December’s here, and that means cold weather and holiday decadence. Splendido, Harbord Street’s temple of special-occasion dining, has responded in its usual fashion: the $75 five-course European Retreat lunch special, available every Friday (and certain Thursdays) for the rest of the month. The pace and flavours of this marathon tasting menu are inspired by the Mediterranean, but the ease and luxury of the meal reflect chef Victor Barry’s attention to detail. Each experience is meticulously planned: the amuse-bouche of potato-leek soup, for example, comes in a heated shot glass and is topped with a slick of olive oil, a coordinated moment of heaven for the nose, mouth and fingertips. On the same plate (or rather, plank of wood), are little rosemary marshmallows on edible Parmesan bark; every crunchy microfibre and cloudy puff feels intentional. An appetizer of foie gras could be mistaken for a delicious Pollock painting, with rich cubes of the stuff served artfully alongside sculpted pears and droplets of vanilla syrup. The risotto primo is both gentle and rough, with Merguez sausage and saffron sauce on rice that’s Platonically al dente. For the main, we sampled both the short rib and the roasted sea bass. Each is exceedingly competent in its execution, but eclipsed by the meal’s peripheral stunners, like the Carles Roquefort cheese served with rye crostini and candied Pink Lady apples (the collision of flavours is so intense, it shut down our other senses so we could focus on our tastebuds). Closing the meal with a low-ball glass layered with chocolate verrine, caramel and peanut ice cream is excessive to the point of debauchery—but that’s what makes it so perfect.
Cost: $100 after tax and tip
Time: Just take the afternoon off (2 hours, 18 minutes)
N.B.: European Retreat served December 2, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23
Splendido, 88 Harbord St., 416-929-7788, splendido.ca