Debu's Nouvelle Indian Cuisine - A review
I've been wanting to try this restaurant for the past month. It opened around August of this year. Chef Debu Saha, formerly of Biryani House was featured in a few Toronto articles, so I thought I'd take my friend and see how it was.
My friend ordered the vegetarian tasting menu, while I ordered the non-vegetarian. While the tasting menu was presented on the table when we arrived, the regular menu came in a rolled paper script, which seemed a little unnecessary. But we also got the garlic naan from the regular menu.
We started off with an amuse bouche. Two spoons, one of black chick peas in tamarind sauce, and another of looked like a tomato, cucumber salad. My friend and I enjoyed the black chick peas, but she wouldn't try the tomato, cucumber salad. After I tried mine, I couldn't blame her.
Next for myself was the "Whole wheat Goan pao with spicy Goan beef sausage, onion salsa with cashew pheni vinaigrette", which I found to be tasty, but in all, nothing startling or exciting. My friend had the "Whole-wheat Goan pao with spicy marina potato bhaji, garlic flavoured Goan street-style tomato chutney", which she disliked, saying it was something her mother could make at home, and could make better.
The second course was "Kokum scented coconut-seafood soup drizzled with curry leaf olio, spicy seafood balchow flaky puff" for myself, and "Curry leaf and coconut-scented black eyed beans soup with vegetable porial flaky puff and tamarind-cashew pheni sauce", this was probably the highlight of the meal, we both enjoyed our soups, and I especially like the seafood puff.
The third was "Grain fed chicken xacuti with grilled tomato, masala yam wedges and fluffy basmati rice", and she had the "Young jackfruit racho curry with lentil-coconut pancake, masala yam wedges and fluffy basmati rice". The chicken I thought was done okay, it was a little dry, but spiced properly. The yam wedges were done extremely well. My friend didn't like her dish, and when the server came to take the plates away, she still had more than half on her plate.
Dessert consisted of "Coconut-scented rice pudding and jaggery-poached pears with nuts and dry fruits" and "Coconut jaggery brulée, wild berries muffin drizzled with warm cinnamon chocolate ". The desserts were for the most part done well, I especially like the brulee, one of the better ones I've had this year. However, the chocolate drizzled over much of both our plates didn't excite us.
There were 3 other tables occupied when we came in. Chef Debu at times hits his plates impeccably, other times, seems to miss completely. My friend did not finish any of her plates, save the soup. However, the server was very knowledgeable, and explained all the dishes with ease, and made us feel very welcomed. The naan bread which we ordered at the beginning didn't come until halfway through my third course.
I am glad I tried this restaurant, as it's been on my list for a while, but I doubt I will be going back unless a friend of mine insist on Indian food, even then, I might first suggest Amaya.
1 vegetarian tasting menu, 1 non-vegetarian tasting menu, 2 garlic naan, 2 glasses of wine, 1 coffee = $160 tax and gratuity included.
552 Mount Pleasant Road
It's nice to see a review that goes into the detail that this one does. A couple of points, though.
In respect of the review itself, I think some degree of slack needs to be cut to a chef that is doing a tasting menu which is trying to be faithful to a particular regional cuisine, in this case Goan. Maybe there should have been some consideration as to whether the dishes were prepared comparably to other versions of the same dishes. I noticed in reading the chef's blog that that was his intent. Was it explained on the menu? To be fair to the OP, I don't know whether he/she was approaching the food with htat in mind.
As to some of the responding posts, I am a little puzzled at those that harken back to the days when Debu Saha was cooking biryanis, suggesting that he abandon his current pursuits. Okay, so there have been some mixed reviews for a restaurant that prices somewhere in the middle of the pack, but which makes more of an effort at creativity. Yes, some things will work, some things won't, and the menu will develop. But the bulk of the early criticism has not been about hit or miss, but about him trying to hard, and putting too many flavours on the plate. Some media have been highly praising (Now). This is the sort of early press that many get when they take a new direction.
I don't think it's positive criticism to suggest that a chef making a noted and appreciated effort to advance his personal cuisine go back to simple dishes from his ethnic past. Something about that doesn't sound right, and from reading the other posts of those who have suggested that, doesn't seem in keeping with the spirit of what they've said elsewhere.
Snarf, as someone who adored Debu's Biryani House and frequented it quite frequently in its heyday, I can assure you that Chef was not cooking "simple dishes from his ethnic past" at that restaurant. The name of the restaurant was a misnomer, as it was not biryani-focused in the least.
Joanne Kates, when reviewing the new restaurant, obviously had no inkling of Debu's previous restaurant, the food at which was incredibly creative, playful, full of wonderfully balanced, bright flavours, all perfectly executed and beautifully presented. Not your ordinary run-of-the-mill Indian restaurant; I'd call the Biryani House's cuisine "nouvelle," if I didn't so dislike the term.
Joanne Kates and others are foolish to wish for ordinary curries and butter chicken at Debu's, the likes of which are a dime a dozen in this town. Debu most certainly is capable of delivering the WOW factor in his cooking. As I (in another thread) and others have noted, he's not quite achieved that yet on Mount Pleasant. I do miss the fabulous dishes he presented at Biryani House, because he has yet to achieve those heights in his new restaurant.
Snarf, it appears to me that you never ate at Debu's Biryani House on Wellesley. If you had, you'd never claim that his food there was "simple." I'm also wondering whether you and others are confusing "Debu Saha's Biryani House" with another restaurant (the downtown location of which escapes me) called "Biryani House," the focus of which was/is (not sure if it's still around) simple biryanis.
His original Biryani House was at Roy's Sq. It was dirt cheap and remarkably good. It did emphasize biryanis and other basic Indian foods.
It seems he's trying to emulate Vikram Vij at this new spot. It also seems like he's trying too hard to be "creative". Will he get things under control before the money runs out? I don't know, but he had obviously become bored with what he was doing on Wellesley before it shut down.
Snarf, I think you might have misinterpreted what I (and I suspect the others) were trying to say. I merely wanted to say it was a shame that his new restaurant doesn't live up to the high expectations that people have set for him. I thoroughly enjoyed his earlier restaurant, not because of it's simplicity, but because he did what he did very well. I was excited to find that he was stepping it up a notch with his new restaurant, but sad to hear that many found the meals disappointing. Maybe he just needs a bit of time to iron out the kinks. I'll keep reading more posts and reviews and perhaps I'll go a little later on.
Thanks for the review, stonedtoronto. Looks like I'll be scratching this one off my list of places to try. There are just too many ho-hum reviews about this place - and considering the price? I'd much rather take my money elsewhere. That's too bad. I liked Biryani House.
That's a shame to hear about it not being so good, and this is the second not so great story I've heard about the place. Apparently there's also a take-out menu that offers a more dummed down traditional menu that I heard is really good. We really enjoyed the old Biryani House on Wellsley so looking forward to checking out the take out!
How recently have you eaten at Cuisine of India? I considered it to be the best in Toronto back around 1991 - 93, but haven't been there in many years after moving downtown. I'm thinking of going there for brunch on Sunday, and was wondering if it's still good.
I'm not interested to spend $150 and up for Indian food as reviewed above. Debu should have stuck to what he was doing well.