Truffles – A Birthday Ruined (Review + Pics)
Please forgive the infrequent posts and late reviews; it’s been a busy past few months. This review is for a meal that had taken place back in late November of 2008.
Being a steady fan of Truffles since our first dining experience there about 10 years ago, we figured this was an institution that was unwavering in its ability to deliver quality. So when a DC of mine wanted to celebrate a large milestone birthday, he thought of nothing but Truffles to create that magical meal he had envisioned. We had a wonderful meal there earlier in the year and they were quite impressed. I thought that Truffles was a bit ‘safe’ for my tastes, but that is precisely what you should expect when going to such a classic restaurant. My DC called ahead to confirm the same Executive Chef was going to be heading up the kitchen that evening as had earlier that year. We were comforted that the same team was still there. We had assumed this meant Lora Kirk would be Executive Chef. We apparently assumed incorrectly.
We made reservations for our party about a week ahead and looked forward to the evening. DC was excited to see what was on the Chef’s Tasting Menu for the week, but that was not available for viewing until we arrived.
When the special day rolled around, we arrived at Truffles and were promptly seated. The restaurant was almost empty with one other table, and about two or three other tables seated during the span of the dinner service. Across the hall, however, the convention hall was buzzing. There was obviously a large corporate gathering of some sorts going on next door. Chef David Adjey popped his head in during dinner to take a look at the menu (which ended up being the highlight of my meal).
After perusing the menu, we ended up ordered two tasting menus for the husband and wife. The rest of us went a la carte.
Tasting Menu: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071148179
A la Carte: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071985194
We noted that the Executive Chef listed was not Lora Kirk, but instead Laurie Bandur. We were taken aback slightly by this name change, as we had expected a different name. But we were already there, and had ordered, so why ruin a good evening?
The breads arrived first. Crusty and nice to munch on while waiting for the first course to arrive, they were not too memorable. I was, however, a fan of the crisp flatbreads. I don't think I have ever met a flatbread I did not enjoy.
Bread Basket: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071985492
My memory is a bit foggy about the evening so many months later, but I wanted to note that we did receive an amuse bouche: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071147733/
The first course was a chestnut soup with caramelized apple and seared foie gras. The bowl arrived with the apples and foie nestled at the bottom of the bowl. The soup was then poured tableside. The soup was a success. The chestnut flavours were quite pronounced and overall it was very fragrant. The foie was nicely seared, but much of the crisp exterior was lost once the soup soaked through the crust. The apples added a much needed sweetness and lightness to the otherwise savoury, rich soup. The meal was off to a solid start.
Next up, I ordered my favourite Truffle’s Spaghettini. I had this first back during Chef Lynn Crawford’s tenure. Back then, it was an amazing creation. The foam was aromatic and really helped perfume the truffle essence. This is when foams really worked and was not just a gimmick. I had another good version at Sen5es earlier in the year by the man who said he created the Truffles signature pasta appetizer, Chef Patrick Lin. He showered the plate with so many truffles that I could barely see the pasta beneath! I was quite impressed. The texture of the pasta, though, left something to be desired. Little did I know the dish could get MUCH worse. Laurie Bandur’s version was a mess. The ‘spaghettini’ was almost spaghetti. The noodles were thick and thus overpowered the truffle aroma and flavour. With thin noodles, the taste is allowed to permeate to the core of the pasta. Not so when they are thick and soggy. The pasta was cooked way past al dente for a restaurant of this caliber. I was incredibly disappointed with this dish and only dreaded what could come out of the kitchen next!
Truffle Presentation: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071148447
Truffle Spaghettini: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071148501
Another appetizer we ordered was the lobster risotto. The truffle aroma was very strong. This was one of the better dishes of the evening. SO is not a huge fan of truffles (blasphemy, I know), but I enjoy it and always will. The risotto itself had an interesting consistency in that it was inhomogeneous. There were two distinct phases to the dish. I had never had a risotto quite like it.
