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Jul 27, 2013 06:02 AM

Bero report -- go!

Went to Bero last night as a party of 8, and bottom line, this was the best meal I've had in Toronto in a very, very long time.

The space is small and simply, but warmly decorated. Enough soft surfaces and low music so that even when the restaurant was full, I could still speak and have my friend at the far end of the table hear me. A bloody (and most welcome) miracle, in my books.

The menu at Bero gives you three options: 1) a 4-course meal for $52, where you choose your 4 dishes from the 12 items on the left side of the menu, 2) a 7-course tasting for $84, listed on the right side of the menu, and 3) if you have at least 8 people, you can do a family-style dinner of all 12 items on the left side of the menu for $72 (with the likelihood of an extra treat or two thrown in). Option 3 is what we did and I truly can't recommend it enough.

Chef Matt Kantor is creating dishes with flavours and sophistication that I think no one else is quite doing in Toronto. There's an incredible amount of thought and care put into the construction of each dish and the flow of the meal. Now this is where I have to strongly recommend the full family-style menu — I found that the sequence of the dishes contributed hugely to my experience. The first 4 courses were these gorgeous, light, summery dishes exploding with the most wonderful flavours. Then we moved onto the gnocchi and mushroom courses that were beautifully rich and deep, while still remaining bright (don't ask me to explain that better, I'm clearly not a professional food writer! :). Then the 3 "meat" courses, all different, all delicious. And finally the 3 dessert courses, that were beautiful and difficult to choose a favourite from. If I had only had 4 courses and selected them myself, I'm not sure that my meal would have been as transcendent as it was.

One of the things I loved was how interesting and sophisticated the dishes were, but how they were still accessible.

Photos below. I'll try and recall the dishes, but there were a lot and I didn't take notes. We've asked Chef Kantor to email us full descriptions, so I'll come back later with better descriptions. Note that the quantities of the plates in the photos were for half the table, except for the soup and the peaches, which were individually plated.

Course 1: white gazpacho. Delicious soup, with these bright pops of flavours and textures from the orange blossom infused cucumber and a couple of other veggies.

Course 2: heirloom tomato and compressed watermelon with tomato marshmallows and parmesan cream. He separated the marshmallows from the tomatoes for us because of a lactose issue with of us. So many flavours here — the best surprise were the fried capers that added crunch and a great contrasting saltiness to the dish. It made us all start to ponder what we could use fried capers in.

Course 3: ceviche (European bass, I think) with poblano peppers, pickled onions and grapefruit ice. So fresh and summery. Once again, full of bright flavours.

Course 4: nordic shrimp with chermoula (a spice mix), cilantro puree, lettuce and banana "biscuit". Amazingly tender little shrimp brought to life with the chermoula.

Course 5: bone marrow gnocchi with fried shallots and garlic butter sauteed snails. Oh dear lord. These were THE most delicious gnocchi I've ever had. Melt in your mouth richness that was light as air. I could have eaten an enormous bowl of these and died happy.

Course 6: mushrooms, glorious mushrooms. This is no longer on the menu because no one was ordering it, and I'm so very sad for the loss, as it was my favourite dish of the night, next to the gnocchi. A timbale of shiitake mushroom, charred king oyster mushrooms and perfectly cooked chanterelles. Served with a vanilla and red onion sabayon that was swoon worthy.

Course 7: deconstructed arroz negro. A black rice croquette with perfectly cooked squid (braised in beet juice for an amazing pink colour), piperade and a delicious saffron mayonnaise. This was probably the weakest dish for me, mostly because of the balance of the ingredients. I wanted more piperade and mayo relative to the croquette. Still good, just not as awesome as the other dishes.

Course 8: lamb. Sous vide lamb saddle with wattle seed, with purple potatoes, zucchini and an avocado buttermilk cream. Delicious, tender lamb with a subtle flavour from the wattle seed.

Course 9: duck. Seared duck breast and duck confit wrapped in leek, over a smear of black garlic and a leek puree, with corn pudding and freeze dried corn. Really delicious with the garlic and leek providing huge flavour hits. And that corn pudding was ridiculously good.

