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A Great First (& Second) Impresssion at L.A.B.

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Maybe I’m mellowing in my increasing age but,in the past month, I’ve added 4 new meals to my all-time top 10 (all in Spain unfortunately) and, for the first time in many years, have returned to a new restaurant in Toronto, less than a week after my first sampling.

There is a small thread on L.A.B. but I wanted to highlight it, as it’s probably the most impressive ‘affordable’ opening I’ve discovered in Toronto since the early version of Czehoski (now unfortunately a totally different place).

So what excites me? In this case a stream of ‘unexpected’ taste sensations, particularly highlighting different textures that show creative minds at work and a re-thinking of conventional preparations.

I’m torn between a full description and being deliberately vague – as part of my enjoyment came from the unexpected twists within each dish – and that surprise will be diminished if I reveal all the ‘secrets’. Suffice it to say that I returned less than a week later and forced myself to try all ‘new’ dishes because I already trusted this chef to wow me.

So I’ll restrict myself to the menu descriptions (for the most part), as these give the ‘flavour’ of what to expect and still obscure some of the novelties.

So far 5 appetizers tried (all between $8 and $10). By a small edge I give the prize to the ‘Chilled Bison Two Ways’, one a tartar and one shaved. Similar flavours but totally different textures (and some interesting ‘condiments’). For sharing, a superb ‘Root Vegetable “Calamari” – this is a vegetarian dish – just ‘appears to be Calamari’. And then I rated both the ‘Non-Green Salad’ (yes, indeed, the salad doesn’t have ANY green content!) and the Cream Ale Consommé with parsnips, as must-haves; the salad was exciting – again textures, and the Consommé has even better textures, although the flavours in the soup are a little more exotic. That just leaves the Pogo Chicken Wings – but something has to come bottom! Not as exciting for me, but still pretty good (I prefer more spices in my wings).

On to the mains. I still haven’t worked my way through all of these (only 4 so far) and next up will be the Carrot Risotto with Silver Leaf ($18).

It’s hard to pick a favourite, so I’ll go by price. The most expensive item on the menu is 8-hour steak with carrot, beet and onion cakes ($27). Slow cooked and then seared. Loved the accompaniments (texture again, as well as flavour) but I don’t get excited by beef (in general) although I’d happily have this dish again. Second most expensive (at $24) – Lamb Cooked Sous-Vide with cigar smoked gnocchi. Loved the perfectly cooked gnocchi, the vanilla aromatics of the lamb and a couple of other surprises. At $23 the Pan-Seared Arctic Char was perfectly cooked and the pear salad that accompanied it gave a superb texture lift and a freshness. I also tried the Sweet Potato Perogies, with pickled watermelon, which were super-hot (temperature wise), so take care with these ($17).

For dessert – let’s just say that I will NEVER fail to order a dessert here – astonishingly good – all under $10 (except a creditable cheese plate at $11). The Apple & Cheddar tart is AMAZING (takes 20 minutes so if you want this, order it earlier). Just do it!

The Mayan Chocolate Brownie should be the choice for all chocolate-lovers. There’s also a Chocolate Pot de Crème which has a Pear & Wild Ginger Compote. On my visit the pot de Crème had superb textures (several different chocolate ‘textures’) but the ginger/pear was swamped by the chocolate. Still if you like chocolate, chocolate, chocolate then this may be for you. The compressed Fruit Melon Broth with Edible Flowers is much more delicate – good but didn’t wow as much.

The wine list is small, but well-chosen. The low-end is under $40 with a good choice at around $60 and a couple of splurges.

And service was excellent (but admittedly they weren’t very busy) and very knowledgeable. Some of the dishes prompted questions and all were fully answered. And a full description was given as each dish was served. A couple of the main plates weren’t warmed – but I’m struggling to find something to criticize at these prices.

Did I say I went back less than a week after my first visit? That’s REALLY unusual for me. And my third visit won’t be long coming – if I can get a reservation! Small – only seats around 30 and open evenings only Tue-Sun. I hear they don’t have a (working) mailbox, so call after 6:00.

-----
L.A.B. (Live and Breathe)
651 College St, Toronto, ON M6G, CA

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  1. I'll be trying it out with skylineR33 this Wednesday! Hope to confirm your raving review! Wish me luck! Ha!

    1. Holy frijole ! How and/or why did this place slide under the general radar? And how long have they been in business?

      2 Replies
      1. re: mrbozo

        According to GregClow it opened at the end of March (in the Toronto Openings thread on Boehmer, Ruby WatchCo etc).

        1. re: estufarian

          I was really excited to try this place after reading a couple of great comments in the other thread Estufarian mentioned. For the price we enjoyed our meal but the service was certainly more memorable than the meal.

          The Bison was 1/2 great...the tartar was punched up with the mustard seeds and the "marmalade" smeared on the plate gave an interesting accent, but the shaved portion was a little dry and quite bland (and yes...I understand that Bison is a lean meat etc).

          The Chicken wings with gelled hot sauce was an interesting idea and tasty but gelling the sauce just made it a pain to eat. Do you use a knife to try and balance the "sauce" on the drumette while getting it to your mouth?

          The Calamari was a fun play but at the end of the day, how hard is it to make fried roots taste good. The sauce was nothing special and needed more acid/heat/something to cut the slight greasiness of the fries.

