The meandering epicurist

TOCA – A Moveable 5-Star Feast
Dining out in a brick-and-mortar restaurant is not just about the food, however good. It’s a delightful amalgam of ambiance, great service, ingredients prepared and served at the peak of perfection and of course, bench strength in the kitchen. Hence the 2021 challenge of dining in.

Not surprisingly, the ladies and gentleman of Toronto Ritz Carlton’s TOCA restaurant have put their talents to the test and recreated their signature menus in mouthwatering style for takeout.

Swinging into the circular forecourt, the magic begins as the doorman positions my car. I’m handed an elegant, branded carrier bag tied with black ribbon that contains not only a beautifully printed menu but dinner for two, gourmet style (with finishing instructions).

Executive Chef Paul Shewchuk has clearly put his punctilious stamp on every last detail. The kitchen crew has timed their meticulous preparations to coincide with my arrival. Inside my tote, everything is carefully arranged; hot dishes on the bottom and coldest food on top. And no flimsy containers, I might add. The ice cream is even thoughtfully insulated within two containers, complete with ice.

Back at the condo, I peruse Chef’s careful instructions for reheating and plating. It crosses my mind to opt for skipping the dishes rather than transfer the impeccably laid out contents but this food deserves fine china, silverware and the good crystal.

We start with Tuna Tartare with Wonton Crisps. This is a dish of finesse. The finely diced tuna is richly subtle, the salt of the fish complimented by creamy avocado, hints of spiciness from the chilies in the aji panca and cilantro. Balanced with the crispy wontons it’s heavenly.

A second appetizer, TOCA’s sought after Burrata, accurately touted as an “ooey, gooey mixture of cream and small cheese curds.” Set off against tomato tartare, shreds of micro lettuce, egg yolk, pine nuts and pearls of balsamic vinegar, we can’t help but appreciate Chef Shewchuk’s yin and yang balance—acidity and creaminess meet a touch of spice and savouriness.

Kicking it up on the flavours, the Amatriciana, a classic Italian pasta dish and signature Ravioli Capresi, set the stage for the main dishes. (One guesses Chef just might have spent some time on the island of Capri.)

A wonderous Eggplant Parmigiana veers from the acidic richness of the tomato sauce perfectly spiked with basil to a rounded-out earthiness contributed by the olive pudding. My wife’s Branzino with squid and rapini in a tomato sauce was perfect—firm but tender with an interplay of saltiness, richness and tartness.

Clotted Cream
I wrote about the Devon Cream Company’s gloriously indulgent artery clogging clotted cream in the January 2020 column, noting it was a rare find. It is now, for Canadians, an extinct species. We can’t even import it from the US or the UK.

My gloves were down! After despatching a rude letter to the paper pushers at Global Affairs, Theakston, my butler and I repaired to the kitchen to try to make our own. As I write, it’s definitely still a work in progress. 

We’ve established that a high butterfat lightly pasteurized cream is essential. (Sheldon Creek 45% cream or Laiterie Chagnon 40 per cent  cream work well). Our basic recipe is to fill a glass dish to about 1 ½” depth and oven bake it for 12 hours on the lowest setting (in our case 175OC). It’s removed and cooled at room temperature then refrigerated for 12 hours. One corner of the baked cream, is then lifted to pour off the whey beneath and, voila, what is left should be our very own clotted cream.

The impending variables include whether to cook the cream covered with foil or not. Uncovered results in a crunchy buttery topping—liked by some and not by others. Either way the result is a lovely nutty flavoured cream. Now how do Theaks and I get an invitation to appear on the Great Canadian Baking Show?

Izumi Yuzu Lime Collins
Wandering about the Distillery District pre-Christmas, complete with mask, I stumbled upon an unfamiliar spot: The Spring Water Sake Company. As Premium Ginjo sake (served cold, please), is one of my favourite drinks, complex with light and fruity taste, I was over the moon. After all, treats are few and far between right now. Ginjo sake is an ideal mate for fresh sashimi but here the Izumi Yuzu Lime Collins, created from the sought-after Japanese winter citrus fruit, was something new for me on this chilly early winter day.

A particularly lovely refreshing aperitif…the spring water sake provided an earthy base to the bright and tangy citrus of yuzu and lime along with some slightly sweet piquant flavours rounded out with nice acidity. At 7 per cent alcohol it was relatively light drinking. (I made it home with but a smile on my face!)

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum
I shamefully admit, that rum’s provenance was, in my mind, a confused mix of pirates, parrots and sickly soda sodden concoctions. Diplomatico Reserva Exlusiva Rum from an independent family-owned distillery in the foothills of the Andes Mountains of Venezuela was, indeed, a revelation. 

Diplomatico delivers a warm, deep, golden colour in the glass. On the nose, an ephemeral whiff of acetone similar to some scotch whiskey’s is followed by rich caramel with touches of acidity and spice. It eases smoothly onto the palate, and in fact, hews more to a rich whiskey than my initial perceptions of rum. The more I sampled, the more I became convinced it’s simply sacrilegious to mix it with anything. Pure, sensual sipping to dispel the gloom of the pandemic. Remarkable.

Beurre D’Isigny
Despite the price I just couldn’t resist. Sold in a faux-looking wood-faced tub draped in a red patterned paper napkin, the famous Buerre D’Isigny Normandy cultured butter comes complete with the treasured Appellation D’Origine Protégée mark on the lid. 

Churned since the 1500s, according to local lore, the current cooperative, formed in 1932, brings in treasured milk from its hundreds of members. Their “happy” cows roam on the alluvial soils close to the sea around D’Isigny-Ste Mer, said to be the reason the butter is so rich in oleic acid, minerals, salts, and iodine.

To amplify the butter’s flavour, aroma and colour, the milk is churned in the traditional style allowing the luscious cream to rest on top for an extended period.

But enough about history, what does Buerre D’isigny taste like? As expected, I’m not disappointed. The butter’s delicate sweetness layers above a silky creaminess with a gentle tincture of nuttiness—the grand cru of butters.

Find Alex Farm Products in the St. Lawrence Market.

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