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SUSUR


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#1 GordonCooks

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 11:27 AM

Susur -

I’ve dined at Susur more than 15 times over the years. I’ve always been a fan of his fusion cuisine since my sole meal at Lotus in the late 80s. Some say Susur Lee is one of the finest chefs in Canada (and maybe the world.) Others say that his meals are too complex with the flavors clashing rather than mingling harmoniously. During a conversation with a local food writer picking my brain regarding Toronto, I found his opinion influenced by a person who had dined there recently and who really didn’t enjoy his experience due to a couple of minor service miss-steps and misunderstanding of the concept.

So I had to ask myself - Is my opinion nothing more than a glassy eyed, food groupie fawning over meals gone by? I decided my next meal would be recorded with a critical and unbiased tone. So for the week prior to my visit - I planned on eating at some really excellent Asian places at home, and dining at ByMark and Jamie Kennedy’s Wine Bar beforehand.

I guess the most detractors have stated the service was a problem. I decided beforehand that I would make a couple of requests to see how the would be addressed by the staff and front of house. Upon arrival to a full dining room – I asked top be seated in a banquette. The staff responded that all were currently reserved but they would see what they could do. Ultimately, we were asked to enjoy a cocktail in the lounge and wait for about 15 mins to make a booth available. The house cocktail is a so-called Kir-atini. A palate cleanser of champagne, kir, and a fresh lingonberry. I always seem to get one order one out of habit but they are unremarkable.

After about a 15 minute wait – we were escorted to large booth. After presentation of the wine list and menus, the server gives you a brief rundown of the menu concept and restaurant philosophy. The tasting menu is always presented in a rather favorable light (understandably so) and this part of the service is very necessary for the first timer but rather repetitive for someone like me. The initial service is very formal – this gives the server the opportunity to determine how much or how little interaction they should offer and how informal you may want to be. I usually order wines without advice but I decided to quiz the server a little bit. I inquired about wine, something substantial but not too heavy to go with the meat courses. He offered a couple of good suggestions for CDNP (a bottle I actually ordered the trip beforehand) and a pomerol. I countered with a 98 Chateau Figeac – He commented on the exact percentage of cab to merlot in the wine (something I made note of because I didn’t know offhand and which was correct)

Other wines were a 2001 Stasser Gaisberg Gruner Veltliner, and a 1990 Huet Vouvray Moelleux for the foie gras and dessert courses. The wine list is good for a Toronto restaurant and for this type of cuisine. You had your choice of halves of Guigal LaLa’s, some good Burgundies, Chave, VS Unico, etc. What the restaurant may have lacked in prime vintages, it made up for in variety. I usually think more of the food with wine taking a supporting role here.

Dishes were as follows

I apologize for the lousy picture quality - I opted to not use the flash so as not to interrupt the diners around me and I wasn't giving the camera enough time to adjust for the low light conditions


Amuse
Fried Cod cake with lemon grass aioli

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Crisp and clean flavor with a spike of citrus in the aioli

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Blini with celery root and caviar

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Creamy celery root puree with a hint of (shellfish?) The caviar lent a nice salt component

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Roasted Cornish Hen with peanut sauce and green curry and corn cake

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Perfectly roasted hen in a peanut sauce with a spicy green curry and corn cake topped with zucchini, roasted red pepper and quenelle of red pepper puree. Nice bite to the curry sauce.

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Roasted Cornish Hen with house bbq sauce and mint chutney

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Same savory hen with a sauce that made a good balance of sweet and savory. The puff pastry cake and quenelle of beets were both excellent but I liked the decomposed mint chutney best. The ingredients were wrapped in mint and provided an unusual texture with classic flavor

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Smoked Beef Filet over potato puree, Corn compote, and on onion quenelle with 3 sauces

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The sauces were all excellent when eaten alone – these are not to be mixed.

A black olive reduction – a ton of pure olive flavor without the residual saltiness
A red pepper couli – tasted better than a pepper
An artichoke and Stilton puree – nice combo with Stilton matching well with the flavor of the artichoke flavor.

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Hot seared foie gras, duck confit, smoked squab, and an apricot and goat cheese tart

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The goat cheese tart was good but unnecessary. The ball of duck coinfit was delicious – duck meat formed into a ball with panko and seared. Foie gras was properly seared and of good quality, and the slice of smoked squab had robust flavor and was very tender.

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Soy stained foie gras under a sesame tuile over aspic and fresh fig
A Bavarois of foie gras on shortbread and black currant jam

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The terrine-like foie was awesome. I believe it was pushed through a sieve and molded. It felt like firm cream in the mouth. The sweet component came not from the fiq and aspic as I first thought when looking at the dish – but from the ring of orange reduction that circled the plate. The bavarios was feather light in texture and just as tasty. The currant jam was quite piquant and gave appropriate acidity to temper the creaminess.

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Wuxi Pork loin with apricot glaze, house cured bacon, and braising jus.

