Summerlicious '13

Summerlicious '12 marks the genesis of this blog, at least in the form that it is in now. One year ago, I hurriedly made reservations at 34 restaurants, filling each lunch and dinner with a 3-course prix-fixe. Since then, restaurants have fallen off (Colborne Lane, notably) and tasty new participants have risen - most importantly, Splendido ★★

This year, the plans won't be as grand. It will be a surgical attempt to tie up the loose-ends and revisit the winners. A few new entrants at established locations are fomenting excitement [previous ratings]: Café Boulud (★★★★),   ONE ★★★★,  Origin ★★★★. The four-stars of Café Boulud ★★★★ as reaffirmed and One ★★★★★ was upgraded. Of the 5 five-stars last year, only three remain: Auberge du Pommier ★★★★★Chiado ★★★★★, and  Aria ★★★★★. But revisits were infeasible.

As expected, work commitments have caught up with me, cutting summerlicious short. But not before two full weekends of culinary extravagance. The seven new randwalk restaurants did poorly as none earned a rating above ★★★. On average, the quality was lower than the previous year (average = 3 vs. 3.3 last year) but it was partly because some excellent restaurants were avoided in the name of blog-expansion. The result was a perfected symmetrical distribution of quality with One ★★★★★  the ridiculous show-off restaurant, taking the top spot.

Statistics

Mean/Median/Mode = 3

1 star = 1

2 star = 2

3 star = 4

4 star = 2

5 star = 1

New Restaurants

July 14: Noce ★★★

July 14: Bosk ★★★

July 13: Lee ★★★

July 12: Vertical ★★

July 7: Pan on the Danforth ★

July 6: Grace ★★★

July 5: Splendido ★★

Repeats

July 13: Canoe ★★★★

July 7: One ★★★★★

July 6: Café Boulud ★★★★

 

Summerlicious '12

The idea of 34 restaurants in 17 days did not arise out of punctuated equilibrium or necessity like more respectable endeavours. No doubt the escapade can be maimed as one of gluttony and self-indulgence, unencumbered by guilt (of the hungry) and monetary restraint (undeserving scholarships). The final bill was indeed steep at $1650. Yet this is not the case. The sad realization that probably prompted the entire charade was that it would be the last summer such an endeavour was possible. And for someone addicted to food, culture and Toronto, I must get my fix.

Schedule

And I am happy to have shared the experience with 25 separate people, some more than once. I must give all the gratitude in the world to those who came and went effortlessly and allowed for a smooth execution of a rather intricate plan. More often than not, hectic rescheduling and re-slotting was required, yet for only two times did I have to sit alone depressingly with my trusty Economist in my hand.

I am also delighted at the response to my daily blog posts. www.david-kong.com and www.david-kong.squarespace.com received 1868 and 1123 unique views respectively. That is truly spectacular. And I was often commended for my amateur-ish writing, my favourite comments being: “you sound like Conrad Black” and “sarcastically hilarious”. Perfect…exactly what I was going for! It was a wonderful exercise trying to describe an experience that often made me speechless.

Colborne Lane striploin + smoked parsnip + puffed wheat berries + black garlic + watercress

Colborne Lane
striploin + smoked parsnip + puffed wheat berries + black garlic + watercress

Summerlicious ‘12 began as it did three years ago. Biff’s was my Summerlicious experience in 2009. At the time, the prix-fixe lunch was $15 and a pilgrimage was made by almost every sub-urbanite looking for a cheap way into city culture (now it is $20). And for the first time, we saw mustard in its raw form (seeds)! How much we have grown since then. After a hiatus in 2011 (I was in New York, which itself, had a watered down Restaurant Week itself), we returned to Biff’s (★★★) seeing an inflated price and a less impressive offering. Salmon and pork were replaced with chicken and veal. And unfortunately, “The veal lay on a tasty vinaigrette as only the French can concoct yet the veal itself was a boring grey.” And “The dessert was slightly too sour for my liking, and certainly not worth the prolonged wait (our meal lasted for a jittery two hours).”

And the time constraint was an issue for the rest of the two weeks. Some restaurants handled it well and some didn’t. A place like Azure (★), in its haste, served dessert before the main. However, no amount of time could have fixed the culinary disaster there. Also unimpressive were the other two hotel-restaurants, EPIC (★★★) and Senses (★★★). From my review of Azure, “Funnily enough, the completely mediocre EPIC restaurant from yesterday employed the same style of drink-ware. I smell collusion. The captive market that is the hotel restaurant is showing itself to be a glorified room service operation with exorbitant prices.”

