Splendido (Toronto) – Almost There

Splendido is one of a handful of high-end fancy restaurants in Toronto, despite its name – Splendido Bar & Grill. My friend had some top-notch langostines & lamb on his previous few visits so he asked them to give us a shellfish-centric menu w/ some lamb at the end.

It was the best meal of the trip (Sushi Kaji a close 2nd, Eigensinn 3rd but probably b/c expectations were too high and they missed.) Splendido’s food can have too much going on at times, and the chef definitely likes his powerful flavors, but the ingredient quality is very good to great and when it’s on – it’s up there.

1. Trio of Scallops
a. Seared w/ Tuna Bacon & Maple Syrup -> The flavors went well together but the syrup was a touch too sweet and masked the (likely) natural sweetness of the scallop. Good.
b. Raw w/ Tamari Jelly -> Bright, clean flavors, unsure of origin of tamari. Excellent.
c. Raw w/ Tapanade -> Muddy, couldn’t taste the scallop. Ok.

2. Line-Caught Boston Skate w/ Seared Scallop & Quail Egg
The skate was cooked well but it was the wonderful taste that had me smiling. I’ve not a fan of skate b/c of its texture, but you could almost taste the ocean in this – wow. Unfortunately, the very powerful arugula/tomato/vinegar dressing was too acidic and obliterated the fish when ate together. Scrape away. Scallop was good but it was served on an olive paste that, like the dressing, overpowered the scallop. Excellent dish if it was just the very fresh piece of dish. As is – Good.

3. Seared Icelandic Langostine w/ Crab Sausage w/ Steamed Oyster
The man loves his trios – each served separately in a tarrgaon/champagne sauce. Langostine was cooked perfectly and the tarragone-y sauce went well w/ it. It wasn’t as sweet as the best of them but an excellent example nonetheless. The crab sausage was just plain gross – and it was rather large. It was very watery inside the casing, horrible texture – imagine a watery crab cake w/o the searing. Excellent dish w/ just the langostine. As is – Good.

4. Nova Scotia Lobster w/ Octopus in Thyme Butter, Lobster Broth in Bed of Tagliarini
A very well done dish w/ nice ingredients. Everything cooked very well (though not as perfect as the langostine); the pasta was perhaps a touch overcooked but that’s splitting hairs. Nice dish that only failed to excite – I guess the number of ingredients made it difficult to focus on one exemplary ingredient – add through subtraction. Good.

5. Hamachi Collar on the Habachi
Sometimes, it pays to know the chef – this was the dish that got the dining room looking. A quite large collar served tableside on the habachi w/ a faint coat of miso-like dressing that left a wonderful smell. Very fatty w/ a subtle smoked flavor and a touch of sea. Some parts were a bit mushy, some perfectly firm; and others a touch overcooked; all perfectly acceptable considering the cooking method. Very Good.

6. Squab Confit, Sous-Vide Breast, & Pork Belly
The confit was cooked in duck fat and it was finger-linking good. The breast was a touch under med rare (i’d prefer a little rawer) but it had a great gamey taste. Pork belly was tasty but nowhere near the one we had @ Eigensinn a few days earlier. Very Good.

7. Lime Sorbet w/ Champagne Froth
Tart, just enough sweetness to carry the acid. Very Good.

8. Milk-fed Rack of Lamb w/ Braised Lamb Shoulder
The rack was extremely tender – never seen lamb so pink and tender. It tasted fine but fell short of my memories of Pauillac lamb at Lameloise (am I a tough customer?) I’m not the biggest fan of braised meats and this one didn’t impress either. Good.

9. Some Desserts

Overall, most likely a must-go if you’ve got 2-3 days in Toronto. Pristine ingredients that could be even better if the chef exercised a touch more restraint. In fact, it was reminiscent of some of my Manresa meals except the restraint Kinch shows improves the dishes. A lot of chefs are very interested in seafood right now and a rare few have the magical touch (Gagnaire, Kinch, Ripert, & Jean-Georges) where they can add stuff that amplifies the raw ingredient. More chefs fall into the same camp was Mr Splendido where they get high-quality ingredients but fail to lift the ingredient higher (recent memories include Redd and Cyrus here in the Bay Area.)

When I return to Toronto, I would do Eigensinn and Splendido for sure, and Sushi Kaji if i have the time. Perigee could impress and the room was stunning so that seems like an acceptable substitute if you can’t make the 2-hour trek to Eigensinn.

- chuck

  • jay scaife

    2 hours north of toronto in the muskoka region is a resort called Taboo. They have a Culinary Theatre that serves tasting menus only. It is worth a look. The patrons of the Theatre are from allover the world and compare it to alinea,el buli, susur, perigee etc… even though the chef does not believe in “molecular gastronomy”……

  • Tom Gandey

    If anyone is directly comparing Taboo’s “fine dining” room to El Bulli, I don’t want to hear their opinion because they have their head up their ass. First off, you can’t even compare El Bulli/Alinea to Susur/Perigee… The first two have complicated preps, the latter two have highly confused dishes.

  • Tom Gandey

    If anyone is directly comparing Elements to El Bulli, I don’t want to hear their opinion because they have their head up their ass. First off, you can’t even compare El Bulli/Alinea to Susur/Perigee… The first two have complicated preps, the latter two have highly confused dishes.

    Stop being such a fucking shill, you are a chef at Taboo. Any credibility you may have had is gone by not telling readers you work there.

  • jay scaife

    hey Tom,

    I find your comments offensive and inaccurate. First off “elements” is a separate restaurant.”the theatre” is what generates the comments.
    secondly, how can anyone have their head up there ass, if they are stating a preference after having experienced the two?just because it differs from yours or is al ittle “left of centre” is no reason for you slam them. i only repeated what my staff and i hear on a nightly basis. the patrons make comments like that. now having been to all of the restaurants listed with the exception of el buli, i know it to be a compliment but i do not let it go to my head nor do i try and ride it into any dillusion of grandeur. I sumply cook good food in front of guests and they are fascinated to watch the preparation.

    after reading the post, i thought it would be a quiet way to inform any readers of another option. no harm no foul.
    thirdly, i left my real name in the post so anyone who knows how to use the web, would know that i am the chef there. Clearly you think very poorly of the rest of everyones preferences and opinions.next time just read the post for what it is and stop reacting to things you can not change.
    also…..have you ever been to the culinary theatre?

  • Tom Gandey


    If you said you were the chef @ Taboo before matter-of-factly stating that you are in the league of El Bulli or Alinea, where you have probably never eaten or staged. Sometimes customers are clueless, other times they are just trying to be polite. Anyone that mentions Perigee or Susur in the same breath as El Bulli or Alinea really isn’t worth listening to… and yes, I have been to all 4.

    No, I have never even been to Taboo… If I want to golf, I’ll go with a friend to Magna up the street and cook at home afterwards.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sifu_renka/ Renée

    I find that one can never fail at Splendido. It may not be the best restaurant in North America, but it certainly is a strong player on the Toronto front. I’ve enjoyed each meal here (and I wouldn’t compare it to Alinea, Susur or Perigee – lol, have yet to dine at El Bulli) but it was attributable to the ambiance and ocassion. Food wise, Chef Lee does have access to wonderful ingredient. I like the fact that Chef Lee isn’t afraid to showcase his ability to create a good homage to Canada. And Canadian cuisine it is! With star players from our national “backyard” and a mix of flavour combinations inspired by this country’s multicultural pride, it’s no wonder that the simplicity of the food itself gets lost in sauces and fancy preparations. I am, however, jealous of you habachi experience! Hamachi collar?? How does one get to know the chef too (if for the hamachi alone!)?