          The lamb was great...no complaints here. I hate rootbeer but I ordered it anyway and was rewarded with deliciousness. Sous-vide cooking left a touch of the slight coppery gaminess that I often miss in lamb when grilled. Gnocchi were perfect, light yet crisp. Didn't really notice an impact from the cigar smoke but nonetheless, a smash hit.

          I liked the perogies but my gf found them too sweet and I can see what she meant....pumpkin pie came to mind.

          The Char was good, might have been great with the pear salad but unfortunately I didn't get to try that.

          Biggest miss was the Korean Gnocchi...made from rice noodles but might as well have been warmed up flavourless gummi bears. I don't know what anyone was thinking when they conceived this dish, let alone served it.

          We went for cheese afterwards which was good but sounds like we missed out on the desserts.

          I would go back as it was a fun place with AMAZINGLY friendly and quite knowledgeable service, making the decent meal for a very low price more enjoyable.

      2. What's the vibe of this place? Is it pretty casual? Do you know if they take reservations?

        Looking forward to trying it!

        2 Replies
        1. re: SMOG

          it's very casual. kind of an artsy, hip vibe. very friendly

          yes they take reso's but no VM on the phone so might have to keep trying their number

          1. re: downtownfoodie

            Actually, I called on Monday to make a reservation and there WAS a voicemail greeting, asking the caller to leave info for reservations. I left a message requesting a reservation for tonight and have yet to hear back...

        2. Maybe I'm being hard on it, but I felt this place just didn't deliver. We had the bison two ways and the root veg calamari. The tartar bison was great but the shaved bison was boring. THe root veg calamari was fine, but it is fried veg, I mean I didn't find it that exciting?
          Then we had the perogies- hard to eat and really just not very good. The 8-hour steak was overcooked, the 'cakes' that came with were FANTASTIC. The lamb was overcooked...the gnocchi, which fell flat from the description provided, I felt like they really enticed me with the interesting description but it just didn't come through on the plate.

          7 Replies
          1. re: nummanumma

            Just finish a mini-chowmeet there. Food was OK but lacking the 'wow' factor. Had the carrot risotto, veggie ragout, root veggie calamari, Arctic Char, Lamb. For dessert, the apple/cheddar pie and the chocolate pot de creme.
            Risotto was aromatic, creamy and quite tasty.
            Veggie ragout was very bland. The boullabaise broth almost tasteless,
            Root veggie calamari was very crispy but very greasy at the same time! More like onion rings than calamari.
            Both Arctic Char and the Lamb were well executed. The fish nice crispy skin and perfectly cooked. The lamb pink and tender. Overall, delicious but nothing special.
            Lastly, both desserts were Ok but again, not a stand out.
            Portions were a bit on the 'small' side.. Expected, based on the relatively cheap price they were charging. Downside, still hungry after the meal!!
            Hope Ruby Watchco will fare a bit better?!

            1. re: Charles Yu

              It's interesting that quite a few others didn't get "wowed" by the food.

              You mentioned Ruby Watchco, I think you will find the portions very generous. I felt that I didn't ned to eat for the next day after I ate there. I am not sure if the portions are still as large since I ate there a few days after they opened.

              -----
              Ruby Watchco
              730 Queen St E, Toronto, ON , CA

              1. re: Charles Yu

                I couldn`t agree with you more, Charles, as we were across the room from you. Unless your palate is extremely refined, this is not a destination spot for you, and even this might be giving LAB more credit than they deserve.

                After much hype,the root veggie calamari were a major disappointment. In my opinion, they are using the wrong technique here. I would have much preferred if even all of the vegetables were pureed together, and then reconstituted into chewy rings before being deep friend. These tasted more like deep friend terra chips, and the calamari concept was completely lost on me.

                The Bison two ways was not so well executed, although the product was very tasty. The tartar had fatty bits stringing it together, with a standard grain mustard and perhaps some egg holding it together. The alcohol in the bourbon and maple gel had clearly not been cooked out, leaving the end product with an edge tasting more like a toothpaste then any sauce. The shaved bison was great on its own, while the accompanying anglaise, although wonderful in texture, lacked flavour.

                Steak and cake was not as playful as I`d imagined, and my meat was cooked medium/well...closer to 150 degrees. The steak across from me was rare medium, which really boggled my mind considering they should have come out of the same immersion circulator. The char on the meat did make for a great taste in the mouth. The cake, of a cornbread texture, was on the dryer side but had good flavour. My favourite things on the plate were the delicious mushrooms, and I`m always a sucker for a good potato puree.

                The lamb and gnocchi looked great on the plate, but it wasn`t a dish I`d order again. I actually appreciate the feel of tougher lamb meat in my mouth, and the sous vide technique transformed it into something far mushier. The gnocchi were dry, as if they`d been sitting out all night, with only the very centres being tender. I could not taste any hint of cigar smoke in the gnocchi itself, but the accompanying sauce just might have been the dish`s saving grace.

                Charles must have taken the last apple/cheddar tart, so we settled for the Mayan brownie, which was a bit on the dry side for me but packed a good chili zip. The fruit salsa on top was perfectly executed, and may have accounted for my favourite mouthful of the night for both texture and flavour.

                The service was not perfect, as waters were not refilled after our starters and a second round of drinks came just before dessert. The guys were pleasant to deal with, but seemed a little preoccupied by passing through friends.

