Veritas – Truth
Forgive me as I am not a food writer, but merely a grazer at the buffet of life who is often asked for restaurant recommends as I am fortunate enough to be able to travel hither and beyond with a sense in intrepid adventure and bohemian experimentation when it comes to food. From the street carts of Bangkok to the stall markets of Iquitos to the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris – I revel in the opportunity to eat and cook with abandon. So what you get is my opinion based on my palette, not as an expert or as a chef – so set your expectations accordingly!
Ah dear friends, in my ongoing quest to live what I love I had the sheer delight and pleasure to discover the amazing talents of Chef Charlotte Langley who was recently transplanted from The Whalebones Oyster House in Ottawa. Initially Chef Charlotte was headed to Café Belong in the Brickworks, so a couple of weeks ago we headed off there for dinner, only to discover that Chef/Owner Brad Long pushed Charlotte from that nest to run the kitchen at Veritas. We made a reservation while waiting for our appetizers at Café Belong – which I gather is somewhat unorthodox but hey – a desired experience will not be overlooked!
I was looking forward to an evening of food and merriment with wonderful friends who have a similar appreciation for fine food and exotic travel – not to mention a passion for photography that matches that of my beloved.
We arrived at 6 pm to an empty restaurant with the barman and server swiftly attending to us. I thought in my mind this was a good start and was delighted that the same level of attentive service continued even when the place was stuffed to the gills. The atmosphere has a cool chic vibe, without feeling overdone or intimidating.
The wine list had a selection of mostly local as well a couple of foreign wines – and my ever favourite Niagara choices from Tawes and Cave Spring. I love local Niagara wines and have a particular delight in the Ontario Riesling with its scrumptious grapefruit finish. I am appreciating our reds more and more and a year in my life is not complete without several winery visits. As we perused the menu we immediately hit on the Chef’s Gamble – a quirky homage to a Chef’s choice menu that is meant to surprise and delight. The entire table must participate and at $70 a plate it was indeed a gamble.
As we enjoyed our wine and conversation, and the restaurant slowly filled with warmth and patrons escaping the chilly evening air, our first plate arrived. We were delighted by “Breakfast for Dinner” – a plate with a perfectly cooked egg, a sausage role, and a piece of pork belly with garnishes of sprigs of tender onions and potatoes fried in duck fat. Every mouthful had its own distinct flavour and each morsel tasted like it was supposed to. Imagine an unadulterated egg that oozed yolk and tasted like egg. Nothing is drowned in sauces or fused with cloying flavours. What you see is what you get.
Plate two arrived and we were presented with beef tartare and venison carpaccio with truffle. Cooked ricotta and grainy hot mustard decorated the plate. At first blush I thought the beef was sliced beets which I adore – until I was informed otherwise. The ricotta was cooked, which was done as a result of one of the diners not liking uncooked cheese. My preference is for uncooked ricotta, but I think that this was an interesting twist for us. The smell of the truffle from the carpaccio penetrated my nose and made a lovely complement to the venison. The hot mustard literally jump starts the tongue. Fantastic.
Plate three was for me the pinnacle as we see why Charlotte excels at her seafood skills. Tender scallops cooked to perfection with a slight carmelization on the edges and a maple accompaniment, along with crispy pork schnitzel, a slice of pork crowned with a caramelized apple on a foundation of apple butter. This to me was an homage to Eastern Canada, a blend of maple, apples, scallops and pork that had me savouring every bite. Seriously this was the most phenomenal dish I have ever had and I would rate the food in the top 5 food experiences of my life. The distinct flavours and the juxtaposition of textures created an incredible experience. Our dinner companion described it as a symphony where one could pick out the magic of the individual instruments as they approached their solos, but the orchestration of it all together married in a delight of the senses (ok I took a bit of poetic license there).
Plate four had a dessert of Sour Cherry Sorbet and a chocolate pate with three liqueurs. Ever a lover of chocolate and any kind of ice cream/sorbet I dug in. I would say that this was not my favourite dish, as I found the liqueurs a bit overpowering and the chocolate not quite rich enough. However, I was in the minority as everyone else enjoyed it thoroughly. What can I say, I am not a fan of booze in my desserts as I have flashbacks of English trifle as a kid complete with liquor soaked ladyfingers and custard.
We thought we were done – until we were presented with small plates and knives – et voila – a cheese plate. Not any cheese plate, but one with gutsy flavoured cheeses to pique the mouth. Tiger Blue, emmental and La Sauvagine cheese. As I was entering into a heady food coma it suddenly occurred to me that I should write some of this down to blog later. So the hyperlinks and references are the best I can do. Like I said – I am not a pro!
The overall philosophy of locally sourced, organic and artisanal food comes through with every plate. The skill executed by Chef Charlotte truly makes each plate sing. She kindly visited our table a number of times to check on how we were enjoying the meal. Her personal style comes through in her sheer delight of her guests enjoying the fruits of her labour. Chef Long was also in the house, and spent a few minutes listening to our feedback and was no doubt thrilled that we reinforced his instinct to bring Charlotte to Toronto – a shrewd move on his part that will unfailingly enchant diners here.
Charlotte mentioned that she was pleased to be in Toronto and was settling in. As hugs were exchanged she quipped that there was not enough hugging in the big smoke. To that I say, come on my friends; let’s make her feel more than welcome here. She hugs us with her food – find a way to show her some love right back!