I'm not a professional when it comes to food. I haven't gone to culinary school, or pastry school. Food is not my job, though I wouldn't object to it being my job.
Food is my hobby. I like to make it, I like to eat it, I like to take pictures of it, I like to talk about it.... You get the point, I'm sure.
Based on this, it was completely appropriate that for my recent birthday, my husband took me out to dinner to Atelier, a restaurant I had been wanting to try for quite some time. I'd met Chef Marc Lepine before, had tried his food, and had been eagerly looking forward to having the opportunity to try his restaurant for myself.
And I had high expectations going into Atelier. Perhaps not fair of me, but I did.
And I was not disappointed.
Atelier is a small restaurant, seating 20 people, with a minimum 12 course tasting menu. All items served are prepared using molecular gastronomy, so your meal is not just food, it is a dinning experience. Be prepared to be there for awhile, as it takes time to enjoy those courses. (And it will take time for me to go through them all, so sit back and relax, you will be here awhile!)
We went with good friends and were immediately seated upon entry. We were offered a choice of still water or made on the premises sparkling water while the sommelier brought us a wine list. Now, none of us are wine drinkers at all, so while we declined any wine, I was fascinated by how they provided the list: on one column there were the wines available, should you decided you wanted to go "blind" and choose your own wines. In the other column was a wine tasting, chosen to match the menu for that evening. If I were a lover of wines, I would have been pleased with the $55 price for the wine tasting suggested that evening.
Before the first course was served, we were presented with some freshly made bread, made on the premises. From my previous experience with Chef Marc, I knew that the restaurant enjoyed making breads flavored on potato chips, so I was not suprised when our bread was BBQ flavored, with powdered butter. I don't like BBQ chips but I enjoyed the flavors of the bread, especially the salty crunch on top.
Here are the courses served to us that night. (My apologies for anything I got wrong in my descriptions.)
A dijon mustard cream sauce, with diluted honey, created using an anti-griddle, coated in crushed pretzels.
Wild pacific salmon, cooked sous-vide to a temperature of 46 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Served with a zucchini and shallot salsa, orange pepper gel (the straight line), a red pepper and curry puree (the circle), with lemon balm.
Pan seared scallop (using a magnetic induction cooktop), with a Star Anise and citrus vinnigrette, jeruselem artichoke puree and a warm bacon and asparagus salad.
Albacore tuna with a sliced, black truffle, sauted coffee mushrooms on a truffle oil pancake, a lemon verbina mayonnaise, egg yolk ribbon and a dehydrated leek.
This custom made spoon was provided for the next course, a soup course. The handle contains a test tube, stoppered by a cork, inside of which was toasted, crushed pistachios.
A pear, honey and goat cheese soup, with frozen grapes, and grape slices on goat cheese shards, with pink peppercorns, served cold, with an optional sprinkling of the toasted pistachios.
Fresh Ontario tomato base (the first time served on the menu), with, starting from the right side, rainbow chard leaf, a soft Quebec Sauvagean (I'm sure that is spelt wrong, sorry) cheese, lambs quarter leaf, radish blossom and radish, eggplant paper on fennel cream, with Nasturshium leaf (again, spelling probably bad) and a powdered balsamic vinagrette.
This was my husbands favorite dish.
The custom spoon clip held a shard of cinnamon, lit up to provide the scent of cinnamon while you ate a strawberry-rhubarb foam, frozen with liquid nitrogen, on a maple syrup brittle and a cinnamon custard. Best eaten by placing the entire spoon in your mouth at once.
Wild boar belly, cooked sous vide for 9 hours to 82 degrees, with a cubed purple potato, sauted snow pea, green apple relish with lime and jalapeno, a golden appricot gel and a caramel sauce.
Sous vide duck breast (1 hour to 58 degrees), triangular potato cooked in duck fat, with creamed cauliflower, beet puree, unopened Day Lily blossom, some date leather, and expresso foam and a sprinkling of cocoa nibs.
Venison, cooked sous vide to 54 degrees for 20 minutes, with corn juice gel, a corn powder (in the center), popcorn, Tank house ale gel (the darker gel), shisho leaves, cap mushrooms, a molasses powder (the darker powder to the right of the plate), caramalized onion paper and freeze dried peas.
On the left: Nacho cheesecake with a tortilla shortbread crust, aged cheddar cheese on top, served with a salsa meringue.
On the right: Jalapeno and sour cream ice cream, Bo's beer foam, crushed tortilla chips, avacado puree, dehydrated black olives.
Optionally, a jalapeno powder was included at the corner of the plate for those who like their nachos a bit spicier.
Starting left: dark cherry gel, cherry sorbet with crushed pistachios, Dr. Pepper foam and Dr. Pepper meringue (the little white "blobs" along the plate), chocolate brownies, pistachio brittle (green crunchie item along the plate), cherry leather, aerated cherry foam, crumbled chocolate strussel, dehydrated cherry foam puree, and a cherry bomb truffle with liquid cherry center.
Phew, say that 3 times fast!
I will add in right here that I would happily be Pastry Chef Michael Holland's personal slave for awhile to learn how to make his brownies. I make some good brownies but those were simply divine.
Vanilla cupcake with vanilla butter cream, dropped into a sliver bucket containing liquid nitrogen, stirred, removed, then crushed. Served in a specially prepared bowl that said 'Happy Birthday' on it.
Peanut butter ganache, banana, covered in white chocolate, with bacon bits.
Are you still hungry? We weren't.
I can't say what my favorite course was, though I can say which was my least favorite (sorry Elvis, I don't like peanut butter at all, but I did eat it.) There were some item that I didn't completely understand or enjoy on their own (like the beer gel in Yes, Deer) but taken together with other items on the plate, they were wonderful. Even the peanut butter seriously benefited from the banana and bacon.
The service was exquisite and seamless. The staff wonderful, answering any and all questions. Had I not brought a note book and pen, they would have been happy to supply it.
The meal ended with a signed copy of the menu and a tour of the kitchen area (which is tiny).
A wonderful way to spend my belated birthday. I would highly recommend spending an evening with Chef Marc and his staff.
Reservations can be made by phone but can also be made through the website, www.atelierrestaurant.ca