It’s Tuesday, not a dining out night but as a belated birthday present, my son has procured a dinner reservation at Alo. It’s been a muggy rainy on and off day but the skies now clear.
I imagine a speakeasy or a New York resto tucked away innocuously- in a downscale neighbourhood. At the bottom of the stairs is a tiny elevator operated by an employee. We know the magic password so we are allowed entrance. Service, welcome, greeting pleasantly opens up to contrast the confines of that stifling elevator box. You don’t really absorb the flair of the entrance till you use the washrooms later and pass through a lively bar setting on the edge of a kitchen. There seems to be another eating area too but we are on leather upholstered couches facing large windows on lower Spadina.
Throughout the evening, whether sommelier, servers or waiters, you get the impression that these people are just as happy to be there as you ar: smiles appear genuine, not forced.
The menu is set with three real choices, appetizer, main and desert in the course of seven .Dinner begins and the first starters that appear will foreshadow the rest of the meal: tiny perfect jewels of food that look too beautiful to devour. Stunningly assembled eatable pieces of art that both externally and inwardly showcase incredible talent. First there is toro, coconut and coriander and tuna loin, avocado and finger lime. Again they are almost too precious to eat and recall to my mind the pint size chocolates you might see at Nadege’s or an artful truffle shop in a hidden lane.
I choose Hokkaido sea scallop, sudachi crème fraiche, daikon and ice lettuce for my starter. The freshness and melange of flavours is delectable but combines as a well played instrument in an orchestra of food. There is a sprinkle of something resembling a bit of carbon you hold momentarily on your tongue that gently evaporates, enhancing the total treat. My husband has the 30 year aged beef ribeye tartar,quail egg, brown sauce, Tete de Moine.How many ways can you say amazing? At each offering, I emit a noise: mmmm….
The pain au lait has been raved about in many other reviews so I won’t elaborate except to say it could also be one’s guilty pleasure.
Two of our party vote the morel mushrooms in a lobster bisque, iberico loom garnished with eatable nasturtiums as their favourite, speaking to the surprise sensations of crunchy and soft, delicate and bold in this one dish.
The other two diners go with the agnolotti of Beaufort cheese, the superb perfectly green English peas garnished with slivers of duck prosciutto as their fav.Mmmm…mmm … We eat with our eyes as well as our pallets and these offerings are tiny abstract paintings where the shapes and colours exact an additional observation as we’ve now come to expect – in this perfectly paced journey of food, textures bright, fresh, incredibly well chosen and always unique in themselves but carefully combined to produce a satiny elegance on the tastebud This artistry of presentation has been studied to evoke a strong aesthetic response from the diner.
Striped bass, artichokes, mousseron mushrooms in a clam emulsion is a prelude to the choice of mains of veal ribeye and Quebec pork loin, Only here do the veal eaters comment: with such small ( thankfully) portions, the presence of tiny fissures of fat and a too too rare cooking mar an assemblage that includes young green asparagus, porcini mushrooms and ramps.
There are three delectable deserts and an added surprise of a tiny chocolate ganache birthday cake with a candle that I imagine in a doll’s house. But of the three, we all laud the burst of the mandarin orange, honeymilk , with again that magnificent contrast set off by the flake of honeycomb. Small is definitely big here.
Words of course do not provide insight into the diversity of tastes, and what can occur when one ingredient sidles up against another to create an unexpected pop or hint of the unexpected.
This has been an incredible night. The food and Italian wine have perfectly coalesced. The conversation engaging and fun, but certainly the food was the star.