I’ve been waiting to write this post for two years. We moved back to Toronto 2014, around the time Alo revealed its view overlooking the bustling Queen and Spadina intersection, and I’ve been drooling over glowing reviews ever since. I spent two years waiting to have dinner at Alo, and now that I have, I’m deflated; the same way you feel after you’ve ripped open all the Christmas presents. Exhausted joy.
While this post might seem long, the tasting menu is deliciously long-winded, more ceremony than meal. 11 courses from canapés to second dessert.
From start to finish it took three hours of grazing-ly refined eating to have dinner at Alo.
The entrance to Alo is unassuming, only a simple plaque distinguishes the entrance. The moment we walked through the door, you felt the air of sophisticated service. A host manning the elevator took our names and instructed us to ride it to the third floor. General manager and part owner Amanda Bradley addressed Adam and I by name when we stepped off the elevator, whisked off our coats and brought us to the table in two efficient minutes.
The tables at Alo are bare when you are first seated. One menu is brought to decide the few choices on the tasting menu, along with a cocktail list. Adam and I decided to stick with the wine pairings, which our server assured us was a good plan. The pairings are generous to say the least.
The decor is warm, with neutral tones and touches of robin’s egg blue. Dark wooden tables have small gold insets, the tufted banquets are leather and tall curtains frame the rare bird’s eye view of Queen and Spadina. It’s a neat city perspective, pairing well with this one-of-a-kind Toronto experience. A tray of napkins was presented, and we were instructed to choose one. Part of me feels like this was major overkill, and another was elated by the processional of lavish service. Our cutlery was laid atop a porcelain leaf so it never touches the table.
Canapés came first on a silver pedestal. Four warm gougères stuffed with fontina cheese sit on the top with a hint of jalapeño toying our tastebuds. On the bottom, a cherry-sized bite of foie gras with a thin layer of glass-like fruit jam sandwiched in between. It melted in my mouth immediately. Good start.
The amuse bouche is meant to excite the palate, but with our mouths already entertained by canapés, this just keeps the juices flowing.
Foie gras with luscious celery puree and ginger in a small and deep bowl is paired with a sparkling from Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray. The whole course feels evanescent.
At Alo, you have one designated server, but there are several others who change your cutlery, bring your plates and keep you water glass 3/4 full. I counted three sommeliers, differentiated from servers by suit and ties and an esteemed nature as they circulated with magnums of wine. Our sommelier was smartly dressed in a black suit and was more than informative about the wines. Able to read our table immediately, she knew we liked wine and spent extra time talking about the process of choosing the pairings.
Full-disclaimer: The photos of the food aren’t great. I quickly snapped some shots of each course before devouring.
A small salad came next. Cucumber with celtuce (stem lettuce), avocado cream dolloped on the plate with hints of pistachio. It’s a refreshing shake-up after the heavy amuse bouche and paired with a Norman Hardie Riesling from Prince Edward County.
‘Le Portage Laurentien’ only comes in magnums (because bigger is always better with wine) and is served exclusively in restaurants.
Every now and then, I saw Chef Patrick Kriss step out of the open kitchen to survey the dining room. It’s clear that even after two years of busy success (it takes months to get a reservation here), the passion for service and enjoyment of his food is still at peak ripeness.
The next course had a choice (three of the courses do). Adam went with the yellowfin tuna with romaine lettuce, bright blood orange that smacked your tastebuds to attention with a hint of coriander. His dish is paired with a wine from Piedmont, Vietti Roero Arneis 2015. I’d never heard of the Arneis grape before, and the sommelier told us it was on the verge of extinction in the 1960s until the Roero family saved it. It was acidic but fruity.
I chose the Hakkaido sea scallop, barely cooked, with Meyer Lemon, fennel and sea urchin. I was pretty excited to finally try uni. It was creamy and salty, basically the foie gras of the sea, and my new favourite food.
My scallop dish was paired with Anselmo Mendes ‘Contacto’ Alvarhino from Portugal. Similar to a vinhno verde (one of my favourite whites), this Alvarhino had a more robust fruity character that went so well with the richness of the scallop and the uni.
And then the pain au lait arrived.
