Let’s get one thing straight first. My visit to the newly opened Cafe Boulud—the second restaurant in Toronto whose birth I was alerted to via a post in Eater, a food porn site I visit daily—was nothing like that of Amy Pataki from the Toronto Star. I did not feel “something is off with the Toronto iteration,” plus I witnessed the opposite of “distracted servers, unaccommodating reservationists and fumbling busboys.” I’m assuming she just wandered in on an off night, because everything I saw told me Cafe Boulud was staffed by an attentive team serving mind-blowing food.
Cafe Boulud was my final meal in Toronto before heading home from the World Fantasy Convention, and I drove in with Ellen Datlow, John Clute, and Elizabeth Hand. This was my fifth trip from Richmond Hill in search of foodie gold, which some con-goers thought a bit much since there were perfectly serviceable restaurants in Richmond Hill. But I was in search of more than just serviceable. I wanted to see what artists could do at the top of their game. And also, as with my trip to Momofuku Shoto the night before, I wanted to experience a restaurant at the moment of its birth, and since Daniel Boulud’s newest spot had only opened at the beginning of October, this was my chance to see the place while it was still shiny and new.
After making our way through the Four Seasons Hotel and checking our coats, we were led to our table in the brightly lit, modernistic dining room, which, surprisingly for such a high-end restaurant, happened to be under painting featuring The Avengers—which felt very strange, not only because such a thing was unexpected in that environment, but also because I’d actually once helped write an issue of that comic!
It turned out that this was no cheap knock-off mash-up, but the work of Mr. Brainwash, whose paintings filled the dining room. We were told they were all for sale, and if we were interested, one could be ours for from $55,000-$90,000. Not in my league, I’m afraid. (Hey, restaurants like Cafe Boulud are themselves only rarely in my league!)
We studied the menu, which included three our four dishes in each of four types of cuisines—”la tradition, classic French cuisine; la saison, seasonal delicacies; le potager, the vegetable garden; and le voyage, exploring the flavours of international cuisines”—and had a tough time making up our minds. All of the dishes were tempting.
How was one to choose from an appetizer list that included “country duck terrine, foie gras, black fig, pistachio, spelt levain” and “rabbit porchetta, young root vegetables, watercress, mustard crisp?” Or from such entrees as “grilled Ontario lamb loin, crispy belly, spiced eggplant, fregola sarda, tzatziki” and “steak au poivre, dry-aged Cumbrae strip loin, bone marrow, confit shallot, pommes Pont Neuf, parsley salad?”
After much deliberation, I decided to begin with “crispy duck egg, fricassée of wild mushrooms, duck confit, salsify and celery root.” Piercing the egg sent gooey yolk running through all the ingredients, adding an additional level of sensuality to the delicate flavor of each. It gave me one of those food moments I treasure—all thought fled, I could not speak, the conversation carried on without me, the voices at my table suddenly muffled and distant. A transcendental dish, delivering exactly the heightened moment of consciousness which is the ultimate goal of all my foodie expeditions.
For my entree, I chose the “roasted Ontario veal loin, cheeks and sweetbreads casserole, oyster mushrooms, carrot confit, garlic-parmesan polenta.” Why? Well, for one thing, my rule is, if cheeks are offered, cheeks it shall be. They are the tenderest part of any animal, and not always found on the menu. So I ordered the dish that included them, and while the meat was not quite as succulent as that at Momofuku Shoto the night before (after a 36-hour sous vide bath, it wasn’t a fair fight), when combined with the flavors and textures of the loin and sweetbreads, that wasn’t entirely necessary. The dish had its own charms.
For dessert I chose “caramelized Gala apple, lemon chiboust, sablé breton, ginger ice cream” from the La Tradition portion of the menu, wanting to see what the chef would do with a French classic … and what he turned out to do was deconstruct it, which I wasn’t expecting at all. But the presentation was charming, and the flavors were true, so it was a pleasant surprise.
The service was exemplary, with the staff jumping into action at the slightest motion of a finger or tilt of a head that showed we were in need. They were so responsive they seemed to be mind readers, which is why I was taken aback by the “distracted servers, unaccommodating reservationists and fumbling busboys” comment I mentioned above. The crew was definitely bring its A-game the night we were there, and my fellow diners were well aware of that as well, noting how quickly they leapt into action throughout the dining room.
We drove back to Richmond Hill in silence, the meal having soothed our souls, much like a massage, or a swim in the ocean. And when I got back to the hotel, I couldn’t stop talking about the meal, particularly about the crispy duck egg, the star of the evening as far as I was concerned.
Now let’s see … what excuse can I use to get back to Toronto so I can work my way through the rest of the Cafe Boulud menu?