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Lessons learned at Splendido

Some of the best meals I've had the pleasure of eating in the past year or two have been at Splendido, the top-ranked Toronto restaurant located at 88 Harbourd St., just west of Spadina. About a year and a half ago, I realized that food makes a lovely hobby in its own right. As part of this delightful discovery, I began applying some of numerous restaurant reviews I had already been consuming, and recruited double0hilly to join me for a night on the town there: innovative food made from high-quality, seasonal ingredients, a relaxing, spacious interior, and superb service. It gave me the confidence of knowing that eating at good restaurants was - give or take expense - an accessible experience.

When I was in Toronto the other week, I knew I wanted to go back. Our schedule was booked up with social events, but we were there long enough that we could set aside one evening for the two of us to splash out on a decadent celebratory dinner. The thing is, I'd left the booking late and it was only a week-and-a-half before Christmas. The earliest dining slot we could nab was 9 pm - we wavered briefly and then went ahead and committed to it. I'd become attached to the idea.

Now I know why I should never accept a restaurant booking for so late in the evening, unless I'm either in Spain or planning on a light dinner. A good multi-course meal needs to be enjoyed slowly, over the course of hours and hours, with plenty of time to digest along the way. Even with the late start, the restaurant was happy for us to take breaks, but given how full our schedule had been in the preceeding weeks, we were fading fast with fatigue when midnight hit. Full stomachs warred with exhaustion, and exhaustion won. Additionally, despite trying hard to time my meals that day with a late dinner in mind, by the time 9 pm rolled around, I was no longer as hungry as I'd been an hour or two earlier, and thus, for the first time ever, didn't have the appetite to finish my last few dishes.

There was one further complication with this particular dinner: I was fighting off a cold and was mildly congested. I thought the congestion mild enough to be no impediment to enjoying complex foods, but I was mistaken. There were various registers of taste I lacked. Not only was I missing out on many of the flavor notes which C. could taste, the dessert and mignardises- confections of coffee and milk chocolate and hazelnut - was effectiveful tasteless to me. C. swooned over the sweets; they were tragically wasted on me.

Finally, this dinner was one more lesson in the important of taking copious notes on a meal as I eat it - or as soon afterwards as possible. However good, many of the details fade with alarming alacrity from my memory when I don't write them down.

Please note that none of these problems were in any way the restaurant's fault.

For your delectation, here's the tasting menu we (mostly) ate that night. As ever, Splendido was happy to replace C.'s fish and seafood dishes with substitutions, and substitute whites for reds for me. Wines are listed in parentheses.

Splendido's December 2005 Tasting Menu
Amuse-bouche - miniature bacon and leek tart
While a warm little competent tart is a nice, cozy beginning to a meal when arriving in the middle of a snowstorm, the dish was decidedly homey compared to the message set by the rest of the meal. Still, "feel at home" is a lovely message to receive from the chef, even if it's not quite in keeping with everything else.

Alberta Bison Carpaccio, New Brunswick Lobster, Shaved Zigante White Truffle (Greco di Tufo, 2003, Mastroberardino, Campania, Italy)
The truffle cost extra - I skipped it, but it was C.'s replacement for the lobster and was clearly the way to go with this dish. C. loved it.

B.C. Dungeness Crab Cake, Hass Avocado, Butternut Squash Custard, Ginger-Scented Poached Crab (Viognier, 2004, Yves Cuilleron, Vin de Pays, France)
The butternut squash custard was divine, the highlight of my meal. The viognier was a good match for the food.

Seared Corn Fed Artisanal Foie Gras, Golden Raisins, Sour Apple Sauternes Sauce (Pinot Noir, 2002, reserve, Quail's Gate, Okanagan, B.C.)
My replacement wine was a gewurzträminer.

Beef Consommé, Mushroom Tortellino, Black Truffles (Amontillado Sherry, Williams and Humbert, Jerez, Spain)
The appearance of sherry mid-meal was unexpected, but worked well with the dish's strong, decisive flavors - a comforting, hearty mid-winter dish. This was the last dish for which I had real appetite.

Something light and refreshing which has slipped from my memory, alas.

Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Northwest Territories Caribou, Poached Gnocchi, Fricasée Chestnuts (Syrah, 2003, "Del Rio Vineyard", Tyrus Evan, Rogue Valley, Oregon)
Another good, comforting winter dish, one I could only sample, despite a bit of a break beforehand. My replacement wine was a lively Californian Conundrum.

Optional Cheese Course
We opted for it - in advance, before we knew how full we'd be. It was something baked to spreadable, not-quite-runny softness, compact, somewhat sour, and very creamy. I am abashed that I cannot think of what it was offhand.

Coffee Chestnut Yule Log, Warm Lemon Raisin Panettone. (Tokaji Aszú, 2000, 4 Puttonyos, Chateau Megyer, Hungary)
C. adored the dessert and I couldn't taste it. Sure, I was stuffed by this point, but I was still sampling for the flavors; a sadly-missed opportunity for me.

Mignardises: Hazelnut milk chocoate, mini-strudel
Ideally served with coffee or tea, but we really needed to leave while C. was still vaguely awake, so we skipped what could have otherwise have been a leisurely finish.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 4th, 2006 11:08 pm (UTC)
*drool* it sounds heavenly! could you email me contact details for this restaurant, so i can try it?
Jan. 4th, 2006 11:26 pm (UTC)
Certainly - but it'll only be useful to you if you're going to Toronto. The restaurant's website is here, including details on how to get there. If you ever do happen to be in Toronto and have the budget for it, it's well worth it.

I'm happy to say that now that the new 2006 food guidebooks have come out, I'm more usefully prepared to investigate and write up restaurants that might be rather more convenient for you - i.e. in the UK. (Although I have one from Leeds from back in July I'm intending to write a bit about this week.) I've been operating off of eGullet reviews up until now - and eating out less anyways in the UK than in Toronto, since Canada is cheaper. (I've been doing more grocery store-and-market tourism here.)
Jan. 5th, 2006 10:02 am (UTC)
i'm contemplating a North American trip later this year to see my parents (who live in Detroit). on the way, i might stop in Toronto for a bit to see friends.

but yeah, if you want a dinner companion i'm sure i can oblige ;)
Jan. 5th, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC)
Then I can give you more constructive commentary on Splendido's location: it's just west of the main University of Toronto campus, downtown.

Come eat with me! I've been eyeing Galvin (French, Baker St.) and Lola's ("Modern European", near Angel), but am happy to try all sorts of other places too. I've hardly begun reading my new guidebook collection, and you might have some places you'd like to try or recommend. I can't do anything before around January 18th.
Jan. 5th, 2006 01:18 am (UTC)
Oooh, I LOVE Splendido. I sympathize about the late night problem, but you're reminding me that I need to plan a trip to Toronto and organize it around eating rather than (er, in additon to) research!
Jan. 5th, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC)
Eating is crucial to your continued survival, and there's no reason why you shouldn't eat well while continuing to survive - which is, of course, an absolute prerequisite to doing any research at all. (I can logic this!)

I'd love to plan more of my trips around food. We tend to plan most of ours around friends and family, whose culinary budgets and tastes don't always wander in the same directions as mine.
Dec. 9th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
Going to have to get a table booking made for Splendido before i make my trip over this christmas. I hope there's still something left...
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )