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Mar 26, 2010 09:14 AM

Origin - review

After reading countless blogs and articles hyping the restaurant's opening, I excitedly paid a visit to Origin last night.

I arrived with my dinner companion at 8pm last night. The room was 80% full but it seemed much busier as there was a wealth of staff and the open kitchen had flames licking the ceilings and pans clanging about.

The space itself is quite attractive. Exposed brick, rough wood for the kitchen-bar, floor, and artwork, all illuminated by funky lights and chandeliers. What was most eye-catching were the table-tops. From afar I thought it was speckled granite but it's actually this gray, porous material that looked like rocks you might find at the sea shore. The chairs are comfortable as is the plush banquette, if a bit low.

The menu seems scattered, with tastes from North Africa, Spain, Italy, China, Thailand, and a billion other countries. Normally I'd find such a composition off-putting, as if you're in some tourist restaurant in Bangkok serving pad thai alongside cheeseburgers and pasta primavera. But we accepted the culinary challenge of mixing and matching and dove right in. We asked for the dishes one after the other as not to confound our tastebuds.

1. Burrata + pesto + romesca
This was the weakest of our choices but was still okay. Two bite-sized pieces of grilled calabrese bread were topped with a mound of Ontario burrata sitting in romesca sauce with a drizzle of pesto. The bread was rather tough and made for a poor base. The burrata itself was tasty, but I wish they could get the creamier Italian kind. The romesca was flat and almost tasted aioli-like and not the rich, almond and red-peppery flavour I was hoping for. Would probably not order again.

2. Bangkok beef salad + peanut + mint + mango + fried onion + nam jim dressing
This dish was a standout. The combination of ingredients was not revolutionary, but was perfectly executed to yield a mouthful of flavour each time. The toasted peanuts provided a crunchy counterpoint to the juicy beef strips while the mango and mint tropicalified the dish. The fried onion and nam jim dressing held the whole dish together and gave it its Asian exoticism. Definitely re-order.

3. Grilled rock hen + dates + olives + harissa
This was another menu option that sounded pleasant but you feel like you've had it before a thousand times. Not so here. What I think is the restaurant's hallmark is it's effort to take interesting, approachable dishes but execute them with expert skill with a little flair.

Two little pieces of breast meat and two little drumsticks were juicy and could be eaten without the sauce. But that would be a crime. The mixture of diced Kalamata olives with dried dates and harissa (piri piri chili peppers, I had to Google it) was mop-up worthy (if only they served bread - we didn't ask for any). The union of sweet and spicy and salty was perfect. I wish they had JK-style jars filled with the sauce that you could buy (or steal). Also a re-order.

4. Miso glazed black cod + mushroom broth + jerusalem artichoke puree + crispy soba
Another example of a dish you've had last month, but are happy to have it here again, but better. The black cod is appropriately firm in stature but crumbles at the sight of a fork. The mushrooms retain their bouncy texture while cozying up to the jerusalem artichoke puree (which tasted suspiciously like parsnip). The wild card in this dish was the addition of truffle oil, not listed on the menu. While I think it worked, perhaps other options might have been a tad better (maybe wasabi mixed in the puree?). The deep-friend soba sticking out of the bowl is addictive. It tastes like a cross between a breadstick and raw angel hair pasta. Eat it. Another re-order.

The wine list was somewhat anemic and definitely on the pricier side. We had an $80 bottle of 2007 Penley Estates Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly over-priced (retails for maybe $30) but nevertheless it was a nice, if fuller-bodied, accompaniment to our meal.

For a restaurant in its first week, service was very good, with regular water and wine refills as well as replacement cutlery after every dish. Before even ordering, a waitress brought a ceviche dish which we thought was a generously sized amuse-bouche. Feeling guilty, I asked her if this was complimentary, upon which she realized her error and ran off, sadly with the dish.

Unexpectedly, another friend today wants to do dinner somewhere new and asked if I had any recommendations. Guess where I'm going for the second day in a row.

BTW, the restaurant has a blog with the menu and a good pic of the kitchen area. I'll be trying out the kitchen-bar tonight.

109 King St E, Toronto, ON M5C, CA

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    1. Thanks for review-I am going next weekend. BTW the Penley is $39.95 at the LCBO if anyone wants to pick it up.

      11 Replies
      1. re: ingloriouseater

        Ah, 100% markup, that's not too unusual then. I'll try to get a photo of the wine list tonight.

        1. re: ingloriouseater

          I don't think so. The one selling at LCBO is the RESERVE, a different wine. The one vidkid drank, in all likelihood, is Penley's Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon that sells (at least in the US) for under $20, but is probably low $20's at LCBO.

          1. re: syoung

            The Penley Phoenix Cab is $26.95 through B&W Wines, I don't think it is available through LCBO.

            1. re: ingloriouseater

              And, of course, that's the retail price, not the licensee price (a few bucks lower).
              The three wines I know from the Origin wine list all retail for under $30 and each had at least a $50 markup (someone on this thread also mentioned a Gamay).
              And, for full disclosure, I've been a long-time critic of the wine list (and markup) at Colborne Lane - which still doesn't admit to having BYOB (although one poster claims to have been charged $50 corkage). And all of that is before tax and tip (another $25+?) - although I don't begrudge a gratuity for the server (unless they just open a twist top and leave the diner to pour for herself all night long).
              To be fair the wine list does show some imagination (at Origin - last time at Colborne Lane it was disastrous, with the only two wines I considered appropriate for the cuisine being out-of-stock). Pity - the food (at Colborne, anyway) has been very good recently.

