Richmond Hill Post - - Restaurant Reviews -

606 King St. W. $70 Din­ner for two How is it that the hottest ta­ble in town has slightly dumb ser­vice? Is there any sense to ev­ery course be­ing de­liv­ered by a dif­fer­ent per­son (some of whom make up what’s on the plate)? Or maybe this is some­thing we should ap­pre­ci­ate be­cause the chef/owner of Valdez, Steve Gon­za­lez, gets that the only way to en­sure good cook­ing is to do it your­self rather than swan­ning around the front of the house.

Valdez styles it­self as a “Latino street party” on the menu. Are they try­ing to tell us some­thing? The dark, noisy room, counter din­ing at the open kitchen and pre­pon­der­ance of high-tops re­in­force the party vibe. And what do you eat at a party? Fun food!

Fun is the flight of ce­viche — tiny (mostly) won­der­ful spoon­fuls of raw tuna with pas­sion fruit, yuzu and jalapeno, cala­mari in its ink with sweet potato, Latino shrimp cock­tail with corn nuts, tuna with mixed fruit, and (bor­ing) fruit and veg balls — a great deal for $16. And it begs the ques­tion. Latin Amer­i­can? Yes, Clau­dio Aprile style, thanks to chef Gon­za­lez’s time at Ori­gin learn­ing the del­i­cate Aprile Asian/Latin alchemy.

Chef crisps im­pec­ca­ble trout with mango cit­rus salsa, a small chile bite and quinoa salad topped with cute, lit­tle crisp-fried shal­lots. He takes fun food a step fur­ther to­wards party-ville with cha­ufa — duck con­fit in a big pile of fried rice scented with sugar and soy with fried egg and edamame. Here meeteth oil, sugar and salt, the tri­umvi­rate of fun food. The only thing chef doesn’t do well is clearly the straight-up Latino item that bores him: em­panadas of beef and potato are painfully sturdy, dare I say card­board tex­ture, and their filling bears a dis­turb­ing re­sem­blance to por­ridge.

As for dessert, Gon­za­lez in­vents a charm­ing new take on tres leches cake mar­ried to rice pud­ding. Here is co­conut, cow’s and con­densed milk with rice pud­ding and a crunchy roof of caramelize­d ba­nana slices. The only down­side is that chef tried to heat his tres leches brûlée but he made the mis­take of mi­crowav­ing it in the wrong bowl, so the bowl got hot but the pud­ding didn’t.

Which speaks to tak­ing the party up a notch. The chef who dreamt that sexy sushi flight and the de­light­ful trout is worth watch­ing — and will be more so when he ex­tends his con­trol to ev­ery cor­ner of his op­er­a­tion.

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