Alo Be Thy Name
Alobar Yorkville is midtown’s more approachable answer to Patrick Kriss’s high-stakes original
The bar at Patrick Kriss’s Alo, tucked away three storeys above Queen and Spadina, has been my closely guarded secret. Not many people know that if you can’t score a reservation in the restaurant—they are released every two months and disappear instantly—you can count on a midweek walk-in table in the adjoining room and feast from a short menu of substantial bar snacks. Those snacks provide a fair approximation of the magic in the main dining room. The bartenders also make one of the city’s best martinis.
At the end of the summer, Kriss opened Alobar, a stand-alone bar in a neighbourhood with no shortage of options for small plates and drinks: Yorkville. He easily one-ups his competitors. The entrance is reached through a discreet alleyway and shaded courtyard—there’s patio seating but not much of a view. As at the original Alo, and Kriss’s upscale diner Aloette, all is meticulously polished to perfection: the staff (neat in blue jackets and crisp white shirts), the decor (plush scoop chairs, dark mirrors multiplying the room, signature brass inlays cutting across the wood floor) and a music mix that’s jazzy without being obtrusive. More importantly, the martinis remain terrific, and the next best drink is the Glass Onion, composed of crisp gin, fortified wine and kümmel, a fennel and caraway liqueur. Christopher Sealy, the Alo group’s head sommelier, circulates through the room to answer queries about a collection that’s starry and Eurocentric, some from cult Tuscan and Lebanese producers. One complaint: he needs more than a dozen by-the-glass choices, since no single bottle adequately straddles a dinner here.
The menu, designed by Kriss and chef de cuisine Matthew Betsch, divides into small and big sharing plates, plus sides (a jar of frites, a bowl of creamed, buttery spinach, a wedge salad coated in toasted quinoa and curls of shaved blue cheese). It’s more like Aloette (à la carte and best shared) but dressed in a coat of only-in-Yorkville, over-the-top luxury. The kitchen wraps hamachi in sheets of translucent Iberico ham, brushes hefty chunks of lobster with XO sauce, and floats sea scallops, as thick as hockey pucks, in a vibrant pool of puréed summer corn and jalapeño. Sometimes they go too far, overwhelming tuna belly tartare with a funky mountain of black truffle shavings or coating blistered San Marzano tomatoes, tender and sweet, with a granola-crunch blanket of pine nuts and breadcrumbs. Then they take us back to the sublime: a cocktail glass of foie gras parfait, creamy and studded with preserved cherries, plus frozen shavings of yet more foie gras. Desserts like mille feuille, a stack of alternating puff pastry and Chantilly cream, are equally wonderful.
Some midtowners may have been disappointed that Kriss opened a lounge in Yorkville instead of the full Alo experience. But an exclusive restaurant like Alo, with its high-stakes nightly chef’s menu, doesn’t lend itself to empire building—it can’t easily be cloned. Alobar and Aloette are more loose-limbed, chill, approachable. They prove the strength of the original’s DNA.
57A-162 Cumberland St., 416-961-1222, alobaryorkville.com