              Colborne Lane
              45 Colborne Street, Toronto, ON M5E 1P8, CA

              1. re: estufarian

                I just booked the kitchen table at Colborne Lane for my birthday dinner. I have a very nice bottle of a '98 champagne that I wanted to bring to dinner and they told me that wasn't a problem, and that the corkage would be $50. So I'm not sure if this is a "secret" policy or what. Odd, really. But I'm very much looking forward to dinner. :)

                Colborne Lane
                45 Colborne Street, Toronto, ON M5E 1P8, CA

                1. re: TorontoJo

                  Yes, the other poster was also in the kitchen table private room - so maybe they now allow it there. And Champagne or Sake are good matches for the food.
                  And the food has been really good recently so I'm sure you'll have a great time - now as for the service.........

                2. re: estufarian

                  liscensee pricing is about 13% lower on average, better deals are available on Ontario direct wines

                  1. re: ingloriouseater

                    Not sure what you mean by 'better deals' - but maybe that's a separate thread anyway. I find that the vast majority of 'Private Imports' are relatively 'low cost' and are aimed at restaurants who can then disguise the markups.
                    Of course there are some 'gems' - I do order private imports from time-to-time (most recently this week) - but it can be a minefield.

                    1. re: estufarian

                      this thread has moved away from the original posting, but i will lastly add that any wine ordering i do from agencies are not 'low cost' per se, many of them are simply great wines unavailable throught he LCBO (granted being able to mark them up is a great advantage) but the wines I buy range from $20-$90 per bottle. For me it is all about what is in the bottle and in most cases for small production and boutique products

                      1. re: ingloriouseater

                        My original point was that, as estufarian said based on Colbourne Lane experience, there's little chance that a Claudio Aprile restaurant would mark-up a wine a mere 100% and so it has to be Phoenix Cab rather than the reserve.

                        Re "not available through LCBO," that's not possible in Ontario per the Liquor Control Act, though only a fraction are sold through LCBO outlets which is probably what you mean. I also do consignment orders from time to time, but only for wines that I cellar.

                        1. re: syoung

                          re: lcbo, of course you are correct, no wine may be brought into the province and sold without the government's control.

          2. Thanks for the review, vidkid!

            1. Excellent, so nice to read a positive review for such a new place. You listed four dishes here. Would you say that 4 dishes are adequate for a full dinner for 2 people?

              1 Reply
              1. re: SMOG

                I'm a big eater and was satisfied with the 4 dishes but I could have gone for a 5th.

              2. I think this was the first time I've been to the same restaurant over two consecutive days and I can say it was an excellent decision.

                I requested seats at the kitchen-bar at 8:30pm for my companion and I when I made the reservation. We arrived on time, but had to wait ~10 min for our seats to be ready. We had drinks at the bar - a perfectly mixed gin martini and a glass of whiskey.

                We were pleasantly surprised when we were led to our seats as they were directly in front of chef Claudio Aprile's station. Without a doubt they were the best seats in the house as you could observe him crafting incredible pieces and instructing his staff on composition and such. We spoke with him briefly and he's a calm and cool individual.

                Alright, enough delaying, to the food...

                1. Three oysters in the half shell + yuzu dressing
                The oysters were different from the previous night but sadly I can't recall the names of either. They were from PEI and looked like kumamotos (but were not) in that they were quite small but firm. If you don't like "fishy" oysters, you'll enjoy this dish as the yuzu dressing provides a nice citrusy boost without overwhelming the oyster itself. They were garnished with a super-thin slice of radish and a sprinkling of scallions. Would re-order.

                2. Bufala mozzarella + confit tomato + basil + preserved lemon
                While I was nervous about the calabrese bread (see previous review), I'm glad my dinner companion this night pushed for this dish. The bufala was creamy (even more so than the burrata) and the tomato/basil/lemon combos gave the dish a nice, healthy Italian flavour. The bread was perfectly grilled (I love that taste) and the dish worked very well. Re-order.

                3. Italian ham + multi grain bread + olive oil
                How brave of a restaurant to put a dish as seemingly boring as this and for $17 no less. It was terrific in its simplicity. Three long slices of grilled calabrese (again, perfect) were heaping with thinly sliced Italian ham with a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of of mustard (looked and tasted like Kozlik's). The dish was very meaty in a good way. Re-order.

                4. Grilled rock hen + dates + olives + harissa
                Just as the previous night - awesome. See previous review.

                5. Chorizo + manchego rice + poached egg + salsa verde + dried black olive
                This was the weakest dish of the night. It was quite heavy and would be better served as a greasy breakfast. The chorizo was quite fatty (IMO Torito still serves the city's best ) but still decent. The rice was very manchegoey (essentially a risotto) and made even more viscous once the well-poached egg flooded the plate. While we did eat the entire plate, it totally filled us up, like noodles or rice at the end of a 10-course Chinese dinner. Probably not a re-order.

                We had a $76 French Gamay by Pascal Granger (pic of the wine list attached). It was nicely medium-bodied with a good balance of fruit and tart.

                Along with Guu, Origin is without a doubt one of the city's best new restaurants in recent memory.

                276 Augusta Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2L9, CA

                109 King St E, Toronto, ON M5C, CA