Just two days after the menu had been emailed out to their subscribers, and ten days before the scheduled dinner, Charlie’s Burgers HQ sent me an email bearing the coveted good news: my brother Daniel and I were in. All we had to do was confirm our intentions to show up at an as-yet-undisclosed Toronto location, punctually. And to arrive hungry, thirsty – and eager to solve those problems with panache, for a fee of $350 cash, each.
Wine distributor Franco Stalteri – aka Charlie Burger – has been running this subscription based dinner series since early 2009. Their exclusivity hinges on infrequency, odd locations, great chefs and exceptional wines. Each event is advertised only by virtue of its menu, and the chefs behind them.
For this latest edition, the chefs included Sylvain Assié (Café Boulud, Toronto), Carl Heinrich (Richmond Station, Toronto), Patrick Kriss (Alo, Toronto), Melissa Rodriguez (Del Posto, NYC) and Tyler Shedden (The Chase Group, Toronto). Their shared culinary purpose was to pay tribute to what they all had in common – years of training under the great Daniel Boulud.
And out at The Cheese Boutique on Ripley Avenue, they did so with aplomb. It started with a dazzlingly good spread of charcuterie seven items strong – including a brilliant head cheese, superb pork rillettes wrapped in pork skin, and a composed pâté en croûte featuring sliced boudins, both noir et blanc. Then there was citrus-cured fluke, its mildly chewy texture reminiscent of raw lobster, paired with a brightening bavarois of shiso
Next, as the opening chords of Start Me Up reverberated around the shop floor of the cheese emporium, I enjoyed my first white asparagus of the season (from Provence). Then came a wedge of whole roast foie gras, plated on a bed of texturally contrasting bed of freekeh – which reminded me of and improved upon Marco Pierre White’s mischievous and iconic composition of foie gras with lentils. Then came a divine bisque with side stripe shrimp and tarragon flan. Next a beautifully textured fricassé of diced frogs’ legs, späetzle and hazelnuts, its bright, assertive parsley sauce a discreet nod to the late, great Bernard Loiseau. Then we got Boulud’s classic sea bass with red wine reduction, roast Muscovy duck with vadouvan, and a magnificent hare royale, rendered as a ballotine, its rich civet sauce offset by the flavours of spring in its stuffing (morels, nettles, spring onions). For cheese we had Quebec’s mellow Bleu d’Elizabeth, then the finest baked Alaska I’ve ever sampled, and – just because – some coulants au chocolats and Daniel’s signature warm madeleines.
The wines deserve a separate review.
It was as much gloriously authentic Boulud as you could possibly experience in an evening – in the absence of the man himself. I could have done without the morning after, but it will be the food, and not the hangover, that I’ll still be thinking about when the next Charlie’s Burgers menu gets emailed my way in late July or early August.
You can sign up to Charlie’s Burgers here.
Photos: Sara Kuntz