Restaurant Review: The Pine – An exquisite culinary gift for Collingwood and beyond
|Address||203 Hurontario Street|
|Tasting menu for two with wine||$500|
Collingwood isn’t a town that’s synonymous with fine dining, or overly adventurous culinary experiences for that matter. It’s the type of place where a juicy burger or a wood-fired pizza paired with a pint are commonplace.
But that recently changed when The Pine, a restaurant that offers a multi-course Canadian-driven tasting menu, opened in 2020. At that time, husband-and-wife/chef-owner team, Jeremy and Cassie Austin, kept their newly minted restaurant afloat during the pandemic with takeaway ramen kits until they could properly bring their vision to life. Once they did, word quickly spread that The Pine was much more than burgers and pizzas. This year, it claimed the 51st spot on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list for 2022.
The Pine offers a rotational tasting menu of 15 to 18 courses for $150 per person (optional wine parings are $75 per person). Chef Jeremy brings a unique angle to his tasting menu with a variety of nuanced flavours, drawing from his experience working at some of the finest restaurants in Europe and China. Ingredients are as local as possible, with many grown on the family farm in Grey County. The wine program is as Canadian as it gets. Many wines sold by the bottle aren’t available at the LBCO.
Situated on Collingwood’s historic downtown strip, The Pine’s interior is minimalist, yet cozy and inviting—almost exactly as one would envision given its name. A white brick wall extends to the back of the narrow space, exposed copper pipes pop against the white backdrop and warm wood dining tables that Chef Jeremy built with his own hands give a personal touch to the space. As for the minuscule kitchen, its openness provides patrons with a truly immersive experience. The kitchen team of three moves together in lock step, demonstrating their culinary prowess as if on a small stage. The dining concept is intimate in every sense of the word—something that’s sorely lacking at most establishments these days. There’s only one seating per evening with ten patrons lined up along the counter.
Due to its rising popularity and 10-person capacity, securing a reservation at The Pine is quite coveted. Part of the enjoyment (other than waiting in anticipation for your dinner reservation) is the mystery of not knowing what dishes will be placed before you. A menu card with cryptic names provides a subtle hint of what’s to come.
The proceedings begin with a flurry of bite-sized parcels: bak kwa, where red pepper is transformed into a vegan-style jerky, as well as a delicate pumpkin rosette. Almost too beautiful to eat, the intricate pastry is decorated with a purée made from pumpkin, caramelized onion and aged cheddar. The amuse bouche chapter of the tasting menu is bookended by a dainty tea egg and a Lion’s Mane mushroom skewer, which is only elevated by swirling it through the accompanying chili emulsion. All are appropriately paired with a bubbly brut from KEW Vineyards.
The next section of the menu continues to delight with its nuanced flavours, textures and stories—the latter being an important element of any tasting menu. These dishes are paired with a 2019 Riesling from Charles Baker. “A Month and Three Inches”— brown butter-toasted sourdough topped with a preposterously rich foie gras ganache and marmellata—arrives on a brick. Cassie explains that during the restaurant’s renovation, she and Jeremy wanted to expose the space’s natural brick, but there was so much plaster that they ended up painting the wall white (and gaining three inches of space). It took one month. The dish is completely transfixing—in its taste, its presentation and its story.
The next few courses play homage to traditional Chinese cuisine. The “Bison & Brassica”, a contemporary rendition of Chinese beef and broccoli, features paper-thin bison carpaccio topped with crispy cabbage and broccoli that had been sous vide and then dehydrated for three days. While rich in texture and flavour, the bison is slightly lost under the crunchy brassica. “Scallop and Pickled Cucumber”, “Lo Bak Go” and “Beetroot & Oyster Thief” are all equally impressive, too, though my preferred dish in this delicious series is the Lo Bak Go. A dainty oat flour cake hides under a heap of shrimp salad and the Nuite Blanche 2020 from Hidden Bench takes it to new heights.
Just when you think you’ve reached the crescendo of the tasting menu, the talented culinary team continues to surprise and delight with the “Carrot Jiaozi”, a dumpling bursting with the most tantalizing brown butter carrot purée. Its flavours are simply magnificent. Showstopping. Otherworldly. It makes me pause and savour every last morsel. This alone is worth the drive to The Pine.
Chef Jeremy’s kitchen has a deft hand with fish, too. For the next course, a meaty parcel of halibut that has been roasted in fermented okra lies in a pool of end-of-season tomato broth. It’s paired with a sumptuous Gamay Noir from Bachelder and, much like a Chinese sour fish soup, it’s the type of comfort one craves when the weather gets cooler.
To round out the savoury section of the menu, we bite into Chef Jeremy’s rendition of a Shanghai schnitzel. Instead of pork as the protein, he fries a breaded rack of lamb and serves it with a smoky eggplant purée accented with black garlic. Lobes of glazed and pickled carrot add a pop of colour on the beautifully presented dish. While my piece is slightly fattier than I desire, the accompanying Cabernet Franc from 2027 Vineyards complements the dish perfectly.
Oftentimes, desserts on a tasting menu can fail to leave a lasting impression, but The Pine’s are as memorable as their savoury counterparts. There are three to enjoy with a glass of fresh, youthful “Spark” Brut from Tawse Winery. The Buding, a Chinese-style dessert, is as stunning as it is delicious. Seasonal apple flavours are punctuated with sunchoke and preserved black currant and the elegant tuile adds a satisfying crunch.
Due to its popularity, the “HKFT 4.0”, also known as Hong Kong French toast, is a permanent fixture on the menu—and for good reason. It is the most ethereal dessert I’ve had in a long time. The salted caramel drizzle and condensed milk foam dance on my tongue long after I swallow each bite. And, finally, the “Sando”: two crisp corn cookies sandwich a sweet ice cream made from dried corn. A lovely ending, indeed.
A counter seat is always the best seat in the house, and I treasured my experience at The Pine from first bite to last. Throughout the entire service, I witnessed the team of four waltzing around each other, not missing a beat. Cassie exudes a calm nature, ensuring everything operates smoothly—greeting patrons as they enter and showing them to their seats, gracefully resetting places and pouring beverages (she is extremely well-versed in the wine list that she and Chef Jeremy personally curated), and chit-chatting with guests between courses. It’s clear that attention has been paid to every detail. Hand sanitizer on each table is infused with the scent of pine, stalks of lemongrass in the table water give a subtle flavour, and the toilet paper roll in the restroom is immaculately folded into a triangle at all times. With Jeremy at the helm of the kitchen, he is the other half of the dynamic equation and delivers a pleasurable, passion-filled sensory experience.
The Pine is in a league of its own—in Collingwood and beyond. It’s is all about sensory pleasure and the people behind it have a fine-tuned command of their craft. Chef Jeremy is incredibly gifted and rife with talents, yet is humble and gracious. After dining at The Pine, I can confirm that it’s right up there with some of the best restaurants I’ve dined at, both in Canada and abroad. I truly hope you have the opportunity to experience this small-town gem. You’ll thank me later.
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.