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A Susur “classic” Slowed cooked pork loin that very tender with a firm skin for some textural contrast. It’s reminiscent of classic Chinese spare ribs only much, much better

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Citrus marinated and roasted Sable fish with citrus segments and aioli

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I was happy to see this dish and I had read about it from the Hawksworth/Vancouver dinner. I approached the dish but eating some of the fish and then some of the orange segment. I’m not sure of this is how it was intended but it seemed to work for me. The Roasted Sable was firm in texture and the aioli was used to bridge the sweet & savory gap. The garnish was a crisp, fried black noodle that gave the dish a little crunch.

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Smoked oyster over Oxtail ravioli and tapioca

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Very unique. The smoked oyster was very delicate with a texture reminiscent of Monkfish liver. The light smoked left the pure oyster flavor intact. The oxtail meat was quite tasty but I would have preferred the oyster to stand alone.

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Chinese Noodle cakes over root vegetables, pine nuts, and mushroom stock

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My girlfriend’s bivalve allergy pre-empted a course substitution to a very nice (and hearty) vegetarian dish. Nice crunch and flavor but my now – we were getting really full

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Himachi Salad and red wine & plum dressing

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Sushi grade Hamachi mixed with micro greens, crisp leeks, edible flowers, etc. the red wine dressing was offered on the side to allow you to use as much or as little as possible. This dish was very light and delicate

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Tomato Concasse in broth

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A nice light soup to finish – very nice and clean tomato flavor.

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Desserts

The kitchen sent us extra desserts compliments of Susur. I think they were trying to see just how much we could eat.

This part of the meal is a little foggy due to the fact I gave up the note book in favor of an espresso.

Lemon Verbena Panne Cotta
Lemon Cake with fruit filling and yogurt sauce
Pumpkin Ice cream

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Crème Brulee
Flourless Chocolate cake
Sorbet
Chocolate Mousse with gingerbread triangles

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Chocolate Ganache tart
Banana Cream Cake
Roasted Banana ice cram
Chocolate truffle

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Note this picture is the best due to the fact the lights were coming up towards the end of the evening


Notes on Service – Our server seemed quite comfortable with the menu and pace. Each course is brought to you buy a different runner who gives you a bit of theatre with a very affected and enunciated description. I asked my girl to ask the our server to reiterate a dish brought by a runner as a little test. He repeated the dish flawlessly and even mentioned an ingredient that was hidden underneath that the previous person had not. Utensil changes were made after every course. Wine levels were always appropriate, and they passed the water test. The water test for me is I drink a lot of water during a meal – at least a quart. My water glass was never below half.

Special Note- My girlfriend is somewhat of a spiller. When she went to the bathroom – her folded her napkin and reset her place setting using a large white napkin to cover what she had spilled (very nice touch) All her courses were adjusted in size due to the amount she was leaving on the plate.


To be fair – the table next to us was brought the incorrect wine by a different server and the table in front was almost served dessert half-way through the meal. Things I can overlook but maybe something others would not.

Conclusion – If it’s simple food you desire, then by all means – Susur may not be the place for you. The meal is a culinary workout – using different textures, flavors, and preparation, cooking methods. You will not find a greater range of flavors in one meal anywhere. Just my two cents.

#2 Degustation

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 11:42 AM

Great description - thanks.

#3 rgruby

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 12:13 PM

Great description and thanks for the pix!

A completely different meal than the one I had in Nov - with the possible exception of the tomato consomme. I'll try and find the thread in a minute. Here 'tis: http://forums.egulle...showtopic=32544

Did you feel any of the courses were standouts?

And, anybody going ot the Spanish chef coming in on Apr. !? I can't remember his name offhand. If anyone knows more about him, what his resto is like etc., could they enlighten us here?

Thanks,
Geoff Ruby

Edited to add link

Edited by rgruby, 23 February 2004 - 12:15 PM.


#4 Jake

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 12:17 PM

Wonderful review - thanks so much!

Barbara Laidlaw aka "Jake"

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#5 Marlene

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 12:21 PM

Beautiful Gordon, thank you for sharing it with us. I trust your trip to our city was wonderful. We even made sure we had nice weather for you :biggrin:
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#6 GordonCooks

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 12:23 PM

Great description and thanks for the pix!

A completely different meal than the one I had in Nov - with the possible exception of the tomato consomme. I'll try and find the thread in a minute.

Did you feel any of the courses were standouts?

And, anybody going ot the Spanish chef coming in on Apr. !? I can't remember his name offhand. If anyone knows more about him, what his resto is like etc., could they enlighten us here?

Thanks,
Geoff Ruby

Standouts are tough because you really have no basis for comparasion - all the dishes "worked" for me and I "got" them for lack of better wording. The best part of a Susur meal is the irony - you have certain expectations within the context of the description and it really takes you by surprise.

