|Location||162 Cumberland Street|
|Dinner for two with a bottle of wine||$400|
After trying a new restaurant, I am compelled to write up a review for one of two reasons. Either the restaurant is appalling, and I have copious mental notes that I need to jot down (so I can warn others not to waste their time or their money). Or, the dishes are such artistic masterpieces in consumable form, and the hospitality is so exquisite, that I need to profess it to the world. Chef Patrick Kriss’ (Alo, Aloette) newest restaurant, Alobar, falls into the latter category.
Located in swanky Yorkville, at 162 Cumberland Street, Alobar is tucked away in a charming alley. The unique courtyard setting, which conjured up memories of Europe, created an inviting yet intimate atmosphere that would make for a romantic night on the town.
Upon entering, my guest and I were greeted warmly by the hostess. She sat us at a corner table overlooking the terrace, allowing the dusky end-of-summer light to peer in. Décor, not surprisingly, had similar undertones to Kriss’ other restaurants, Alo and Aloette. The 50-seat restaurant was upscale and refined, yet had a casual vibe that can often be absent in such a posh neighbourhood. Jewel-toned tufted leather banquettes, contemporary overhead light fixtures, walnut tables and gold accents added character to the space. Server uniforms were the appropriate mix of chic and casual – tailored blue blazers, cropped skinny jeans and trendy sneakers. The vibe was convivial, making it the hottest new place to be seen.
My guest and I relaxed into our comfortable seats and were greeted with a refreshing glass of Crémant. Alobar’s menu presented various options à la carte (nine starters, seven entrees and six side dishes), all of which showcased Kriss’ breadth of skill – ranging from Hamachi ($24) to Muscovy duck ($42). Having been to Alo and Aloette several times, I knew how Kriss rolled. When I learned that he was not physically at the restaurant that evening, I was curious to see if the food or the service would suffer. My guest and I agreed to share a range of options. But first, le vin!
Christopher, the sommelier who recognized us from our visit to Alo, was a lively and engaging conversationalist, comme toujours. He exercised the right balance of knowledge and patience while helping us select a bottle of Terres Rouges Cabernet Franc from Domaine Arnaud Lambert ($95). Apparently, many restaurants have a longstanding loyalty to this wine, and I soon knew pourquoi. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with a clean and refreshing finish. I was confident it would pair well with the meal we were about to enjoy.
For our first course, we had the Burrata cheese ($16), cucumber salad ($16) and foie gras ($20). Burrata was an easy decision — especially at any of Kriss’ restaurants. The olive-oil-doused pillow of cheese oozed with briny freshness, while fresh figs and plums balanced its creamy texture. Toasted sourdough was the perfect vessel for the whole combination to travel dans ma bouche.
The cucumber salad with feta cheese, melon and yogurt had a more nuanced flavour and texture profile than one might imagine. I was caught by surprise by the honeydew that appeared more like cucumber. Dabs of yogurt and pickled onions were interesting components that added an unexpected acid balance.
The high point was, sans aucun doute, the foie gras ($20). The silky, melt-in-your-mouth indulgence was worth every calorie-ridden bite. Sour cherries provided tartness and hazelnuts added the right amount of texture. The accompanying toasted brioche was heavenly – deliciously buttery and sweet.
After devouring the foie gras, we barely put a dent into the large portion of shishito peppers ($10). Blistered from their sojourn over the fire, their spice was tamed by the cooling blanket of cotija cheese they were served under. Flavours from the Mexican condiment Tajín, as well as lime, were magnificent additions that punched everything up a notch.
At this point, we were trying to conserve some real estate dans nos ventres. Our meal came to a crescendo with the seafood course. We shared the sea scallop ($42), king crab ($38), and cauliflower ($12). Delicate sea scallops were cooked to perfect opaqueness – their just-firm flesh gleamed in its own jus. Earthy maitake mushrooms and corn purée added some rustic flavours to the dish, and jalapeños provided a subtle spiciness. The harmonies were right on point, with a subtle nod to what you’d experience at Alo.
A close rival was the king crab legs. The tender pink flesh was cooked perfectly and then finished with garlic, buttery goodness. Hair-fine strands of lime zest seemed like an affectation at first, but their flavour actually lifted and brightened the plate. Simplicity sang in this dish – something most people under appreciate.
The cauliflower ($12) was subjected to a délicieux treatment – patiently fried to crisp perfection, then tossed with firm-fleshed grapes that popped when my teeth punctured them. The accompanying almond granola topping provided a subtle sweetness that I craved. Once in a while, my mouth experienced morsels of mint, scattered throughout, that added a refreshing element to balance the heaviness of the dish. While I adored this dish, some balance could have been achieved by adding some more sauce as it was on the dry side.
Up next was a generous portion of rare rack of lamb ($42), perfectly cooked and heightened by mint and pistachio. It was very good, for a more predictable selection. The side of charred tomato ($12) was un peu underwhelming and lacked salt and overall flavour. There was nothing imaginative about these bland Roma tomatoes that were topped with chiffonade basil, balsamic drizzle and near-burnt pine nuts.
Although Chef Kriss – the visionary, the artist – was not there, his leadership was imparted on the team and they operated in smooth unison – an impressive feat for a brand new spot. His protégé, chef de cuisine Matthew Betsch, proved to be a technically adept and polished chef. In his mentor’s absence, I witnessed Betsch working diligently from the partially-open kitchen instead of slacking off as one might have been inclined to do. Kriss’ vision was emulated almost perfectly. The graceful, relaxed tone of service exceeded some three-star Michelin restaurants I’ve been to. Kriss entrusts his team to deliver a quality experience – and he would have been proud of the result.
With rapid expansion, quality of food and service can easily plummet; however, this is not the case with Alobar. Come with a near-empty stomach, because the portions are substantial, so much so, that malheureusement, I wasn’t able to squeeze in any cheesecake for dessert. By no surprise, it has found its groove in the neighbourhood and will certainly be a fixture for years to come. From wonderful food and hospitality, Alobar conjures all of the qualities that will bring patrons back again and again, including moi.
Mme M. xoxo
La 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.