|Location||199 Augusta Avenue|
When Patrick Kriss, the mastermind of Alo, is perched at the bar of Grey Gardens on a summery Wednesday, sipping on a cocktail and sampling the food, it’s a good indication of its rising status in the Toronto restaurant scene.
Jen Agg’s (Black Hoof, Rhum Corner) new Kensington hotspot, Grey Gardens, has unsurprisingly caused a lot of chatter among diners and critics—adding yet another outpost to her growing empire. Through the years, Agg has made a polarizing name for herself in the restaurant industry, being called a “b*tch” for standing up to the sexism women face in the restaurant industry. She knows who she is. She knows what she stands for. And she pours passion into what she does. That was evident from the minute I stepped into her whimsical new restaurant.
The bar, situated right at the front behind a large communal table, was well stocked with liquors. The lively bartender was mixing drinks like he was on a stage. Soft pastels danced on the walls and the stylish mint green stools balanced other grey accents. When it came to the food and drink, Agg’s garden far more vibrant than its name would suggest.
If given the option, I always prefer a more intimate dining experience. So, in lieu of a traditional table, I opted to sit by the kitchen. After a long day at the office, I was in the mood for a cocktail, and the server’s suggestion of the Citrus was the perfect palate pleaser. It was a refreshing and bubbly concoction of montenegro, jasmine, yuzu and cava. Grey Gardens had an extensive (and impressive) wine list as well.
After perusing the small menu, I wanted to devour everything! Agg’s business partner and executive chef, Mitchell Bates, developed a well-edited menu that was divided into four sections: snacks, small, noodles and medium+. Like the space, the dishes employed familiar ingredients and mysterious elements. Take the scallop for example: when it arrived, it looked more like a salsa verde, finely diced and folded into a mixture of crema, lemongrass and the kitchen’s own fiesta sauce. While I was disappointed with the overall taste and lack of flavour for a scallop dish, I commend Bates for its creative presentation. However, I felt as though the kitchen had massacred the scallop instead letting it shine in its natural state.
With each plate, the food kept getting better. Next came the green asparagus, which was complemented with rustic chunks of grilled haloumi. The flavours were brought up another notch with distinct, yet tempered notes chili and basil—a tough skill to master. We witnessed the chefs tasting sauces several times. The asparagus was a crowd-pleaser and vanished soon after it arrived. If you tried it, you’d know exactly how fast.
My three favourite dishes were the shrimp with spinach, pickerel and brisket. The plump crustaceans were lightly sautéed with garlic and butter until just pink. The tail-on shrimps were concealed under wilted spinach and surrounded by decorative pieces of turnip. The earthy spinach paired with the savoury shrimp was a delicious and familiar combination that was far from boring.
When we asked for the server’s three favourite dishes, she enthusiastically recommended the pickerel. And she was right. It was eye opening, and I studied its beauty for a few minutes when it arrived. The meaty snow-white fillet sat atop a slightly bitter bed of braised bok choy. The chef’s creativity came into play again with his use of XO, a spicy Asian seafood sauce. It accented the pickerel’s mild flavour perfectly and added a much-needed pop of colour and texture to the plate. When I pressed into the pickerel’s rich oily flesh, it flaked into small pieces, demonstrating the kitchen’s skill.
Our final dish, the brisket, was far more rustic looking than I had expected given the artistic presentation of our other plates. It was a generous portion of thickly sliced pink meat, with the fat and collagen rendered until they had melted away. A creamy heap of slaw peppered with mustard seed was plopped haphazardly onto the plate. Appearance aside, it was a carnivore’s dream.
I didn’t try anything from the noodle section and was un peu jalouse of other diners who were twirling the carby goodness on their forks. The dessert section also left something to be desired. Plus de chocolat, je vous en prie!
Kriss was still at the bar as we left. A little buzzed from my cocktail, I dared my guest to approach him. I secretly wanted to ask him if he would invite me to sit beside him so we could have a foodie heart-to-heart. My guest chickened out. But somehow, I was still satisfied as I exited. Grey Gardens had the perfect mélange of quiet energy and well-honed familiarity that’s rare in Toronto. And that takes it to a whole new level right up there with Alo.
Mme M. xoxo
Le rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.