati Pasta, Kalamata Olives & Capers
I tend to be a bit wary about cooked octopus but the texture here was meaty and even rather than chewy. In terms of flavor the octopus was quite light and the smoky influence of the chorizo was very apparent. Capers are another ingredient I tend to shy away from but their presence here was perfectly integrated into the dish.

Supplement 01: East Coast Halibut Filet - Pulled Duck Confit & White Bean Ragoût
This was a gift from the kitchen. The halibut was nicely cooked, flaky yet still very moist. The pairing with duck showed a wonderful mastery of flavor; the confit added richness while letting the natural taste of the halibut come to the fore.

04: Northwest Territories Caribou Sausage - Porcini Scented Polenta
This dish was described as quintessentially Canadian. Caribou is another term for reindeer and I found the meat to be reminiscent of venison. The sausage had a good blend of lean and fat with just a touch of the wild gamey flavor from the fat. The polenta added a sweetness that helped soften the intensity of the sausage

Château Mas Neuf, Costières De Nîmes, Rhône Valley, France, 2004
The red wine selected for the evening was a blend of syrah and mourvedre. Surprisingly fruit forward with aromas of black cherry and tobacco. The fruit continues on the palate where it is joined by a soft spiciness and a hint of saddle. A beautiful pairing with both the lamb and squab.

Supplement 02: Haldimand County Dorset Lamb Saddle - Garlic and Shallot Purée, Ricotta & Spinach Tortellone
The restaurant really seems to have a way with gamey meats. Like the Caribou, the lamb was prepared nicely, showing just enough game to be interesting but not enough to overpower. I particularly liked the garlic and shallot purée the herbal, vegetal flavor meshing beautifully with the meat.

05a: Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster, Digby Sea Scallops - Fennel Purée, Preserved Lemon
Lobster used to be one of those ingredients I thought was impossible to screw up but experience has disabused me of that notion. Fortunately, this presentation of lobster was quite nice. Seasoned beautifully, the meat was snappy and succulent with plenty of sweetness to boot. I actually felt the scallops were a bit redundant given the lobster and could have easily done without them.

05b: Richview Farms Sous-Vide Squab Breast - Jerusalem Artichoke Purée, Boudin Noir
Nice texture on the breast, likely the result of the sous-vide preparation. The heavy sauce, while well done and very appropriate, obscured the natural richness of the bird. The leg was especially impressive, with the skin almost dissolving on the tongue, leaving only a velvety flavor of rich fat and smoke. The concentrated sweetness of the sunchoke puree was a bit off-putting but interesting when taken in small quantities with the bird.

Intermezzo: Fresh Sorbet - Pineapple, Rhubarb, Pear
Of the three, the pineapple was easily the best, having a natural interplay between sweet and sour. On the whole, the intermezzo was overly simplistic where I would have liked a bit more flair. Perhaps a single sorbet served with a tuille or some other pastry to serve as a crust; something to add sharper flavor and textural contrasts would have been greatly appreciated.

06: Almond Sponge Cake - Amaretto Marscarpone, Espresso Bean Ice Cream
I though the profound espresso notes worked well with the lighter nuttiness of the marscarpone and the faint alcoholic warmth of the amaretto though my girlfriend didn't care for such a heavy end to the meal.

Mignardises - Mango Almond Tart
A bit bready for a tart and I would have liked a bit more balance between the mango and almond.

Before the meal got underway in earnest, Chef Victor Barry came out and though we spoke only briefly I was impressed with his affability and passion for his craft. I noticed throughout dinner Chef Barry would peek into the dining room to make sure everything was going smoothly. At the end of our dinner he stopped by for an extended chat and shared some of his insights into the Toronto food scene. He also mentioned that he recently took over the restaurant from Chef David Lee who will be leaving later in the year and I suspect his visits to the front of the restaurant are to prepare for that transition.

By most accounts, Splendido is one of Toronto's best restaurants and my experience echos that sentiment. The food was expertly prepared and the entire staff from the chef down shows a preoccupation with the dining experience that boarders on obsessive, just what you want from a restaurant of Splendido's caliber.

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