                I hope this review does not come off as scathing. I just want the hounds to know what to expect, and I thought maybe my comments could help level off the hype. I think the kitchen needs to improve on a lot of their techniques and flavours for them to avoid being known as one of those ``good for the experience only`` type of spots, of which there seem to be more and more of in this city. I really do like their concept and see great potential for a restaurant such as this in Toronto.

                Practice makes perfect, but a lot of this food incorporates science, and, until they get it perfect, we are all just part of the experiment. I wish LAB the best, and will return...just not in the near future or when it`s out of my way.

                1. re: dlw88

                  Wow! Small world! Including skylineR33, yourself and me, I wonder how many chowhounds were in that place that night?!

                  1. re: Charles Yu

                    My husband and I were there, as well, occupying the table near the door, a couple of tables over from Charles_Yu and SkylineR33 (I'm assuming that was you and your spouses at the table nearest the bar) and, I presume, across the way from dlw88.

                    We were quite disappointed in our meals. As Charles mentioned, there was absolutely no "wow" factor; in fact, there was very little flavour at all. I found many of the dishes (including the lamb, the bison and the consomme) to have one-dimensional flavouring and to be overpowered by a cloying sweetness.

                    We had the consomme, bison, and pogos for starters, and the lamb and beef as mains. We were persuaded by the young and sweet, yet very inexperienced waitress, to order the apple and cheddar turnover. (She approached us while we were eating our mains, advisiing that it takes 20 minutes to make).

                    I can't say that we would recommend any of these dishes. And the apple dessert that we ended up having to wait quite awhile for was virtually tasteless. The apple itself was hard and flavourless, the crust was tough, and the drizzled caramel very uncaramelly. I did like the ice cream that accompanied it, though.

                    I consider myself to have a very refined palate, a knowledge of how flavour is built, and an appreciation of how various textures can work towards creating greatness in a dish. LAB's finished dishes do not show much sophistication in any of these areas.

                    1. re: Tatai

                      Wow! It is indeed a small world! Sometimes I wonder whether we should wear a secret pin to identify ourselves as chowhounders?! Should be fun to be able to exchange ' live' view points with fellow CHers there and then?!!

                      Another complain I had with my meal was that through out the experience, no one actually bothered to explain to us what some of the ' mysterious' ingredients in our plates were. Whether some of them are for consumption or just plain decoration purpose?! Casing point was the pile of mysterious ' brownish powder crystals' on the lip of the veggie ragout plate! Only half way through the dish and by waving the waitress over did we found out that we were supposed to mixed the ' funny tasting' powder into the boullabaise broth!

              2. re: nummanumma

                Thank God I'm not the only one. This was one of the worst meals I've had in the city in a couple years. I'm all for new, interesting, risk-taking cooking, but this wasn't any of that. It was technically awful (gummy, cloyingly sweet risotto), boring (sweet potato pierogies that tasted like gerber's stuffed Pizza Pops), intellectually lazy (silver leaf on a mushy overcooked carrot! Yeah! How original!), full of one liners (not a green salad! Wow! It's not green! But it tastes like . . . salad!), and uncomfortable (our waiter, named Chris, could not have been less interested in our table). It's not WD50 or anything like it. It's not even in the same galaxy as WD50. It's just awful.

              3. Hey guys,
                Just a comment on WHY I found L.A.B. so exciting – not to refute anyone else’s experiences, but to emphasize why I liked it. Your experiences may differ and all comments help other Chowhounds make a choice of whether or not to go to L.A.B.

                In particular (I hope) I identified that it was the TEXTURES that wowed me, as well as some flavours.

                Example: The Bison appetizer – this has both ‘wet and dry’ components; similar underlying flavour of bison (but different spicing) but it was this contrast of textures that made the dish so interesting for me.

                Example: Root vegetable ‘calamari’ – a ‘normal’ calamari appetizer has identical flavours with each ring/bite (ASIDE: If the dish is poorly prepared e.g. greasy, then criticism is valid). Here, each ring ‘looks’ similar but the ingredient could be any 1 of 3 (I think) different flavours/textures. So (for me) each bite was an adventure, not knowing if I was getting parsnip, celery root, celeriac.

                Example: Not Green Salad – apart from the colour, this dish had the complex flavours and textures that I like; touch of bitterness, sweet and sour (from the rhubarb vinaigrette), acid and an ‘al dente’ quality from the pickled beets, and crunch, from the cauliflower – all adding up to multiple taste sensations and textures (would have been even better with, for example, dried cranberries/cherries to give it some distinct chew).

                Example: Pan-Seared Arctic Char – fish was perfect (for me) with a crispy skin (texture again) but was lifted by the pear salad – gave both texture variation (and some crunch) and freshness.

                Example: Apple & Cheddar Tart – sweet (caramel), salty (salted caramel), acid (apple), some crunchy side bits (can’t recall what), a kick and texture variation from the ice-cream (and hot/cold variation) and the ‘umami’ sensation/mouth feel from the cheese.

                Example: Pot de Crème several different textures – smooth, crunchy etc (and if they can ratchet up the Pear and Wild Ginger flavours, then would add additional complexity.

                Etc.

                So if I have ‘unwittingly’ misled people, it wasn’t intentional – textures and complexity are what turn me on (and I tend to mention that frequently in my other posts).

