Follow Me Foodie to Buick Encore’s Culinary Adventure!
A “Taste of Toronto” at Top Chef Canada Finalist David Chrystian’s Victor Restaurant + Lounge at Hotel Le Germain.
My Follow Me Foodie to Toronto adventure started off with my Buick Encore Culinary Getaway. Upon arrival I was taken to Hotel Le Germain in the Entertainment District of downtown Toronto. I knew we had the first night to settle in, so I had originally made plans to visit Edulis for dinner, however dinner at the hotel was also an option. I didn’t realize until after doing some research this was Top Chef Canada 2012 finalist David Chrystian’s restaurant.
David was 4th runner up on Top Chef Canada, and he is the Executive Chef and co-owner of Victor Restaurant + Bar. I was familiar with a couple dishes he did that really stunned the judges, so I decided to check out Victor Restaurant instead (I did make it to Edulis, but that was later on in Follow Me Foodie to Toronto). I actually ended up trying Victor Restaurant + Bar twice. As a “foodie” I like to explore new restaurants all the time, but trying Victor Restaurant more than once gave me a better idea of chef’s culinary vision.
Based on two very different menus, it was obvious David has a creative spirit. His vision was quite artistic and adventurous and at times I would say risky. He has a passion for all ingredients and cuisines, which is probably due to his long time relationship with Toronto’s food scene and global travels. At times I think he’s so inspired by so many cultures and ingredients that it can come across as a bit ambitious, but I admire his culinary curiosity and desire to create something different.
Personally I enjoyed my second meal here more than the first, and it could have been because he was away from the kitchen the first night. Of course he had help from his team, but it’s different when a chef is cooking his own food. Every chef needs a break so I don’t expect him to be cooking all the time, but there was a difference, so I’m just not sure how consistent it would be. That being said they were welcoming a few new changes in the kitchen during my initial visit, so they could have been still ironing things out.
Restaurant: Victor Restauarnt + Bar
Cuisine: International/European/Modern American
Last Visited: January 25, 2013
Location: Toronto, ON (Entertainment District)
Address: 30 Mercer Street (Inside Hotel Le Germain)
Transit: King St West at Peter St
Phone: (416) 345-9500
Price Range: $30-50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Executive Chef David Chrystian
- International menu
- “Toronto Tasting Menu”
- Global ingredients
- Vegetarian options
- Wine list
- Cocktail/bar area
- Open daily from 5pm to 12am
**Recommendations: Pasta e Fagioli, Foie Gras Ice Cream Sandwich
My first visit here was my first meal in Toronto. Being a tourist in the city I had an idea of the culinary scene, but I didn’t really know it. Having said that I’m really glad I’m writing this post after exploring Toronto’s food scene, because otherwise I would have been a bit overwhelmed and confused by the menu. Since this restaurant is located in a hotel, I wouldn’t be surprised if other out of town diners would feel the same, but I take a greater appreciation for the set up of the menu now that I look back on it.
The menu was split into two categories (see here). The first part of the menu was the “Toronto Tasting” menu, and the second part was the usual “hotel menu” with familiar favourites and “meat and potatoes”. The set up of the menu really encourages the Toronto Tasting which I found a better value than the “hotel menu”. It was 1 course for $14, 3 courses for $40, and 5 courses for $64, and each plate is a small plate that can be shared by two.
The Toronto Tasting menu offered 8 very different small plates and each plate represented a neighbourhood of Toronto. To be honest, as a regular diner, I didn’t pay too much attention to the categories and the neighbourhoods didn’t mean much to me since I had not explored them yet. Therefore I read the food descriptions, ended up ordering the whole menu, and then got very confused with the somewhat random hodgepodge of food that came out. However, looking back at the menu and experiencing more of Toronto’s food scene, I get it.
