[REVIEW] Actinolite Toronto Restaurant Review
It's quite remarkable, really. I feel like even though I dine out about twice a week, my restaurant wish-list only gets longer. Am I ever going to catch up? While I am definitely someone who LOVES to scratch things off my to-do list and see it get smaller, I think this is a list I would never want to see empty. An empty restaurant wish list is a sign it's time to move, and I'm embarking on a PhD, so lord knows I'm in for a long haul here in the city. At this point, however, the list remains long, and right at the top was a new-ish west-end spot called Actinolite. Owned by a super-foodie duo, Actinolite hasn't been talked about much on Chowhound, but I had a good feeling about it and wanted to try. The chef, Justin Cournoyer used to work at one of my all-time favourite [RIP] Toronto establishments, Susur, while his co-owner wife is a producer for Food Network Canada and food stylist. Sounded promising to me.
On a rainy Friday night, we told our cab driver to take us to Ossington between Bloor and Dupont, to which he replied "Oh, I know where you're going". I smiled but thought, "Ha, no, you don't.. I never even told you the name". But lo and behold, he pulled up right in front and told us that it was the third drop off in the past week he had made to that spot. It's also the only restaurant on the strip, so I guess it was a reasonable assumption on his part.
The restaurant is the main floor of the house the owners live in (upstairs) with two large open windows that allow light (or moonlight) to shine through. Even though it's a small spot (maybe 30 seats?), it feels large and spacious because of the natural light. The decor is very rustic and cozy. Even before I knew the chef lived upstairs, I felt like I was in someone's home. The ceiling, table and bar are built from wood made at his family's mill in the small Ontario community he grew up in. The significance of which becomes more obvious when you see the road plans for "Actinolite" (yep, that's the name of the chef's home town) hanging on the wall as art.
Service was relaxed, friendly and welcoming. We were greeted immediately at the door with smiles and comfortable conversation. It felt like we had "let ourselves in" to a neighbours home for a home-made summer meal.
The cocktail list is short and sounded pretty strong, so he went with a Pizzo (amaro averna, lemon juice, ginger ale), and being a booze-wuss, I went with an (off the menu) Caesar. Surprisingly, the pizzo was incredibly easy drinking, but I was still happy with my drink after the chef's wife commended my choice (it's her favourite drink, too!)
As with drinks, the food menu cuts straight to the point and with that, maintains its integrity: 5 apps, 5 mains, 3 salads and 2 desserts.
Roasted Tomato Soup with clams, celery, tarragon and creme fraiche
A delicious rich tomato flavour, it's inherent sweetness juxtaposed against the tangy creme fraiche and the aromatic licorice flavour of tarragon. The two little clams made for a beautiful presentation and a delicious early summer dish.
Apple Cider Glazed Pork Shoulder with roasted rhubarb, hazelnuts, tarragon sour cream
Absolutely delicious. A generous slab of tender pork with a sticky and sweet glaze, surrounded by deliciously caramelized beets that was contrasted perfectly with the bright tangy flavour of seasonal rhubarb. I loved the crunch and fragrant depth of the hazelnut garnish, and the herbacious sour cream sauce and dill really helped to tame all of those bright fruity flavours. Definitely the best dish of the night.
Red Wine Braised Chicken Leg with beets, mushrooms, radicchio, pumpkin seeds, scallions watercress sauce
Of the mains, this was certainly the winner. The leg was impossibly moist and tender with a caramelized skin. I like that the sweetness of the beets and red-wine characters of the chicken were balanced by the mild bitterness of the radicchio, scallions and the smooth watercress sauce. This dish is further proof that Chef Cournoyer definitely knows how to balance flavours and textures.
Ricotta Mushroom Ravioli with smoked ham, walnuts, peas, lemon and chives
While the ravioli itself was cooked perfectly, and the filling was creamy and well seasoned, I wasn't thrilled by this dish. I found the peas a little bit TOO al dente for my taste (they were just a bit too hard in contrast to the pillowy pasta), and I didn't get as much smoky or salty flavour from the ham as I had hoped. Regardless, it was an enjoyable dish, just not as good as the chicken.
Flourless Chocolate Almond Torta with chocolate ice cream and amaretto creme anglaise
As you all know, I'm not a chocolate fan, but the only other option for dessert was panna cotta which I usually dislike, so I thought I'd give the dark stuff a chance. Aside from being a little rich for me (I have never really understood why one would serve chocolate ice cream on chocolate cake), I wasn't crazy about the texture, which I found a little gritty for me. But I know this is my preference as flourless desserts are always more dense by their nature. As an unbiased comment, I will say that I loved the amaretto creme anglaise, but wish that it was served in much greater quantity so as to cut some of the bitterness on the palate.
So, for 2 bottles of sparkling, 2 cocktails, 1 glass of wine, two cappuccinos (which were some of the best we've had in the city in a long while), 2 apps, 2 mains and 1 dessert, the bill came to ~150 including tax and tip- incredible if you ask me for the quality of food we received. I will definitely be following Chef Cournoyer, and Actinolite as the menu changes through the seasons, and I look forward to another delicious meal.