Morimoto at Rain
To Rain early in the week for a special dinner of alternating courses cooked by Guy Rubino and guest chef, global superstar Masaharu Morimoto, also known as the Iron Chef. The two men know each other well and though Morimoto is currently promoting his first book (it’s called Morimoto, is published by DK and sells for $40 US or $50 Cdn.—I guess DK hasn’t heard about the loonie’s soaring flight or the greenback’s tumbling gyre) he was clearly here for two nights as a mark of friendship and respect to Rubino.
Morimoto’s dishes are immensely disciplined and impeccably presented but at the same time they show a fascinating bravado. He set the ball rolling with a treatment of toro, finely chopped until it was almost a jelly and then spread thinly into a perfect pink square edged along one side with black caviar. Far away on the long white plate was a ceramic spoon holding a little sweet soy dashi, then a line of crunchy crumbled rice cracker (the only firm texture on the plate) and another of guacamole, then three stripes of intensely flavourful black nori paste (ultima umami), green wasabi and white sour cream. We were given tiny teaspoons to eat it with, the idea being to take a little toro in the spoon then dip into the various condiments. “Have fun,” said Morimoto, and we did, treating each little tatunculus of super-rich, fat-as-foie-gras, delicately fishy, trembling tuna belly to a dab of spicy or cool or crunchy or salty or sweet… With this sensory rollercoaster ride, the house poured Remy Martin VSOP cognac chilled down to zero degrees Fahrenheit (at which point it loses any sense of alcohol and much of its subtlety, tasting mainly of prunes). It actually ended up working like soy sauce—same intensity of flavour—and proved rather a brilliant match.
The next dish was Guy Rubino’s treatise on hamachi. One element was hamachi sashimi and citrus-cured hamachi pressed into a tureen, thinly sliced then laid over a sweet, slightly peppery purée of edamame. In the centre of the plate, supple mushrooms were laid on top of a crunchy fried turnip cake dressed with Chinese black bean sauce and a dot of hoisin. The third component was two generous slices of superb hamachi that would have been sashimi if the fish hadn’t been seared for about a second in a hot pan, just seizing the juices of the surface. Rubino had marinated the fish in sake lees to add a mysterious, grassy sweet zest to its flavour then set it over what looked like a scallop but turned out to be a puck of tofu that tasted of yuzu and coconut. With this one, we sipped a fruity albariño that picked up the citrus moments in the food like nobody’s business.
The third course gave Morimoto a chance for a bit of sly showing off—caviar tempura, no less. There were three little exempla on the plate, looking like elfin purses or tiny, transparent pomegranates. The wrapping was a membrane of potato starch called obrato, fried for a second or two to crisp what was once gelatinous. One was filled with wasabi-flavoured tobiko, one with regular tobiko and the third, most decadent sibling, with very fresh sea urchin roe. Each one sat on a dot of lemon cream. How the chef wrapped them, lifted them in and out of the seething oil and set them down without destroying them was the dazzling trick. The wine? A sparkling white called Saten from Ca’ del Bosco in Franciacorta, Lombardy.
Cave Spring’s 2006 Dolomite Riesling was The Chosen One for the next course, the latest evolution of Rubino’s long, ongoing and intimate relationship with black cod. Again, the dish was a triptych. In the middle was a split wand of bamboo which served as a vessel for roasted morsels of cod, eggplant, plum and rich, salty miso. It was like picking morsels of lobster from a split claw. On one side lay a nest of black cod noodles with enoki mushrooms and cucumber in a cod’s roe and soy milk sauce. On the other we found more butter-soft cod with a sweeter white miso and pickled mioda.
Morimoto followed this with another course of hyper-umamic delights. Locked in an embrace on the half shell lay an oyster, some foie gras and some sea urchin—so extravagantly over the top to put all three into one mouthful, but so delectable. Alongside was a sweet, foie gras chawan mushi in a small ceramic cup—richest custard I ever ate. Then there were two pieces of exceptionally tender duck breast glazed with five spice and red miso. A rich Alsatian pinot gris from J.M. Sohler that would have been quite the Mr. Darcy in most company just stood about and gaped at the luxurious textures.
Rubino took responsibility for the big red meat course—and paired it with Quinta de Ventozelo 2003 Touriga Nacional, a yummy but relatively understated Douro red. Which was more delicious, the miso-braised beef or the Wagyu flat-iron steak crusted with dried abalone? Both worked beautifully with the dainty vegetable accompaniments—here, carrot kimchi wrapped in pickled daikon; there, shaved, lightly pickled green and white asparagus on a cube of green tea tofu with soy milk froth and crisp soba noodles.
Morimoto’s pre-dessert was a polite nod to Canada—a morsel of salmon cured in brandy, raw brown sugar from Guyana, star anise, cinnamon and black pepper. Yuzu foam and beet sorbet made it seem more like a traditional dessert. Following that, the evening’s coda was created by Rain’s pastry chef, Robert Gonsalves, whom I believe to be our city’s finest dessert practitioner. A shot glass held liquid white chocolate lemon curd with a lime froth and a lemon chip. A soft-dough cookie supported coffee parfait, orange segments and silver vark, a crazy little mouthful with arancha and coffee doing a sexy slow dance, cheek to cheek à la bouche. There was a third component, I’m sure—nothing at Rain comes in even numbers—but I can’t tell what it was from the flatline scribbles in my notebook. All in all, it was an extraordinary feast—and a privilege to be there.
It was even more of a privilege to be at OASIS a few days earlier, as a guest of Catherine Moraes, executive director of The Toronto Foundation for Student Success, an organization she describes as “the arm’s-length charitable foundation of the Toronto District School Board.” OASIS is a three-room alternative secondary school on the top floor of another school on Brant Street, near King Street West and Spadina. Its student body consists of kids over the age of 16 who dropped out of school without Grade 9 or 10 but are now trying to rejoin the system. Many of them live in shelters; a few live on the street. Some of them have children of their own. On the morning I met them, the mood was positively jubilant. A dozen teens were in one of the classrooms cooking lunch for a group of guests—bowls of fresh lettuce and peppers, pasta and thick slices of garlic bread baked in the oven. It’s the sort of meal they can usually expect only once every few weeks but the visitors—Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld and other workers with the Jewish charity MAZON Canada—had shown up specifically to make a donation of $7,500—enough to provide 3,000 hot lunches for the kids of OASIS over the coming months. Making lunch for their benefactors was a way of saying thank you. And teaching the teens to cook and prepare a meal is a vital way to impart an appreciation of food and the importance of healthy eating. “It can be life-changing,” said Moraes, “letting them see how eating together can create a sense of community…” I leaned forward to listen but the rest of her words were lost as the kids suddenly broke into a spontaneous song. They were happy, I was not. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world but our various levels of government rely on charities and grassroots volunteers to feed our hungry children while they turn their backs, poncing and flouncing around Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill, bicke
ring in their shrill, nonsensical way like a bunch of chimps who have broken into the grown-ups’ costume box.