I decided that at least once I wanted to try one of those fancy and of course expensive tasting menus you can get at some upscale restaurants. It’s the kind of meal where the chef makes multiple small dishes of his choosing and you get surprised with every course. I recently had the opportunity to try just such a menu at Auberge du Pommier, a French restaurant in north Toronto that is part of the Oliver and Bonacini group of restaurants. It was partly exactly what I expected, and partly not at all what I expected. The food was delicious, the service was impeccable, the ambiance was lovely and the company was exceptional. The meal also lasted over three hours and included ten courses. I have to say I was impressed with everything, but especially how eating different combinations of the elements on each plate led to a different flavour experience. I thought I’d share some of the highlights and some of the tips I gleaned from the menu the chef chose. I warn you though that you may be hungry if you choose to read on.
We started with an ‘amuse bouche’ of sweet pea velouté with heirloom radishes. What amazed me the most was how after eating a fresh pea, you really could taste a stronger pea flavour in the soup. Next was a deconstructed house Caesar salad served with a quail egg, white anchovy, parmesan crisp and lentils. Also delicious. Our third course was a battered lobster claw crusted with pearl barley and served with herbed mayonnaise, mandarin orange segments and a mandarin reduction. Wow! I think this course remained hubby’s favourite for the rest of the meal. The sweetness of the mandarin really brought out the sweetness of the lobster.
Our fourth course (and the only one I forgot to take a picture of) was a diver scallop served over kobe beef cheek and pureed squash with a cranberry reduction and crispy potato. The scallop was perfectly cooked, and the beef was melt in your mouth good. Next was a carpaccio and a mushroom terrine served with shaved truffle and parmesan cheese. The course also included a mushroom consommé topped with a beef-based foam and parmesan biscuit. OMG! I’ve always been a mushroom soup fan, but this combination was absolutely delicious, and the earthy truffle really emphasized the flavours.
When we hit the sixth course, we really thought we were at dessert. It was a green apple sorbet over an apple reduction with Calvados foam, served alongside a Niagara apple cider. I never realized how wonderfully complementary flavours can work together. The four apple combo was really a hit. As it turned out though, this was just a mid-meal palate cleanser. It was followed by lamb tenderloin served over lamb shank on top of mustard greens, with a side of potato croquettes over a sweet potato cube and parsnip puree. I must say I’ll never look at potatoes quite the same way again.
Our eighth course was really eight courses in one, with a sampling of a group of Canadian and French cheeses served with fresh multigrain bread, honey and bee pollen. While it was all delicious, I have to say a Canadian cheese called ‘1608’ was a stand-out star. Courses nine and ten were both fantastic desserts, and that’s coming from someone with far more than one sweet tooth.
The beginning of the end was a passion fruit and white chocolate pavé with yogurt sorbet and a crumbled milk chocolate biscuit. The flavours on the plate also included caramel, strawberries, lavender, ginger and pineapple, which all served to compliment the star of the show. Finally we sampled what may have been the simplest dish of the evening, a walnut wafer cookie served with a raspberry. Deceptively simple, and simply delicious.
Here’s what I learned; parmesan cheese can act like salt to intensify the flavour of other elements of a dish, multiple layers of the same flavour like mushrooms or apple make it even more intense, both complementary and contrasting flavours seem to enhance a dish, and potatoes and yams are truly among the most versatile ingredients. Also, food is akin to theatre, an amusing, delightful and entertaining way to spend an evening.