[REVIEW] Bero Toronto Restaurant Review
Short weeks are awesome because they’re- well- short. But that doesn’t mean I’m not itching for Friday night to roll around. This week, specifically, I was pretty excited about the weekend ahead and it was all getting started at Bero, the month-old Leslieville restaurant head by Executive chef Matt Kantor (Little Kitchen, Secret Pickle Supper Club). Matt teamed up with the Andrew Bridgman and Giulio Marconi, the co-owners of the former restaurant to occupy the space (The Commissary) to develop a new and unique offering in Toronto’s sparse fine-dining restaurant scene.
While I had never even been inside the Commissary, I have heard the space received quite the face-lift. The 28-seat dining room now features white linen tables, beige cushion chairs and neutral brick walls. The music is ambient and relaxing, and there is ample room each table and in the plushy chairs. It’s definitely a comfortable space- a far cry from the typical west-end hipster joints that are jam-packed every single night. And actually, it’s not the first recent restaurant opening to resist the trend towards no reservation – one hour turnover – cheap cocktails - tapas style dining. The semi-new Woods Restaurant is a good example. And while I would be lying if I said I don’t love bite-sized tacos, cheeky bourbon based drinks, or “global” takes on comfort foods, I often find myself wishing we had more elegant dining establishments in the city. Places I would be proud to tell out of town guests to try for that “special occasion” dinner. Places that keep me from travelling to New York, Chicago, or California for a “special occasion” of my own. I am happy to say that like the aforementioned Woods, Bero provides just that.
Service at Bero, as expected at a more sophisticated restaurant, is mature, and professional. It doesn’t at all feel snobby or impersonal, but yet, there is a definite level of class. Our water glasses were consistently refilled, our cutlery and plates were appropriately replenished, and the whole meal moved at a very comfortable pace- 6 courses in about 2 hours. My only minor quibble was that there were a few courses for which our wine pairings arrived after the food was set down- minor considering the restaurant is still a month in. What I did love was that Chef Kantor took the time to make his rounds to each and every table, sometimes multiple times throughout the night- a testimony to his genuine interest in his paying guests.
Kantor’s menu options at Bero are relatively simple- four courses for $52 or a full 7 course tasting menu for $84 and a choice to add beverage pairings for an extra $32 or $54, respectively. For those unwilling to commit themselves to a lofty flight, there are glasses ($9-17) and bottles ($37-130) of local and international wine (mainly Spanish, Italian, and France), beers in bottle and tap ($5.95-10.95), and a list of classic cocktails like Negronis, Old Fashions, Martinis and the French 75 ($12).
Food items showcase the farmers market’s best with a vast variety of proteins and produce represented in the “ingredient list” style description. The website suggests that Bero is “influenced by Basque and Spanish culinary” but that they do not limit themselves to only one style or cuisine. Essentially, Matt told me that they had started the Bero concept thinking Spanish was their approach, but in the process simply aimed to do excellent food- Spanish or otherwise. And while I think Spanish food is my favourite cuisine right now, with a handful of already excellent authentic Spanish restaurants in the city, a little diversity and culinary creativity is certainly welcome. Wanting to experience that creativity as much as I could (ie. try different dishes than my dining companion), I asked a wee-favour of the chef. Could each of us get wine pairings along with the 4 course menu each, and then add a foie gras and cheese course each (meaning 6 courses for each of us?) – yes, yes we can. Unfortunately, I meant to ask our server for the list of wine pairings so I can’t speak in detail to what those were (and after 6 glasses, I kind of forget). However, I will note that both myself and partner (a bit of a wine snob) were quite impressed with the pairings. There wasn’t a single wine we didn’t like, and feel didn’t match well with the food. And speaking of food, here’s what we tasted.
Heirloom Tomato: Watermelon, Kumquat, Blue Cheese Foam, Tomato Marshmallow
A really well balanced few bites. The watermelon was crunchy and sweet, balanced out by the bright tomatoes, the acidic kumquat, the briny capers and the pungent yet creamy blue cheese foam. The highlight for me, however, was definitely the cushiony tomato marshmallow, which had a light ethereal consistency to balance the more assertive textures on the plate. A lovely summer dish.
Peach Gazpacho: Caramelized Onion Beignet, Pistachio and Fennel Tuile
It’s hard to pick a favourite dish of the day, but this one was right up there. We were instructed to break the delicate tuile into the cold soup, acting as a flavour-packed crouton and delivering the much-desired crunch factor. The gazpacho itself was sweet, tangy and literally made my taste-buds tingle. Oh man- and that beignet.. damn. Imagine a buttery doughnut filled with sweet caramelized onions. I really could not think of a more welcoming bite.
