Edulis – A tasting menu with integrity
|Location||169 Niagara Street|
|Tasting menu with a bottle of wine||$330|
Scoring a seat in Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth’s restaurant, Edulis, can seem as elusive as finding a unicorn or spotting a four-leaf clover. But once you do, you’ll be anticipating that evening out for months (yes, months). In addition to past accolades from top critics, Edulis recently scored a top-ten spot in Canada’s 100 Best.
Edulis, which translates to “edible” in Latin, is owned and operated by husband-and-wife duo Caballo and Nemeth and is an ode to local, Canadian cuisine. Les deuxare the definition of a power couple — in life and in business: Caballo is the chef and forager while Nemeth ensures everything is as smooth as the freshly-churned butter they place sur la table. They’re not backed by investors, and so aren’t money-hungry owners who are driven by turning tables.
Making its cozy home on Niagara Street, tucked off bustling King Street West, Edulis blends in with the surrounding residential neighborhood. It’s in a tiny mid-century house lined by a wrought iron fence. With an intimate patio and lush blooms, Edulis makes an understated statement from street view, so much so that you might not know it’s a restaurant. The signature mushroom motif on the doormat and windows are good clues, however.
One Thursday night, my date and I scored an early reservation and arrived right on time to a locked restaurant. We waited a few minutes before the hostess unlocked the door. Having been to Edulis a couple of times before — once in 2012 and once in 2014 — I noted that not much had changed in terms of the décor. Candlelight ricocheted off the low ceiling dining room, Spanish tiles and copper accents gave the bar an Iberian flair, and blue and white gingham serviettes contributed to a charming, cottage-y atmosphere.
As an exclusively tasting menu restaurant, the menus change regularly to showcase seasonal ingredients, with a strong seafood element and a focus on foraged ingredients, including mushrooms gathered from the forest floor. Diners can delight in five courses ($65) or seven ($85) with optional add-ons, such as a tin of Imperial Osetra Caviar ($160) and Jamón Joselito (hand sliced for $50). They also offer truffle menus during truffle season.
We selected a bottle of Chablis ($90) from Burgundy shortly after settling into our seats. The wine selection was vast, but going into the menu blind, we needed some assistance selecting a bottle that would translate well throughout our feast. The server was well-versed and provided a couple of different options for us to choose from, both at reasonable price points.
Before diving in, the server brought some olives that had been stuffed with pepper and anchovies then drizzled with Spanish olive oil. Served rustically on a toothpick, it was the proper vessel to consume it in a single bite. The briny olive and salty filling were a bit too oily, and I reached for the house made Red Fife bread to temper the flavour. It was some of the best bread I’ve had (ou peut-être j’avais faim).
Our palates journeyed to the Pacific with wild yellowtail from New Zealand, which was served with black garlic and ginger purée. The crudo-style dish was topped with toasted pepitas and other accoutrements from the garden, such as basil and radishes. The taste was on point, and freshness was evident in the yellowtail — although it surely added a carbon footprint getting to Toronto. I absolutely loved the vibrant colours and presentation — bravo.
The star of the evening was Dungeness crab from B.C. Served with a Marcona almond purée and the first rapini of the season (including its buds), this was simplicitéat its best. Smokiness from the Marcona almonds punched up the dish and balanced the saltiness of the crab meat. One of the downfalls of many chefs is overcomplicating dishes with numerous ingredients. This was thoughtful in presentation and taste.
Pour le prochain plat, an earthy dish consisting of Nova Scotia lobster and porcini mushrooms. The decorative circles of demi-glace drew my eyes into the mound of perfection. The mushrooms had been intricately brunoised and mixed with luscious, buttery chunks of lobster. While these two ingredients are not a common pairing, the earthiness of the wild mushrooms emphasized the sweetness of the succulent seafood.
A noticeable lull occurred at this point in the repas, with a long stretch between courses. We migrated from shellfish to fish with Chinook salmon in a shallow pool of dashi broth. What surprised me about the salmon was its unusual ivory flesh — an apparent result of its diet — and insipid flavour. Earthy new potatoes and green asparagus accompanied the salmon, but didn’t add anything to the dish’s overall blandness. A pile of poorly chopped herbs covered the whole dish and wasn’t a purposeful treatment to garnish this Asian-inspired dish.
A skin-on filet of sea bream arrived after another long wait. Although quite mesmerizing with its pool of fennel and shellfish reduction, the fish was overcooked and contained many pin bones that should have been removed given the filet’s size.
On a white backdrop sat a roulade of Sussex chicken with a thick stalk of white asparagus, and morel mushrooms and shallots. Morels are one of mes champignons préférésbecause of their sponge-like texture. Soaking up all the goodness from the plate, they were savour-worthy flavor bombs. While the roulade was under seasoned, I really enjoyed the selection of fresh spring lettuce from le jardin. Interestingly, the sever asked us if we would like these before she served them. The lettuces were one of the meal’s highlights — fresh was an understatement.
For a restaurant that prides itself on seasonal, ever-changing menus, the desserts — especially the last one — seem to be regular menu staples. The first was a delightful and refreshing strawberry sorbet, but it wasn’t anything noteworthy. Fresh diced strawberries sat on top, and a hulled strawberry seed sauce tied everything together.
Et quelque chose de sucré pour finir: baba au rhum— white cake, sweet Chantilly cream and caramel-coloured rum that was so viscous it was more like honey. The table-side pour was an interactive touch, but the cake was so heavily soaked in rum that it detracted from the pastry. Warning: you may be buzzing from this dessert.
My meal at Edulis was enjoyable, but I found myself frustrated with deux choses: service was slow and inattentive; it also wasn’t as Canadian as I would have expected for a restaurant that defines itself as such. Take Actinolite, for example, where the chef’s stories of foraging are woven into the menu. At Edulis, I found the Canadian ingredients sparse at times (New Zealand yellowtail?) and wanted to know more about the values they pride themselves on — the craft and tradition of cooking, honesty, and spectacular ingredients. I was craving an overarching story from start to finish. If I’m being picky, I would also recommend swapping one of the seafood courses for another type of protein. Fish is great, but variety is the spice of life.
All that said, I very much respect what Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth have built — a restaurant rife with character that produces fresh cuisine. I never felt rushed, and was encouraged to sit back and soak it all in. Their values are rich in integrity, and as a diner and patron, I admire that.
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.