Course 10: "surf and turf". Tender poached pork over chick peas and octopus. The octopus was so tender and had great flavour from smoked paprika. While this was very good, I felt the dish paled a bit next to it the more flavour-packed dishes in the other courses.

Course 11: "pre-dessert". I had picked some perfectly ripe Niagara peaches that morning and asked Chef Kantor if he wanted some. He ended up making a ridiculous dessert out of them: caramelized onions, warm peaches and star anise ice cream. It was OMG amazing. I never would have thought to pair these flavours, but the savouriness of the onions against the star anise and the peaches was simply perfect. It's one of the best and most interesting dishes I've ever had. He needs to put this on the menu.

Course 12: strawberries with strawberry mousse over a caramelized white chocolate ganache and a milk sorbet over a beer "soil". My favourite of the desserts on the menu. Essence of strawberry and the ganache was like a perfect dulce de leche. Great combination of textures.

Course 13: crème catalan with cardamom and blueberry. Really good.

Course 14: flourless chocolate cake with halva and eggplant frozen yogurt. A surprising and surprisingly delicious combination of flavours. I didn't like the yogurt on its own, but it was delicious when combined with the cake.

And that was dinner. Remember, this was all for $72. Service was excellent, too.

My apologies to the chef for butchering any of the descriptions and for the crappy phone photos. For really beautiful photos, you can check out the Toronto Life preview:

If I had to choose 4 courses from the current menu, my recommendation would be:

1) Ceviche
2) Gnocchi (seriously, don't even consider getting anything else for this course)
3) Lamb or duck
4) Strawberries

The chef said that they will be changing the menu pretty regularly, as what's in season changes or as they get bored with a dish. They've only been open 3 weeks and they've already refreshed the menu once.

Please do yourself a favour and go to Bero. The closest comparison for quality and composition that I can think of is what Victor Barry is doing at Splendido. But Bero is a different kind of experience (neither better nor worse) and the value is amazing, especially the family-style meal.

Photo 1: the menu
Photo 2: the chef hiding behind the gazpacho

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  1. Nice detailed review of a fantastic meal, TorontoJo.

    The highlights for me were the ceviche, deconstructed arroz negro with calamari and saffron mayo and the strawberry dessert.

    For anyone looking for a special meal at a restaurant where the background noise levels are kept low, this is the place. Apart from Bero and Opus, I can't think of too many upscale restaurants where the background noise doesn't compete with the conversations at the table.

    2 Replies
    1. re: prima

      I went tonight. I think this is a promising addition to the Toronto dining scene each dish clearly had a lot of thought and craftmanship put into it. That being said I was a little underwhelmed compared to TorontoJo and Jlunar's experiences. I had the 7 course but comparing my notes to their 7 course I think they got the better version. Service was fantastic, very considerate and engaging. I had the following in my 7 course:
      ceviche-rather muted, good texture with the pink grapefruit gratin but I could have used a bit more piquantness.
      foie gras-interesting preparation but this didn't knock my socks off. unusual pairing of foie gras torchon with apple sorbet, again loved the textural contrast of the puffed quinoa.
      bone marrow gnocchi with snails-loved this dish. light as a feather pillows and a nice flavor from the bone marrow and parsley.
      mackerel with compressed cucumber, radish, good solid dish. clean flavors.
      sous vide lamb loin with summer squash, purple potatoe, apricot, and avocado puree. good preparation with the lamb but rather muted flavors all around.
      grey owl cheese course-loved the rye berries accompaniment! lot of thought put in this dish for a cheese course.
      dessert-strawberries with dulce de luce, malt soil, and milk sorbet truthfully this was the only dish that knocked my socks off. a standout in flavors and textures.

      So honestly it was just okay for me but I think it's a promising addition to the Toronto scene. I think $84 was okay for the work put into each dish but I would have like to have tasted a bit more oomph with each dish aside from the dessert and gnocchi. Also I'm a bit peeved I did not get a truffle as a send off when other tables did. Solo diners are important! Flavors were rather muted overall with a few exceptions. I wish them well.