                Perhaps I can better illustrate by saying what ‘bores’ me. The easiest example is sushi!
                50-70% of a series of sushi dishes is IDENTICALLY PREPARED rice (again could be good or bad). And the succession of ‘fish ingredients’ is often fish of similar textures and subtle differences in flavour (I know there are exceptions, but I’m trying to show what I tend to find, so you can assess my tastes – and hence recommendations). So, for me, many (most?) sushi experiences are not memorable (NB I do like Sashimi much more).

                Bad cooking/presentation should justly be criticised. But I hope that by emphasizing the components that pleased me I can prevent possible future ‘unrealistic expectations’.

                4 Replies
                1. re: estufarian

                  I enjoyed my meal there, I just didn't get the wow that you seemed to. Doesn't mean I disagree with your review...I fully support anyone doing anything interesting with food and if a place like LAB comes up with a couple of great dishes it's enough to keep me coming back in the hope that they take feedback on the misses (cough cough...Korean Gnocchi) and use the great ones as a base to build a great menu with a variety of tastes, textures and "twists".

                  p.s. I would have trouble telling the difference between celery root and celeriac even after each bite... :)

                  1. re: downtownfoodie

                    because they're the exact same thing... which is what I assume you mean

                    1. re: Blueicus

                      Sorry - meant to say Parsley (not celery) root - was rushing to catch a plane (just returned), and was distracted!

                  2. re: estufarian

                    I don't get the fried veggie calamari dish. It just not taste good for me, bland and greasy. Like others, I can't tell whether it is parsnip, celery root, celeriac, I can just taste the batter, which is not particularly crispy too, it is more on the hard side.

                    But I quite like the main dishes we order, which is the Artic Char and Lamb, especially the Char. Same description as yours and Charles, and I really like the side veggie besides the pear salad. They make it so refreshing (both taste and look) and go so well with the fish !

                  3. As downtownfoodie makes reference to, celery root and celeriac are one and the same.

                    1. My wife and I had dinner here this evening as a birthday celebration, and were both pretty happy with our meals. Both the quality of the food and the price point would suggest that it's more of a novel bistro than a cutting edge, high end gastronomic "experience." This place isn't wd-50, nor does it really pretend to be. Maybe we were fortunate, but I think our experience leaned more towards the positive reviews in this thread than the negative ones. We had a wonderful waitress who really seemed to appreciate working at a place where she could be proud of the food. That kind of attitude really brightens the room, and is in stark contrast to the other waiter, who very much gave off the air that he was too cool to be there. We were pretty lucky with those 50/50 odds.

                      We had the bison two ways and the perogies as appetizers (the chef let us order a smaller portion of perogies, which is usually a main). For mains, we had the lamb with smoked gnocchi and the steak with cakes. For dessert, we had the apple/cheddar turnover and the Mayan chocolate brownie. Eaten of their own, I thought both bisons were a bit under seasoned. The seasoning made more sense after I started eating them with the mustard and the Jack Daniels/Bourbon jellies scattered around the plate. This ended up being true for all of the dishes - they tasted best when each bite included a little of everything, which I suppose is the point. For example, the sweet potato perogies were very sweet, but were delicious when combined with some pickled watermelon and sage.

                      I really enjoyed both mains, and the root beer sauce that accompanied the lamb in particular. The gnocchi was pan fried, and while it was enjoyable, I would have preferred to have it more uniformly cooked (instead of really crispy on one side, and really soft on the other). I couldn't taste much cigar smoke, but I liked the sauce enough that I didn't feel anything lacking. The steak was well prepared with a nice char, and came out medium rare. Both the steak and the lamb had a nice chewiness. My favourite part of the mains was actually the cakes that came with the steak, which were partially buried under a very tasty potato/parsnip puree.

                      The apple and cheddar tart with curry ice cream was enjoyable, but could have been better. The pastry and the ice cream were great, but the apples were a bit hard for a turnover. The cheddar comes as a sauce reminiscent of homemade mac and cheese, which was a bit surprising. I couldn't really taste the caramel, since the cheddar was so... cheddary. The brownie was also fun to eat, and while I enjoyed the actual brownie, I was disappointed by the feeling that the heat didn't really improve the taste. I'm a fan of cocoa + chili, but I didn't find that the two melded well here. Imagine a good mole sauce, where the spice enhances the richness of the cocoa - this tasted more like chocolate and chili separately.

                      Our overall experience was very positive. We didn't have any problems with dry meat, or fatty strings, or poor flavouring, so perhaps they had the misfortune of having to entertain a room full of Chowhounders on an off night. We did notice the general theme of sweetness in the dishes, in that all of our dishes had at least one sweet element. The turnover was actually the least sweet, most savoury dish we ordered. Fortunately, I like sweet, I like root beer, and I like spiced chocolate, or this would have been a problem. In the end, we felt that we got what we paid for and then some. If a comparison is helpful, our other option for dinner tonight would have been Bistro 990. A place like that offers classic dishes that are well executed. A place like L.A.B. offers much more novelty, but is a few notches down on the execution scale right now. For the same price, we're glad we chose L.A.B. this time around.

                      1. Dropped by tonight. Had the Veg Calamari, Bison, Risotto, and Lamb, with the Apple Cheddar Pie for dessert.

                        In general I thought the dishes where okay, but not mind blowing. I think that they could definitely use just a touch more refinement to really put them into a higher category. Found a lot of the dishes on the sweet side but that could just be the ones I ordered. My lamb was just a tad grainy, but I'm nitpicking.

                        Service was great! We had a female server who was an absolute pleasure. She took great care of our table.

