alo 18th Visit — Toronto (2/2020)

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From season to season, the menu at alo can change quite a bit.  While there are definitley ingredients they like to use that appear consistently on the menu,  I seem always to enjoy the dishes they come up with.  For this visit, I was again booked at the Chef’s Counter, which directly overlooks the kitchen.  Usually, I get seated in the center spot as the 7th seat (Six diners is usually the number they will accommodate, but they will squeeze in a 7th diner if requested.  They do not turn the counter seats during the evening).  For this visit, they only booked six diners (there was another solo diner who was seated earlier), and I had a seat at the end of the counter closest to the main dining room.It was nice to have just a little more space, and I had a slightly different perspective on the kitchen – I was closest to the final assebly area for the dishes (both for the counter and for the Dining Room).

I started off with a new non-alcoholic cocktail that was on the menu called Tropic Thunder.  Prior to this visit, they did not have Seedlip at the bar. I ordered wine for later.

The first bites were a Dungeness crab tart with crème fraîche and an egg foam topping, and goat cheese in in a fried feuille de brick pastry roll (also known as warqa, which is like phyllo).

The next bite was Japanese fluke (hirame) dressed with shiso, and layered atop with jalapeño puree, avocado purée and red shiso leaves.

The next course featured Big-eye tuna tartare.  This was dressed with shio koji and served with watermelon radish, dashi jelly, and celtuce.

Next up was a very nice dish of Koshihikari rice, tossed with fried trumpet mushroom, crème fraîche, and topped with a porcini mushroom Hollandaise sauce and puffed rice.

My next beverage was the 2017 Heidi Schrock Sauvage Muskateller from Austria.

The next dish was Nova Scotia poached lobster with potato foam, little neck clams and a shellfish emulsion underneath, polenta chips, and confit Yukon gold potatoes.

For the full write-up, click here.

Sushi Masaki Saito — Toronto (11/2019)

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Friends had recommended that sushi from this chef would be a worthwhile experience when he was in New York.  Unfortunately, I could not get there in time to experience a meal before he left.  When I found out he was going to open a restaurant in Toronto, I set up a reservation to go as soon as I could work it into the schedule.  Reservations are taken only via a reservation request form on their website.  They do not take phone reservations.  If the request is accepted, they will require a credit card to guarantee the reservation.  There is only one set menu and one price (that does include service but not the tax, beverages nor any additional items beyond the menu).  There are two seatings each evening.  My reservation was for the first seating at 6pm.

Upon arrival, I was escorted to a waiting room next to the dining room.  I was offered the beverage menu for review.  After a few minutes, I was shown to my seat.  For the first seating, there were six seats used at the counter.

The chef was already at work when we entered.  He was doing final prep work for the seating.

This included making the rice mixture to be used throughout the meal.  Rather than use sushi rice, the chef uses premium white rice from the Niigata Prefecture which he blends with red vinegar (that you can easily smell as he does this in front of the diners).  The vinegar is a combination of two vinegars made from sake lees and is aged 3 years.

At this point, the beverage orders are taken.  For this meal, I chose to have just hot tea.

The first presentation was Japanese Spanish mackerel (sawara) seared over Japanese hay.  The searing was done at the other end of the room.  The aroma was very pleasant.

The next dish was some Hokkaido otoro (fatty tuna) with alba white truffles shaved on top before serving.  Surprisingly, the truffle aroma and taste were not very pronounced.  The chef said what was special about this particular tuna is that it eats squid.

Next, we were presented slow-cooked monkfish liver.  The texture was unique in that it did not come across like liver usually does.  It was very tender and moist, but there was still a slight firmness to it.

For the full write-up, click here.

alo 17th Visit — Toronto (10/2019)

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Since my visit mid-summer, several changes were made to the menu as they transitioned to the fall.  I thought I was worth writing up, as there were some dishes I had never had before.

They started me off with a sparkling Muscadet from the Loire.  This was a very nice start.  I usually start off here with one of there non-alcoholic cocktails.  This was just as good a way to get started.

The opening snacks were:  the pomme soufflé topped with Dungeness crab and seasoned with finger lime and yuzu; a fried bread dough filled with foie gras parfait roll garnished with maple bourbon and candied peanuts; and Prince Edward Island oyster with tarragon and sea buckthorn.

This was followed with the first tasting menu dish — big-eye tuna tartare style with grilled bok choy, crispy seaweed dashi jelly, and a vinaigrette made with shio koji.

The next course was Hokkaido sea scallops, served raw with a lemon verbena cream underneath.  On top were fresh pink lady and dried green apples, apple emulsion, fennel pollen and fennel fronds. This was nicely balanced to let the scallop flavors come through.