Bone Marrow Gnocchi, Garlic Roasted Snails, Celery Root Puree, Parsley and Fried Garlic Chips
With the extra lusciousness from the marrow, these gnocchi were surprisingly even more angelic than your standard pasta. They were light, super moist, and literally dissolved on my tongue into a pool of flavour and not gummy flour. I also enjoyed the mild sweetness of the celery root puree, played up by the roasted snails and golden brown garlic chip garnish. It doesn’t surprise me that Matt said this is a very popular course.
Octopus with Chorizo Chips and Sea Bean with Potato Whip
Another favourite dish- the octopus was flawlessly cooked- I mean, I have NEVER tasted octopus so tender and moist- even Alinea’s suffered from an unpleasant chew. The impressively thin and crispy chorizo brought a desired element of salty heat and the potato whip was a creamy, luxurious dream. Solid.
Seared Foie Gras with Puffed Quinoa, Apple & Celery Sorbet, and Sherry Gastrique
You can’t screw up foie gras- that’s been my experience anyways, and Bero was no exception. The foie gras was beautifully cooked and paired nicely with the sweet gastrique, and I appreciated the refreshing flavour of the sorbet. It was a little sweet, a little acidic, and somewhat vegetal as well- but the flavour was just pronounced enough to let the foie gras shine and to simply cut it’s richness. I also really liked the satisfyingly crunchy texture of the quinoa, which added an appreciated textural contrast with the sorbet.
Lamb Saddle with Avocado Puree, Wattle Seed Dust, Apricot, Zucchini and Purple Potato
Another flawless preparation- the lamb was so tender and juicy, I barely needed a knife. And while lamb and avocado somewhat seemed like an odd pairing, it actually worked surprisingly well. Very simple, but because it was so well executed, I couldn’t help but wish we had more.
Duck Breast with Duck Confit Leek-Wrapped Cannelloni with Corn Pudding and Freeze-Dried Corn, and Black Garlic Sauce
Okay so we’re back at the favourite dish game again- this one was a no brainer for me because I’m obsessed with corn and duck is my all-time favourite protein. The breast was tender with a beautifully rendered skin, while the moist leg meat and delicate leek wrapper just melted on my tongue. The star, however, was the dreamy corn pudding with those crunchy little bits of freeze dried corn. The custard was creamy, yet light, with it's sweetness balanced out nicely by the salty pungent black garlic sauce. Yum.
Grey Owl Cheese with Golden Raisins, Rye Berry and Balsam Fir Jelly
A tangy ash-crusted goats cheese, this cheese course was far more savoury than most I’ve had. The rye berry had a wholesome chewy texture that was pleasant against the semi-soft cheese, and I liked the hearty crostini underneath. I do however, think that I may have appreciated a little more representation from the sweet side of things to balance everything out because the rye was inescapably savoury, and the cheese was fairly strong. Maybe just a little more jelly or a few more raisins so that every bite balanced out.
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Halva, Eggplant Frozen Yogurt, and Orange
I don’t even like chocolate but we fought over each bite. The frozen yogurt had an unmistakable vegetal note, but in a surprisingly pleasing way. It wasn’t bitter (as eggplant often is), and paired nicely with the Mediterranean flavours of sesame (halva) and orange.
Strawberries with Strawberry Meringue, White Chocolate Ganache, Milk Sorbet, and Beer Black Malt Soil
This dessert reminded me a bit of something fabulous I had tasted at Catit in Tel Aviv- the contrasts in textures and colours on the plate was absolutely divine. The strawberries were floral and bright, the ganache was sticky and sweet like dulce de leche, the soil had a mild bitterness and a wicked crunch, and the milk sorbet mellowed everything out- much the same way a cold refreshing glass of milk makes everything go down smoothly. A stunning way to finish a meal.
So for 12 courses each plus wine pairings and an additional cappuccino and coffee cocktail, the bill came to about $360 including tax and tip. Yah, sure more than I normally pay here in the city but as I mentioned in paragraph two- this is not La Carnita, or Big Cow, or Rock Lobster, or Electric Mud. Bero is aiming to appeal to the sensibilities of a whole other demographic and I’m happy to say that I can appreciate both. The food is artfully prepared and presented, the service is professional yet kind, and the value-for-quality is in my opinion, spot on. Maybe a little small on the portions (a hungry man would likely leave hungry), but I still felt the money was well spent. Seriously, take a quick peak at the menus of some of the basic restaurants in France (not talking about Michelin stars even), and it will make this look dirt cheap. I’ve been looking at a lot of dessert menus with items for 21 euros! So, really, based on what I have seen/eaten/paid, I see pretty good value here. It’s also really nice to head East for once, and I commend Bero for contributing to the blossoming food scene in Leslieville. So thanks Bero for an excellent dinner and a new excuse to not travel in expensive cabs out west so much. It may sound strange, but you’re probably going to save me a lot of money. So while I mentioned that Bero would qualify as an ideal “special occasion” spot, I don’t think I will want to wait- I guess it’s time to start celebrating the mundane “days in between” and Bero would be a good place to start.