Toronto: A Tale of Nostalgia and a Tasting Menu

Toronto is a city that’s very special to me: back in 2004, when I was studying translation, I had the chance to go and live there for a year as an exchange student. My campus was in North York, a very elegant northern Toronto neighborhood where some of the most extravagant houses are built for the rich and famous. The main pavilion of the campus was itself an old and romantic manoir with a rose garden and a small forest surrounding it – exceptional for a location so close to downtown. While I was living in a humble dorm room, I was surrounded by beautiful places to visit, restaurants to try and shops to spend my money in.

(Pictures © Glendon College)

Over the next years, E and I went back to Toronto regularly, for good time’s sakes but also because we grew to really love the city. This year, my ex-associate and very good friend Melanie and her family moved to a Western Toronto suburb so I took the opportunity to book a visit to the Queen City. Call me ignorant, but months before June, back when I booked the trip, I didn’t know the G20 Summit was going to be held exactly the weekend we would be visiting – in fact, I only learned why all hotel rooms were booked a couple of weeks before leaving. We still managed to find a really nice boutique hotel room and left, a bit afraid the city would be overwhelmed with visitors and traffic would be even more nightmarish than usual.

As it turned out, on Thursday, traffic was flowing and it felt like we arrived in a ghost city: most of the people living or working downtown had fled, afraid of what the controversial weekend would bring about: traffic jams, protests, riots and looting even (which did occurred on Friday and Saturday nights). The core of downtown was closed to traffic of any kind and a security perimeter had been built around some of the most visited tourist attractions like the CN Tower. Fortunately, the greater part of downtown was open and eager to greet visitors, including restaurants.

In charge of choosing a restaurant to celebrate our 8th year anniversary, I was torn between going back to an old favorite and trying something new. I’ve had the chance to enjoy Toronto’s lively restaurant scene and I have my fav spots I always want to go back to:

  • Best for outstanding service and consistent quality of the food: Tie between Jump and Canoe, both from the Oliver & Bonacini restaurant group
  • Best for its charming setting, friendly hosts and feel-good food: Millie’s Bistro
  • Best pizza (I know this one’s gonna be debated, but it’s my favorite): Il Fornello for its thin whole-grain crusts (optional) and its more adventurous flavors such as the pizza gorgonzola (gorgonzola cheese, red wine caramel pears, caramelized onions, walnuts and lemon dressed arugula)

This time around, I figured it was time to try somewhere new and special. I carefully chose George, a restaurant whose chef Lorenzo Loseto is known for its devoted love of fresh, seasonal and sustainable food. I was also attracted by their tasting menu, a formula I like to indulge in when I want to sample a chef’s wide range of flavors and I feel like being pampered.

We booked a table but it turned out it was a very slow night (everybody had fled, remember?). In fact, arriving at the restaurant at 7:30PM, we were led through a worryingly empty main room out to a nice and quiet terrace there was a greater atmosphere. In the restaurant’s garden, the furniture felt a bit dated with its faded off-pink palette and mesh chairs but the romantic fountain and private setting made up for it (Note: The decor of the indoor main room is gorgeous and very current).

George’s tasting menu is offered in three versions: 5, 7 or 10 courses, with the choice of wine pairings for the five or seven course menus. We chose the 7-course menu and, scared I wouldn’t make it through the wine pairing, simply opted for a nice and mellow Austrian red wine made from Saint-Laurent grapes, closely related to the Pinot Noir.

As usual, the meal started with an amuse-bouche (an extra to the 7 courses) and then the plates followed one another at just the right pace. Our nicest surprise was to discover that E and I were served completely different dishes, at every course. That’s impressive considering it doubles the kitchen crew’s work! I don’t know if they read our minds, but they always brought me exactly the dish I would have chosen between the two – and the same for E. We only once switched plates at the cheese course so that I would enjoy the goat-milk cheese instead of the cow-milk one and keep my lactose-intolerant stomach under control.

The dishes were impressive for their flavor complexity and intricate platings. I thought portions were too large for a 7-course menu, in fact I stopped finishing my plates after the third course or I would have never been able to get to the end. A tasting menu is all about portion restraint: I like when you get just 2 or 3 bites, it’s enough to enjoy the flavor combinations. At George, every dish could have been either an appetizer or a main course in its own right and although some might like the considerable return on investment, I regretted having to leave such delicious food behind. I also found two dishes a bit heavy for my taste, especially because of the fact they were served one after the other: the foie gras and confit de canard, followed by the pork fillet with mushrooms. I would have preferred being served just one of the two as the tasting menu’s main course, followed by something lighter to refresh my palate before the cheese course.

Service was very thoughtful, though I did expect that much since the restaurant had just a dozen tables to cater to. Presentation was also impeccable: A chef friend once told me that the best nights to go to a restaurant are the first days of the week (Monday through Thursday). Those are the slow nights when the kitchen crew has more time to plate each dish and as a result, are often more meticulous than on busy nights. Not to say that plating gets botched on weekends, but don’t we all perform better when we have reasonable time on our hands?

All in all, George didn’t disappoint. The highlights were the lighter and fresh flavors of the first three courses, my strawberry-themed dessert and the beautiful and quiet outdoor terrace. I recommend going for the 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings, you’ll be sure to be able to eat and enjoy it from start to end.

111C Queen Street East
Toronto, ON
M5C 1S2, Canada

Phone: (416) 863-6006
Website: www.georgeonqueen.com

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