In the chill and gloom of January, double0hilly and I decided that we needed an evening's escape, a decadently good meal in elegant surroundings at some place that neither of us had tried before. I browsed the recommendations of last year's Toronto Life restaurant guide and gave her three choices; she chose Splendido.
I had walked by the restaurant dozens of times without really registering its presence, largely since I generally passed by in the daytime, and it is an evening restaurant. At night, in the cold and dark of that mid-winter evening, the wide, curtained windows cast their warm light on the bitter air. The valet parking attendants, gloved and hatted against the bite of the breeze, held the door open for me.
Inside was safety and comfort, a spacious room, appropriately well-lit, painted in rich, warm hues. double0hilly arrived only seconds before I did; we handed over our coats for safekeeping, were seated. Attention to detail was a hallmark of the evening: the waiter brought us little stools especially for each of our handbags, so that they were not in our way, not on the floor, and conveniently close at hand. The tables were well spaced out, a table or more of space between us and any other table. There were no other conversations to distract us from our own and from the food.
Agreeing to try the tasting menu was easy, especially when the sommelier was happy to choose replacement wines for the reds for me. The tasting menu changes monthly, and can be eaten with or without the pre-chosen accompanying wines. We opted for the full experience, give or take a few of my wines. The food was magnificent: perfectly cooked, rich with balanced and complementary flavors, beautiful textures, and elegant plating. The wines were good too, almost all working well with the food. Only in one course was the food's flavor inadequate to stand up to the robustness of the wine.
We nibbled our way through elegantly small courses, course after course, drink after drink. But the portions were just right for a tasting menu. We were pleasantly full, but by no means stuffed at the end of all. I had room for the last of the mignardises (small desserts meant to accompany coffee, finishing flourishes to a meal). We talked to the waiter and sommelier about the food, learning about elements of the dish (lotus flower purée!), considering what worked beautifully (the best carrot I've ever eaten) and what pairings were less effective (very few).
Many of the meal's elements are vivid memories in my mind and taste buds; others have faded without the cues of a promptly written description to remind me. As saved from the restaurant's slow-loading website back In January, here is the menu (accompanying wines in parentheses):
Amuse Bouche (Cuvée Alexandre, Sauvignon Blanc, Rapel Valley, 2003)
Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster (Cuvée Alexandre, Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley, 2003)
Egg Yolk Raviolo, Carlevoix Rabbit, Niagara Prosciutto (Cuvée Alexandre, Merlot, Colchagua Valley, 2001)
Cumbrae Farms Cross Rib Beef Bourguignon (Clos Apalta, Casa Lapostolle, 2001)
Haldimand County Dorset Lamb Cuit Sous-Vide, Crisp Potato Wrapped Lamb, Black Truffle. (Cuvée Alexandre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, 2000)
Layered El Rey Chococolate Vanilla Cream Cake, Niagara Penninsula Rumtopf. (Grand Marnier, Cuvée Louis-Alexandre)
The wines were themed around those made by a particular Chilean winery, Casa Lopostolle. The two best wines chosen as replacements for reds were Greco di Turco, 2002, and a Faence Riesling, 2002. (I haven't checked to see if my notes are enough to track them down again yet.) At some point along the way, there was a sorbet as well.
I have treasured the memory of the meal as a glow of gentle perfection, a meal as a meal ought to be. There was too much to say about it; I didn't know where to begin. But today I sat down with the April edition of the Toronto Life magazine to browse the food highlights, and there it was: the best meal the magazine's food reviewer ate in the preceeding year was at Splendido. It was my best meal too.