Alo – Toronto

For my birthday this year, passing the “Mid-Twenties” mark, tfung very sweetly (and excitedly) booked the top restaurant in Toronto currently. We struggled with scheduling but were able to make it work and rushed to get to our reservation on time, for which we were 15 minutes late, and they were extremely nice and understanding about it.

The decor inside is gorgeous. It’s bright, light, with mid-century modern chairs in a soft but gender-neutral blue. The booths were covered in a soft dirty-periwinkle blue, and the cylindrical chrome hanging lights captured my attention from where we were sitting.

Alo provides a tasting menu that is changed fairly frequently, from specific ingredients in each of the dishes being shuffled daily to suit whatever is freshest, to the whole dish being switched out either weekly or bi-weekly. As a result, their menu is completely different if you come back in 2 months, keeping the restaurant running at high capacity for new patrons as well as returning.

Because we were going for drinks later on that evening, we did not opt for any of the cocktails or other alcoholic beverages at Alo. I definitely would go back to try some of their cocktails, as they looked extremely interesting. We had a chance to look at the menu, and it was constructed with 2 appetizers, and 3 mains, from which we could choose one of two options.

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AMUSE BOUCHE

We started off with puff pastry filled with a thick savoury cream, with torched onion powder on the top. The bite-size was more than enough, as we got two each, and the cream had a nice consistency and thickness, but was not too overpowering in flavour that took away from the onion powder or the pastry itself. Beneath that dish, at the base of the pedestal, was a passion fruit meringue sandwiching thin slices of cooked heart of artichoke, topped with coconut cream. This was my preferred amuse bouche, using different and interesting ingredients that we normally would not imagine together, and constructing an interesting piece out of it, again in a form that we would not normally imagine. The heart of artichoke provided the softer texture of a cooked vegetable, with a slight sourness in flavour to offset the fattiness of the coconut cream and the sweetness of the passion fruit meringue.

APPETIZER

The first appetizer was an English Peas dish. There were fava beans, english peas, and snow peas, that were both in its fresh, slightly blanched form, as well as made into the form of a purée.

Following the Peas, were a Hamachi (done 3 ways) and zucchini pairing. The generous portion of hamachi sashimi filet was fresh, still a cool temperature, and presented on a thin smear of light cream sauce. There was also a small portion of hamachi tartare served on top of the filet, which was creamy and had a nice fatty mouth feel. The flavour of the hamachi was not as pronounced in the belly as it was in the sashimi or the cured hamachi, which was surprising. The cured hamachi, was served in a small portion on the side, topped with some chopped up dried cranberries. The dish was served with scattered zucchini, both steamed and grilled, as well as a sensational key-lime sauce.

MAINS

There were three mains to the dinner. The first was a choice between Morel mushrooms and Dungeness crab, the second was a choice between sea bass and scallops, and the third was a decision between lamb and pork.

Morel vs Dungeness Crab

I chose the morel mushrooms as I actually had never had them before. This is tfung’s favourite type of mushroom, and one that he introduced and taught me about. The dish came with a generous serving of large pieces of morels., soaked in an extremely rich and flavourful almost beef bourgingon sauce, as well as a thick cream sauce on the side made with shallots.The dish was topped off with fried chicken skin bits and some green onion and shallots for garnish. This was probably the most disappointing dish of the bunch. It was extremely salty, to the point where it was difficult to taste the true flavours of the dish. I’m unsure if it was caused by the broth, or if it was the morel mushrooms that might have received too much seasoning, which seeped into the broth, but either two was the culprit. Definitely did not expect such a slip from a restaurant like Alo.

Tfung picked the buttery dungeoness crab dish, with bite-sized pieces of crab, mostly submerged in a seafood infused butter sauce, and topped off with a foam, which added a nice contrast in texture as the whole dish was extremely monotonous.

