Sunday, April 4, 2010

Origin: The Start of Something Great

I had been following Claudio Aprile's blog about his new restaurant, Origin, since the summer of 2009.  Then, in late March of 2010, there is was - the tweet that made me swoon: "@coreymintz Origin is open and taking reservations. 416 603 8009 But no liquor license yet."  What?!  It's open?!  Finally?!  Yesssss!!!  I couldn't wait to pick up the phone.  And, as luck would have it, I had not yet booked a TRC dinner for March.  We were on.

Fast forward to March 30th, and there we were; at a head count of five, we were the smallest TRC gathering yet.  It was perfect.  After quickly getting acquainted and then scanning the menu we all agreed: let's ask our server to bring us whatever he thought we should try.  Carte blanche.  What followed was an onslaught of dishes, and I was in heaven.

All-told, we consumed a total of 15 different dishes.  The menu (as it stood the day we visited) carried 37 dishes, so there are many still left to choose from.  From the list, we tried:
  • Potatas Bravas
  • Deviled Eggs + gremolata + smoked bacon (photo below - the only one stolen from the restaurant blog)
  • Shrimp Seviche + lime + tomato + freeze dried corn + coconut
  • Tuna Salad + Asian pear + avocado + puffed rice + spicy ponzu dressing
  • Mussels with vermicelli in spicy tomato broth (wasn't on the menu so that's my made-up name)
  • Bufala mozzarella + pear + rosemary oil + pine nuts + honey
  • Bufala mozzarella + confit tomato + basil + preserved lemon
  • Bangkok beef salad + peanut + mint + mango + fried onion + nam jim dressing
  • Chorizo + manchego rice + poached egg + salsa verde + dried black olive
  • Miso glazed black cod + mushroom broth + jerusalem artichoke puree + crispy soba
  • Caramelized brioche + walnut praline + honey yogurt sorbet
  • Spiced chocolate pudding + formage frais + frozen aerated milk chocolate
  • Manchego cheese cake + saffron sorbet + marinated berries
  • Hot chocolate cake + candied citrus + soft serve
  • Dulce de leche + espresso ice + caramel crunch + sea salt
Okay, so in an effort to keep this post to a reasonable length, here are a few highlights:

The potatas bravas is potatoes with some chorizo and olive and bit of kick.  As one guest described, it was 'comfort food', and the heat was just perfect.  Success on this dish.  The deviled eggs had such a delightfully creamy yolk.  Plus, I do love bacon.  So you can't really go wrong there.  Onto the seviche: the seasoning was great and the shrimp were lovely, but i could have gone without the freeze-dried corn, and I really didn't taste the coconut.  The tuna salad was a good balance, but nothing quite popped off the plate in terms of flavour, so I'd given this one an "OK" rating.  Similarly, the mussels (which I will admit I NEVER order, so take this with a grain of salt) had nice flavour and the broth was quite good, but the vermicelli was difficult to eat and added little to texture or flavour.

Moving onto the two cheese dishes (bufala mozzarella), they both were a real treat.  My fave was the one with pear and honey; the star of that show was definitely the rosemary oil.  It was such a great aroma to complement the other flavours.  The bangkok beef salad and the miso cod were both resounding hits.  We were divided on which won "best dish", so you'll just have to try them both (NB: cod won in my books).

I rarely finish my meal with a sweet dessert, but as we neared the end, out came five of them.  Wow.  This one was difficult to judge, as each seemed to be in perfect balance.  I love the combo of sweet and salty, so the dulce de leche with sea salt was spot on.  In the cheesecake, you could definitely taste the manchego (which I love), but the saffron sorbet was a bit lost.  The spiced chocolate pudding was SO GOOD.  And the possible dessert winner?  The hot chocolate cake.  To quote one of the diners, "I'm definitely going back for this one.  Dark chocolate and citrus are such a wonderful combination with the soft serve adding the necessary foil to the sweetness"  Couldn't have said it better myself.

As for the space, kudos to Stroudfoot for some incredible design pieces.  There are several different light fixtures, each strikingly beautiful.  The open kitchen is both visually appealing and experiential. Our only complaint was our table location.  We sat at the front of the restaurant by the bar (the Westerly room, if you visit), which felt segregated from the main dining area.  It also suffered from poor acoustics; it was a challenge to hear one another (which, if you were sitting in the lounge or at the bar, may not have been such an issue). Besides, that, the service was quite good, and the restaurant seemed to be experiencing few hiccups.

So, does it hold up to Colborne Lane, Aprile's other restaurant?  Well, no.  But it wasn't intended to.  Would I recommend it to you and go back again and again?  Yes, for sure.  I suspect the menu will continue to be tweaked (and hopefully edited somewhat?), but you'll surely find some new favourites and reason enough to want to repeat.

Oh, and special thanks to one of my closest friends and a very talented photographer, Shauna.  You can see more pics from the restaurant on Facebook, and visit her own website here.    

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