                        I guess it is what it is, and you get what you pay for, but I just can't shake the feeling that this place could push it just a little bit more to elevate their cuisine to a higher level. Like it's almost there, it just needs a bit more refinement to push it from okay to incredible.

                        1. Have you posted your top 10 meals anywhere on chowhound?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: shekamoo

                            There doesn't seem to be a 'logical place/board' to do that as it crosses national borders.
                            But 8 were in Spain and 2 in USA.
                            UK, France and Japan are now eliminated from top 10 - all having been featured in the past.

                            1. re: estufarian

                              how about a 'top 8 meals' on the Spain/Portugal board? would very much like to learn more about the top end options in Spain. I can already guess like 4 of them...

                          2. Anyone who enjoyed this place must have a completely different palate than I. I consider myself an *extremely* adventurous eater who will not dismiss anything as "weird" without giving it a try but I had likely one of the worst meals of my life here. A shame, because it's veyr close to my place and I was really hoping I would love it.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: scrummy

                              Wow, I thought I was going to get argued down when I first posted a less than glowing review about this place. Guess it went a bit the opposite way. I know that we all have different tastes and preferences but "likely one of the worst meals of my life"???

                              Something has to basically poison me, get thrown on me or mortify me to put it in that sort of category. What made it so terrible? What did you eat? What was so wrong with it? Bad food? Rude service?

                              I see you agreed with my favourable comments about Franks Kitchen so we can't be world's apart in likes and dislikes.

                              1. re: downtownfoodie

                                Yes! I would love to find out more from Scrummy too! I've been on chowhound for years! First time I've heard someone using such drastic language in describing a meal!!!

                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  I agree. Although the meal we had there was not great, it was not a terrible meal. I've had far, far worse.

                                2. re: downtownfoodie

                                  Oh God, I've blocked it from my memory...and it was a while ago...all I remember is feeling ignored when I arrived, and befuddled by the menu (I tried to engage the server with educated questions, but they were too busy to talk to me), and disappointed when I finally received my food. Maybe they're not interested in solo diners. But I felt...unwanted. In the way. And if the food had been amazing, I would have overlooked that. But it wasn't. i have *never* felt embarrassed to dine alone, but this night I did and felt I needed to get out of their way as quickly as possible.

                              2. Whether one is in the camp that gives L.A.B's food a thumbs up or thumbs down, FYI, Pateki of the Star gave it a 3.5 star out of 4 in her review today!!

                                14 Replies
                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                  Oh dear!.
                                  I normally dislike Pataki's recommendations.

                                  Now I'm going to have to try it again with a more critical palate!

                                  1. re: estufarian

                                    If anything, I think the real message from this thread is that this place isn't very consistent yet. It's a fun idea and I enjoyed my evening, but most of my dishes were different than what others have described here in ways that can't just be ascribed to personal taste (some better, some worse). Execution was generally a problem, my super-crisp-on-one-side gnocchi being an example. Hopefully that's something they fix over the coming months. I get the impression that they're aiming more for "local hipster hangout" than "fine dining destination."

                                    1. re: Underdog Rally

                                      Kates reviewed it over the weekend. Looks like she took her comments straight from this thread, lol

                                      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/f...

                                    2. re: estufarian

                                      menu will be swapped out this week, the goal it seems is to have a new menu about every two months.

                                      scanning the comments though, that's a bit of a shame because the dishes seemed to have been tweaked as time went by but still not enough to really be on the mark. playful is the best way for me to describe the food, it needs more time to be refined into great dishes and the concepts are novel enough. i'm not keen on how they seem to be relying on the relatively unexplored korean (for modern dining in TO) cuisine/ingredients to create something unique, i think they're misusing them.

                                      bison two ways - did not like the thick hollandaise on the plate, too much butter rendered it tasting like butter cream. did like the shaved bison quite a bit, nice meaty flavour but found the tartare a bit mute in meatiness. liked the accent of chamomile in the tartare. the sauces didn't add significantly to either meat item.

                                      chicken corndog things - soaked up too mush blue cheese sauce which made the exterior mushy. they use a danish blue in the cheese sauce which made it much less interesting than it could have been. hot sauce was a congealed disc, gross. chicken cooked nicely. least successful dish of the night.

                                      steak + cake - nice beef flavour but no benefits of sous vide could be seen, might as well have been put straight onto the grill. cake did nothing for me, seemed like a forced combination. nice mushroom cookery.

                                      lamb and smoked gnocchi - loved it. the rootbeer sauce missed the spicy elements of rootbeer for me and tasted more fruity... almost apple. cacao nib flavour was well infused into sauce. the sweet smoke flavour was subtle but nicely integrated into gnocchi to play off the earthy elements of the potato. not the best texture for gnocchi but still enjoyable. lamb was cooked very nicely, flavourful and lamby, but a bit toothsome cut of meat. it is the dish that made me think they could really make this work.

                                      apple cheddar turnover - curry tasted raw in the ice cream, grating kind of feeling on the tongue. turnover was... fine. cheddar hardened a little too quick, apples not soft enough, pastry mediocre. i could see why people like cheddar with apple pie, but this was not the best representation of it.

                                      mayan brownie - hesitant to order it because for some reason chefs like to only offer hot pepper and none with any interesting sweet fruity, etc elements. this was the same as the others, too much of a spicy kick without richness to balance it out. boring. the best part, jicama salad on top, nice refreshing crunch and sweetness. the styling of this dish far exceeded the rest.