Sea Bass vs Scallops

The seafood portion of the night featured probably the two most popular favourites by the public. I am never that impressed with scallops, so I opted for the Sea Bass. The bass was cooked to the point of being just underdone, which is how I like it and believe fish should be eaten. The skin was crispy with a nice flavour without being too powerful or aggressive. The dish was a little saltier than I typically like, but I tend to cook quite blandly at home which could have attributed to how I perceived the saltiness. My favourite part of the dish was how big the white asparagus looked, and how it kept us intrigued visually. The green asparagus sauce gave it a nice contrast in colour, was lighter in the intensity of flavour, and the herbiness of the undercooked asparagus balanced out the richness of the cream sauce.

The scallops were done very well and featured a cumin mustard sauce. The sauce I felt lacked a kick that I would have expected but was much more interesting than the usual mushroom or truffle sauce that I have seen in the past with scallops. As usual, the presentation was great and inviting, and the magenta of the radishes added a nice contrast in colour.

Duck Breast vs Pork Chop

Of course, I chose the duck, as I’ve always loved duck breast and duck magret. The duck dish was done in 3 ways, again a presentation that is very popular in many tasting menu restaurants, as well as one that I enjoy a lot. A duck sausage presented into a ball with duck prosciutto wrapped around it, with a small amount of foie gras in the center, and the duck breast itself, seared on the skin and cooked to medium rare. The rich duck breast was decorated and contrasted with the deep purple of radicchio. The presentation wasn’t the most exciting compared to the other dishes, but the flavour and juciness of the breast spoke for itself.

The porkchop held for a more fun experience in enjoying the different components of the dish. There was the porkchop itself, with several asparagus stems cooked to perfection. The pork chop that was generously salted and peppered were to be eaten with an array of different sauces that included a lime and bean puree, a sauteed chives and garlic mixture, a relish condiment made with cabbage, and finally an onion and shallot mixture. The pork chop was again cooked to a good tenderness, and was a little more on the medium side but still retained its juices very well.

DESSERTS

Almond cake with rhubarb sorbet

The almond cake made for a nice light flavour after the heavier main dishes. I didn’t enjoy the cake itself as much as I did the cooked rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet that came with it. Although overall I thought there was not much surprise to this dessert dish.

Chocolate Ganache cake with Mint and Basil Icecream

I was quite surprised at a second dessert as this was not outlined in the menu. But after a slightly disappointing previous dessert with the almond cake, I was quite delighted to come across a much more familiar looking cake, with the exception of the green ice cream resting on top of it – that was melting fast. As expected, the chocolate cake was extremely rich and heavy, and was made with a refined dark cacao. It had different textures throughout, including the thick ganache, a lighter mousse, as well as a dense cake base. The crunchy nougat on the top was also pertinent to enjoying all the different textures of such a rich dish. But the cherry on top and what I believe to be the star of the dish had to be the basil and mint ice cream. The flavour was definitely something you would not typically expect from an ice cream, being so fresh and light – which probably was due to it not being too rich in cream. The contrast of this lightness and bright, fresh flavour compared to the deep dark richness of the chocolate was key.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE

As with most tasting menus, it is all about the fun in trying different combinations of the dish, and tasting very different flavours within dishes as well as between dishes. I believe Alo definitely achieved that, even though some of their dishes were a little less innovative, which serves as a nice anchor for those of us who wish to feel the sense of familiarity. It is a delicate balance between being new and adventurous, as well as showing that you can do the “plain old boring stuff” well. Further, Alo’s service was impeccable, having great attention to detail and being a little overstaffed which made for handling different requests or celebrations easier.

The openness of the kitchen gave you a distraction between the dishes, and the decor was just absolutely stunning without being too gender-specific. I also love that you can be very casual about the dining experience, as well as perceive it to be very formal. The space and attitude of the restaurant were very versatile and is dependent on how the patrons wish to experience their time and meal here.

I definitely think Alo is a place to visit, especially for a special occasion. If not for a special occasion, their à la carte dining area by the bar is also a great alternative, especially when we don’t want a full-blown tasting menu meal.

Food: 9.2/10
Service: 4.7/5
Ambiance: new age, scandi, modern, gender-neutral, classy but not stuffy
Cost: $250/2 people

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Bouillon Bilk (Newly renovated) – Latin Quarter

Since tfung’s parents came into town, we decided to bring them to some of our favourite spots. On the second night, we brought them to the newly renovated Bouillon Bilk. I was quite excited to see their new decor, since I had caught a glimpse of it whilst walking back to the Grand Prix on Saint Laurent, and it had looked incredibly sleek and modern.

