For my birthday this year, passing the “Mid-Twenties” mark, tfung very sweetly (and excitedly) booked the top restaurant in Toronto currently. We struggled with scheduling but were able to make it work and rushed to get to our reservation on time, for which we were 15 minutes late, and they were extremely nice and understanding about it.
The decor inside is gorgeous. It’s bright, light, with mid-century modern chairs in a soft but gender-neutral blue. The booths were covered in a soft dirty-periwinkle blue, and the cylindrical chrome hanging lights captured my attention from where we were sitting.
Alo provides a tasting menu that is changed fairly frequently, from specific ingredients in each of the dishes being shuffled daily to suit whatever is freshest, to the whole dish being switched out either weekly or bi-weekly. As a result, their menu is completely different if you come back in 2 months, keeping the restaurant running at high capacity for new patrons as well as returning.
Because we were going for drinks later on that evening, we did not opt for any of the cocktails or other alcoholic beverages at Alo. I definitely would go back to try some of their cocktails, as they looked extremely interesting. We had a chance to look at the menu, and it was constructed with 2 appetizers, and 3 mains, from which we could choose one of two options.
We started off with puff pastry filled with a thick savoury cream, with torched onion powder on the top. The bite-size was more than enough, as we got two each, and the cream had a nice consistency and thickness, but was not too overpowering in flavour that took away from the onion powder or the pastry itself. Beneath that dish, at the base of the pedestal, was a passion fruit meringue sandwiching thin slices of cooked heart of artichoke, topped with coconut cream. This was my preferred amuse bouche, using different and interesting ingredients that we normally would not imagine together, and constructing an interesting piece out of it, again in a form that we would not normally imagine. The heart of artichoke provided the softer texture of a cooked vegetable, with a slight sourness in flavour to offset the fattiness of the coconut cream and the sweetness of the passion fruit meringue.
The first appetizer was an English Peas dish. There were fava beans, english peas, and snow peas, that were both in its fresh, slightly blanched form, as well as made into the form of a purée.
Following the Peas, were a Hamachi (done 3 ways) and zucchini pairing. The generous portion of hamachi sashimi filet was fresh, still a cool temperature, and presented on a thin smear of light cream sauce. There was also a small portion of hamachi tartare served on top of the filet, which was creamy and had a nice fatty mouth feel. The flavour of the hamachi was not as pronounced in the belly as it was in the sashimi or the cured hamachi, which was surprising. The cured hamachi, was served in a small portion on the side, topped with some chopped up dried cranberries. The dish was served with scattered zucchini, both steamed and grilled, as well as a sensational key-lime sauce.
There were three mains to the dinner. The first was a choice between Morel mushrooms and Dungeness crab, the second was a choice between sea bass and scallops, and the third was a decision between lamb and pork.
Morel vs Dungeness Crab
I chose the morel mushrooms as I actually had never had them before. This is tfung’s favourite type of mushroom, and one that he introduced and taught me about. The dish came with a generous serving of large pieces of morels., soaked in an extremely rich and flavourful almost beef bourgingon sauce, as well as a thick cream sauce on the side made with shallots.The dish was topped off with fried chicken skin bits and some green onion and shallots for garnish. This was probably the most disappointing dish of the bunch. It was extremely salty, to the point where it was difficult to taste the true flavours of the dish. I’m unsure if it was caused by the broth, or if it was the morel mushrooms that might have received too much seasoning, which seeped into the broth, but either two was the culprit. Definitely did not expect such a slip from a restaurant like Alo.
Tfung picked the buttery dungeoness crab dish, with bite-sized pieces of crab, mostly submerged in a seafood infused butter sauce, and topped off with a foam, which added a nice contrast in texture as the whole dish was extremely monotonous.
