30 Mercer St. (Hotel Le Germain), Toronto, ON M5V 1H3
Phone: (416) 599-5823
Fax: (416) 599-6571
Luce is run by Rubino brothers, who also own the restaurant "Rain". If you are familiar with the TV series "Made to Order" on the Food Network Canada, you probably know that the filming is done in either "Rain" or "Luce".
We were stuck with ordering the tasting menu for both. The reason is that they want to make sure they can serve every dish at the same time for each table. This makes sense (there are roughly 6 courses in the tasting menu) but I wasn't quite impressed. At Susur, a couple who choose to have the tasting menus will be served with two completely different sets. Maybe I am asking too much.
There was some lost in translation. After I ordered the cocktail "Luce" and J only asked for sparkling water, our server ASSUMED that we didn't want to have our (ok, MY) courses pairing with wine. I was slightly disappointed. There was one episode of "Made to Order". In that episode, Michael convinced Guy to prepare the special menu for an Italian winemaker, so he would be convinced that food prepared in the "then oncoming" restaurant would be good enough for his wine. *shrug* Oh well, there is always Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The cocktail "Luce" contains Limoncello (lemon liqueur), prosecco (Italian sparkling wine?), vodka and lemon juice. There might be more ingredients but those are all I remember. The drink was simply served in a martini glass with some tiny ice bits floating. Sophisticated flavor. Chilled properly.
The meal started with parsnip pumpkin amuse-bouche with squash chip. To describe it in plain English, there were two scoops of ice cream (one parsnip, the other pumpkin) garnished with squash chip. Then we had bread with sun-dried tomato roasted garlic spread and olive oil. The olive oil has such refreshing, almost "grassy" scent that we barely touched the spread.
The first course was served soon after we got the bread and its spread/dip. Charred eggplant and artichoke soup pan seared prawn with citrus. The prawn was cooked just right. The citrus flavor was strong but not overpowering. I am not sure why those two items are on the same plate since they don't quite complement each other (not really much of a contrast either).
The second course had three items: fennel panna cotta candied fennel, purple kale stuffed white bean and rosemary and date stuffed 3-cheese atop apple clove sauce. Fennel and panna cotta is an interesting combination. The purple kale item was pretty but it was overpowered by the other two items.
Before this review turns into a 40-page, double spacing essay, I will quickly list all the items I remember:
(3rd course) Porcini mushroom with fennel truffle and olive sauce pairs with buffalo goat cheese pasta with chili oil.
(4th course) (Pan seared?) Pancetta, salt cod, pork cod mash on yellow corn sauce. Pork belly lobster tomato sauce on the other end.
(5th course) Three items: Guinea fowl leg, foie gras crostini, polenta topped with heirloom tomato
(6th course) Roasted fig with spaghetti squash with three pieces of thinly-sliced cheese on the other end of the dish (sorry I didn't catch the name of the cheese)
(dessert) Two items: Fig cognac tartufo, Fuji apple confit butterscotch streusel
The item which really "wow" us is the cod dish. The cod was tender and juicy, the pork cod mash was rich and creamy (we tried not to think about how much pancetta dripping was in the creamy mixture). The fig cognac tartufo consisted of cognac ice cream with one fig in it. I always thought tartufo should be some Italian dessert with one flavor of ice cream hidden in another flavor of ice cream. The apple sauce in the dessert dish had unbelievably intense green apple flavor that it almost tasted artificial.
In general, the dishes are very earthy yet polished. They purposely choose Italian ingredients which you don't normally see in a...well, typical Italian restaurant in North American. Examples are Porcini mushroom, panchetta, polenta.
P.S. According to Wikipedia, Polenta is "a cornmeal mush... traditional staple food throughout much of northern Italy."
By the way, I have never had a meal which contained so many ingredients I dislike ...pumpkin, goat cheese, fennel, fig, date...J was teasing me throughout the whole meal on this. Yet, I finished every course. They deserve some bonus points on this. The last time I finished something I really DISLIKE in a restaurant was at Susar - his gourmet version of hot and sour soup.
Although it is smaller than it seems on TV, Luce's interior echos with Hotel Le Germain. The warm wood tones and the refine design makes the space very peaceful and intimate. (Be aware of their washroom though; there is only one unisex washroom for the whole restaurant, making me wonder if this actually violates any building/restaurant health and safety code.) The service is a bit distant but still polite and prompt. The food is good - fresh ingredients and proper preparation. The plating was nothing like "home-made comfy food", but I can feel that they deliberately scale back the showy presentation. (I am sure it would have been easy to throw in some chives or eggplant chip to add some drama.) Although every item was bite-sized, I was so full after the meal. The dishes were almost "zen-like", earthy and low profile. Maybe that is part of the reason that we didn't "miss" any of the dishes after the meal.
Will I recommend this restaurant? It is like Minimalist interior design. A piece of high quality minimalist furniture will cost much more than some fancy ornate pieces. It really depends on whether or not you appreciate that specific style and how much you are willing to pay for their seemly-down-to-earth cuisine.
P.P.S. While we were there, we saw Michael Rubino show up couple of times. He looked just the same as on TV.
Saturday, November 19, 2005