I mentioned in Follow Me Foodie to Toronto that Toronto is a city composed of cultural and ethnic neighourhoods and that’s exactly what this menu tries to capture. It was an admirable way to introduce tourists to the ethnic neighbourhoods of Toronto, especially if they only have a limited time to explore, but I’m not sure it always translated well. I really appreciate the intentions of the menu and all that it embraced, but it was easy to fall into the danger zone of being constantly compared to the authentic dishes it was trying to imitate. Perhaps “imitate” isn’t the right word, as chef put his own style in each dish, but I just found it a bit ambitious and maybe because I was unfamiliar with the areas he was trying to show through the food.
If I disregard the intention of the menu and just look at the flavours of the plate, I could taste a keen interest on pickling and fermentation. Almost every single dish had a pickled component which I eventually found quite quirky, but fermentation is one of the Top 10 Food Trends of 2013, so I was not really surprised either. At times I found the dish a bit aggressive with the pickling though, but everything is pickled in house and they try not to waste which is commendable.
When it came time for desserts, I found them very enjoyable, but they presented themselves as American childhood favourites. As much as I like classic comfort food desserts, there was a disconnect with the savoury menu which was much more eclectic and culturally inspired.
Victor Restaurant + Bar was indeed an interesting and unique experience. Knowing little about the restaurant and Toronto’s food scene before visiting didn’t set me up for much of an expectation, but what I got was unexpected. Even though I was a bit hot and cold with some of the dishes, I can admire chef’s passion to showcase the diverse cultures that make up Toronto. Considering Toronto consists of over 200 distinct ethnic origins, it was hard to showcase that in a “Toronto Tasting” menu, but it was fun, creative, and definitely left me thinking. Chef David is an artist as much as he is a thinker and his personality showed in the menu.
On the table:
- They forgot to serve it when I had dinner here, but I got to try it the next day at lunch.
- It was a pretty standard and good baguette with a thin and crisp exterior and a moist chewy centre.
- I’m not sure if it is usually served warm because it was already on the table upon arrival.
- With dashi, wild mushroom, seaweed $15
- I ordered this from the regular “hotel menu” section, so it wasn’t quite your standard “hotel menu”.
- Being Asian and from Vancouver I was a bit nervous ordering this, but the diner next to me seemed to enjoy it so I was convinced.
- I’ve never even had a lobster dumpling like this at an Asian restaurant, so this was new for me although not far fetched.
- It was a step up from the expected shrimp and/or pork dumplings.
- The skins were firm and they almost came across as pasta skins more so than dumpling skins.
- The inside was filled with flaky crab, lobster and shrimp, but it wasn’t fully puréed so I could taste each one.
- I was hoping for an all lobster meat dumpling based on the menu description, so I was a bit thrown off with the other ingredients.
- The dashi broth was made from bonito flakes (smoked fish), wild mushrooms, seaweed and a bit of soy sauce.
- It was a very light dish with flavours of celery and watercress in the broth.
- I wouldn’t have minded more broth and I prefered it to the dumplings.
- It didn’t come across as “authentic” Japanese or Chinese, but it was okay.
- Crisp rice, lobster salad, raw fish, roe, avocado and wasabi-miso dressing $18
- I ordered this from the “hotel menu” section, so again not the standard “hotel menu”.
- The first time I had this was a few years ago at a Japanese restaurant in Vancouver.
- Chef Jean Georges made a nigiri version of it – see his Scallop Sushi which I enjoyed very much.
- Chef Chuck Hughes also made a Kimchi Snow Crab with Crispy Rice Cake version, which was fantastic.
- Apparently there are a few places doing “sushi pizza” in Toronto too, but this is the first time I’ve seen it presented this way.
- The sushi rice was in a rectangular log and fried until golden brown and crispy on the exterior.
- On top it was layered with slices of seared tuna and then two large pieces of lobster, which were slightly overcooked.
- There was quite a bit going on and I would have loved sahimi instead of cooked seafood, but again I’m spoiled by seafood on the West Coast.
