Date of Visit: Sunday July 30, 2006
Reservation for 2 at 19:00, seated immediately
169 Niagara Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
5-course tasting menu for 2 plus two glasses of wine and coffee (tax & tip included): $165
House Smoked Whitefish on Fried Green Tomato with Spinanch: This is a different preparation using the house smoked whitefish. Last time, it was used in a tasty crepe. This time around, it was paired with a slice of slightly greasy fried green tomato and lightly dressed spinach. The smoked fish was just as tasty though I think it matches better with the spinach than the tomato. The drizzle of olive oil on the plate made the tomato appear more greasy than it really was.
Braised Pork Belly with Ragout of Peas, Snap Peas, and Bacon: This dish smelled delicious even before the plate arrived in front of me. The braised pork belly still maintained some texture which I prefer over the totally melt-in-your-mouth style. The rich sweetness in the pork and the light sweetness from the peas were emphasized with the addition of some grated lemon zest. The bright flavour of lemon really made this dish special.
Shrimp "Ochazuke" In A Saffron Green Onion Broth: I'm sure this dish is not called ochazuke but everything about it from the large black Japanese bowl to the grains of rice swimming in a broth just reminded me of my favourite comfort food. As cliche as it sounds, the two large shrimps were perfectly cooked and sweet. The saffron broth made me think of bouillabaise until the fragrant green onion kicked in which gave this dish a decidedly asian flavour.
Beets In Cold Turnip Soup with Goat Cheese: I love beets and cold soup so this dish won me over easily. The beet used here was a long curvy variety which looked more like a mini zuchinni. The turnip soup was refreshing and without the bitterness usually found in this root vegetable. As far as cold soup is concern, I think this dish is a great alternative to the more common vichyssoise. I love the tanginess of the goat cheese. Who knew creamy goat cheese would taste so good with beets?
Organic Chicken Breast and Chicken Ravioli in Consomme: Sigh, the only miss of the evening. The chicken breast was too tough. The consomme tasted strongly of alcohol which made the whole dish seem like a bad variation of the traditional Chinese chicken poached in wine.
Compote of Summer Berries and Yellow Plum Served with Fresh Flowers And Basil: This is a lovely dessert to end the meal. We were given a choice between a cheese course and a dessert course. Since I know that AL is not a big fan of bold flavour cheese (of which they have so many in their gorgeous selection), we opted for dessert instead. The compote was beautiful to behold with a myriad of colour from the yellow plum, raspberries, sour cherries, red currents, blueberries, and the edible flowers. The use of basil in this dish was wonderful...it elevated the course from a fruit salad to a proper dessert course.
Just as my last visit, service was impeccable and personal. The front of the house team really knows the dishes and the wine well. This is definitely one of the strengths of Niagara Street Cafe.
My last dinner at Niagara Street Cafe was wonderful and I felt that it was one of the best-value restaurants in Toronto. It is actually my first choice when I thought of a place to take AL to celebrate her birthday. Last time, I saw a table of diners enjoying a tasting menu and turned out it was a specially prepared dinner for the close friends of the chef. When I called up the restaurant for a reservation, I casually asked if a tasting menu is available and was told I would need to speak to the owner. I really didn't expect to have my request fulfilled, after all, I'm neither a friend of the chef nor a regular, right? So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when the gracious co-owner Anton Potvin returned my call to discuss the details of the tasting menu!
Both AL and I were very happy with the tasting menu. I mentioned to Anton how it was really interesting that all of the courses (except for the amuse) were in a broth of some sort. It was like a theme for the evening though it could have just been a coincidence. Whatever it was, this tasting menu was very seasonal and appropriate for such a hot summer night. I heard that Niagara Street Cafe may include the tasting menu regularly by September. I think that would be good news indeed.