                                      oh and for fun we got a side of the pickled watermelon, good texture and crunch and some fun sweet sour elements going on.... but hold back on the cinnamon!

                                      service wasn't polished but very good otherwise, very in line with the style of restaurant. i'm not clamoring to go back but if someone suggested it to me i'd certainly go again. i'd almost be more tempted to go at the end of their "cycles" so that they've had more time to finesse their dishes.

                                      1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                        Great review PSP! It was very comprehensive and gives me a good sense of what I'll be getting myself into when I go to check it out.

                                        1. re: sloweater

                                          thanks! i think that's the shortest review i've ever written ;)

                                        2. re: pinstripeprincess

                                          Hey PSP.

                                          Just wondering how you felt about your budget there. Is it worth the money for the experience?
                                          It's the SO's bday and I wanted to treat him to dinner at LAB... money's tight though...

                                          1. re: Hondapendragon

                                            i hate to give you such a vague answer, but it depends on what type of experience would make it worth it to you. the simple answer would be, that when a dish was on, the cost was very fair.

                                            the food isn't flawless and a bit experimental, so if you want to sit back and enjoy each other while being wowed by food... i don't think this is the right place. the service is very good though at this price level and the atmosphere fun, so if that would tip the scales more than food then i'd certainly consider it.

                                            but if you both like to analyze a meal, then LAB could offer an extra layer of fun. i really enjoyed trying to figure out the unnamed ingredients and asking questions about methods. for some people this might take away a lot from a special night out but for me it sort of compensated for any major flaws in the food.

                                            i should also note that after a 3 course meal i wasn't actually full, close to it but not quite. i did split all dishes with my dining companion and so i may have had less than half but they left only satiated as well.

                                            so that might not have been terribly helpful, but i'm heading for another meal there this week and i can report back on the new menu if that helps. my hope is that they're only improving and so this should be a pretty good to great meal.

                                            1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                              Thank you for your help. If you're thinking of going back to try the new menu, that's good enough for me!

                                              1. re: Hondapendragon

                                                i hope you see this before you go, but the new menu at LAB is a complete and utter disappointment. i would strongly suggest you find another restaurant to celebrate at. while i had one excellent dish, one fail dish, and the rest ok for the first visit.... the only new dishes on 2nd visit that were good are rather faithful to the classic recipes, in fact the playfulness that used to make the menu unique has been replaced with poorly done gimmicks. it's also a shame that his idea of a summer menu means over sweetening everything and cutting back on salt. should i also admit to you that after a $75 meal... i went home and ate a couple slices of pizza? i didn't leave full last time but this was ridiculous.

                                                apps:

                                                tilapia ceviche or some such? - i think tilapia is so popular because it is the least fishy fish that it is virtually flavourless. it also readily takes on the flavours of ingredients around it. so of all the fish to use for a raw preparation that should highlight its natural flavour, this seemed silly. the toothsome texture was nice, but it only tasted of grapefruit juice. the arugula was ubiquitous. nothing interesting about this dish at all.

                                                panzanella salad - riffs were in the smoked mozz and the "pliable oil" which was the texture of silken tofu (impossible to pick up) and was so mute in flavour that it was completely unnecessary - just the barest touch of floral. tomatoes aren't at their peak but picked up the smoke from the cheese. tasty, but i could do this at home and probably better.

                                                gazpacho - with yellow zucc (this is where my memory fails me) and guava. guava did not taste ripe enough and added too much sweetness. there was a dice of lightly pickled cucumber and some shreds of cucumber (or was it green zucc) with chili flakes and salt that helped to round out the taste. it was pleasantly thin and silky though. i think if this was watered down into an aguas fresca i would have been much happier.

                                                fried minestrone - to solidify it they used too much thickener and it mellowed out all the flavour turning it rather pasty, perhaps not an issue since it tasted reminiscent of campbell's soup anyway. the batter was quite thick but with crisp exterior and nice chewy interior.

                                                fried tripe - oatmeal crust was actually quite good, but completely inappropriate for the tripe (which some found chewy but i was fine with it), probably better with chicken or pork was the consensus at the table. the mushroom and... something relish was again very sweet with the barest of tang. it was also a plate of unpleasant beige-ness.

                                                romaine salad - a vegetarian take, i didn't necessarily miss it without anchovies and bacony things but without the garlic chip it really fell quite flat. they did an excellent job at grilling the romaine so that it retained a bit of smoke but didn't wilt very much. one of the better courses of the meal but as we later learned while recounting the meal, also entirely forgettable.

                                                soup (?) with powdered roux - a thick soup with braised commonplace vegetables that were overcooked and a crumbly roux on the side that contained the more interesting flavours. there was definitely salt here! too much fennel though in the soup itself that overwhelmed the whole dish. it was not interesting and felt like a gimmick.

                                                mains:

                                                perogies - apparently the same from the previous menu. my dining companions really enjoyed it. i find the problem with sweet potato anything is that it can be still quite sweet, and this one was no exception. the creme fraiche was a good counterpoint along with the cinnamon-y pickled watermelon but the concord grape sauce brought the sweetness back into the forefront. i also prefer a slightly thicker chewier skin whereas i thought this one was too much wonton-wrapper-used-in-a-NA-kitchen like. we all did agree that if it would have made a great dessert dish.