- I think I would appreciate this more if I had never tried or seen it before, but it was generous with the seafood and fun to try.
KENSINGTON MARKET, AUGUSTA AND ST. ANDREW
- Re-fried black beans and pickled vegetables ($14 a la carte)
- As a tourist who knew little about Toronto, “Kensington Market, Augusta & St. Andrew” didn’t mean much to me. I even overlooked it.
- However I visited the area later on in the trip and fell in love with it.
- Kensington Market is full of hole in the wall, mom and pop type ethnic eateries, and it is a popular area for authentic Latin and Spanish cuisine.
- This dish was supposed to represent part of the neighbourhood. See Follow Me Foodie to Kensington Market.
- The empanada pastry was a bit thick and doughy around the edges, but the centre skin was thin.
- It was a vegetarian empanada so the inside was filled with charred onion and sweet potato puree.
- The sweet potato seemed more like yam though and it tasted like it too.
- The filling was sweet and smoky and there was something a bit spicy as well and I wasn’t sure which component that was coming from.
- It was topped with house pickled green beans, chanterelles and pomegranate seeds.
- The refried beans were made from scratch and I could taste some cumin in them, but they were a bit dry.
- Traditionally empanadas are eaten with chimchurri sauce, and I’ve never had them with pickled vegetables before.
- I didn’t find the empanadas rich enough to need pickles and the pickles ended up overshadowing the dish because they were very sour.
- There are many Latin snacks and dishes served with pickled coleslaw (curtido), but this variety of pickled vegetables seemed a bit mismatched.
- I could see where it was going, but I’m not sure I understood. It was a new interpretation for empanadas.
- Kensington Market has four empanada shops within a block, so it’s a great place to explore if you want to try more authentic versions.
OLD MILL, BLOOR AND OLD MILL
- House sauerkraut, mustard and caraway seed ($14 a la carte)
- As a tourist I was unfamiliar with the “Old Mill” neighbourhood, and it didn’t cross my mind this dish was supposed to represent it.
- Based on this dish I would have guessed it was a German or Eastern European neighbourhood.
- Old Mill was originally a First Nations area before it became a European area, but because of the name “Choucroute” (French name for sauerkraut) I thought there must be some French influence. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit it.
- The dish featured mustard in 3 ways: carrot mustard, triple crunch mustard and violet mustard.
- The carrot mustard was sweet and spicy with a kick of dijon.
- The triple crunch mustard featured a variety if pickled (?) mustard seeds, but it wasn’t spicy.
- The violet mustard was sweet like candy and it reminded me of the violet flavour from purple macarons. It was very thick and paste like and quite sour.
- The house sauerkraut was made with smashed capers and it had a good savoury flavour to it, but it was also quite pickled even for sauerkraut.
- The scallops were seared with a bit of thyme, but I always like a good crispy sear on both sides of the scallop.
- I would have liked this dish better if the scallops were traditional sausages just because I found the mustards and sauerkraut overpowering to the delicate and sweet scallops.
CORKTOWN, KING AND PARLIAMENT
- Tartar sauce and malt vinegar ($14 a la carte)
- Corktown meant nothing to me as a tourist, but now I know it is a neighbourhood known for its pubs, distillery and Irish heritage.
- I would have thought British or Portuguese based on this dish (the Portuguese introduced fried fish and the Brits discovered fish n’ chips).
- The presentation was very charming, but the execution a bit confusing.
- It was alternating layers of 1/4 inch slices of potatoes and white fish.
- So when I flaked the “fried fish” it flaked into chunks of tender waxy potatoes and semi cooked fish.
- I’m assuming the potatoes were precooked and then the fish cooked upon frying, but since each have a different cooking time, the result wasn’t quite ideal.
- I wasn’t sure if the fish was supposed to be sashimi or fully cooked, but it was medium cooked and warm.
