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We interrupt the stream of recipes from our dinner party here to bring you the blog post about my birthday dinner.

All photos were taken with the iPhone 4G.

Sparkling water made directly in the restaurant; no need to pay $8.00 for a bottle of San Pellegrino!

My friend Barb (of Profiteroles and Ponytails) put us onto a restaurant in Toronto called Victor (in the St. Germain Hotel) where Executive Chef David Chrystian offers a prix fix dinner where the guest chose the secret ingredient and the chefs prepare one of each of the five courses using non-other than your secret ingredient. I was intrigued; our very own Iron Chef competition? I just had to try it out, so we decided to make this the celebratory birthday dinner on Saturday (my birthday was on Sunday, but who wants to go out for a fancy dinner on Sunday?). The dinner was a wonderful precursor to the lovely robin’s egg blue box with the traditional white ribbon I was spoiled with on my birthday.

Chef David Chrystian was also one of the first round of participants in Top Chef Canada, season 1, and a very worthy adversary. Unfortunately he was eliminated, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good; competition is severe and time is short, a bad day can make or break you in this quest. Some go on the show not to win, but to gain publicity in the bigger picture of their career path, not saying this was the case with Chef David. It’s kind of like American Idol, not all the winners are as successful as the one’s who were eliminated. Just saying. Getting on a show like Top Chef is grueling enough (1,000’s apply), making it through several rounds of elimination is success and it’s National TV. We Canadians just gobble that stuff up.

We chose coffee as the secret ingredient. I was intrigued to see how creative the chefs can be and still make it an enjoyable and elegant dinner. We would not be disappointed. Although, I will come right out and say it, the coffee component was weak. Not that the food wasn’t unbelievably delicious, it just didn’t sing coffee. It did not hinder our 2.5 hour dinner, during which we talked about each course and sometimes at length with our server.

A little text about the chef and the secret ingredient

Our places were set with an intro card which talked about the Chef and on the reverse side was the Score Card. Each dish was presented and explained by our server and was scored in four considerations, each one out of five points:

The Score Card. There is a typo on dish 4, taste, they should all be out of 5!

Dish 1: We were presented with Coffee/Carraway Rye with Ctirus Gravlax, Coffee Crème Fraiche. Interesting. We tasted distinct coffee in the crème fraiche and noticed how well it went with the citrus Gravlax, but the Coffee/Carraway Rye was not strong enough to notice. Tasty non-the-less and a very nice portion.

Beautifully presented on a piece of slate

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 3/5, Me 3/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 4/5
  3. Presentation? JT 4/5, Me 4/5
  4. Taste? JT 3/5, Me 3.5/5

Total: 27.5

Dish 2: “Breakfast Soup” we had no idea what to expect. We were presented with a very large bowl of Vichyssoise with a poached egg that was breaded and deep fried, drizzled with a balsamic and coffee glaze. It turned out to be my favourite from a taste perspective. The soup was incredibly silky and the egg was perfectly cooked so that when I cut into it, the yolk oozed all over the soup. Sadly the balsamic overtook the coffee and neither of us could taste it. But it was the best “breakfast soup” I’ve ever had. I could eat only half and forgot to ask to bring it home. Oops, forgot to take a photo!

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 2/5, Me 1/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 4/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4/5

Total: 25.5

Dish 3: Moroccan Coffee Chicken Tagine; when the server mentioned to the chef that we were just in Morocco last November, he said “oh, crap, I’m in trouble”. Although the dish was incredibly tasty, it was neither Moroccan nor did it have a distinct coffee flavour. It was served over basmati rice, but I wondered why it wouldn’t have been couscous? They served it in a little cast iron pot, and neither JT nor I could finish off the portion but we had the good sense to ask to bring it home! It was incredibly tasty.

Now why wouldn’t you serve couscous with a Moroccan dish?

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 1/5, Me 1/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 2/5
  3. Presentation? JT 4/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 5/5, Me 4.5/5

Total: 25

Mmmmm. This made a very tasty lunch on Monday.

Dish 4: Espresso Glazed Beef Tenderloin with Espresso BBQ Sauce; a beautifully presented course, with about 2 oz of meat, we were getting really full by this time. The BBQ sauce was tasty and although there was a touch of coffee flavour, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. On top of it, pairing beef with coffee or espresso is not new and ground breaking creative. Non-the-less it was a very yummy course.

Small pieces of tenderloin served with roasted little baby vegetables

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 1/5, Me 1.5/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 3/5, Me 2/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4.5/5

Total:  23.5

Dish 5: Dark Chocolate Espresso Tart with Coffee Anglais; a very small tart (which was just perfect because now we were seriously full) that had great chocolate flavour (too bad our ingredient wasn’t chocolate) but little coffee, even the crème Anglais was sweeter than it was coffee. But a beautifully presented course and just the right amount of dessert. Oops, forgot to take this photo too! Oh well, it would have been quite dark, anyway.

  1. How well was the theme ingredient incorporated into the dish? JT 3/5, Me 2.5/5
  2. How original was the dish or how authentic? JT 4/5, Me 3.5/5
  3. Presentation? JT 3/5, Me 4.5/5
  4. Taste? JT 4/5, Me 4/5

Total:  28.5

We had distinct winner, the pastry chef with the Dark Chocolate Espresso Tart with Coffee Anglais. This surprised me since I am not much of a sweet eater. The server reported back to the chefs!

I do have a few thoughts that could have made it even better. I would have enjoyed each Chef coming out to present each of their course (obviously, this is not easy on a busy night, but come on, there were two other couples in the whole place!). Chef David was not even at the restaurant on Saturday, apparently he was married earlier in the week and was taking a couple of days off. I was disappointed because my friend Claudia (from Food Network, who knows Chef David) emailed him that a friend of her’s was coming in on Saturday! I was hoping for a photo opportunity! Sigh, bad timing on our part. And last but not least, the final score should have been a bigger deal than it was. The server just asked us to tally it up and she reported back to the kitchen and that was that. Not sure what else could have happened, but it seemed anti-climactic.

And to end on a positive note, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the food being the forefront even in discussion and I really liked that. The restaurant was not busy at all (summer time is bad for them) so we had great service and it was quiet. Overall a great evening, that’s for sure. And we’ll likely do it again for another special occasion. If you have a chance to come to Toronto, I urge you to sample this unique experience.

The cost was $80 per person, plus libations, not an inexpensive dinner, but certainly worth it.

We paid for our dinner in full, and the opinions above are exactly that, my opinions.

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