328 Wellington Street West
I’ve gone on record as saying that I don’t like foie gras. That was before I had the foie gras as prepared by Chef Patrick Lin at Senses.
Working on the “try it ten times” theory as espoused by Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, I continue to try foods that I’ve had bad experiences with in the hope that I’ll eventually learn to at least like them, if not love them. After trying the duo of foie gras on Senses new menu, consider me a convert. Chef Lin’s technique of offering the tasty liver both pan-seared and poached in Peking duck consommé is a testament to both an exquisite ingredient and his skill and creativity behind the stove.
A renovation of the space now sees the comfortably modern lounge graced with generous sofas and a reworked restaurant with better flow and ambiance due to the removal of a couple of seats and the addition of the wine wall that breaks up the space without breaking up the light. With warm wood floors, and a palette of chocolate, cream and gold, the space is relaxed and welcoming.
Coinciding with this redesign, Chef Lin offers up an exciting new menu, a year in development, that combines his Chinese heritage with classic French culinary techniques to create something that can’t quite be defined as “fusion”, but manages to take the best of both east and west for a gastronomic journey that is truly a delight.
The large geoduck clam, highly regarded in Chinese cuisine, is sliced paper thin and ripples slightly like a flower as it is arranged atop bright cucumber rounds and garnished with baby sprouts, a blood orange vinaigrette and a perfect section of ruby-coloured blood orange. The flavor of the clam takes me back to days spent on the Bay of Fundy and clams cooked within hours of digging them from the sand flats. It is offered at this tasting with a BC spotted prawn wrapped in endive and a fruit salsa comprised of a tiny brunoise of dragonfruit, papaya and mango, as well as a seared fresh scallop on asparagus.
The fish at Senses tastes fresh because it is fresh – Chef Lin brings in all the fish alive, including the steamed bass and the black cod glazed with 25-year old balsamic vinegar and honey which is served with a butternut squash and apple confit. The lobster is equally revered in Chef Lin’s kitchen, served atop truffle spaghettini and graced with slices of fresh truffles and truffle foam. Richly decadent, each flavour stands alone but blends magnificently, the sweetness of the lobster balancing the earthiness of the large truffles. The foam is a playful nod to molecular gastronomy, but the dish remains strongly rooted in classic French technique. Despite combining what may well be my two favourite foods, I manage not to pass out from sheer bliss and stick around for the roasted crispy duck breast.
Marinated in a blend that includes Chinese 5-spice mix, then left to dry overnight and scalded with a mixture of vinegars and wine to crisp up the skin, then roasted, the breast remains gorgeously pink inside. Served with slices of grilled oyster mushrooms and a delightful fig and port puree this is a sophisticated and elegant take on Asian cuisine.
And let us not forget dessert. A trio of Chinese sweets clears the palate and rounds out the meal, all the while continuing the east-meets-west theme. Included are a bright, sweet guava fruit pudding topped with dragonfruit and lychee, fried vanilla custard with chocolate sauce and French pears poached in Chinese sweet wine.
The theme of east and west, with the heady spices and flavours of some of the dishes, make wine pairings a unique challenge for sommelier Fritz Wahl. With a selection that ranged from a Morworth Sauvignon Blanc 2004 for the geoduck, to a Californian pinot noir from Melville Winery as well as a gewürztraminer from Malivoire and the Speck family reserve Chardonnay, both from the Niagara region, Wahl managed to find wine options that were flavourful and balanced but did not outshine the dishes.
The transition to the new menu at Senses should be complete by mid-March. Chef Lin’s beautiful dishes made with exquisitely fresh ingredients and a blending of traditions and techniques take Toronto’s fine dining scene into the new multicultural millenium where Asian ingredients and French methodology co-exist and blend to become something greater than the sum of their parts.