Saturday, April 9, 2011

Colborne Lane Tasting Menu Review

 I`ve been interested in modern cooking techniques, for some time now. Colborne Lane in Toronto, incorporates these techniques into their dishes, so I decided that since my birthday has come around I want to go and experience them from someone more experienced than I. The executive chef and owner, Claudio Aprile has briefly staged at El Bulli, and has worked at Alinea, two of the leading restaurants practising avant-garde techniques and two of the best in the world.

On walking into the restaurant, it is an intimate setting, not too bright. Background music resonates through the modern, hip, industrial looking space. There is no air of pretension or snobbishness, it is quite casual considering the complexity and intricacy of the food. The waitstaff are friendly and informative. After being sat at our table, we explained that we would be having the 10-course tasting menu. Bread was served - an aerated bread stick with pumpkin seeds and focaccia. Both good.

The first course of the night quickly arrived: salmon sashimi garnished with avocado puree, cauliflower puree, pickled cauliflower, cucumber, radish, crispy nori and poppy seed powder. The texture of the salmon was buttery and velvetly, without any trace of fishiness. The cauliflower puree was smooth, rich and left a touch of heat on the toungue. The dehydrated nori was excellent, crisp, light and naturally salty. The poppy seed powder added a slight nuttiness. Awesome dish, nicely composed and executed.

The second course was steak tartare beneath lightly pickled frisee, bread "crisp", salsa verde gel and horseradish ice cream. The tartare had the pleasant chewiness of raw beef with bits of minced caper. Horseradish ice cream was luxurious and had a beautiful touch of horseradish flavour without overwhelming the delicate, but balanced flavors of this dish. The pickled frisee was crisp, fresh and added both acidity and freshness which lightened the dish. The bread crisp was extremely thin and crunchy, evidently cut on a meat slicer and toasted. Excellent dish, the horseradish added something unique to the plate.

One of the best dishes of many memorable ones, the thrid course brought a single seared scallop, unctuous and succulent, drizzled with sweet chili dressing and topped with liquid nitrogen frozen creme fraiche pearls. The dressing had a complexity belonging caramelized sugar and reinforced the natural sweetness of fresh scallops. The creme fraiche pearls provided a silky and cold counterpoint to the perfectly cooked warm scallop. Accompaniments included a light coconut powder, made with coconut oil and tapioca maltodextrin, and orange and serrano chili salsa. The green puree was slightly bitter and overall could have been left out as well as the quenelle of something on the plate. Assertive, strongly flavoured dish. Really outstanding.

The fourth course, my favorite of the night, I didn't photograph =(. It was a soup of squash with caramelized maple syrup, shredded duck confit, verjus gelee, brown butter powder and compressed asain pear. The presentation was unique, as the bowl with only the wafer of maple tuile and the garishes was placed in front of us before the squash puree was added and the tuile instantly dissolved into the broth, releasing all of the garnishes into the soup. The soup was rich, sweet, earthy and incredibly well balanced. The duck confit added a saltiness to the soup and contrasted with the sweet flavours. The asian pear was compressed in a vacuum packer and provided excellent textural relief from the fluid soup. Fuckin` GOOD.

The fifth course, a deconstructed beet salad cleansed the palate after the heaviness of the fourth course and was a bridge leading into the heavier main courses. Complete with four kinds of beets, some sliced thin and served raw, some cooked, (I think cooked sous-vide)  fennel sponge, crushed pecans, beet gel, dehydrated beet dirt and aerated goat's cheese. The beets were lightly dressed and cooked beautifully.  The most flavorful component - the aerated cheese - light and refreshing, showcased the lightness and delicacy of goat cheese. After eating so many aerated things, I feel like buying an Isi canister...Back to the dish, the fennel sponge was cool but was cold temperature-wise. The beet gel was incredibly clear and smooth. Not the best of the night.

The sixth course was Artic char with cauliflower puree, leek foam, braised leek, lemon gel, beluga lentils and seared king oyster mushroom. The fish was a perfect medium rare, and wore a delicate coating of fabulously crisp skin. The braised leek was slightly stringy and lacking in flavour, the mushroom underseasoned, however the perfectly cooked fish, lentils and cauliflower puree more than compensated. I noticed that the cauliflower puree was different from the one in the first course; it shows how attentive they are to details. The lemon gel had a delightful texture and tasted purely of lemon. Really really good.

This was my least favourite course. Sous-vide lamb, manchego cheese polenta cake, smoked tomato puree,  opal basil gel, mushroom and rapini ragout and lamb reduction. It was one of the more conventional dishes, but it didn't come together very well. The lamb was well cooked, but was underseasoned. The opal basil gel was fragrant, but the gelling of it reduced it`s flavour. The ragout was good. The best components were the manchego cheese polenta, which crumbled once eaten and tasted complexly of manchego cheese and cornmeal, two tastes that meld together easily, as well as the smoked tomato puree which was perfectly smoked and tasted purely of the sweetness of tomato mixed with a slight hint of smoke. All things considered a good dish.

The first dessert; refreshing, balanced, tart and sweet - all about the deliciousness that is citrus. A liquid nitrogen-frozen snowball of lemon foam atop a balanced lemon curd with lemon pearls, again frozen in liquid nitrogen (who doesn't like that?) accompanied with fresh grapefruit salsa. The snowball looked like a snowball you'd throw, but the intense, yet delicate flavor would convince you otherwise. The exterior hard as ice, the inside soft and pillowy. Everything component tasted like the essence of lemon, presented differently, all balanced and not too sour. My favorite dessert.

The last plated course, liquid nitrogen ice cream prepared tableside. White chocolate creme friache, with aerated pumkin flan, glazed cranberries, cranberry fluid gel, granola crumble, lemon gel, and cranberry consomme. The ice cream was the smoothest I've ever eaten, like freakin' butter, it just dissolved thanks to the ultra-fast freeze in liquid nitrogen. Flavour-wise the ice cream could have been sweeter because you could one taste the creme fraiche, not a touch of white chocolate. The cranberry gel was excellent, sweet and sour. The aerated pumpkin flan, was light fluffy and slightly earty without distracting from the ice cream.  I was sad that such a great experience had to end...Excellent dish.

The entire experience was very enjoyable. I was only slightly hungry when I arrived and very full when I left. While there, I was introduced to new flavour profiles and got to judge the food and refine my palate. I hope that this experience will teach me more about the complexities of food, and how to assemble a cohesive dish, what works and what doesn`t. I feel that I left knowing more than when I arrived, not to mention that I experienced some truly extraordinary dishes. Thank you, Claudio Aprile and staff for crafting a very memorable meal and my Mom who paid for it...


  1. Hi Lucas,

    Very good blog - I am intrigued to try this know, once I can eat again!

    Very well thought out, and the pictures definitely help.

    I am looking forward to the next one.


  2. Thanks, Frank. It's encouraged that you are honest, if it needs work feel free to say so.