Personal highlights? The tenderness of the hen, the decomposed chutney, the olive sauce was the purest olive flavor I think I've ever tasted, the bavarios was lighter than a mousse, the texture of the smoked oyster, the sable fish, I could have drank a gallon of the soup on even the fullest stomach, desserts were top-notch,etc

PS - The April Fool's Dinner features a michelin starred chef Mark Foch

#7 mikeczyz

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 05:46 PM

what's menu pricing like? i'm curious. i'd like to plan a visit before i move from the midwest.
mike

#8 docsconz

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 05:59 PM

Great report. Thanks, Gordon.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#9 rgruby

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 07:24 PM

what's menu pricing like? i'm curious. i'd like to plan a visit before i move from the midwest.
mike

Here's a link to the page on his website which in turn has links to sample menus.
http://www.susur.com/philosophy.html

The prices are there somewhere, but if I recall correctly the 7 course tasting menu is $110 Cdn. I believe the vegetarian version is $75. Although I'm decidely non-vegetarian, I'm considering trying this the next time I go.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

#10 Explorer

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Posted 23 February 2004 - 07:48 PM

his meals are too complex with the flavors clashing rather than mingling harmoniously

Bingo. You put it very accurately.
Unfortunately, I am in that camp.
The other way to put it is that his food is "over-manipulated". This leaves little room for "clean" flavors. Contrast this with Gagnaire's who's food is somewhat manipulated, but the end-result is cleaner flavors with many single ingredients that do stand out.
(I've only had 3 experiences with Susur's food but have discussed his work with others several times)
"I hate people who are not serious about their meals." Oscar Wilde

#11 GordonCooks

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Posted 24 February 2004 - 05:55 AM

his meals are too complex with the flavors clashing rather than mingling harmoniously

Bingo. You put it very accurately.
Unfortunately, I am in that camp.
The other way to put it is that his food is "over-manipulated". This leaves little room for "clean" flavors. Contrast this with Gagnaire's who's food is somewhat manipulated, but the end-result is cleaner flavors with many single ingredients that do stand out.
(I've only had 3 experiences with Susur's food but have discussed his work with others several times)

His plates can be complicated. I usually take a very japanese approach to his dining. Things on the plate touching can be mixed but things seperate should be eaten alone. The olive sauce with the beef was the purest olive flavor I've ever had in my mouth and chutney when eaten as a whole was as traditional to indian chutney but with a remarkable texture. I think the optimal Susur experience whould be a dinner hosted by him in which he can guide the diner through each plate, explaining what he's trying to accomplish. Not everyone likes solving culinary puzzles when dining (I just happen to)

#12 mikeczyz

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Posted 24 February 2004 - 10:20 AM

what's menu pricing like?  i'm curious.  i'd like to plan a visit before i move from the midwest.
mike

Here's a link to the page on his website which in turn has links to sample menus.
http://www.susur.com/philosophy.html

The prices are there somewhere, but if I recall correctly the 7 course tasting menu is $110 Cdn. I believe the vegetarian version is $75. Although I'm decidely non-vegetarian, I'm considering trying this the next time I go.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

thank you
mike

#13 GordonCooks

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Posted 24 February 2004 - 10:37 AM

They also have a 5 course option and a la carte

#14 Captain Hongo

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 06:35 PM

I'm going to Toronto to eat at Perigee and then to see the Falls. After the sightseeing I'm planning to eat at Susur. Does anyone have a newer take on Susur? TIA

Edited by Captain Hongo, 26 December 2004 - 06:38 PM.

Captain Hongo

#15 Judith Gebhart

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Posted 26 December 2004 - 08:58 PM

I'm going to Toronto to eat at Perigee and then to see the Falls.  After the sightseeing I'm planning to eat at Susur.  Does anyone have a newer take on Susur?  TIA

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We ate this Fall at Susur's for the first time. The meal was very good but did not match the level of quality your original post in the February, 2004 report indicated. Mind you Susur was also totally immersed in launching his lower priced Lee restaurant next door. We visited Toronto the same weekend of the Toronto film festival for two meals at this fine dining establishment. I think his talents are uncontested but he maybe too ambitious or not up to the demands of Lee, the restaurant next door. We probably will not make a special trip to explore his new restaurant. JGebhart

#16 estufarian

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Posted 30 December 2004 - 09:46 AM

Susur has been up & down. In the Summer I had a superb meal there - made more surprising as Susur himself wasn't in that day. Usually it's been easy to tell when Susur is not at the helm.
But since Lee opened it's definitely lost a little. In particular the service has plummeted, although the food is fine. Orders get "lost" and dishes have come out a second time (this happened to me and to 2 other sets of diners I've spoken to).
I still believe it's capable of the finest food in town - but currently it's a bit hit and miss.
Having said that, I would still choose Susur over any other restaurant in town (including Perigee, although I also plan to retry Perigee, based on the several recommendations here) - for the food!