                                                skirt steak - arrived looking like slices of tongue, unsure if this was intentional. there was a spicing on the exterior which we suspect might have been coffee that did nothing for it. the tomato was surprisingly flavourful but the fries were virtually hickory sticks minus any seasoning. olives offered some variant in flavour but not my preferred combination.

                                                miso halibut - a nice thick slab of fish, overcooked. miso was blended in with fish stock and had the consistency of lightly congealed fat... too fishy as well. it came with these frozen sticks of blended pineapple and ginger that were very unpleasant in icy texture and an unnecessary shock in temperature. shaved bok choy was the best element.

                                                risotto - overcooked rice and slighty sandy asparagus, otherwise winner of the night. i had to laugh at the presentation... a touch reminiscent of one of susur's dishes on top chef that also surprised the judges. the cheese used was lightly smoked in a very good and subtle way and there was salt! finally! the shards of dehydrated tomato and vermouth sauce tasted like chinese haw flakes, which are also sweet, go figure.

                                                lamb ribs - too fatty, too gamey. i wish he kept the old lamb dish, that was excellent. in a similar play to that dish he had another soda sauce but it was cola this time, so grossly thick it was tar-like in texture and solidified on the end of my spoon. can't remember what else was on the plate, i gave up on it pretty quick.

                                                turkey pastrami - i do not like hearing that something is a pastrami when it has not been smoked. the cure was good in flavour but the meat was over-cured, far too strong without the smoke to balance it all back out. it was moist but a touch mushy to me. having it with the more savoury brioche below made a world of difference and added a good richness. lima beans were mushy and useless though the chive oil was a good element. there was also a maroon mustard thing that essentially tasted of powdered wasabi/horseradish.

                                                desserts:

                                                chocolate "bar" w/ captain crunch - chocolate jello, essentially, unpleasant. the best part of it was the chartreuse jelly which i have a difficult time describing, it is an ingredient i would like to work with. the captain crunch ruined it for me. it was crushed up into dust and scattered all over. the texture didn't contrast well with the jello and the flavour was so... well... captain crunch. children's cereal. gimmick.

                                                raspberries and cookies - shortbread wasn't all that strong in anise and too dry. the anglaise tasted like something from dried powder or a can, that kind of minty metallic-ness. raspberry diced jelly was also too sweet and almost fake for my tastes.

                                                meringues - were essentially fine in texture but i prefer mine slightly softer. there was a hint of something like spearmint that gave it the nuance of toothpaste. the aloe jelly was surprisingly aromatic. this dish was terribly sparse.

                                                citrus - grape fruit slices likely soaked in something but didn't taste of anything but grapefruit. jellies of lime and lemon and.. another were interchanged between their respective wedge skin for a cutesy presentation. the jellies were thick, chunky and lacked all the silky smooth qualities i adore in jello.

                                                the layering of flavours i was expecting was radically missing. the menu seemed dumbed down in effort and then on top of that poorly executed. dishes were lovely to look at but it's a little difficult to fill a stomach with nice arrangements. i certainly won't be banging on their door to find out what menu they've come up with in 2 months from now.

                                                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                  Yeah, I was sadly disappointed with dinner as well. I wanted to love this place and the owner/chef is super nice and clearly has a love for what he's doing. Unfortunately, his inexperience is showing through. I should mention that the server was super nice as well.

                                                  A couple of notes to add to what PSP wrote:

                                                  - the gazpacho was yellow cucumber, rather than zuke, I believe
                                                  - the "soup" dish was a vegetable ragout

                                                  My favourite dishes of the night were the panzanella salad, grilled romaine, the risotto, the perogies, and the halibut w/bok choi (minus the truly awful frozen gingered pineapple -- I actually spit it out because it was so shockingly bad with the warm fish). But none of them are anything I'd go back for, and none of them had the interesting playfulness that I was expecting, given the premise of the restaurant and the reviews of the first menu.

                                                  I wish them well, but won't be heading back there.

                                                  1. re: TorontoJo

                                                    you're absolutely right about cucumber, i knew when typing zucc i was wrong. i guess i have zucchinis on the brain!

                                                  2. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                    ah darn it. i should've moved L.A.B. to the top of my list to try while it was still the old menu as opposed to waiting, as i so wanted to try the risotto mentioned. i would've settled for the new menu too but it sounds to be quite....not there. will see if my dining companion still wants to go...

                                                    thanks for the detailed review, PSP! gives me a better idea on managing expectations if i do go.

                                                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                                      The turkey pastrami on the brioche and the grilled romaine were the only two things I enjoyed last night but neither one of them enough for a return visit. Despite ordering the entire menu, I was also hungry afterwards.

                                        3. Went to LAB last night for a quick dinner and really enjoyed it. Had the gazpacho, the asparagus risotto and the lamb ribs - all were described already in this thread but in my view were really good and served along side baguette with very nice butter. Washed down with the LAB tonic cocktail it was the perfect dinner for a hot night. Service was extremely good - I really couldn't ask for better. I thought the prices were very reasonable for the quality and time that went into everything and the owners/staff clearly want to please. Is it El Bulli? Of course not. But if you approach it as a bistro trying to do its own thing and offer the public something a little bit different it is highly successful at it IMHO. I would definitely go back.

