Smörgåsbord: Easter Feasting: Tanto, L.U.S.T., and Salt

We may have gotten a little bit greedy. Three big, multi-course meals over a long weekend… a decade ago, when we ate out for a living, that might have been achievable with stretchy pants and strategic naps, but now, when our constitutions were less enthusiastic? Sure, we’ve put on the Covid 19 (pounds) like everybody else, from a year of eating as a form of self-care, but as we perused the menus, we were unsure… that was a whole lot of food. But heck, we’re troopers, let’s take one for the team and support our local dining establishments.

Of course, we failed. 5-course dinners got split into two or three meals, leftover duck got reworked with blueberry preserves and waffles for breakfast. Desserts got cut in half and shared rather than eating a full portion each. We did manage to eat it all, just not all at once. But when a great meal is the only high-light of an otherwise dull existence, then why not splurge occasionally, especially for a holiday that you don’t technically celebrate?

Friday, April 2nd
Tanto, 922 Queen Street West
Easter Prix-Fixe via Tock
$55 plus tax per person

Part of the family of restaurants linked to Cava (RIP) and Chabrol, Tanto is an Argentinian steakhouse known for their meats grilled atop a wood fire. Chef Julian Iliopolus has been offering a weekly prix fixe menu, along with a la carte options, during the long-running restaurant lockdown.

We were impressed with the packaging (all recyclable) and the timing of this menu. Instructions for reheating the mains were clear and concise, and, as we did eat this meal in order, the flow of the dishes worked very well.

The meal started with a mildly smoked whitefish rillette and crisp rye crackers dotted with caraway. The bread and butter pickles added a beautiful acidic element that pulled all the flavors and textures together for a treat that was soft, smooth, crispy, crunchy, creamy, tart, sour, and slightly sweet, all at once.

Course two was this huge ball of creamy burrata with spring pea puree, studded with chunks of fresh peas. The grilled lemon jam shows Chef Iliopolus making creative use of that wood grill because this might have been the best thing I ate all weekend. As in, if you’re reading this, Chef – please, please, please sell this in jars. Tart, sweet and smoky all at the same time, I want this on everything, from scones to steak.

The mains were an option of either smoked ham or poached salmon with scalloped potatoes. We got one of each and shared. The ham, garnished with sage-roasted grapes, offered a sweet smokiness that was balanced by the creaminess of the potatoes. The salmon was… well it was poached salmon. Moist and tasty, but even with the addition of the blast of flavour from the horseradish creme fraiche, it was an also-ran beside that gorgeous ham.

Dessert was a rhubarb pistachio cake with whipped yogurt. The balance was lovely here; nobody overdid the sugar just because it was dessert, and the tartness of spring rhubarb was allowed to shine with unsweetened yogurt instead of something too sweet and cloying. The cake was rich but not overly dense.

Saturday, April 3rd
L.U.S.T. at home
Info weekly via mailing list
$50 plus tax per person

Chef Luke Hayes-Alexander is a name local food lovers might be familiar with. Getting his start at the age of 11 at his family’s Stratford restaurant back in the early 2000s, lately he’s been running a regular supper club at various locations around Toronto. Since the pandemic began, Luke’s Underground Supper Table (L.U.S.T. for short) has shifted to a weekly home-delivered 3-course menu.

For Easter this was a trio of solid classics, with a wholly Luke-style twist.

First course was a caramelized leek and pancetta galette with arugula, pink peppercorn and garlic yogurt. We saved this for lunch so it’s a big banged up from trying to fit it into the fridge with so many take-out containers, but the crust is cracked in this photo because it was so delicate and light that it couldn’t hold up the generous filling. Garnishes all come separately for the diner to add, which is good because Chef Luke can be heavy with the spices sometimes. We needed only the smallest drizzle of garlic yogurt here. Any more would have overpowered everything.

The main  – a spinach-stuffed turkey ballotine with potato rosti, brown butter carrots, and fragrant laksa gravy (pictured at top of post) is one of the ways Luke’s creativity stands out. The main elements of the dish are classic (and maybe a little boring) but with a spicy coconut-based laksa and a garnish of Thai basil, bird’s eye peppers, ginger, and crisp fried onions, this dish becomes something completely different. We went light on the gravy, using only about 2/3 of the allotted amount for one portion; the rest in in the freezer waiting to be added to a stir fry. Because it was too good to throw away.

Sticky ooey gooey date pudding with a rum toffee sauce is exactly as described and what you want to put in your belly. The cake is actually quite light and the sauce was good enough to drink.

Luke always throws in an extra sweet treat with his holiday meals and this vanilla buttecream Easter egg with gold dust was a lovely way to end the meal.

Some of Luke’s menus don’t always seem to jive, and there are always many, many containers and baggies of different toppings and garnishes, but it all seems to come together and each dish is packed with interesting flavours and textures. He does make everything about the experience fun and entertaining, not just delicious, so it’s worth joining his mailing list for the weekly menu updates, as there’s always something interesting available.

Sunday, April 4th
Salt, 225 Ossington Avenue
Easter prix-fixe via Tock
$75 plus tax per person

Known more for their wine and tapas, Salt is another restaurant that has made the transition to prix-fixe delivery during Covid times. Chef Dave Kemp’s regular menu is full of tasty charcuterie and tapas and they offer a la carte for delivery or take-out. The majority of the packaging was recyclable, and re-heating directions for the gnocchi and duck were straightforward.

Their 5-course Easter menu was a couple of offerings from their regular menu along with some additional dishes.

House smoked wild salmon with lemon-dill creme fraiche, pickled red onion and sourdough baguette. I got very little smoke from the salmon, instead it came across as almost sweet, as if it was more a gravlax-style cure. In any case, gorgeous and delicate and melt-in-the-mouth tender.

This heirloom beet salad with soft goat cheese, cara cara orange, watercress, and candied pecans is on the regular menu. All the elements balance well, with a variety of flavours and textures pulled together with a citrus dressing.

It’s spring! This truffle gnocchi was the epitome of Easter with sweet peas, asparagus tips, honey mushrooms and porcini cream sauce, atop the fluffiest seared gnocchi. This is one of the dishes we ate out of order and it was a fine main on its own.

Really, I just came for the duck. Confit with mash, pickled grapes and port wine jus. Gorgeous duck leg, falling off the bone, was the ultimate Easter dinner. We had lots of meat leftover, so we ate the rest for breakfast with waffles and blueberries.

And finally, this dark chocolate terrine with almond, sea salt, sponge toffee and olive oil can also be found on the regular menu. the smooth creamy terrine melted away leaving bits of sponge toffee to crackle and melt on the tongue. A lovely balance of flavours and textures here.

So that was the Easter Feasting weekend. We were delighted with every dish. And while we’re going to be eating salads for the next few weeks to make up for the over-indulgence, this was definitely a wonderful way to celebrate a holiday while stuck at home.

Please check out these great restaurants/chefs or visit Tock for other local restaurants offering weekly prix-fixe menus.