Oh my god this bread. The next course was accompanied by the most delicious bread I’ve ever had. I had read about this roll in several reviews, and holy crap it was worth the wait. Served with a tall cylinder of butter, the pain au lait is made with the buttermilk skimmed off the top of the butter. Divine.
The bread was the perfect vessel for soaking up the juices from the Salt Spring mussels. The mussels mingled with chunks of al dente Lintzer potato and Beemster cheese, toasted barley, smoked butter and foam. Adam said he’d never had a foam with actual flavour; it was rich and creamy without the heaviness of a sauce. By far my favourite dish of the evening. The wine pairing for this course has a shocking minerality. The Domaine Baud ‘Cuvee Tradition’ Cotes du Jura 2015 was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. The Jura region lies between Burgundy and Switzerland, and these winemakers don’t interfere with the grapes, left to oxidize with a very unique flavour. Its almost metallic taste cut through the creaminess of the dish and brought out the flavour of the mussels.
Another choice came next. I went with Muscovy duck with sweet potato puree, turnip and hoisin. I’m a fan of root veg with duck, and this succulent breast was no exception, especially with the hint of Asian flair. The notes of plum from this Italian red, Foradori Teroldego 2013, was a perfect pairing.
Adam’s choice of Hamachi was served with chesnuts, brussel sprouts and Perigold black truffle. Also paired with Italian wine, the Accadia ‘Cantori’ Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi 2014 was the most vibrant yellow I’ve ever seen and just as complex in flavour.
The main event?
The next course also had a choice. My St.Canut rack of pork with cranberries, walnuts and five spice is paired with Close du Moulin des Moines ‘Close de la Perriere’ 2014. Maybe it was the number of courses, but this one was forgettable, in fact I forgot it altogether when writing my first draft! That said, the pork was perfectly cooked.
On the opposite side of the table, the lamb was Adam’s favourite course of the night, paired with the most interesting wine. Forsyth Farm lamb loin with legumes, swiss chard, ras el hanout. The Lebanese wine, Chateau Musar ‘Hochar Pere et Fils’ 2011, had an intense flavour of curry leaves. I only had a sip, I’m going to do some more research on Lebanese wine!
The cheesy diversion
When the server described the additional cheese course, I watched as Adam’s eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. A cheese s’more? Yes please. A log of goat cheese aged in-house was cradled in the puree of dates sitting in the bottom of a crystal bowl with chocolaty essence. The crackers sat on a folded napkin, awaiting the slathering.
Before dessert there was a quick palate cleanser of grapefruit granita, elderflower and vanilla. Delicious and devoured in seconds.
Dessert x 2 isn’t overkill: Apples or Squash?
One might think two desserts is overkill, but somehow it wasn’t after dinner at Alo. The first dessert had a choice: Apples or Squash? I went with the latter. Butternut squash ice cream with sudachi and caramel and paired with Cave Spring Late Harvest Riesling 2014. Squash was a surprising dessert feature, but it was fresh and rich at the same time. Adam chose apples. Honey Crisp apple with puff pastry and Calvados. Served with a sweeter Portugese Barbosa Moscatel de Setubal.
Finally, the last bite of the evening was a complete departure from the freshness of first dessert. Chocolate mouse sat between layers of perfectly tempered dark chocolate with hints of coffee. A classic flavour pairing for dessert and paired with a port, Quinta Dona Matilde Colheita 2008.
Fine dining isn’t dead, it just got rid of the white tablecloth
While critics think extensive tasting menus are a fading methodology, Alo takes away the white table cloth from under French fare to produce an amazing dining experience. There’s still a place for experiences like dinner at Alo. I love the theatrical nature for special occasions (or occasions made special by the meal), and this is some of the best food I’ve had anywhere. It’s unpretentious approach to fine dining has an aura of unembellished attention to detail from the cutlery to the coat check.
Overall, the dinner itself was $105 per person and wine pairings were another $65, so with tax it came to $400 before tip. I’ve had lesser meals costing more, and though it cheapens the experience by saying this, the value for the money for dinner at Alo is good. I’d probably pay $400 for mussel course, as long as it came 20 of those rolls.