Best Toronto Entertainment --- Colborne Lane Tasting Menu?
I made my first visit this week with my family, and we had the tasting menu ($99) with wine pairings ($49). We also had the tasting menu at Splendido about four months ago, so I have something to compare it with.
I think dish-for-dish the tasting menu at Splendido under Chef Lee was better tasting food, but Colborne Lane serves more imaginative and more numerous dishes that both entertain and taste very good. The wine pairings at both restaurants were great, and good value. Service at both places was excellent. I am extremely glad to have had the opportunity to try both these tasting menus -- they were both excellent. A description of our meal is posted below.
I think the tasting menu at Colborne Lane is one of the best entertainment experiences in Toronto, and should not be missed. It is far better value and far more likely to be enjoyable than a ticket to the Leafs or Raptors or any of the ancient musicals that pass for top live theatre in Toronto. Plus, it includes dinner!
The most recent long discussion of Colborne Lane is in this thread:
To summarize the discussion, it seems that people who order the tasting menu usually love it, while people who order off the regular menu sometimes think the servings are too small, of inconsistent quality and overpriced. I only have experience with the tasting menu.
Unlike Splendido, Colborne Lane does not provide a printed tasting menu showing the wine pairings. I asked for one, and was told there is none because "it is never the same twice". One consequence is that I can't remember the complete descriptions of the dishes we were served, and I don't know the names of the six wines we were served. There were four whites (a sparkling, a dry, and 2 less dry), followed by one red (with the beef course) and one sparkling rose (with dessert). Two were Spanish, and I think the rest were from Niagara. Whatever they were, I thought the wines were well-chosen for the food (I'm not an expert).
The restaurant is much smaller than I expected, about half the size of Splendido. The tables are spaced literally 8 inches apart around the outside of the room, with a long communal table in the middle where guests sit opposite one another and appear to have a bit more space. On a Wednesday night the restaurant was never more than half full, the central table only had two occupants all night, and we only had one adjacent table occupied, so it didn't seem crowded or loud as I'm sure it would be when full.
The first two courses were the same as on the web site, so I can use the restaurant's descriptions. The rest are by memory, without notes.
1. aloe vera snow + compressed melon + cucumber water + ketel one vodka
A very cold and refreshing wake up call for the taste buds. Like a tiny cucumber slushie with some densified watermelon cubes on the bottom of the dish.
2. sockeye salmon sashimi + yuzu vinaigrette + black sesame caviar + ponzu meringues + avocado + breakfast radish + shiso leaf
A nice piece of raw salmon with lots of different colored decorations.
3. single sea scallop + coconut milk "egg" + yogurty space dots + strange shredded white stuff
One dish, one color, but several textures, tastes and temperatures. The scallop was sweet and warm, the space dots were cold and a bit sour, the coconut milk egg was smooth and silky, and the white shredded stuff (whatever it was) was quite unusual.
4. cold vegetable soup + basil foam + melon
An intermezzo before the main courses, the soup was green (maybe based on green tomatoes?) with small flecks of indivdual vegetables. Floating in the dish was a dollop of basil foam, and a small piece of melon was hidden at the bottom. Fun.
5. roasted halibut + sweet potato puree + + +
This was the closest to a dish at Splendido. The halibut was perfectly cooked and tasted great, the sweet potato was excellent.
6. nitro frozen blueberries + crunchy stuff + "poppers"
The blueberries had been flash frozen so the outsides were hard while the insides stayed soft. The crunchy stuff underneath (like crushed granola) did something inside your mouth that sounded like popping going off inside your head. Very entertaining if, like me, you've never experienced this before.
7. triple seared beef + chopped red vegetables + brussel sprout + ?? + parsnip puree
Served with the five or six items in a single row on a long narrow plate, this dish would also not have been out of place at Splendido. I think it was the best of the evening. The four-bite piece of medium rare beef was excellent, and both the brussel sprout and the parsnip puree really stood out among the accompaniments.
8. nitro frozen black currant parfait + creme fraiche + blueberry snow + lemon cake
A glass dish contained this parfait, a very nice combination.
9. lemon ice cream made at the table using liquid nitrogen + warm doughnut + garnishes
This reminded my daughter that we need to go back to our favorite Greek restaurant and order the flaming cheese (which we've never ordered). A big metal bowl has frigid steam pouring out of it as a pitcher of ice cream mixture is poured into it and stirred by the waiter. He gives each of us a taste from the bowl, then it is removed to be quickly returned nicely plated with the fresh doughnut and colorful garnishes
10. iced chocolate bomb
A small frozen cream lozenge containing Bailey's chocolate cream liqueur, served on a metal plate over a small pitcher of liquid nitrogen. A cool finale.
Our dinner lasted just over two hours. There was an interesting bread basket served between courses 2 & 3. None of us left the restaurant hungry.
I'd have to agree with you about the entertainment value of dinner at Colborne Lane. As I posted in the thread you referenced, I had dinner there last weekend and I've been a few time before that. I love introducing friends to this great show. The food is good and getting better in my opinion, and the entertainment value is priceless. I've gone with different companions each time and none had been there before.
The first time I went, we found the experience entertaining and the food to be pretty good, maybe trying too hard to demonstrate MG techniques. On subsequent visits, the food has slowly been losing that "showing off" quality and become more subtle and delicious. And each time, my companions have found the experience to be quite entertaining, maybe not the most delicious food they've ever eaten but quite enjoyable.