Aria
Dark chocolate polenta crostata, hazelnut brown butter ice cream, sponge toffee and beet
curd

Some of the best financial district lunches were the standard icons of Bay Street: Canoe (★★★★) and Bymark (★★★★). Bymark’s mouth-watering cuts of meat (“Generously thick cuts of both the halibut and the striploin...jut out confidently in truly three dimensional dishes”) and Canoe’s tender short ribs show why these two landmark restaurants from prolific proprietors are always full. Some less expected standouts include Lucien (★★★★) and most notably Aria (★★★★★). Lucien came out with a revived simplicity that “reinvigorated the food to the restaurant’s glory days” and Aria had a dessert with a streak of “a beet curd coloured in Victoria Secret pink, a seductive melisma to round out the piece”. (I found it much easier to write passionately about food when inspired.)

And while Canoe and Bymark were good, their sister restaurants performed diametrically. North 44 (★★) served a raw hamburger patty and other unsightly courses. Fabbrica (★★★) was reminiscent of Terroni or Mercatto. Canoe’s sister’s fared better. Auberge du Pommier (★★★★★) claimed top ratings for a summery meal that reminded of a quiet cottage from a different time. Funny enough, these culinary cornerstones of Toronto always attract Asian fever. As such, “the multicultural spin of Summerlicious takes over, but waitresses are more than happy to indulge these aspirational patrons. And unfortunately some diners did stage a bit of revolt in front of mislabelled washroom doors - their confusion showing through otherwise austere faces, perturbed only by the urgency of their needs. ‘Mesdames’ and ‘messieurs’: what alien tongue is that?”

Il Posto
Pomodori con Mozzarella
Fiordilatte,Tomatoes,Extra Virgin Oil

And we must not forget the Yorkville giants. It had such stars as L’unità (★★★★) on Avenue/Davenport, Pangaea (★★★★) on Bay and Sassafraz (★★★★) on Cumberland/Bellair. But most specular must be Il Posto (★★★★★), an unassuming courtyard restaurant that resembled a hobbit hole, with “a perfectly cooked salmon and halibut that sit on a perky lemony sauce and are topped with a succulent shrimp of gigantic proportion”. A romantic restaurant was Corner House (★★★★), “On the steps of...Casa Loma estate, a home-turned-restaurant as quaint as any. It is reminiscent of rustic farmyard cuisine and countryside wineries.”

But Yorkville was not without its faults. La Société (★) earns the worst restaurant of the festival award. It essentially broke every single rule in the book. It charged $35 for what is regularly $36 (it has to be at least $42), it didn’t offer Summerlicious for the majority of the night (from 6:30 to 9:00) and “On three separate occasions pushy waiters proposed more lavish options...Interesting such authentic French waiters have no idea what the term “prix-fixe” means”.

Chiado
Fresh cheese with a reduction of balsamic and honey with rosemary

Finally, Summerlicious ended with a weekend of all-stars. For lunch, we had Chiado (★★★★★), an upscale Portugese restaurant with a long-standing history and extremely loyal guests. My critics have smirked quite publically at a colourful description of a monochromatic dish: “Rosemary swim in a globule of honey beside a streak of balsamic reduction to decorate an austere slice of fermented cow milk cheese undulating in its wetness”. And for dinner, Colborne Lane (★★★★★), a restaurant my skills in English cannot do justice. I settled with this description of the appetizer: “The cured salmon was a play on sashimi, with a mouth-popping soy sauce snow so unexpectedly chilly as to bring the fish back to its natural habitat”. It deserved so much more.

And so, Summerlicious ends with a nice distribution of stars. Only five restaurants have been deemed to be essentially perfect. But many more (10) are worthy of great praise. And I was satisfied with all but 8 of the 34 restaurants. Therefore, the Toronto food scene really put up on a great show.

I am grateful for the ability to spend so much time (and money) to enjoy the cuisine of what I think to be the best city in the world. I know such a combination is difficult to come by and I am unsure when the next such opportunity will arise. I feel like I’m on the cusp of much volatility to come. The few months will not be easy; it might be fun nonetheless.

Summary of 34 Restaurants

Summary of 34 Restaurants