                                          1. Has anyone been since Chris Scott left to work a Boehmer new gastropub on Queen? Food the same?

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: ylsf

                                              I thought he left to go down to the Islands - don't recall which one, but it appears he's returned.
                                              He trained the new chef before he left (round about New Year IIRC), but my experience is that the food is somewhat more 'conventional' than before i.e. the molecular stuff still exists but is more in the background.
                                              I prefer the older style, but still think the food there is the most interesting on the College Strip - seems to be more 'Italian' than it was before, but still with a 'twist'.

                                              1. re: ylsf

                                                I hadnt gone before so I can not compare, but I just went recently and the mains were strictly avaerage. It was also not very experimental. However a few appetizers (mushrooms and the tartare) and the tiramisu desset stood out! I would only return there for dessert and wine!

                                                1. re: ylsf

                                                  I ended up going here on the weekend, it was my 2nd time but my 1st time was a long time ago, around when they first opened up. I enjoyed my meal and even without the voucher I was using I thought it was good value.

                                                  I really loved the mushroom ragu on top of fried polenta. My friend had the carrot risotto with aged cheddar for her main (she is avoiding glutten so she thought it tasted like mac/cheese without the mac part... I tried a bit and I enjoyed the flavour). I had the braised short ribs served on polenta. I thought both were great and the portion was HUGE. Even after giving away portions to my friend I still ended up with a good sized peice of meat on my plate which I took home. I don't know if that is normal or not but I wasn't complaining :) I thought the texture/flavour was good too. We didn't have room for dessert but there was another guest in the restaurant that was raving about the "boudino" item on the menu (served in a jar with 3 layers of flavour).

                                                  Oh, and I had a cocktail as well. It was called the Italian Greyhound. I enjoyed the flavours.

                                                  This weekend as also an Italian festival on College so it was busier in the area than normal. They were also serving some interesting things from their temporary patio set up for the festival. For example they were doing tripe! Our waiter brought some for us to try and it was really good (first time I recall ever having tripe... or, maybe just the first time I ever recall enjoying it!).

                                                  I will definitely be going back. One of the waitresses mentioned they were in the process of changing over their menus so will be interesting to see what is on it next time around.

                                                2. So I went back tonight to LAB. Again, it was not busy at all. There was only one other table who came in a bit later than us. I am not sure how this place is surviving as it wasn't very busy last time I was there either (on a weekend). Regardless, I enjoyed the meal tonight. I decided to order the braised veal ravioli (it was de-constructed ravioli... or.. open faced). I enjoyed the dish but I preferred the short ribs from last time. My friend had the pasta "carbonara" and she seemed to enjoy it. We saved room for dessert this time and each ordered the "budino" which was very tasty.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: ylsf

                                                    Went to LAB last night, the service was incredibly strange. They seem to have a new owner who was way way way too intrusive and hovered and asked us where we'd heard about LAB, etc, etc. The apps were good, the tenderloin tartar was a standout. The speztle was really smokey and delicious, and my potato croquettes were just okay (although the tomato chutney they came with was fantastic.) The mains (two of us had shortribs, I had lobster sous-vide) were okay - the ribs were...well, not hot. Which was bothersome. And we got a risotto to share, which was so salty it was almost inedible. They brought back a new risotto, and protested that "They don't use salt in the risotto, so I don't know why it was salty" although the new risotto ...wasn't salty at all. They didn't charge us for the risotto, which we appreciated. Didn't stay for dessert and we won't be going back. Good ideas, bad execution.

                                                    -----
                                                    L.A.B. (Live and Breathe)
                                                    651 College St, Toronto, ON M6G, CA

                                                    1. re: cloverkill

                                                      I seem to be the main booster of LAB here, so I went back tonight with an open mind (I hope). I was knocked out when it first opened last year and have had mostly good meals here with an occasional 'what were they thinking of' moment. However, it has never been boring!

                                                      Certainly the menu seems more 'traditional' Italian - at least in description, since the original 'modernist' bent. However, I still found the 'molecular' ingredients existed to some extent - but generally well integrated into the dishes.

                                                      Tonight I had the daily soup special - a lobster bisque, that was close to perfect. Perhaps the lobster itself was a touch on the chewy side - or more charitably, it provided an excellent texture contrast - certainly the flavours throughout the dish were excellent - and the portion size certainly was adequate (have to admit that when they first opened some of the dishes were not that generous).
                                                      Then on to the spatzle - one of my favourite dishes there - just love the textures (and you enjoyed it too)! A keeper.

                                                      Finally the 'bunny cake'! I can see how some might avoid this - but, for me, this was exciting and a fun dish (although actually my weakest of the evening). The bunny cake has a 'broth in the centre' (think molten chocolate cake, although the broth here is more liquid).
                                                      And 'bunny bacon' as the ears of the bunny. Almost too cute.

                                                      But overall, an excellent meal. No duds and several touches to generate a smile (e.g. carrots with the bunny cake). With the multitude of 'Nonna style' Italian places in town, this is a bright alternative.

                                                      Service was fine too - the original owner was 'in the house' and there were no service issues.
                                                      This stays on my regular schedule/rotation - and I think the current menu is one of the better ones (although clearly not much overlap with your selections - so maybe you were just unlucky).

                                                  2. I wish I went to this place sooner and I wish I lived closer. Loved it. Spatzle was great, lamb was very nice though I wish it was NZ or Australian. Two areas of criticism - the wine list and service was a tad off as if the server didn't care we were there. I'd go back.

                                                    1. Just a heads up that this place is now closed in case you are reading this looking for recommendations . Last service March 15, 2012.