- It was topped with tartar sauce and I really loved the crispy light fish n’ chip batter, but the rest was a bit lost in translation.
- Underneath the “fish n’ chips” was malt vinegar gel and in was a really interesting way to incorporate a traditional fish n’ chip condiment.
- The gel wasn’t dip-able (as expected) and it took on a similar texture as the fish and the potatoes, so I didn’t get much differentiation in texture.
- Even though the execution was a bit iffy, I admire the creativity and it was thinking outside the box.
CHINATOWN, DUNDAS AND SPADINA
- Crisp thigh, mushrooms, fried egg and bok choi ($14 a la carte)
- “Chinatown” doesn’t leave much to the imagination, so this one was a literal translation.
- Since I’m Asian I would have never ordered the fried rice, but surprisingly I liked it.
- I would have loved a more challenging Chinese dish since fried rice is a bit ordinary, but chef still put his own twist on it.
- The 5 spice chicken thigh was very moist, but the skin wasn’t quite crispy.
- The marinade didn’t absorb past the skin so only the outside had flavour, but it was well seasoned with 5 spice.
- The fried rice featured more ingredients than it did rice, which I appreciated.
- It featured an untraditional array of winter root vegetables like turnips, parsnips, and carrots.
- Other veggies included brussel sprouts, mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy and cipollini onions.
- There was also some fried egg whites and I could taste ginger and garlic in the rice.
- The rice was quite moist but not wet, and I didn’t really get “wok aroma”, but it was its own thing.
- Was it authentic? No. Was it good? Yes. Personally I would take good over authentic.
ST. LAWRENCE MARKET, FRONT AND JARVIS
- With cheddar and miso crumb (V) ($14 a la carte)
- It was a bit unusual to have this as one of the small plates since it was obviously a side vegetable dish, but I loved it.
- St. Lawrence Market is Toronto’s local farmer’s market so I’m assuming these vegetables were purchased there.
- Sometimes simplicity is best, and this showcased that well.
- The sunchokes were tender and a great alternative to potatoes and the broccoli was cooked perfectly.
- The miso panko crumb crust was a nice twist to a parmesan gratin crust, but it still tasted cheesy.
- I still think there was parmesan in the gratin topping and I could taste the miso paste which was great! Better than salt.
- I think the veggies were roasted or sauteed in butter and olive oil and it was a bit oily, but very good.
- I wouldn’t have minded more garlic, but overall I enjoyed this plate as simple as it was.
Pinot Noir, Hidden Bench Bistro Series, Beamsville Bench, Ontario 2011 ($14) – I don’t know much about Ontario wines, but Hidden Bench is one of their artisan wineries. This wine is quite exclusive because they don’t even offer it for their wine club.
LITTLE ITALY, COLLEGE AND CLINTON
- Fresh pasta, prosciutto, navy beans, seasonal vegetables and brodo ($14 a la carte)
- This was my favourite course and of course it represented “Little Italy”.
- Pasta e Fagioli or “pasta and beans” is a peasant dish made from inexpensive ingredients, but this one was glorified.
- Traditionally the pasta and beans are swimming in broth and almost like a stew, but this one was lighter with the brodo.
- The pasta was fresh and cooked al dente and coated in a beautifully rich brodo sauce.
- Authentically the pasta would be small pasta like macaroni, but I liked the thicker noodle.
- The brodo sauce/broth (beef stock) was intensely savoury, buttery, tomatoey, and fatty from the prosciutto and bacon like drippings.
- The navy beans were firm (traditionally cannellini beans) and cooked perfectly and the salty nutty semi-firm shavings of cheese tasted like Parmesan.
- There were some sautéed brussels sprouts, sweet onions and root vegetables like turnips in it too.
- A small plate was just enough because it was so rich in flavour.
LITTLE POLAND, RONCESVALLES (TOP CHEF episode 10)
- Beef, tomato, beetroot horseradish and apple gel ($14 a la carte)
- I missed Little Poland, so this was my only taste of it while I was in Toronto.
