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Recent Splendido review

My only other visit to Splendido had been when David Lee was at the helm and it was disappointing. I was a little hesitant trying the place again; especially since his sous is now part owner and chef. I am happy to report things were much better this time around.

The room is warm and comfortable and I like the update they did on the décor. It was maybe half full and the noise level was low. Service throughout the evening was exemplary.

Some spiced olives and parmesan biscuits were brought to start. Breads, which are baked in house, were quite nice. I had ordered the “bacon and eggs” which was a hot cast iron pan with an egg, duck confit and proscuitto, tarragon, and parmesan croutons on the side left for you to assemble. A fun, perfectly balanced dish, with pronounced flavours, and perfectly paired with their suggested wine. My partner’s dish, the mushroom salad, was equally impressive in plating and execution.

We shared some excellent gnocchi, which had a good texture: soft without being mush, and they tasted of potato rather than flour. This came in a cream sauce with wonderfully flavourful black truffles, which were also used on the mushroom salad. There was no hint of the dish being bumped up with some cheap truffle oil.

After such successful dishes, we were let down by the mains. It’s with larger portions that I find many chefs fail. I had ordered the elk, which came with boudin noir, caramelized parsnip and puree, spiced red cabbage and chocolate. The elk had a mild flavour and was a little tough. The biggest problem was that the clove spice in the boudin noir and the allspice, or maybe five spice, in the cabbage, overwhelmed the dish. Both of these similar tones grew tiresome after a few bites. The chocolate was either tasteless or nonexistent, which may be a good thing. My partner’s steak was heavily seared and the outside tasted like charcoal. I still don’t understand why some people like their steak like this, it doesn’t work well with wine and it masks the flavour of the meat, but I’ll put this down to personal preference. I’ve read the chef is a master of sous vide, but I found no difference in the texture of the meat over regular cooking.

The salted caramel chocolate tart and steamed lemon pudding were both very simple and excellent. With several glasses of wine, coffee and tea, the bill before tip was $300, which I thought was fair.

Would I go back? Probably not. If the main courses were as good as the apps and dessert, I would be raving about this place. I can find similar quality of food for half the price at some of the better bistros. That said, the room is nice, service is great, they use nice ingredients, and it feels like a splurge dinner. I guess it depends what you want to pay for.

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Splendido
88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

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  1. Great review with solid reasons for what you liked/disliked.
    Coincidentally, I was there last night with some dishes in common.

    Your assessment of 'mains' agrees with my experience in general throughout Toronto dining (and much of the world). It's the 'main' that disappoints (I have often got around that by ordering 3 (or 4) appetizers and skipping a main - Susur, in particular, was the worst culprit before the 'small plates' trend gave us Lee). Perhaps I've become accustomed to 'small tastes'. Certainly I don't think it a 'Splendido issue'.

    For me there were several standouts (some of which you ordered). Indeed the breads are better than they used to be - and kudos also to the water. In these days of huge markups it's good to see a relatively small $3 charge per person for unlimited sparkling water (I've been charged up to $18 per bottle in recent times).

    The bacon & eggs was indeed a 'fun dish', but was completely obliterated (IMO) by the "mushroom salad" - a 'huge understatement' (!) for one of the most impressive dishes I've had in Toronto in the past year. I know I'm a huge mushroom fan, but this dish was spectacular, not just the flavours and textures but a plating that was picture-worthy.
    Didn't have the gnocchi, but had some charcuterie, the highlight being the lamb prosciutto - I actually rated this version above anything I've had at the Hoof.

    My elk was reasonably tender - game meats in general tend to be tougher than the regular farmed animals. This version was certainly mild, but mine was definitely not tough. I didn't notice excessive clove in the boudin noir, but it was 'wetter' in texture than the crumbly version I prefer - but that's a question of preference (I also find the Hoof's even wetter, so again preferred this) - but also left some of the cabbage - which was indeed a large serving. But kudos again to the parsnip - perfectly cooked with a contrasting crisp skin to provide texture.

    The other dishes we had were the venison raviolo (at least that's what the menu says - I recall several smaller ravioli). Very tasty, but very rich - this was the dish that prevented us having space for dessert. Excellent 'pulled venison' in the ravioli with great texture (again). And finally we had the daily special of deboned quail (and it was FULLY deboned). That's something I can't get at home (who has the time). In honesty the milder flavours were dominated by the other dishes, so I have no recall of the rest of this dish.

    I loved this meal - a great start to the new year. If I can find any bistro coming near this quality at half the price, I'll be there like a shot. Please post on any you find.

    5 Replies
    1. re: estufarian

      Isn't elk farmed? I didn't think it was possible to eat wild (hunted) game animals in Ontario at restaurants.

      And as someone who grew up eating game meat of all kinds, I disagree with the statement that game meats in general tend to be tougher-I've had beautifully tender moose and elk that was properly killed, butchered and prepared.

      It sounds like Splendido is on a bit of a game kick lately. I've never had a successful quail dish anywhere (outside of my mother's prep), so I'm curious about their version. I need to eat there soon!

