This week, Toronto’s Group of 7 Chefs hosted a 5 ways Dinner. Five chefs would each be preparing a different menu, and which one each diner got was a surprise. From the event description –
Each chef will prepare a distinctively different, but equally inviting menu. Attendees could end up with a nose to tail meal from Scott Vivian (Beast Restaurant), a Matty Matheson hunter’s feast (Parts & Labour), an Italian culinary journey by Chris Brown (Citizen Catering), a French gastronomic adventure with Bertrand Alépée (The Tempered Chef) or modern Asian cuisine by Nick Liu (Gwailo).
I was very excited, as any one of these meals sounded great. I can’t say I was hoping for a particular one, though for the sake of my less culinarily adventurous boyfriend I thought Italian or Asian would be good.
The event was held at Parts & Labour. I’m not a huge fan of its communal seating, but it all worked out well. We sat down at the table closest to the kitchen. The chopsticks included in the place settings sort of gave away what meal we would get.
Since this was an event, and not an actual P&L dinner, the drink menu was limited. There was a Pinot Noir, a Riesling (both of which I enjoyed) and two hipster beers. We had time to enjoy our drinks before all 5 chefs came out to talk about the meals they would be serving. Our chef was Nick Liu, who would be preparing 4 courses of modern Asian cuisine. Nick is the chef of GwaiLo, which as far as I can tell doesn’t have an actual location (yet) and has instead been doing pop-up dinners at other venues like this one. The restaurant was very loud, so I couldn’t hear much of what chef Liu had to say, but I was eager to get started with the meal.
The first course was a Bird’s Nest Salad. At first it looked like a noodle dish, but it was actually bean sprouts. The dish also had peanuts, chilies, and fresh herbs. I really liked the tempura ‘nest’ that topped the bowl, and not just for the aesthetics. It gave some nice richness and salt to the otherwise extremely fresh and clean tasting dish. The only thing I did not like was the inclusion of cilantro, but that’s no one’s fault. I just picked out what I could, and still really enjoyed this. A great start to the meal.
The next course was a stunning, whole crispy rainbow trout. What an amazing presentation. The fish was tasty and perfectly cooked – the flesh was tender and the skin was nice and crisp. It was served with three different sauces – chili lime, curry mayo and soy glaze. I particularly enjoyed the rich curry mayo and the zippy chili lime. Dishes like this make me appreciate fish in a whole new way.
The third course was a Korean barbecued short rib with shrimp grits. It had a fried egg yolk on top, which we got to cut open and let flow over the ribs. Mushrooms and cubes of Asian pear gave extra accents to flavour and texture. The ribs were delicious and fork-tender. And the grits. Oh my god. I love grits, and these were just spectacular. Butter must have been the primary ingredient, they were so smooth and creamy. Combined with the beef, pear and mushrooms, they made a perfect bite. Though they also made a perfect bite completely on their own.
It’s hard to decide which dish was my favourite. I thought the rainbow trout would be hard to top, but this was just lovely.
For dessert we got an Asian banana split – caramelized Thai baby bananas, sesame ice cream, salted chocolate sauce and an egg roll cookie. I’m surprised to be saying this since I’m not a huge fan of things that are too sweet, but I thought this needed more sugar. The ice cream and cookie were both quite savory, and the bananas had a mild flavour. I thought the dish was decent, but could have used some extra sweetness in one of the components to balance things out.
Overall, I really enjoyed the meal. The fish and meat courses were amazing. I’d definitely visit GwaiLo when it opens, or attend another pop-up event with Nick Liu.