Sea Bass vs Scallops
The seafood portion of the night featured probably the two most popular favourites by the public. I am never that impressed with scallops, so I opted for the Sea Bass. The bass was cooked to the point of being just underdone, which is how I like it and believe fish should be eaten. The skin was crispy with a nice flavour without being too powerful or aggressive. The dish was a little saltier than I typically like, but I tend to cook quite blandly at home which could have attributed to how I perceived the saltiness. My favourite part of the dish was how big the white asparagus looked, and how it kept us intrigued visually. The green asparagus sauce gave it a nice contrast in colour, was lighter in the intensity of flavour, and the herbiness of the undercooked asparagus balanced out the richness of the cream sauce.
The scallops were done very well and featured a cumin mustard sauce. The sauce I felt lacked a kick that I would have expected but was much more interesting than the usual mushroom or truffle sauce that I have seen in the past with scallops. As usual, the presentation was great and inviting, and the magenta of the radishes added a nice contrast in colour.
Duck Breast vs Pork Chop
Of course, I chose the duck, as I’ve always loved duck breast and duck magret. The duck dish was done in 3 ways, again a presentation that is very popular in many tasting menu restaurants, as well as one that I enjoy a lot. A duck sausage presented into a ball with duck prosciutto wrapped around it, with a small amount of foie gras in the center, and the duck breast itself, seared on the skin and cooked to medium rare. The rich duck breast was decorated and contrasted with the deep purple of radicchio. The presentation wasn’t the most exciting compared to the other dishes, but the flavour and juciness of the breast spoke for itself.
The porkchop held for a more fun experience in enjoying the different components of the dish. There was the porkchop itself, with several asparagus stems cooked to perfection. The pork chop that was generously salted and peppered were to be eaten with an array of different sauces that included a lime and bean puree, a sauteed chives and garlic mixture, a relish condiment made with cabbage, and finally an onion and shallot mixture. The pork chop was again cooked to a good tenderness, and was a little more on the medium side but still retained its juices very well.
Almond cake with rhubarb sorbet
The almond cake made for a nice light flavour after the heavier main dishes. I didn’t enjoy the cake itself as much as I did the cooked rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet that came with it. Although overall I thought there was not much surprise to this dessert dish.
Chocolate Ganache cake with Mint and Basil Icecream
I was quite surprised at a second dessert as this was not outlined in the menu. But after a slightly disappointing previous dessert with the almond cake, I was quite delighted to come across a much more familiar looking cake, with the exception of the green ice cream resting on top of it – that was melting fast. As expected, the chocolate cake was extremely rich and heavy, and was made with a refined dark cacao. It had different textures throughout, including the thick ganache, a lighter mousse, as well as a dense cake base. The crunchy nougat on the top was also pertinent to enjoying all the different textures of such a rich dish. But the cherry on top and what I believe to be the star of the dish had to be the basil and mint ice cream. The flavour was definitely something you would not typically expect from an ice cream, being so fresh and light – which probably was due to it not being too rich in cream. The contrast of this lightness and bright, fresh flavour compared to the deep dark richness of the chocolate was key.
As with most tasting menus, it is all about the fun in trying different combinations of the dish, and tasting very different flavours within dishes as well as between dishes. I believe Alo definitely achieved that, even though some of their dishes were a little less innovative, which serves as a nice anchor for those of us who wish to feel the sense of familiarity. It is a delicate balance between being new and adventurous, as well as showing that you can do the “plain old boring stuff” well. Further, Alo’s service was impeccable, having great attention to detail and being a little overstaffed which made for handling different requests or celebrations easier.
The openness of the kitchen gave you a distraction between the dishes, and the decor was just absolutely stunning without being too gender-specific. I also love that you can be very casual about the dining experience, as well as perceive it to be very formal. The space and attitude of the restaurant were very versatile and is dependent on how the patrons wish to experience their time and meal here.
I definitely think Alo is a place to visit, especially for a special occasion. If not for a special occasion, their à la carte dining area by the bar is also a great alternative, especially when we don’t want a full-blown tasting menu meal.
Ambiance: new age, scandi, modern, gender-neutral, classy but not stuffy
Cost: $250/2 people