I arrived in Toronto for the short weekend at about 6pm yesterday, quickly cleaned up and took the 20 minute walk over to GEORGE (www.georgeonqueen.com) which is one of the most fascinating dining spots on town and truly an experience not miss.
There is a small bar in the entry and quite a small dining room divided into several sections. The noise level is not too high, but the music could have been a bit softer.
The floors are rustic wood with exposed ceilings of black. Where I sat in a small open wrought iron pagoda ( about 6 tables were in this area) there was a large central steel drum-like chandelier filled with tiny flame bulbs and drooping with huge giant crystals. At the opposite end of the room there were several steps down to the open kitchen, which seemed even larger than the dining area. Overhead mirrors made it food to look at what was going on from where I sat. A large B&W poster of a lone man in Piazza San Marco reminded me of "Death in Venice;" there were some posters as well, but little else in wall decor. Here the food of Chef Lorenzo Loseto has been the star for just over a decade.
House sparkling water was offered (a flat $2 charge for unlimited pours) which was some of the best I have ever had as house sparkling can be wimpy. I ordered the Deep Freeze Martini which is Belvedere Vodka served in a glass half-filled with frozen (-20degrees Centigrade) and it was indeed ice cold. It came with olives, but they will do lemon, onion, or whatever you prefer. It warmed me up after the long cold walk and the only thing wrong with it was the cocktail napkin under the glass on the plate which sticks to the glass each time you lift it (think your tongue on a frozen surface).
I just moved it and all was fine.
My server Ian began to explain the menu, but I had decided I wanted a tasting menu and all I needed to do was decide between 5,7 or 10 courses. The regular menu is divided into 3 sections for courses as well, but I just said everything looked awesome and chose 7 courses for $130 (please remember these prices are Canadian$ and hence are 20% less in US$, so $104US). The wine pairings were and extra $80CAD and well worth it for the variety and healthy pours (and refills if needed).
A breadbasket arrived with olive bread, plain, focaccia and the most awesome flatbread that was salty, crumbly and greasy (not bad greasy, more oily,like olive oil) and hard to resist.
Ian explained that he was also the sommelier, although the super handsome Jordan often brought the wines and explained. First came Brut Sauvage from Domaine Baud et Fils, a yummy Cremant de Jura that got creamier indeed as it got a bit warmer. The amuse, which was quite large arrived shortly after and featured Calamari with a super rich Black Pepper Panna Cotta. There was a small mound of what the chef calls "Singapore Slaw" which is a cabbage/carrot/veg slaw that has a mini-kick. Having just been in Singapore, I would never say it was spicy. The squid was perfectly cooked and tender and served at room temperature; the panna cotta was divine.
This adventure started at 730pm and I left at about 11pm, so the service is perfectly spaced and balanced; I never had to ask to slow down or speed up. I did notice two men at the next table that arrived at about 745pm and were gone within 90 minutes after eating three courses rather hurriedly; maybe they had other plans. I would linger over all the awesome offerings.
Casa Marin Sauvignon Gris 2013 Estero Vineyard from the San Antonio Valley in Chile is a wine region I did not know, and this rare Gris version of the grape is splendid. It was paired with a Tuna Sashimi stuffed with Tuna Tartare an topped with Caviar (I think Osetra, I forgot to ask). The plate was decorated with colorful beets, carrots and celeriac with cardamom oil, a lemongrass aioli and some paper thin miniature sesame wafers. The carrot wasabi mustard was not spicy at all, but the tartare and sashimi was melt in your mouth magnificent; truly one of the best ever.
There was a brown wild rice and bacon crumble for a big crunch, and I was to discover that the crunch element is this chef's signature in each dish!
At this point I noticed the crystal was Spiegelau with a large "G" etched into each bowl, although it did change to Riedel when the reds arrived. My next white wine was another novel varietal, Chasselas Vieilles Vignes 2012 from Schoffit in Alsace was packed with acidity and while Jason said it was full of stone fruit flavors, I smelled the ripe fruit, but on the palate it was more like unripe nectarines. The wine was nice, but probably my least favorite all evening, and I always like a richer wine with lobster, which arrived seconds later. Butter poached Canadian Lobster was over Saffron Couscous with Roasted Mandarin & Blood Orange segments, Heirloom Carrots, Brulee Avocado, a ChimiChurri Puree (which was quite wild and fun), Baby Watercress, Cashew Crumble (for that crunch) and a single Potato Tuille (think elegant home made potato chip) for more crunch. I loved this dish and it easily was one of my top choices all night, but others were all just as good.
My favorite wine of the night arrived next, Kew Old Vine Rielsing 2012 Beamsville Bench from Ontario is a small production (about 500 cases) wine that I wish I could buy to take home. Jordan called it off-dry, but the old vines here are indeed quite dry and filled with awesome fruit in the mouth. An exciting and novel Crab Cake was sandwiched in a seasame-potato-pancake-crepe like construction with Navy Bean-Papaya Relish, Black Olive Tapenade, Brulee Cauliflower which tasted pickled and more of that Singapore Slaw was another favorite of mine and I savored each bite and hence had to ask for more of the awesome Kew Riesling :-).
By 930pm the din of the full room had grown, but not to that loud trendy noisy stage I despise. Rabbit Confit over a potato slice with sunnyside up Quail Egg on top, a Chick Pea Fritter, Passion Fruit Sour Cream, a huge slab of seared Foie Gras (from nearby Quebec) with tiny sliced Kumquats, Sweet Potato Crumble and tasty Matchstick Veggies all over the plate. I love Foie Gras and Quebec has some of the best. This was as simple as the preparation gets, but the kumquats made it really pop. The rabbit was also amazing, like a hash with a fried egg on top.
Torraccia 2011 which is from Corsica offers the Neolucchio grape (another new one for me, akin to Syrah/Grenache) from Christian Imbert et Fils was a full bodied red that paired well with the dish, maybe perhaps even a bit too big.
Next came the "main" course so to speak:a Beef Ribeye with Pecan Sweet Potato Puree, Candied Garlic, Turnip & Apple, Artichoke Hearts, Goat Cheese, Black Olive Relish, a super thin slice of Olive toast (almost wiry) and a small pile of Sauerkraut & Parsley Quenelle in the corner, which was the one thing all night that I really did not care for. I am not a steak person, but this meat was cooked divinely and really showed off the meat to perfection; I almost did not need to chew it! The surrounding embellishments made each bite different and even more fun. There were also micro greens, candied garlic (for crunch?), Mushrooms and Chard. A magnificent 2005 Cannubi Barolo (Terre de Bricio) drank elegantly and at almost 10 years old has cellared well and would make any red lover happy.
Cheese was the 6th course and overall the least exciting of them all. Pacific Rock Pasturized Cow a delicious Canadian Cheese was featured and was a cheddar consistency served with parmesan crisps and bread. Candied Apple Pecan and Persimmon Jam were the accoutrements, but overall the dish needed something else for me. The Belen's Bual 10 year old Madeira was a treat.
1983 Pedro Ximemez PX Gran Reserva Sherry was an intensely rich and sweet sherry which paired with my overly chocolate dessert; true indulgance.
Cocoa Mascarpone Mousse with Mandarin Broth, Orange Streusel, Blood Orange, Gooseberries and Candied Citrus was another superb dish, and remember, I am not a chocoholic. This was a great pairing and a wonderful way to end the evening, YUM YUM. I have only one more night here, but intend to dine around as much as I can!
I'll have to return sooner next time (it's been a decade since my last trip!).