      1. re: deabot

        Thanks for the great write up, deatbot! I must admit that I worried about this a bit -- that the 7-course or 4-course experience wouldn't live up to the family-style dinner we had that had 12+ courses. The strongest dishes for me were all of the appetizer courses (no foie course for us) and the desserts and the weakest were the mains. The first 6 courses for me absolutely shined with flavour and texture, as did the 4 dessert courses. It was the 3 mains that were good, but the least interesting overall. And at $72, I feel like it's a better deal than the $84 tasting.

        I look forward to more reports! Also looking forward to going back when the menu changes up.

    2. Wow!! Great review and great pics!! A 'mini-EMP' in Toronto!! Glad the meal was well worth the drive for you!!
      Right now, trying to figure out 7 more people to round up, to try out your recommendation!!
      Thanks again for heads up!

      PS: Have you tried the new Treadwell yet?

      9 Replies
      1. re: Charles Yu

        Definitely worth the drive, Charles!

        I think estufarian would appreciate the food here, so I'd say he's a likely suspect. :)

        And yes, I've been to the new Treadwell a couple of times now. A very, very welcome addition to the NOTL dining scene, ESPECIALLY on Queen Street. The space is great, much smaller than the old place of course. But I love that they are set up a bit like the old JK Wine Bar, with a bar at the open kitchen in addition to the regular bar, and a number of tables and a long banquette. Even better is the large, shaded patio tucked just off of Queen. The meals I've had have been very enjoyable. On the pricey side -- I'd say equivalent to the Trius and Peller restaurants.

        1. re: TorontoJo

          I'm quiet (for the moment).
          I visited already but had some real problems - not prepared to comment until a second visit.
          I'm hoping that my issues relate to a drug regimen I was on, which may have affected my tasting ability. The antibiotics are now finished, but I'll leave it for a few days to ensure no after-effects.

          And, for information I HATED the open kitchen at JK Winebar - I was forced to endure the aromatics from other people's dishes which conflicted with my own dishes. Aromatics (and textures) are extremely important to me and (for example) my experiences at Alinea (Chicago) were severely impaired by such things as burning leaves wafting through the dining room as other people are served different dishes.
          On the plus side, I've encountered two restaurants (both in my Top 10 ever) where the restaurant is doused (not sure that's the right term) with a specific fragrance e.g woodsy, so that diners start the meal from the same (fragrance) starting point. If taste is indeed around 70% related to smell (according to unnamed sources, as I'm not motivated to look this up), then ambient fragrances certainly affect enjoyment.
          There have been several occasions where I've asked to be moved to a different table when assaulted by after-shave or perfume from a recently arrived restaurant patron (probably less than but approaching double figures) - and the same principal applies to food aromas.
          Rant over!

          1. re: estufarian

            Ooh, I hated the burning thyme and rosemary stems they burned at JKWB for their flat bread and dips plate. That was a huge turnoff for me. Totally killed my taste buds.

            Re: Bero. I hope your second visit redeems your first. But, to be fair...I think I've found over the years that you and I have differing palates. I'm pretty sure we look for different things in our food. I recall how much you loved LAB and how disappointed I was with my experiences there. As you know (I hope!), I have much respect for you, but I guess I wouldn't be surprised if we disagreed on Bero in the end. But I look forward to the report!

            1. re: TorontoJo

              Wow!! Two of my best chowhounder friends having diverse views!!
              May be I'll provide the '3rd' opinion?? Planning to go next week. Wish me luck!!

              1. re: Charles Yu

                Life would be boring if we all liked the same things! :0)

            2. re: estufarian

              An update - I returned and am now almost certain that my original problems were related to the drug.
              Both visits showed excellent plate preparation - visually the plates are a knockout with superb use of colour and shape.
              Again, both visits featured great textures - most dishes had some crunch and/or chew in them, and the ceviche was a standout with different temperatures also.
              On the 'drug-affected' visit I was unable to detect any aromatics and almost no flavours - hence my reticence to judge on first appearances. However the revisit (where I chose different dishes) showed no problems/issues at all. Flavours were pretty good and aromatics were fine (without being knockout).
              Overall I though it a very good meal - well worth a visit. Some components didn't quite work for me, and some dishes seemed overly fussy - multiple components that didn't always 'layer' but occasionally 'mushed together' (that's flavour, not texture - textures were very good).

