Tubers in the Moonlight

Tubers in the Moonlight

A peculiar week has yielded three very different but memorable meals. First, a dinner at Truffles, enjoyed on October 2. My wife and I had gone there intending to review the restaurant and review it I did, completing my analysis last week and awarding no less than four stars. I share this double-secret information because I have since heard that Executive Chef Lynn Crawford is leaving Toronto at the end of the month to become Executive Chef at the Four Seasons hotel in New York and so my stellar review is wasted. Whoever replaces Lynn Crawford will have to be allowed to settle in, oversee her or his own menu for Truffles and then we’ll have another look.

Truffles is an interesting asset to the city. I suppose I’ve been eating there and writing about it for 20 years, from the days when Niels Kjeldsen was chef and the room was a heterogeneous puzzle of Spanish stucco and wrought iron, French floral fabrics, Dutch paintings and the odd antler—anything that might suggest European grandeur—including gorgeous silver pheasants as table decorations. The service was wonderfully proper (it still is, but these days, the veteran servers smile a lot more) and the food matched the mood—fine ingredients, conservative ideas, delicate (a.k.a. bland) flavours but beautifully executed: things like sole with artichokes and chive sauce, for example, or roast beef with asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and a cabernet thyme sauce.

In 1990, Susan Weaver came on board as Executive Chef, the great Patrick Lin was restaurant chef, and I gave the restaurant four stars for the first time. I gave it four again in 1994 when Xavier Deshayes took the food back to France and Norman Hardie was working there as sommelier, making inspired matches with easygoing charm. Since then, I think it’s been a fairly steady 3 _ stars—always nudging four but never quite offering the flawless performance such a rating demands. A dessert letting the side down, maybe. Or a main course saturated in salt.

But this time it was back to four stars. We tried a good many dishes and every one of them was a triumph—deftly textured, interestingly devised, vividly flavourful. Vegetables didn’t exactly take starring roles but they had much more to say and do than usual and threatened to steal many a scene. They were a swirl of multicoloured motes in a lightly gingered crab broth, clear as topaz, surrounding a plump seared scallop topped with Canadian caviar. Sweetbreads were perfect—creamy inside a golden crust and flattered by fragrantly bittersweet braised lettuce, a boldly tangy smoked tomato concassé and a snow-white foam that tasted intensely of smoked bacon. Carpaccio of ahi tuna, drizzled with zingy passionfruit sauce, played surf ’n’ turf with two discs of butter-soft foie gras torchon, the richness cut by seedlings of coriander and amaranth. Main courses dispensed with starch altogether: it wasn’t missed. Chanterelles, summer peas and a subtle lemon-thyme jus were all the accompaniments needed to showcase an impeccable rack of lamb, rare and tender. Smoked sablefish collapsed into moist petals, its flavour harmonized with truffled braised celery hearts and sweet golden carrot broth. Desserts came in primary flavours. Stiff, tangy apricot-riesling jelly, for example, was garnished with crumbled amaretti and a pool of vanilla sabayon. A hollow bubble of spiced chocolate melted as the waiter poured warm chocolate sauce over it. Also sharing that particular plate was a caramel mousse and espresso granité. Sommelier Sara D’Amato came up with some fine wine choices by the glass.

So that was one lovely dinner. On Friday, I went to an amazing lunch at Via Allegro, sharing the big party table in the front of the restaurant with three master whisky distillers—from Glenfiddich, Arran and Woodford Reserve bourbon—and the publisher of Whisky magazine—which has just awarded its highest honour to Via Allegro on account of the restaurant’s list of over 750 whiskies. (Amongst them, incidentally, is The Macallan 1955 from the year of my birth—a wee dram of 1_ ounces going for $785.) Lunch at Via Allegro tends to take the entire afternoon when our host Phil Sabatino sits down with us, but this time we were finished by 4:30. Chef Lino Collevecchio created some amazing dishes. He used Glenlivet to spike a beef consommé poured over barley, tortellini and bluefoot mushrooms—awesome with the 18-year-old Glenfiddich. We drank crisp Speyside Cragganmore with a dish of lamb neck and a fine old Bertani amarone with a lean, superbly tender venison chop saltimboccaed (I didn’t know it was a verb) with prosciutto and sage leaves. In honour of the Scottish visitors, chef fried a miniature Mars bar in coconutty crumbs and served it with a demitasse of coffee in which floated mascarpone sorbet, the wee cupful corrected with a dash of 10-year-old Talisker. There were many more dishes and drinks—Via Allegro’s whisky guru, manager Joseph Cassidy, came up with a delicious cocktail made with _ ounce of Woodford Reserve Bourbon and 1_ ounces of very cold prosecco—but for some reason my notes are incomplete.

The third dinner (which explains the cryptic Bonzo headline above this page) was unlike any meal I have ever eaten but that, as the mezzanine said of the penthouse, is another storey. Before attempting to describe it I must try to find out if everything we did was legal.