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The menu had changed quite a bit since I was last here, but definitely still had  the flair of the old Bouillon Bilk. They had refreshed the menu for the summer, which was great to see, and the desserts were completely new.

I started off with the linguine which was one of the specials. The pasta was done a little over al dente, a consistency I like, and was mixed in a buttery sauce that had hints of seafood flavours. Along with the linguine were chanterelle mushrooms, and garnish. Definitely a great dish on its own, I thought they were able to bring out the flavour of the chanterelle mushrooms well, without overpowering the sauce and the linguine. The slight crunch in the mushroom and its lighter consistency was a good contrast to the firmer, denser texture of the linguine.2014-06-21 19.43.39

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Lobster Soup
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Foie Gras served with Polenta

As for tfung, he started off with the asparagus appetizer, which came with asparagus purée. It was also served with veal tongue and a sunny-side up egg on top. To start, the presentation of this dish was fantastic. The purées were arranged nicely and was sprinkled with micro greens. The veal tongue was cooked very nicely. It was soft, but still had firmness in its texture. It was not overseasoned, but rather seasoned conservatively with salt just to bring out the natural flavours of the meat. Pairing it with the asparagus puree gave it that summer freshness that it needed. The egg on top was a nice addition to the dish, providing a bit more sustenance and flavour to the veal tongue. Adding the rich and earthy morel mushrooms was also a nice touch. Overall a very good dish in terms of presentation, creativity and combinations of flavours.

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Asparagus and Veal Tongue

I was able to taste a bit of the carrot risotto, and let me say this: definition of summer. I love how they’ve (in my opinion) a seemingly boring and over-done dish and freshened its colour and its flavour to fit the heat. The carrot base in the sauce of the risotto was light and slightly sweet. It was definitely a good start to the meal.

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Carrot Risotto

For me, I ordered the octopus with sweetbread. This was definitely the priciest of the dishes, but well worth it. The octopus was done to perfection: enough texture and chewiness on the inside without being difficult to chew, while retaining its true octopus taste; crispy on the outside, with an ever so slight smokey taste. The contrast in the texture and the flavour was great. The sweetbread was fried on the outside with a light batter, and retained a soft texture on the inside without overcooking it to a mushy consistency. To go with the fried sweetbread was a sour and slightly spicy, sriracha-based sauce. Finally, fiddleheads, mushroom and sliced pear as sides along with some greens for garnish.

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Octopus and Sweetbread

The rabbit was roasted perfectly. It was soft, tender and juicy. Wrapping the rabbit with bacon wasn’t really necessary as the rabbit was tasty enough, but the bacon certainly enhanced the flavour. It was served with a rabbit au jus that was sweet and savory, which complimented the rabbit well.

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Rabbit wrapped in bacon
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Scallops and Chanterelle mushrooms
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Side: Fiddle Heads with almonds
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Halibut
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Baba with strawberries, rhubarb and mascarpone

Overall, Bouillon Bilk had given me a refresh in terms of modern dining. I thought they did an excellent job in balancing delicacy with creativity and thinking outside the box. They were innovative, yet still incorporated elements according to the season, which I believe is crucial for a more modern dining experience. As delicious as a heavy truffle cream gnocchi is, it just isn’t as enjoyable in the heat of the summer. The service was quite good, not outstanding for the calibre of restaurant it is.

The decor was absolutely stunning. I love the bar in the middle, creating a more relaxed feel, especially for the younger clientele. There were three longer tables that were of higher elevation (a very popular setting now), which I personally love, but is not for everyone. Their washroom is extremely modern, with the style of communal hand washing station in front of 3-4 individual rooms solely for the toilet. This may not sit well with more traditional folks, but for me, I absolutely love it.

I highly recommend you to come try their summer menu. Make sure to make a reservation, and let them know of any delay or cancellations!

Service: 4/5
Food: 9.3/10
Atmosphere: modern, fresh, clean, white-table cloth meets industrial
Price: $40-60

~ kehwon and tfung