Lobster Risotto: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071985604/
This following course was part of the tasting menu. It was a disaster of a dish. Ill-conceived and poorly executed. I do not know what they were thinking. These were laughing bird shrimps and they were served with artichoke hearts and piquillo peppers. Per the description of the laughing bird shrimp’s website, they are supposed to give a pop of juice when bitten into. This was definitely not the case with the pieces we were offered. The shrimps were cooked past their prime and were rubbery when bitten into. The ‘sweetness’ was neutralized by the overcooking and they tasted like cheap shrimp cocktails you would get at the grocery store. The artichokes were very strong (as artichokes generally are), and completely overpowered the shrimp. The accompaniments did not compliment the protein at all. Everything was overpowering and completely masked the shrimp. Maybe the centerpiece of the dish was the artichoke. But then, why bother with the shrimp at all? The presentation is haphazard as well, with each component spaced so far away from the next so that you’re not sure how they should be consumed. This could have led to the poor experience, but no matter what permutation I tried, nothing worked.
Laughing Shrimp: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071148563
Rabbit Farro was up next. This continued the trend of the evening; completely overdone proteins. The rabbit was as tough as leather. A week before I had eaten a wonderful rabbit dish at Nota Bene. I therefore had a certain level of expectation that Chef Bandur fell quite short of. The dish was a mess. It was not appealing in appearance, or in taste. I expected much more from a restaurant such as Truffles.
Rabbit Farro: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/3071985818/
Next up, we have an overcooked Bluenose Bass. The lentils were great (the high note of the dish), but the fish was a disaster. All the moisture had been sucked out of the fish. It was inherently a flakier, firmer piece of fish, but a good chef should know how to prepare it to enhance its intrinsic qualities. This was obviously not the case.
The lamb was ordered as a main course. Though apparently hazelnut encrusted, the crust lacked any hint of aromatic. It was dry and bland. Once again, nothing on the plate seemed to pull the dish together. Everything seemed like separate components. The sauce or reduction was so sticky that it was difficult to scrape it off the plate to accompany the lamb itself. At least it was not overdone…? It was quite cold though, which did not lend well to the game-y flavour inherent to a lamb.
Next was a partridge served in a consommé. Once again they had a nicely seared foie soaking inside a broth. Not exactly how I would have served something that had a crisp exterior, but then again, I am not a chef. The partridge was a complete waste of a good bird. It was dry and completely inedible. It was tough and the skin was not at all crisp. I could not believe they would serve something so overtly incorrectly prepared. I guess that is why it was accompanied by a broth – so you could soak the dried out meat in it for a few minutes before each bite to try and re-infuse juices into the bird.
Finally the meal was coming to a close. We decided on a Grand Marnier Souffle to top off a very disappointing meal. Besides, the birthday boy could not end a meal on a sour note! The Souffle was quite well done I must admit. It was fluffy and sweet in all the right places. I guess the pastry chef was not on holiday. It did fall a bit more than I would like before it was served, but I was not going to be overly picky after such a meal. The cream inserted in the top was fragrant with hints of white chocolate and Grand Marnier. I enjoyed this dessert, which is more than I could say about the rest of the meal.
Petit Fours were then presented. They were bland and unimaginative. I was tempted to leave them on the table, but I must admit I am not one to let food go to waste to try and prove a point (that would have probably been missed in the end anyway).
All in all, we were all very disappointed by our meals. The proteins were overcooked to a point of being almost inedible. The appetizers were not handled well and they managed to ruin their own classic dish – the Truffle Spaghettini. The service was apt, but was nothing more than one would expect from a restaurant of Truffle’s stature. Near the end, one of our waiters even appeared antsy like he wanted to leave for the evening. It was nowhere near close time, but he looked incredibly uncomfortable. The wait times between each course were a bit excessive, which may have led to a longer meal. We were very rushed near the end of the evening once the meal was done, and this made us sour on the evening even more. The staff were huddled in the end of the restaurant were there were no patrons during most of the meal, talking amongst themselves. There were hardly any tables, but I still felt they were able to neglect the few tables that were present. Maybe the performance was a function of the large event they were catering outside, but I would imagine that a hall such as Four Seasons would be able to accommodate these types of events and that they were not out of the ordinary. It was not a well-run production that evening and fell quite short of our expectations. I had hoped for more from something so established, especially given our wonderful meals in the past. I am not sure what happened, but there were so many faults to the evening I lost count. Several hundreds of dollars later, we left the restaurant just a little bit sadder and a whole lot poorer. I am hoping it was just an off night for them and that they return once again to their original glory. For now, I would have to say I must scratch Truffles off my list of go-to restaurants for a fail-safe meal. The performance given does not warrant the prices charged.