              I'm not sure how 'commercial' the food is. Essentially only a 4 course prix fixe(?)for $52 with a choice of 3 dishes in each course. The 7 course adds a couple of extra dishes plus a pre-selection from the regular choices. But at the price point, this is excellent value and well worth a visit. I will certainly return.

              1. re: estufarian

                I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed with my experience at Bero. I think it may be partly my fault as my expectations were really high. We opted for the 4 course menu and between my husband and I we ordered:
                - the shortbread- I really enjoyed this dish, it was presented beautifully and tasted great
                -the mushrooms- I didnt enjoy this, I found the pear taste overpowering but my husband really liked it
                - the gnocchi- both my husband and I did not love this dish, I felt like it needed another texture to really lift it, maybe a crunch of some sort as I found this dish quite mushy
                - the sturgeon- the sturgeon was cooked perfectly but the popcorn grit dragged this dish for me
                -the lamb- this was good but not particularly memorable
                - Chocolate tarragon cake with turkish coffee ice cream- I loved this dish and it was probably my favourite of the night
                Creme catalan- interesting flavours

                What I loved most was the shelf with recipe books, they have a great collection (heston, EMP, Maze, Noma, Toque...) I really appreciated that the chef offered to let me help myself to a few books to go through between the courses.

              2. re: TorontoJo

                We've split a discussion about Treadwell into its own thread here:


              3. re: Charles Yu

                Some of the dishes reminded me of some dishes I've ordered at David Santos's Louro, Charles. ;)

              4. OK, here's the menu that Chef Kantor sent to us:

                White Gazpacho - Compressed cucumber infused with orange blossom - coffee-soaked chai seeds - red veined sorrell

                Nordic Shrimp - burnt scallion puree - compressed romaine hearts - chermoula sauce - banana biscuit - cilantro
                Ceviche of branzino - poblano pepper - black radish - pickled onion - grapefruit granitee- lime granitee - cilantro puree

                Heirloom tomato part 1 - tomato marshmallow - parmesan cream

                Heirloom tomato part 2 - heirloom tomatoes - bleu cheese mousse- olive oil - opal basil - kumquat - fried capers - compressed watermelon with kaffir lime

                Arroz Negro - beet-infused squid - Saffron Mayo - piperade - deep-fried black rice
                Bone-marrow Gnocchi - bone marrow celeriac cream - parsley puree - fried garlic - parsley

                King Oyster - chanterelle - timbale of crimiini and shitake - pea and mint puree - peas - vanilla sabayon

                Lamb Saddle - peruvian potato - apricot - buttermilk-avocado puree - zucchini - wattle seed

                Surf and Turf - Pork loin - octopus - garbanzo - smoked paprika - red onion - mango--yogurt sauce

                Duck - roast duck breast - leek and duck confit cannelloni - leek puree - corn custard - freeze dried corn black garlic sauce

                Niagara peaches (supplied by the host) - onion caramel - star anise ice cream - olive oil

                Creme Catalan - cardamom-chickpea sablee - chamomile-infused blueberry - blueberry sauce - lemon balm
                Strawberries - strawberry meringue - black malt and beer soil - caramelized white chocolate ganache - milk sorbet

                Chocolate - flourless cake - eggplant frozen yogurt - halvah - orange oil

                1 Reply
                1. re: TorontoJo

                  Highlights for me were the white gazpacho, gnocchi, king oyster, lamb saddle and the duck courses. Really loved the leek puree, corn custard and freeze dried corn black garlic sauce as well as those fried capers. Super yummy. Looking forward to a return visit soon.

                  1. re: MissBingBing

                    $88/person, with tax, before tip. No big drinkers in our group.

                  2. Wow, sounds wonderful. A bit beyond my budget for a regular night out, but for something special, I'll keep it in my mind. We're just down the street from there.