We re­view Jen Agg’s new Kens­ing­ton hot spot, Grey Gar­dens

Res­tau­ra­teur Jen Agg’s brand new Kens­ing­ton hot spot de­liv­ers on all lev­els

North York Post - - Contents - JOANNE KATES Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cor­don Bleu de Cui­sine in Paris. She has writ­ten ar­ti­cles for numer­ous pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the New York Times, Ma­clean’s and Chate­laine.

When Jen Agg — the diva of the Black Hoof and Rhum Cor­ner — opens a new restau­rant, the whole world (at least the Toronto food world) takes no­tice. And for good rea­son. Ms. Agg, while nei­ther chef nor server, is the muse, the tal­ent scout, who dreams up a new restau­rant and pulls it all to­gether, with more piz­zazz in her lit­tle fin­ger than most of her com­peti­tors have in their whole body.

Her new oeu­vre, Grey Gar­dens, re­minds me of the Black Hoof in its early years. She hired a su­per­tal­ented young guy as chef and we have no idea what tran­spired be­tween them. Did Ms. Agg sim­ply give Grant van Gameren his head? Or was her artis­tic in­put part of what made meat magic?

Same deal at Grey Gar­dens. There is a fe­ro­cious fast-mov­ing army of young cooks be­hind the open kitchen. Their out­put is more than daz­zling, si­mul­ta­ne­ously light and assertive, loaded with flavour and back­stopped with bril­liant tex­tures. This is wow food. Good luck get­ting a res, ’cause too many peo­ple know it al­ready. Our din­ner starts with sweet fat slices of im­pec­ca­ble raw sea bass spiked with star-shaped cut-outs of raw green apple with ul­tra-thin cel­ery shav­ings and pick­led jalapeños for jazz. We go on to raw sweet shrimp with long thin curls of com­pressed wa­ter­melon radish — the sweet and the puck­ery, the soft and the crunchy com­bined. Then cometh al dente sous vide rutabaga with scat­ters of deep-fried shal­lot, Bel­gian en­dive shreds and PEI ched­dar. A clever play of tex­tures and flavours, sweet, salty, soft, crunchy.

Then there is uber-sen­sual ravi­oli stuffed with creamed squash and roofed with black truffles, awash in the light­est pos­si­ble but­ter sauce flecked with baby chives. On the side, for dip­ping, two fab­u­lous dol­lops: burnt ap­ple­sauce and 20 per cent cream.

Of course Ms. Agg’s team could never set­tle for the post-pran­dial pro­saic. Hence their dessert homage to spring: there are small cubes of pink poached rhubarb look­ing cute with dis­crete de­li­cious dots of pis­ta­chio mousse, tiny cel­ery frag­ments and cel­ery sprouts for savoury, but­tery crum­ble for sweet, small cubes of mochi rice cakes for soft, and house-made yo­gurt ice cream for creamy bite.

The room is like the dessert — care­fully cu­rated, it’s a grey on grey tone poem, not fancy but pretty. Thought­ful. Noisy, thanks to be­ing in­ces­santly full, with ta­bles turn­ing on a dime. At­ten­tion to de­tail abounds: the wine glasses are mono­grammed, and the nap­kins and the shiny formica ta­bles sound dif­fer­ent colour notes, all vari­a­tions on grey­ish.

Ms. Agg prowls the room. She doesn’t serve and only clears the oc­ca­sional plate. So what, one won­ders, is she do­ing? Aha, it’s the aes­thetic she’s en­sur­ing. For Jen Agg is a vi­sion­ary. She dreams up restau­rants and then builds a team to make it hap­pen. As for the grit to make it hap­pen night after night, that’s the in­vis­i­ble work she’s do­ing as she prowls Grey Gar­dens.

Clock­wise from left: it’s all in the de­tails; res­tau­ra­teur Jen Agg; the poached rhubarb dessert

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