After the meal, the birthday boy was extremely disappointed. He was upset that he had selected the restaurant and asked us all to go. It was a huge evening for him, so I felt sad that he had such a poor experience. I immediately suggested that I take him out again to Nota Bene to try and cheer him up. A grin crossed his face instantly and the birthday was saved. A few days later we arrived at NB and had a wonderful meal. The staff made note of the birthday event and showered him with well wishes. Dessert was presented with candles and the food was very good for the price. I put a review up earlier about a birthday being saved, and thanking NB for another job well done. In the end, my conclusion is that it is very difficult to find a consistent high-end restaurant in Toronto. Restaurants tend to disappoint us more than they impress us. I guess we will continue to support the few that constantly deliver value for our hard-earned cash, such as Nota Bene, and a few others. Hopefully restaurants will step up their game and realize that there is money to be earned if they constantly deliver. Just look how well NB is doing in its first year. I can only hope they keep up the good work. As for Truffles, I hope they have been able to fix their back of house, and front of house issues; both for their sakes, and the sakes of their paying customers.
Cheers and Happy Eating!
Four Seasons - Toronto
21 Avenue Road
Toronto, Ontario (Canada
Hello BokChoi! Most interesting?!! Sorry about the food! At least the plate presentation looked good!
FYI, I too had a tasting menu there a few months before you did. However, our experience was totally the opposite. We had a 'lobster three ways' appertizer that was truly amazing. Even better than SF's Michelin 2* Micheal Mina's version! The clear lobster consomme was soooo flavourful. Our fish dish, a piece of Floridian Garoupa was perfectly grilled. Crispy skin on one side and moist and juicy through out. One of the meat course was venison. Grilled to a perfect pink, the wine/berry reduction sauce was thick, intense and delicious.
Guess our culinary guardian angel must be looking after us that night?!
May be, like Estufarian, your party should have complained to the management as well?!
Better luck next time!
re: Charles Yu
Hello Charles Yu,
About what time frame did you go? We had actually gone earlier in the year as well, when Lora Kirk's name was still on the Tasting Menu as Executive Chef. My DC's were all very pleased with their meal and that is why we decided to head back.
Sounds like your dinner was COMPLETELY different than what we were offered. Those items were not on the menu when we were there. Too bad, I love Grouper.
Doubt there will be a next time though. There are just so many other places to try. Hope everyone has better luck than we did!
re: Charles Yu
Just came back from a four weeks long holiday in the Orient, so still feeling a bit stuffed from all the eating spree.
Guess my next venture will be to try out some of those new bistros that had been springing up, especially around the Harbord area. Specifically, Harbord room, Loire, Tati. Black Hoof and Mogette.
As for higher end dining, I am thinking of Frank at the AGO. Apparently, the chef is Anne Y., ex-chef of Starfish! I love her style of cooking! Simple but well-executed!
Wow! I've enjoyed all your posts and have no doubt your experience is accurately described.
Typically I don't order a tasting menu at Truffles, as we'd get identical dishes, so it's better to order dishes a la carte and share these. But, putting that aside, I've only ever had one substandard meal at Truffles - and when I was asked how I'd 'enjoyed' my meal I gave a detailed description of what had gone wrong. Of course they waived the charge for the dishes (and comped our wine) - but the next day I got a personal call from the GM apologising again and offering a complete 'free meal' to replace the 'experience that was not what Truffles expects to provide' (not including wine). Of course I was a semi-regular client (once or twice a year). And coincidentally, last night we discussed when we might return to Truffles as we hadn't been since Lora left - almost a year ago.
I'm tempted to check them out (a la Carte) but hope someone else can confirm (or deny) that this was an unfortunate experience, rather than a trend.
Certainly I'm more hesitant now than I was last night.
estufarian, thanks for your comment and compliment. I certainly hope this isn't the new direction Truffles has decided to go. I was not a regular to Truffles (I have been only a few times in the last 3 or 4 years), so I was not that comfortable with the management enough to complain in person. They also did not appear to really care too much that evening anyway, as they were chatting amongst themselves for a good part of it. If you do end up going again, I hope you enjoy your meal more than we did. Perhaps it was an off-day, but I doubt I would return to find out. Pity, really. Let's hope others will only have glowing things to say about Truffles. I was truly shocked, to put it mildly. I always thought they were so consistent.