For a half-glass of white wine, I wanted to try the Muskateller from southern Austria (2017 moscato grape).

The next dish was kanpachi (amberjack fish from Japan) which was grilled just on the skin side.  They brushed it with a garlic miso yuzu glaze, torched it and served it with a ponzu and brown butter nori sauce, pink lemon and .  The crunchy skin provided a nice texture contrast.

The next course featured Hokkaido sea urchin with Carolina Gold rice, and matsutake mushrooms.

For the full write-up, click here.

alo 16th Visit — Toronto (8/2019)

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I haven’t written up every visit that I’ve made to alo only because having been so many times, I don’t want to keep listing the same restaurants over and over.  However, whenever I visit Toronto,  a dinner here is a requirement for me.  I will always want to sit at the Chef’s Counter, if only because it allows me to sample more of the seasonal creations that appear on the menu ( and are generally not served at a table.

The small bites start to appear as soon as you make your opening drink selection.  I chose to start with one of their non-alcoholic cocktails (they do not have a non-alcoholic pairing option).  It was a blend of passion fruit and green tea – perfect for a mid-summer evening.

The first snack presentation was:  a pomme soufflé puff filled with yuzu crème fraiche with chives and topped with ossestra sturgeon caviar; and a pastry roll filled with a foie gras parfait and a maple bourbon gel, with ends dipped in a peanut crumble that was slightly sweet with a touch of Anaheim chilis.

The next quick bite was a Prince Edward Island oyster served raw with their own mignonette of fresh cucumbers, sea buckthorn vinegar, tarragon oil and a bit of wild peppercorns for some spiciness.

This was soon followed by Hokkaido baby white shrimp with a dashi gel and some celery.  On top were dashi-poached potatoes with kombu, Sancho pepper leaves and, and pickled myoga (Japanese ginger).

Fresh Hokkaido sea scallops were featured in the next presentation.  These were served with lemon verbena and corn.  The wafer provided a nice crunchy texture for contrast, and the salt and sweet flavor blend was a nice touch.

The next dish was lightly grilled kanpachi (amberjack) with black truffle dashi with butter.  The warm dish was garnished with some samphire (salt-tolerant plant) and watercress. The crunchy skin was a nice texture to have.

I opted at this point to go with a Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley (kind of an unusual find on a by-the-glass list).

The next course was Alaskan King crab with crab and butter emulsion, courgettes, chanterelles, horseradish whipped cream and nasturtium leaves.  This was served very warm, with nice flavors from the courgettes and the crab.

The pasta dish was tortellini with Idiazabal cheese (a smoky cheese from the Basque region of Spain, crispy and poached artichokes, and a Marcona almond/red pepper purée. This was very tasty.

The next course was lightly crisped Quebec pork belly, served with black bean sauce, pork fat emulsion, tempura of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and a Chinese chive purée.

For the full write-up, click here.

Shoto 11th Visit — Toronto (10/2016)

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This was the first time I came back to dine within a month.  I wasn’t sure how much things would change, although they had assured me that they probably would change some things just from the seasonal change in ingredient availability. 

I had tried the nice French wine before, so I decided to go with the unusual German white Pinot Noir.  It was interesting since it tasted of Pinot but with a much lighter feel. I wondered what might happen if it aged a little.

We started off a little differently this time, as there was no warm roll or oyster presented first.  Instead, I was served a warm shellfish chawanmushi with pickled ramps.

The second bite that quickly followed was the oyster, served with green chili, which gave it a significant spicy kick at the end.

The next presentation was new and was offered to me as a test (they were going to serve it later at a private dinner event but it wasn’t yet on the menu).  It was a roll made with dry-aged beef and filled with sushi rice, pickled turnips and mustard green. It was brushed with a light soy sauce and rendered fat.  The mild spiciness provided a nice flavor to ensure it wasn’t too rich.

The next dish was also new and was a very warm smoked mackerel fritter with parsley and nori.  This was also very tasty.

The next small bite presented was an anchovy and parsley bun.

For the full write-up, click here.

Alo 5th Visit — Toronto (9/2016)

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I did not get the chance to dine here when in Toronto a month prior because they decided to take a vacation.  So, I was very much looking forward to returning to see what kind of fall menu experience I would have.  I was again at the chef’s counter, dining a little later than usual because it was my flight arrival day.  They were already booked up for the next evening, so I had to pick this evening for my visit.

For wine, I had already tried the Niagara Chardonnay, which I liked.  So to be different, they offered a wine that was not on the list.  It was a Piemonte blend of Chardonnay and Arneis 2008 which went well with the food. It was from the pairings and was matched with the mushroom course.

The first bite looked the same as before.  There was a radish drizzled with emulsified brown butter, a gougère filled with Fontina cheese and topped with fermented chili, and caramelized onion and foie gras torchon with coconut and passion fruit meringue.

