Din­ner is the show

How two new­com­ers, Alo and Shoushin, are rein­vig­o­rat­ing Toronto’s tast­ing menus

Richmond Hill Post - - Food - by Caro­line Ak­sich

Three years ago we reached peak tast­ing menu. The New York Times food critic Pete Wells went so far as to say that “tast­ing menu–only restau­rants are spread­ing like an epi­demic.” It wasn’t just the tired pa­rade of tweezer-plated dishes that had us yawn­ing, but the stuffy ac­cou­ter­ments that of­ten ac­com­pa­nied $300-a-per­son din­ners. Over the past year, Toronto’s tast­ing scene has been rein­vig­o­rated thanks to two new­com­ers: Alo and Shoushin.

Alo and Shoushin couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from each other. The for­mer has stripped the stuffi­ness out of the tast­ing menu ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s not just chefowner Pa­trick Kriss’s el­e­gant, five-bite cre­ations that have Alo booked straight for the next two months. The invit­ing room and rea­son­able price point ($95 per per­son) are also part and par­cel of Alo’s suc­cess. Shoushin, on the other hand, is ded­i­cated to preserving tra­di­tional Tokyo-style sushi. Fans of Jiro

Dreams of Sushi will be enchanted by the gen­uine­ness of this sushi shrine, which spe­cial­izes in omakase.

“Omakase,” loosely trans­lated from Ja­panese, means “to en­trust.” At an omakase restau­rant there’s no set menu; you put your­self in the hands the chef. Ac­cord­ing to Shoushin chef Jackie Lin, omakase sets it­self apart from western tast­ing menus in that there is a trust el­e­ment built into the din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It is the chef’s choice, and ev­ery­thing is while sup­ply lasts, so I may serve you some­thing you are un­fa­mil­iar with, but you must trust me to make the call,” says the 31-year-old chef, who started train­ing in the art of sushi mak­ing 12 years ago un­der Zen’s Sei­ichi Kashi­wabara.

The fresh-faced Lin chats cheer­ily with pa­trons while cut­ting into filets of semi-fatty tuna with a sur­geon-like pre­ci­sion. While he’s yakking about eth­i­cally caught tuna, Lin is si­mul­ta­ne­ously keep­ing track of which course ev­ery­one in the restau­rant is on.

Shoushin of­fers three omakase menus: A, B and C, which grad­u­ate from $80 per per­son to $250. Omakase menu C not only has more cour­ses than menu A, as well as caviar and wagyu beef, but the price point also af­fects which parts of the fish chef Lin will serve you. “Fish are del­i­cate,” says Lin. “There are oily parts, parts with more veins, parts with firmer flesh; ev­ery bite is dif­fer­ent,” says the sushi devo­tee.

We or­der the six-course omakase B ($120 per per­son). The meal be­gins with a duck meat­ball in a rich dashi broth. Sashimi fol­lows. The high­light: sweet Bos­ton shrimp are but­tery per­fec­tion. The third course, an­other so-called ap­pe­tizer, is sesame-crusted wild-caught chi­nook. An­other app. And then, fi­nally, the much-an­tic­i­pated sushi.

Lin serves sushi in sets of three, pro­gress­ing from del­i­cate white fish like sea bream to heartier-fleshed fish like tuna and mack­erel. While Lin chats with guests seated at the sushi bar (who are served piece by piece), he’s keep­ing tabs on his room. A reg­u­lar is seated at the far end of the bar, so Lin will send him some chal­leng­ing mouth­fuls like man­tis shrimp.

Be­fore you even en­ter Shoushin, the week­end valet ser­vice (an in­creas­ing rar­ity in this city) tips you off to the es­tab­lish­ment’s pedi­gree. Alo, by con­trast, has a non­de­script en­trance tucked be­hind a shut­tered Hero Burger. To call this foyer un­fussy is tan­ta­mount to say­ing Don­ald Trump is bois­ter­ous (an un­der­state­ment, to say the least). A host­ess di­rects you to a ram­shackle el­e­va­tor which then opens into the sump­tu­ously decked restau­rant. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of the gritty ’80s Toronto and to­day’s vi­brant ver­sion couldn’t be more ap­par­ent. Com­mute De­sign has trans­formed the third storey of this Vic­to­rian with heather grey ban­quettes, swaths of mar­ble and sculp­tural brass light fix­tures. The com­pletely ex­posed kitchen is the room’s cen­tre­piece.

It’s 2 p.m. and chef Kriss is vis­i­bly ex­hausted. “I’m 35, but I feel like I’m 52,” he jokes, dryly. Once ser­vice starts, Kriss will have to turn on. The lucky six sit­ting at the kitchen counter for the ex­tended menu ($120 per per­son) will get show-ready Kriss, who will per­son­ally ex­plain each dish. A por­tion of madai ( Ja­panese red sea bream) is punc­tu­ated with co­rian­der stems, pick­led cu­cum­ber pearls, com­pressed radish and caramelize­d lemon purée.

Kriss spent two years as chef de par­tie at Daniel Boulud’s flag­ship Daniel in New York. One of the most mem­o­rable tast­ing menu ex­pe­ri­ences he can re­call was at Ger­many’s three Miche­lin starred Restau­rant Amador.

“I was there with Daniel and Jean-Fran­coise [Bruel, ex­ec­u­tive chef at Daniel], and I loved the way the meal be­gan with a bunch of small plates all put on the ta­ble at once, sort of like tapas,” says Kriss. Bruel has stopped by Alo; Daniel has yet to visit.

Amanda Bradley, Kriss’s co-owner, runs a tight front of house ship. A woman wear­ing red lip­stick will be given a dark nap­kin (no stains), while some­one sport­ing a white out­fit is paired with match­ing linen (no vis­i­ble lint).

“Amanda knows what peo­ple want be­fore they do,” says Kriss.

From the bread course (served with house-churned but­ter and paired with its own wine) to the nap­kins, no din­ing de­tail has been ne­glected at Alo. Shoushin sim­i­larly ob­sesses over the de­tails, and that’s where a restau­rant sets it­self apart from the pack.

PA­TRICK KRISS’S MADAI DISH

JACKIE LIN’S SUSHI

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