- With a menu like this at least I know the neighbourhood exists even if I ran out of time to visit it.
- I’m not sure how well the cabbage roll showcased in an upscale restaurant since the execution was quite homestyle.
- The presentation was also quite simple, so I was expecting a bit more of a modern twist.
- The cabbage roll stuffing was made with a mixture of ground beef or veal (?), rice and stewed tomatoes. It was a bit mushy but also expected.
- It was topped with a house made “Toronto spiced tomato sauce” which had some Indian and Mexican spices.
- The beet puree was pickled and I couldn’t taste the horseradish in it. It came off as cranberry sauce and I’m not sure if that was the intention.
- The beef tenderloin was very tender and good quality, but also a bit random.
- I lost the apple gel, but there was sour cream on the plate which made me crave pierogies.
- Cabbage rolls are usually served with tomato sauce or plain sour cream, so this gave both options.
GTA DESSERT PLATTER
- Maple pecan tart, cinnamon creme l’anglaise, pear raisin chutney.
- It was very good, but it was more like a maple pecan bar than a butter tart.
- It was ooey gooey with a thicker shortbread crust and I liked the whole toasted pecans in it.
- The whipped cream on top was on the bland side, and I always found it unusual to put on a pecan pie, but I like it on fruit pies.
- It is not the first time I’ve seen whipped cream on pecan pie, but I personally prefer it with ice cream or as is.
- Heirloom carrot sponge, carrot pineapple puree, mascarpone frosting
- It was a super moist carrot cake, but the presentation was a bit homestyle and I think I was expecting more from an upscale restaurant.
- There was a lot of shredded carrot and almost equal amount of pineapple. It was an excellent carrot cake.
- The vanilla bean mascarpone quenelle was a welcomed change from expected cream cheese frosting, so I liked it. It wasn’t too sweet either and very light and fluffy.
- Both components were very well executed and delicious, but it was a simple dessert especially after trying the savoury Toronto Tasting menu.
- Other creative carrot cakes I’ve had are the carrot cake at George’s on the Cove and THE Carrot Cake at Laurie Raphaël.
- Dark chocolate brownie, milk chocolate mousse, blood orange
- Again, like the carrot cake and pecan bar it was an excellent recipe for a well known dessert.
- I think there was more potential for it, but I still enjoyed it very much.
- It was fudgy, dense, rich and moist, but not molten or served hot.
- The top and edges were crispy and it was reminiscent of a Two Bite Brownie, but better.
- I could only do a few bites of this because it was so decadent.
- I would have loved an ice cream instead of a mousse because I like a hot and cold contrast with brownies.
- The blood orange was a nice play with chocolate and orange and usually I’m not keen on the flavour combination, but this one was done very well.
- This could have been inspired by Humphry Slocombe’s Foie Gras Ice Cream Sandwich, but Chef Chystian did win an episode of Top Chef with his duck liver ice cream.
- This wasn’t on the menu, but I asked if it was available and I was very lucky it was!
- The foie gras ice cream had some vanilla bean and it was very creamy and not hard and it seemed more like gelato.
- The foie flavour was very subtle in the ice cream and it could have passed for salted caramel. The ice cream was surprisingly not that rich.
- The oatmeal raisin cookies were a bit too thick and hard so the ice cream oozed out the middle as I ate it, but it was still good.
- The cookies were a bit like crunchy nutty granola bars and then the crispy candied Indian fennel and pop rocks added texture, colour and life to the dessert.
- I could hear the pop rocks in my ears and it just enhanced the whole experience and made it that much more memorable.
- It had various textures and layers of salty sweet flavour and I loved it, but I also love ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, and creative flavour combinations.
- There was also some plum syrup and cloudberry preserves to give it some tartness.
- The foie was very mild, so the acid in the condiments didn’t cut anything, but they were good components to the dessert overall.