The Meandering Epicurist

Our man about town is suave, debonair, charming and, best of all, extremely curious. He hunts, sleuths, discovers, explores and tells all.

 

hf-epicure1aMiku Restaurant


With the arrival of Miku, the restaurant scene at the Toronto Waterfront and South Core area has finally been broken of its proliferation of mediocre, overpriced restaurants and sports bars.

I recall spending many evenings a few years ago in the original Vancouver Miku, happily sampling saké flights and the restaurant’s speciality Aburi-style sushi. And things have only got better.

After speaking with Corporate Executive Chef Kazuya Matsuoko, I can understand why. Although Matsuoko is initially reserved, once he starts talking his passion for enchanting diners with the finest Japanese food is obvious. Hailing from Japan, Matsuoko initially trained in traditional French and Italian restaurants before returning to his gastronomic roots.

A few days before our conversation, I snuck in incognito to see why Miku is doing so well. Sitting at the sushi bar, I rather cheekily prevailed on Sous Chef Hiroshi Endo to go off-menu: “Surprise me with something different,” I asked. I was already familiar with Miku’s excellent Aburi-style offerings, where sushi is finished off with heat to conjure up that elusive umami flavour.

What arrived was stunning. After an excellent soup and delicate oyster appetizer, a ridged white porcelain globe appeared. With a restrained flourish, the waiter pulled the globe apart to reveal three segments, each with its own dish. Within were small but exquisite tasting elements that were almost a design rather than food. Each mouthful was to be savoured. To rush such subtle and complex combinations of flavours and textures would be a crime—as would adding soy sauce.

The white globe, I learned later, was a hassun handmade at Arita, a 400-year-old company. Miku typically use them for its kaiseki multicourse offerings. Tradition came through, too, in the accompanying Aburi Ginjo saké, which was especially made for Miku by the Japanese saké maker Yoshinogawa, founded in 1548.

What dish would Matsuoko particularly recommend, I ask? Without hesitation he says the Aburi salmon oshi, one of their specialties. It is made of sockeye salmon, pressed into blocks over rice and topped with a secret sauce. I was tempted to ask for the ingredients, but sushi chefs wield surgeon-sharp knives with alarming dexterity. Discretion seemed in order.

Salmon is also a striking design element in this light, airy space with neutral decor. The walls are set-off with arresting and vibrant stylized salmon murals by Hideki Kimura, a renowned Japanese artist. You can understand the dynamism of his art by his assertion that he wanted to realize Kyoto in pop art in the way that US pop artists rendered New York.

My significant other and I settle in at the sushi bar. An amuse bouche of beet tartare with kamato and crème fraîche arrives. As with the dishes that will follow, each plays with the tastes of sweetness, sourness, saltiness and umami. The tartare is followed by delicately salty seaweed salad, set off against candied salmon and a lusciously creamy avocado, all bound up in a garlic ponzu vinaigrette. And then on to albacore tuna and wakame tartare. Again, that same set of zingy, complementary flavours with some added textures from the sesame wonton crisps.

Our main course is a selection of Miku’s specialties: The flame-finished Aburi sushi. Each piece is a standalone minor explosion of flavours. The touch of heat amplifies the essence of the fish, and the toppings that I see Endo building up out of what looks like an artist’s palette give each piece a singular and distinct voice. And Matsuoko was right to recommend the salmon. It is at once salty, sweet and savoury, with a hint of spice on the finish. Exceptional.

mikutoronto.com

Bobbette and Bellehf-epicure2

 

Bobbette & Belle’s fresh, airy, light-filled shop and cafe in Leslieville has a chic minimalist appearance that at a casual glance is unpretentious in its simplicity, but on closer inspection wouldn’t be out of place in a designer’s French farmhouse. It perfectly reflects the offerings from Allyson Bobbitt and Sarah Bell. With the exception of Bobbette & Belle’s wedding cakes, the extensive and varied “delicious, delightful sweet things” are deceptively straightforward and delicious.

I try the flourless chocolate torte. It has a laid-back sweetness and mousse-like creaminess, and finishes with a contrasting hint of darkness from the dusting of cocoa. It comes as no surprise to be told that it is the result of careful preparation of the very finest ingredients. “Everything has to be the finest quality, the freshest selection and without preservatives and artificial flavours,” I’m told.

I can’t resist Bobbette & Belle’s macarons, which sit on the counter like an alluring gastronomic art form. In the mouth they have a delicate sugary crispness, followed by an indulgent, flavourful, creamy centre. Pistachio and salted caramel ends up on my favourites list.

Browsing further, I’m rather surprised to find two quintessentially British desserts that, in my memory, have only just shaken off the indignity of boarding-school dinners: Sticky toffee and bread pudding. What a revelation. Both have a satisfying balance of sweetness and dense savouriness.

The Leslieville bakery has been open for four years. A year ago, another Bobbette & Belle location opened at Yonge and Lawrence to serve loyal customers who were trekking down. Some still do.

To complement its exquisite confections, the bakery serves Sloane tea and Balzac’s coffee. A particular favourite at this time of year is hot chocolate, made from the finest dark chocolate and topped with a torched, home-made marshmallow. Sublime.

bobbetteandbelle.com

hf-epicure3Kitten & The Bear

 

With the first teaspoon of Kitten & the Bear’s Ontario strawberry and golden plum jam, I am transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen. She used to totter in from her garden with a Sussex trug filled with ripe berries and fruit—the bubbling alchemy that followed rendered what she had gathered into a sweet lusciousness that never lost its connection to the delicacy of the fruit. No commercial jam has ever come close, until now.

Sophie Kaftal and spouse Bobby Zielinski have been making and selling small batches of artisanal jam for four years now. They first sold online, but for the last two years have had a narrow storefront among the pioneers of Parkdale. Squeezed in at the front are two tables where you can order that ultimate indulgence, tea with freshly baked scones, clotted cream and, of course, jam. The idea was not to run a tea shop, but to create a way for people to sample their wares.

Kaftal tells me that their jams are fruit-forward in the French style. They select fruit by hand on a weekly basis and source only what is fresh at the time. The couple’s creativity is impressive. When I was first there, I could choose such exotics as Sorauren Avenue crab-apple with spices or Niagara golden plum with lavender, as well as more traditional combinations. I tell Kaftal that I presume she must be the Kitten of the name.

Does that mean that Zielinski is the Bear? “It depends on the day,” she says.

kittenandthebear.com

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