Sometimes too many chefs is exactly …what you want
The Egyptian-born American celebrity chef Michael Mina – whose eighteen restaurants include twin, Michelin-starred eponymous flagships in San Francisco and Las Vegas – paid his first visit to Toronto this week.
He came to cook under the banner of the Visa Presents dining series, with David Lee’s Nota Bene (ranked #9) playing host, and the exceptionally gifted Marc St-Jacques (Pearle Hospitality) gratuitously adding his toque to the ring as understudy.
Lee’s opening volley was a salute to our long-awaited spring, in the form of poached white asparagus and ramps, spot prawn (crunchy torso, lightly poached tail), and onion flowers. Mina answered with a seductively smooth cured foie gras, wherein white miso had done the job usually performed by plain salt. It came rolled in sesame seeds, and enhanced with a sweet, succulent reminder of how much better spring is where he comes from: a roast, fresh apricot.
Next, St-Jacques fielded a dish of unusual finesse and discreet originality: lightly cooked halibut cheek, in a pool of buttery clam broth, in which the vegetal interplay of roast asparagus and nori made the dish sing. Lee answered with some lovely squab, which shared the plate with a slice of boudin noir sitting in a tiny pool of the most remarkable sauce – a rich, velvety purée of chicharrón (really!).
Mina followed with roast veal loin and braised cheek with its jus, and a lovely fricassé of sweetbread, ceps, and favas. And yes, of course – there were cheeses (four), and an appropriately light dessert of lemon curd pavlova with sea buckthorn sorbet. In a word, the food was superb – and an unusually harmonious offering for a multi-chef format that seldom works that way.