163 SPADINA AVENUE, THIRD FLOOR, TORONTO, ONTARIO
THE SINGLE, marble-sized pomme soufflé has crisp walls as thin as paper, and is held in place on the plate with a dab of lemon gel so that it will not roll and topple and spill its precious topping of glistening, black Venetian caviar.
Beside it, there’s a cube of cured foie gras rolled in crunchy rice pearls, as well as a bite-sized sandwich of foie gras terrine spiked with smoky bourbon. But we start instead with the tiny gougère, the ideal match for our first sip of champers. That’s right: these are merely the amuse-gueules, to set the mood for the 10 courses to come. Yes, 10. Two years after opening, Alo is grander and more ambitious than ever, yet, even still, its grasp never exceeds its reach. Chef-owner Patrick Kriss’s kitchen team, led by chef de cuisine Nick Bentley, is cooking with the same attention-grabbing finesse with which it started—but displaying greater range. The service is a lesson in discreet perfection. Sommelier Christopher Sealy’s wine list is growing, and his resulting by-the-glass recommendations are more imaginative. This transporting culinary experience begins with a slow ride in an ordinary elevator. You emerge into a third-floor oasis of a chic bar and lounge.
Stop for a great cocktail (thank you, John Bunner) or carry on, past the open kitchen and tasting bar to the adjoining, elegant dining room. There, leave as many choices as possible to the ultra-knowledgeable staff; next thing you know, you’ll be sipping on crisp Vouvray (2016, Bernard Fouquet) while eating firm slices of creamy, sweet raw scallop from Hokkaido, brightened with the juice of sudachi lime and a little dried grape for texture. The food is French, but its accent and lightness increasingly Japanese. Imagine barely viscous scrambled egg, enriched with threads of crab and a brunoise of cured lomo Ibérico de bellota pork, topped with a lobe of the finest uni (yes, Hokkaido again). And belly of suckling pig, its crackling thin and crisp and perfect, with peanut sauce, then fatty deckle of rib eye, grilled on binchotan charcoal, sauced three ways. Desserts are light, imaginative and close to perfection—just like everything else here.