The next course was firm raw Hokkaido scallops in a sauce made with uni, caviar and crème fraiche.  Surprisingly, this came across with a mild flavor.

The next presentation featured Matsutake mushrooms with a foie gras terrine and toro (the fatty part of the tuna).  The sauce was made from grilled Matsutake mushroom.  This was a creamy and mellow dish.

The next dish featured Japanese A5 wagyu beef tartare with crunchy flatbread (made with a little wagyu fat) and mustard seeds for some nice texture.  On the left was a quail egg yolk served on emulsified fat and mayonnaise.

For the full write-up, click here.

 

 

 

Alo 4th Visit — Toronto (7/2016)

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With this 4th visit, I think I covered all the seasons with this restaurant, and I expected the summer menu to be as good as or even better than the prior visits.  I was not disappointed. I had secured a seat at the Chef’s counter again, so I was getting the full tasting menu.

For starting beverages, I ordered the orange and almond soda and the 2012 Niagara Chardonnay.

There were a few small bites in this presentation:  fontina cheese gougère with fermented jalapeño and caramelized onion powder; radish glazed with brown butter and a little fleur de sel; and fois gras torchon layered with hearts of palm and passion fruit meringue on the inside and coconut cream on the outside. It was a nice variety of different types of bites to get started.

For the first course, I was presented with a Cornish hen terrine with fois gras and morels.  On the side were more morels and espresso orange cream and hazelnuts.

We now shifted away from more traditional French preparations to a sashimi selection:  Striped bass with pickled barley miso; horse mackerel with umeboshi; shia-aji with a vinaigrette of yuzu and sake; grilled Hamachi collar with ginger; and otoro with wasabi.  This was a nice selection of fish with flavor pairings. 

For the full write-up, click here.

Momofuku Shoto 9th Visit– Toronto(7/2016)

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Mid-summer in the U.S. is not quite peak harvest time in Canada, but it’s still a good time to visit.  The weather had been quite warm the past week.  I was hoping that turned into access to some good local ingredients. 

We started off with a glass of South African sparkling wine, which was very nice.

The snacks started coming soon after I was seated. They did me a great favor and prepared some of the sushi rice bites just for me (no one else got any since it was not on the menu officially).  They did add a different twist with the caviar.  They also served a hot roll.

The next small bite was a cup of sunchokes in a sunchoke consommé.

Next up was a Hudson Bay oyster with a little green chili.

This bite featured crispy cheddar with Worcestershire sauce and was pleasantly crispy outside.

I officially moved to a nice white Burgundy for wine at this point.

For the full write-up, click here.

Alo 3rd Visit — Toronto (4/2016)

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I was looking forward to my third visit to Alo since an early spring menu often has chef’s being innovative in what they can do with available ingredients.  I was also very interested in seeing how the menu would continue evolving.  On my first visit, most of the tasting menu consisted of dishes from the a la carte offerings.  This time, the chef told me that only one dish was being offered at both the chef’s counter and at the tables.

They continue to offer a choice of white or dark napkins to use when I sat down.

To start off the meal, I opted for a non-alcoholic beverage – the pear tea and lemon, which went very well with the opening snacks.  I did order wine later, and instead of me just picking the Chablis from the list, they offered to pick something that was open from the wine pairings.  They poured a Grüner Vetliner, which, when I finally got a menu at the end, was not on it.  But it was a good choice for menu.

The first snack was a couple of gougères – fontina cheese puffs with fermented jalapeños and charred onion powder.  This was warm and light.

This was followed by a Vancouver oyster with green apple gelée and a nasturtium.

For the full write-up, click here.

Shoto 8th Visit — Toronto (4/2016)

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This was a late-winter/early spring visit to Shōtō.  Unbeknownst to me, the former chef de cuisine, Mitchell Bates (who came from momofuku ko), left at the end of the year.  They promoted Peter Jensen from within, so there was a great deal of continuity in the menu, although there were some differences.  One change was that diners can have a shorter menu.  I think they knew I wouldn’t do that, so I wasn’t even asked. Also, they changed their reservation system to use Opentable.com.

Right away, there was a hot roll and butter to start off.  It was nice and crunchy/chewy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside.

For wine, I started with the rare pour white, which was a Chassagne-Montrachet, which was fine but not as good as a Meursault.  Eventually, I asked for the rare pour Pinot Noir as well later in the meal.

The snacks continued with roasted sunchoke soup with arctic char roe and East Coast oyster with green chilies.

The next bite was toasted cheddar cheese with Worcestershire sauce and some tapioca to hold form.  It was almost as good as the grilled sushi rice bite (which was not served with this meal – first time ever).

For the full write-up, click here.