Following a disappointing tasting menu in Vancouver, I had my heart set on finding a restaurant in Toronto that would blow me away. I found just that at Colborne Lane near the St Lawrence Market. This restaurant is on a side street off the beaten track and upon entering I knew I was going to truly enjoy the evening.
I heard about Colborne Lane from my friend Rob Punzo who works in the restaurant supply business and deals with the owner/chef Claudio Aprile. Aprile has been named as one of the top chefs in Toronto but more fascinating is that he was featured on the David Suzuki show The nature of Things . Aprile is in the top 6% of people who have can identify the most smells and apparently has more taste buds than the average person making him a SUPER TASTER! He uses this talent to produce some of the most interesting and exciting dishes I have tasted in a long time. He has surrounded himself with staff who share his vision and passion for excellence from the front of the house to the kitchen brigade.
I was a bit nervous about picking a restaurant I hadn’t been to before as we were dining with a senior executive from my husband’s company along with the owners of a Russian Airline company, all of whichare well versed in fine dining. The front of the house staff Glen and Emily were quick to put my apprehensions aside as they made us feel welcome and not rushed. In fact I had a great conversation with Emily the bartender about my previous experience in Vancouver as she had spent a couple of years working there.
Colborne Lane is celebrating it’s 5th year this month so the 10 course tasting menu consisted of 2 of the best dishes from the previous 5 years. We chose to do a flight of 6 wines to pair with the dinner.
The first dish to arrive at our table was a bit mind boggling. We were presented with a plate of oyster shells on a bed of ice and inside the shell was a small leaf. What happened to the oyster? I imagine that this was Aprile’s way of preparing us for the dishes to come by offering us something that tasted like an oyster but wasn’t. I was amazed at how similar the oyster leaf tasted to a fresh oyster. The oyster leaf grows wild on the coast of Scotland but can be cultivated anywhere. This was accompanied with a prosecco that complimented both the oyster leaf and the second dish of cured wild salmon. The plate was presented with crispy nori, cucumber, a yuzu snow along with a few other tasty tidbits.
The followingdish was served with a lovely St. Innocent Pinot Gris from Oregon. This wine had both a spicey and mineral note that compliments Asian influenced dishes. Dish three was an outstanding lobster bisque. The bowls came to the table with a square of coconut tofu and coconut foam along with a slice of lobster, a bit of kalamanci (Philippine citrus) and some chilli slices. The server poured the hot bisque into the bowls as everyone was served. I can honestly say that the bisque had such a beautifully intense lobster flavour that I practically licked the bowl clean. The next dish was a bit whimsical with Aprile’s take on chicken wings. The chicken is cooked sous vide (slow cooked in a water bath) without the bones then seared. The plate was dotted with celery and chilli as well as a blue cheese sauce and freeze dried crumbled blue cheese. Everything about this dish was familiar but presented in a new and exciting way. The accompanying wine was 13th Street Riesling from the Niagara region that with it’s layered fruitiness brought the blue cheese to the forefront.
The Lioco Chardonnay from Sonoma had just the right amount of acidity to pull the tea smoked squab and foie gras to the next level. The abundance of flavours from the blue berries to the hibiscus and apricot could challenge the non foodie but those of use who eat sleep and breath food understood Aprile a bit better. Everything on every single plate had a purpose, especially the scallop dish that followed. The perfectly cooked scallop sat on a sweet chilli sauce and was surrounded by creme fraiche pearls, clotted coconut cream citrus and serrano sauce and a tapioca crisp. The contrasts of the textures and tastes were amazing.
The next dish was my all time favourite from the Chateau Trignon Cotes du Rhone (from Grenache my personal favourite) to the triple seared beef (seared, bathed in ice saki, seared, bathed in soy and seared again). The smoked parsnips, pearl onions, mushrooms, asparagus and pickled blueberries that accompanied the beef were inhaled before I realized it. Just writing about it is making me drool. I could have ended the meal there and been happy but we had 2 dishes left to go.
Richard poured us an incredible Daniel Lenko Late Harvest Vidal from Beamsville. My husband is not a sauterne or ice wine kind of guy but this Vidal had him asking for seconds. Presented to us were beautiful glass bowls filled with cinnamon and pine needles that were singed topped with an apple parcel and mulled bourbon that gave an aroma transporting me to my mom’s kitchen when she baked her apple pies. The dish evoked a special memory for all of us. Dining at Colborne Lane is like going to the theatre , very entertaining . Richard soon reappeared with a large silver bowl, a jug of something chocolate and some liquid nitrogen. He proceeded to make the most incredibly smooth chocolate chilli frozen yogurt where the cold vapours oozed out the bowl across the table and into your lap. He disappeared into the kitchen with the mixture and it soon reappeared completely transformed into a grand finale dessert. Although the chilli in the chocolate was powerful, there was no discomfort as the creamy smooth yogurt bathed the inside of your mouth to keep the bite at bay. we were completely satisfied but again Aprile had one last surprise in store. The coffee bomb! liquid Baileys covered in white chocolate that you let rest on your tongue to melt.
I left Colborne Lane thinking “When can I go back?”. Aprile is a very talented chef, giving you an experience as well as subtly teaching you that unexpected flavour combinations and variety of colours and textures are what makes food exciting.
Thursday, February 16, 2012