When Chef Matt Blondin announced via Twitter that Acadia (50C Clinton Street) would be offering a $39, 7-course tasting menu, I’m pretty sure everybody’s first thought was, “How the hell is he going to pull that off??” But it turns out that Blondin is a pretty ingenious guy. Not only did he put together 7 courses for $39, they were actually really good and some, like the catfish breaded with pumpernickel with goat’s curd, pickled egg white and yolk and onion tops (above) has recently been added to the restaurant’s regular menu.  Follow along for the rest of what Blondin cooked up…

For $39, you have to be creative. But lest you think serving us fish skin was a way to turn a bit of food waste into a course, take note – fish skin dusted with fennel and dill pollen and served with smoked creme fraiche for dipping… is pretty awesome. This was like a fishy pork rind, and if that doesn’t sound appealing, then you’re missing out. We wanted to ask for a big bag of these to take home and eat in front of the TV.

I keep referring to Blondin and other chefs of his generation (Ben Heaton of The Grove, Jonathan Poon of Chantecler, Jacob Sharkey-Pearce of Ursa) as “The Artists” because the stuff they send out of their kitchens is fantastically beautiful and are actually edible works of art. Here, Blondin demonstrates what he can do with a scallop, some radish, wild mustard and some super-condensed purple cabbage.

Yes, it may look like yeast starting to bubble, but this is actually oyster soup, the creamy foam a super-aerated chicken stock that hides oyster and bits of aspic with a flavour jolt from licorice, borage and black pepper.

I’m always a sucker for the samphire, but when he pairs it with mushrooms, redfish, brown butter and xeres vinegar, and puts it all on a plate the colour of the ocean, Blondin sends guests off on a little trip to the seaside.

A week later, I’m still not sure what to think of this pork belly dish. Paired with banana pudding and peanut butter (the yellow pool and the white bits, respectively) it’s a fun take on a peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich. The husband felt that the sesame on the pork threw things off, and I mostly just found it too rich. I get where Blondin was going with it, but with the first five dishes being fish-based, I would have been happy with a full seafood menu. I’d like to try it again in a different context, though – it wasn’t bad, it just didn’t fit for me.

It was dark by the time we got dessert so please excuse the photo – my lovely natural light disappeared. This is caramelized buttermilk (the disc at 11 o’clock), blood orange sorbet, white chocolate, and olive. I can’t get enough of this trend of incorporating savoury or less-sweet elements in desserts. The days of a big wedge of cake are over, and the opportunity to try the different flavour elements in different combinations makes for an interesting meal.

So I’m calling Acadia’s $39 tasting menu a resounding success. Other diners seemed also to be enjoying their meal, and feedback that I’ve seen has all been positive. It’s a great way for chefs to challenge themselves to try new things and push their creativity while keeping to a strict budget. And hey, if it’s a way to try new dishes before they make it onto the restaurant’s regular menu, that’s even more fun.