Dinner at C5 - yum! (LONG review)
Was at C5 for a dinner with a friend on Saturday night. We had reservations for 5 pm (had a party to attend afterwards), and were seated near the windows with a view of downtown, which was really beautiful.
I was really looking forward to trying their raw tasting platter, but it wasn't on the menu that night. I have to say that I recently found out that I have allergies to milk, and milk derivatives, and told our waiter about it right away. The waiter was awesome; he explained the menu, and then when I ordered, he went to the kitchen to make sure that I was able to eat it. I originally had ordered the charturie platter, and the 60 day aged strip loin (that came with soft polenta, sous vide caramelized carrots, and a fig-port reduction). The waiter came back and said that the charturie platter would not be a good idea because, although they could switch the brioche to regular bread, the pate had milk ingredients, so he suggested that I try the crab salad with quinoa. Also, he said that the polenta was also made with some milk ingredients so that the chef was going to substitute the polenta with a cauliflower and yuzu puree and instead of the carrots, would cook me another vegetable without butter. This was INCREDIBLY accomodating and I was really appreciative of this.
Firstly, out came an amuse of a beigne filled with a foie gras mousse, and covered in almonds. It was to die for! Absolutely delicious, and rich, and sweet. On the side of my friends plate, they put a creamy sauce, but since they knew that I couldn't eat it, they kept it off my plate...which was a nice touch.
Then, another waiter came around with a bread basket and asked which one we would like to try. There were 3 varieties; a multigrain bun, a pumpernickle, and a potato rosemary sourdough. My friend went with the multigrain bun, and I chose the pumpernickle; both were really good.
Apps came out; friend had the roasted beet salad with ricotta salata, which she enjoyed. I had the crab salad which was sweet and creamy, helped by an avocado puree below it and a quinoa salad on the side, which balanced it nicely.
Mains came out...I had read about the 60 day aged strip loin and that it was described as the best piece of meat. It was delicious, cooked perfectly, and had a great crust on the outside. In my opinion, although the fig and port reduction was delicious, I felt that it overpowered the flavour of the meat, so I left most of the sauce. The cauliflower puree was delicious, as were the haricot verts with a touch of chili, and cilantro.
My friend had the piglet trio: 1) pork belly with apple butter (her favourite;tender and flavourful), 2) pork loin with chili rub, served atop hubbard squash terrine (her 2nd favourite), 3) pork shoulder confit with a black bean ceviche (her least favourite, but still quite good)
Both of us can't drink, and we were actually full after those 2 dishes that we didn't order dessert, but the chef sent out a shortbread cookie with a dark chocolate ganache and a candied pistacchio which my friend thought was delicious.
The only turnoff of the night was when I went to order a cup of tea. Originally ordered tarragon mint, which sounded interesting, but the waiter said they had run out (no biggie), so I ordered jasmine -green tea. Out comes a nice silver teapot, beautiful white cup, sugar cubes, lemon wedge, and in the tea kettle.....a Lipton tea bag. Maybe I am overreacting, but I always order tea whereever I go, and even at PICKLE BARREL, I get better quality tea than lipton. I thought in a place like C5, where it seems that there is such high attention to detail, that they would pay more attention to their tea selections. But I am nitpicking...the tea in no way ruined the evening, I was just making an observation, and the rest was wonderful. A great experience.
We booked dinner at C5 on Open Table several weeks ago, not realizing it was a Winterlicious date. They phoned a week ahead to advise that they would not be serving the regular menu, and did we want to rebook. We checked the 'licious menu and decided to take a chance. It was a good experience overall, though not without some faults.
Service was excellent across the board, as professional as one could wish. We got a warm friendly greeting, and there was no attitude at all. We were seated at the best deuce in the house, a pleasant surprise, with a view in two directions from the Crystal.
Not unexpectedly for Winterlicious, they had set up a food assembly line in the open kitchen. But they handled the meal in a really clever way. Both entrees on offer (poached grouper and short ribs) were prepared sous vide. Staff was mainly plating, and thus under less stress than on a normal Saturday night.
Our server was excellent, and at no time were we rushed. Despite the assembly line setup, we were seated for about 2 1/4 hours. There was no suggestion that they might need the table for another party. The dining room was mostly full, but not frenzied, and we couldn't tell whether this was intentional or if demand had been low. If anyone tried to book C5 yesterday, and couldn't, we're curious to know.
Wine orders were taken promptly, from a small selection of reds and whites that were discounted from their regular prices for Winterlicious. For Toronto, this was a bit of a shock (though I wouldn't call the wines a bargain). Asked for a pairing with the short ribs, we were steered to a reasonably priced bottle. a good, though not memorable, shiraz. We were also asked whether we wanted bottled water or iced tap.
They offered two breads to begin, both likely house made. The pumpernickel had a hint of chocolate and was delicious; the baguette merely so-so. A molasses tinged butter went well with the pumpernickel but did nothing for the baguette.
The apps followed quickly. We both had the butternut squash bisque, which was very good, but included a potentially dangerous surprise. While, say, lobster bisque is common, a "bisque" simply means a creamy soup. Shellfish is NOT implied, and we were expecting a vegetable puree. The strong undertone of shellfish stock and shreds of what seemed to be crab or lobster were a pleasant surprise.
They would have been a less pleasant surprise to the highly shellfish-allergic friend who nearly joined us. She would have ordered this soup without a second thought, and we would have ended our evening somewhat south on University Av (at an emerg).
Given that shellfish content also increases the perceived value of the dish, omitting this information from the menu description was a bizarre oversight for the corporate multinational restaurant operator.
The 72 Hour Sous-Vide Beef Short Rib with Chestnut Potato Mash came next. It was sided with what seemed to be rapini. The meat portion, though small, was really adequate, and the overall dish was good enough to have again. However, the teaspoon of (delicious) mashed potatoes was really stingy - in my opinion, there should have been about three times as much.
We tried both desserts, which sounded amazing. One was Pecorino Cheesecake with , Ginger snap tuile and balsamic gelee. The second was Chocolate Bread Pudding with Parsnip Gelato and Carrot Foam. While both were very interesting, and tasted okay, and neither was especially sweet (which is our preference), perhaps they were too "interesting" for their own good.
The pecorino cheesecake was three small dots, totaling less than a tablespoon. Tasty, but inadequate by any standard - more an intermezzo than an dessert. It came with a small scoop of a delicious fruit granite. The tuille, good in itself, didn't harmonize and the balsamic gelee was irrelevant.
The chocolate bread pudding was only tinged with chocolate and the carrot foam was lost. The parsnip gelato (again, about a teaspoon) was lovely. Our server explained that the bread pudding was made from the house pumpernickel. The chocolate hint, while delightful in the bread, would disappoint any chocoholic ordering the chocolate bread pudding dessert.
Coffee and a latte were fine, and coffee refills were provided.
The portion sizes would have been fine for a tasting menu, but we left feeling a bit hungry. OTOH, the meal for two, with a bottle of decent wine, cost about $125, including tax. Ingredients were good and prepared with care. The food was creative (the desserts, perhaps, too creative). Service was excellent across the board.
The views from C5's window tables are great, and the west wall (assuming glare protection) would be magical at sunset. Note that the after hours entrance off Bloor St can be treacherous if you are tall. The entranceway is also looking extremely, distressingly worn for a brand new building. This part of the Crystal was not well thought out and needs a redesign for sure.