Why Alo is Toronto’s best restaurant, and has been since its inception
Howard Levitt: Too many restaurants leave you disappointed with a weak finish. Chef Kriss ensures he ends with strength
By Howard Levitt
On the still grotty but gentrifying corner of Queen and Spadina, Toronto’s historic entry point for successive waves of immigrants, past the entrance to Exotix Studio and a body piercing boutique, there is an alcove off the street. A concierge behind a lectern pushes an industrial elevator button. One enters, then ascends slowly to an entirely out-of-context, high-design restaurant.
The initial entrance is into a dark, Asian-inspired cocktail bar area with black and gold motifs leading to the main restaurant. The restaurant would not be out of place in Miami’s Wynwood neighbourhood with a dash of Hong Kong.
Totally neutral tones surround diners; light grey walls, beige curtains, a light brown wood floor, and black wood mahogany tables with a light copper inlay strip matching thin overhead chandeliers.
If you looked out the windows (and overlooked the streetcars), you could believe that you were in south Manhattan.
The restaurant question I am most frequently asked is “What is Toronto’s best?” This is it — and has been since this restaurant’s inception, for those fortunate enough to secure a reservation. Alo delivers top food, top service, top plate design. Top everything.
Fussy eaters should eat elsewhere. Alo offers only a tasting menu, eschewing a la carte. Chef Patrick Kriss is a native of Toronto. Trained at George Brown’s Chef School, his previous incarnations, before opening Alo, included work at Daniel in New York City, La Maison Troisgros in Lyon and Régis & Jacques Marcon, also in France – each of them three-Michelin starred, a true trifecta. He returned to Toronto to cook at Splendidos, Toronto’s best before it closed in 2015, and Acadia, before deciding to open his own restaurant. His co-owner, who runs the front of house, Amanda Bradley, and indeed his whole staff, are the city’s most pedigreed.
We started with drinks from the cocktail list. Mine had a smoky scotch base with two types of amaro, honey and lemon topped with bee pollen chunks.
The canapés provided a foreshadowing of the chef’s grasp and technical virtuoso. Gougeres with fontina cheese, fermented jalapeño and caramelized onion; pomme soufflé with Venetian caviar; baby turnip in nori butter; fois grois torchon with a champagne gelee and chips of camerise berries from Quebec; and daikon wrapped around hamachi tartare with wasabi.
It had the desired impact, opening up the palate for what was ahead.
Chef Kriss created an amuse bouche, Hokkaido sea urchin with corn sprinkled with chipotle powder in a bowl of toro tartare with rice pearls, coriander stems and young coconut. It was accompanied by a bowl of cherry tomatoes with sturgeon, Venetian caviar and thyme-inflected shrimp from Japan.
Next course, Savage Blond Oysters from P.E.I. with Venetian caviar. One of the most succulent oysters I’ve ever enjoyed with a mouth feel and finish that went on for almost three minutes.
The main event began with Madai (Japanese seabream) with a lightly cured vinaigrette, Sudachi (Japanese lime), Myoga (Japanese ginger) and ice lettuce, burgundy spinach and marigold petals. Chef Kriss views tasting menus as a progression of flavours and this dish was clean, acidic and focused, allowing the fish to shine.
From aromatic, we moved to richness with the most intense dish of the night. Sautéed chanterelle mushrooms along with confit potato, topped with curled shavings of cured fois gras. Happily, Toronto is not California, and has not succumbed to the anti fois gras lobby.
Next, agnolotti stuffed with Beaufort cheese, tossed in brown butter and sherry vinegar, garnished with black Australian truffle and brown butter croutons. The richness of the cheese complemented the intense seasonal truffle.
Then, Pacific halibut, buttermilk crème freche, tarragon and parsley oil, radish with lemon balm and Meyer lemon and cucumber topping. After the two rich courses, these acidic garnishes created a wonderful palate cleanser and displayed Chef’s strength with seafood.
Too many restaurants leave you disappointed with a weak finish. Chef Kriss ensures he ends with strength. Roasted veal ribeye with a ragu of king oyster mushroom, finished with béarnaise sauce with a black garlic puree, charred spring onions, crispy shallots and Mizuna leaves.
Then, cucumber and champagne sorbet with a lime juniper berry tuile; both sweet and savoury.
Dessert here is not an afterthought. Strawberry compote, orange blossom marshmallow ribbon and green chamomile. The marshmallow was created, injected with chamomile oil, frozen and inserted into a PacoJet to turn it into ice cream.
Finally, caramel cream, hazelnut ice cream and flan finished with chocolate hazelnut chips (with the hazelnuts sourced from Piedmont) and chocolate tuile. I never complain about ending a meal with rich chocolate.
This is no 100 mile diet. The goal is to source the best ingredients from wherever they can be found, carbon emissions be damned