Colborne Lane (Toronto) – The Atrocity Exhibition
The plan was to drop down in Toronto, grab a nice dinner, and race off to the F1 Grand Prix in Montreal the next morning. I touched down and raced off but the Canadian culinary powers-that-be, with their perverse sense of humor, must have known I was coming. My suggestion was Splendido, a very good meal last time, but they were closed for a private event. My Quince-and-F1-loving friend said “Colborne Lane – it can be hit or miss but it should be fine enough…”
“It can be hit or miss…” Words that might echo forever.
The plates were small so the initial reaction was to order one of everything. Cooler heads prevailed and we ordered 3/4 of the menu – different dishes for everyone. I had kept a copy of the menu but it got lost somewhere in the Toronto -> Montreal -> Toronto -> San Francisco journey. Instead, you can navigate their site for examples of the dish names; some examples include:
- Raw tuni + crispy nori + wasabi + cucumber + avocado + azumi sea weed + lake trout roe + ginger + yuzu + soy sauce ice + ginger
- Crispy Wokked squid + caramelized peanut + asian pear + green peppercorn + spiced mango pod + pomella + Chinese sausage
- Peking duck + confit chicken wing + liquorice & burnt honey sauce + butternut squash flan + cape goose berry
- and the list of ingredients goes on and on and on
In retrospect, their web site, http://www.colbornelane.com/, is a great introduction to the cuisine. Why? It’s a complete and utter mess. There is no design nor organization – there’s only hideous, unnecessary, and complicated design and navigation elements running through it – something that completely embodies the food. Not even the Stone Roses background music can save that thing.
The chef has been celebrated as a “kitchen chemist.” There’s some slight redundance in that phrase but obviously the point is that he practices “molecular gastronomy” in some form or fashion. I have nothing against this style and I have had some exciting meals in this general vein – Keyah Grande, WD-50, Alinea, El Bulli, Fat Duck, and Can Roca. I have also had some unmitigated disasters, meals so bad I wouldn’t wish them on anyone – Moto and Cordeillan Bages.
A prawn ceviche was first. It was a daring pick considering it contained upwards of 5-6 competing ingredients. The prawn were of decent quality but there was no competition on this day – the spice element obliterated everything. It was Unicron, or Galactus, devouring everything in its path, destroying taste buds by the second. There was no regard for balance and less concern for taste. Dine, Then Dish thought their lobster ceviche was too mellow! No one of any nationality could have thought the same of our ceviche. Was the second string working that night? Either Colborne Lane destroyed their taste buds or the kitchen performs at an alarming inconsistency.
We had looks of confusion, worry, and possibly terror. Plans were being drawn up, other restaurants were suggested, and we agreed to a pact – if the next series of dishes resembled anything of the first, dinner at Colborne Lane would be brief and short. Nonetheless, I thought the worry was probably exaggerated considering the statistical impossibility of incompetence striking twice at this magnitude. (Another warning: I took a fair amount of math in college but I somehow skipped Statistics.)
A tuna tartar arrived next – with this crowd, the kiss of death. The plating was sloppy – Tom Aikens can be controversial in the plating department but there’s usually a visual flow. Limp wasabi foam (like a cappuccino that’s sat around a bit too long) was thrown on one side while a mound of soy ice stretched across the other side. There was roe, nori, avocado, cucumber, and much more thrown into the center. It was a DIY dish – the presentation of the ingredients offered no guidance as to their desired concentration on the palette. The raw tuna was of inferior quality – that was that.
“Check please.” To their credit, they didn’t charge us for the food – why kick a man when he’s down? And I will return the favor by not discussing the other 3 dishes we were subjected to.
Looking at the menu, I don’t understand how the food can be consistently delicious. Every dish has at least 5 ingredients displayed on the menu; no doubt, countless more are included. What are the taste buds to do when they are being pulled in every direction? Your mouth would need to be a master of Multi-variable Calculus to get a grip on what’s happening.
Stay Away. From Canada. Others argue the food is “sublime” but, then again, it is Chowhound. BigBunny likes it more than Splendido and Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar – I’d have to strongly disagree. Eating in Toronto thought it warranted 4/5 stars – I would struggle to give it one; fortunately, they do give Sushi Kaji 5/5. If you decide to go, start in the shallow waters, order a few dishes, and only continue ordering once you’ve had a chance to sample.
Official Site: http://www.colbornelane.com/