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      Splendido
      88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

      1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

        To me, Splendido is the best restaurant in the city - and admittedly, I'm a bit of a fan-boy. However, we have had to go around the world to have a better dining experience, food quality-wise. Only few were better, and much, much more expensive. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (his flagship) in London was one, but I could have eaten at Splendido four or five times for the price. I also went to Stadtlander's farm with great expectations, only to find there was a much better restaurant far closer to home.

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        Splendido
        88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

          They actually have a game-specific tasting menu which I think that's what estufarian had. Looks good! I think I may try to hit it up soon.

          In general, I find Splendido does veggies super well.

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          Splendido
          88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

        2. re: estufarian

          Regarding bistros at half the price, maybe I've been lucky or its just a matter of taste, but I would say Grace and Simple offer a similar experience, minus the high end ingredients.
          Maybe I should have fleshed out the description of the mushroom salad, it was a great dish. My girlfriend kept on referring to the mushroom soup at Biff's as her fav mushroom dish, but what I liked about this mushroom salad was that it was a very light dish, it didn't rely on butter or cream. Even though the black truffles were possibly the best I've had, it was the texture and flavour of the mushrooms that impressed the most.

          1. re: dubchild

            I've not been happy at Grace - so haven't been for about a year - it was the ingredients (I think ) just didn't seem to have much flavour - I recall having an (almost?) identical soup elsewhere the same week and the Grace version was 'washed out' in comparison. But a re-visit probably in order. Although I think the prices were abit higher than '50% of Splendido'.

            Simple Bistro went through a 'dumbed-down' phase for me - I used to be a regular, but noticed a significant 'quality' drop when thery introduced their prix fixe menu (maybe 2 years ago). But I did go back a few months ago and it was certainly better - just not enough to put it back on my rotation.Certainly agree that this hits the '50%' criterion.

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            Splendido
            88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

            Simple Bistro
            619 Mount Pleasant Rd, Toronto, ON M4S2M5, CA

        3. That's disappointing about your mains. Sometimes Splendido does have a tendency to over-char their steak - it has happened once before. I actually sent it back (one of two dishes I've ever sent back in countless visits to Splendido) - but when they get it right (99% of the time), it is the best steak in the city.

          Lastly, you must have had a lot of wine! Our last dinner there cost $120 before tip. That was with 2 mains, 2 apps, and a couple glasses of wine. We didn't have room for dessert!

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          Splendido
          88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

          2 Replies
          1. re: justpete

            Regarding price, we had three apps, two mains, two desserts, five glasses of wine, cofee and tea which came up exactly to $300. Maybe some of the glasses of wine were a little pricier and the gnocchi app, I think, was $25.

            1. re: dubchild

              My bill was around $300 as well. But it could be done cheaper - except if one doesn't explore the attractive-sounding items, then I'm not sure this is the right destination anyway.

          2. The steaks at Splendido are not cooked sous-vide. They're simply grilled over a charcoal flame. Even if they HAD been cooked sous-vide; Category 1 cuts like striploin, ribeye and filet mignon are expected to have the same texture as if they were cooked conventionally. The advantage of cooking Category 1 meat is for consistency and to have the entire interior of the meat cooked to the same temperature (preventing that bullseye effect of more cooked meat being closer to the outside, progressively getting rarer and rarer as you move to the middle).

            In Category 2 and 3 cuts of meat, you'll find more of a texture difference as, say, a short rib that would normally be easily shredded after conventional braising, acquires a more slice-able texture thanks to sous-vide. As a result, sous-vide short rib can be served as a "steak" because it doesn't mush when a steak knife is used.

            Sorry about the long post, and I don't mean to offend. Just trying to spread some kind knowledge :)

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            Splendido
            88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

            4 Replies
            1. re: table4onthefly

              Good to know. Since its becoming a popular technique maybe I should read up on it rather than just look at the pictures in Keller's book. Given the problems with plastic water bottles, I can't say its a techniques I'm totally into. I've been told the plastic used is food safe. I'm just not completely convinced that cooking in plastic for hours is my thing. Thanks for posting.

              1. re: dubchild

                Actually, only cuts of meat like shoulder, belly, short rib etc. are cooked for over an hour. Most steaks only need about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the size. I haven't heard about any health issues with the plastic; most of the concern is about improperly sealing the bag and the onset of botulism, which grows in anaerobic environments, like say, a vacuum-sealed bag.

                1. re: table4onthefly

                  dubchild is refering to the possiblity that plasticizers such as phthalates could be added to the bags to make them pliable. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phthalat...

                  1. re: foodyDudey

                    I wonder if one could use a layer of wax paper and achieve the same result? just as a layer inside of the plastic bag to serve as 'protection' of sorts.

            2. I am going on Thursday. How "fancy" is Splendido. I usually wear business casual (dress pants/dress shirt), is that pretty standard?

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              Splendido
              88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

              1 Reply
              1. re: ylsf

                I go in nice jeans and a collared shirt. You'll be fine.