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The Feasting Room

28 Jul

The Feasting Room, Toronto

The tip-to-tail food movement’s still going strong, and Toronto’s newest pop-up restaurant, The Feasting Room, is the latest restaurant to join the charge.  The concept is simple: every week, the restaurant chooses a new protein and then serves you a multi-course tasting menu using different cuts from that animal.  I decided to make a reservation during “lamb week” because lamb is so darn fun.

Menu, The Feasting Room, Toronto

Tip-to-tail Menu, The Feasting Room, Toronto

The Feasting Room makes use of Little Italy’s Orbit Room during its pre-bar hours and they do a pretty decent job disguising the bar as a restaurant. At our table, we were presented with a a twine-bound wine-list and a post card that hinted at what cuts would be served to us. We passed on the wine pairing (an additional $35 per person; we wanted to restrict our consumption since it was a Sunday night) and stuck to the regular tasting menu.

Lamb pastrami amuse bouche, The Feasting Room in Toronto

Our server happily informed us that, in addition to our six-course meal, two amuse-bouches would be on their way.
The first snack was house-made lamb neck pastrami served with pickled green beans and Kolzik mustard.  It had a subtle smokiness to it and a modest pepper kick to it.  It made for a very tender and tasty starter.

Fried sheep's testicles with mint aoli, The Feasting Room in Toronto

The second amuse was ballsy. Literally.  Lamb testicle croquettes with a smoked mint aoli.  While we’d seen our share of lamb balls while in Basque country, we were never adventurous enough to try them.  When they’re breaded, deep fried and placed under your nose, you’re going to give it a go – and I’m happy we did.  Think of chicken nuggets, but more tender. They were soft, fried bits of goodness and paired well with the mint aoli.

Grilled lamb heart, rocket, shallots, garden beans with a pickled walnut dress, The Feasting Room

We officially started our meal off with a grilled lamb heart salad.  This take on grilled heart was really interesting; heart wasn’t the salad’s centrepiece, but instead was an accompaniment to the rest of the parts, which included rocket, green beans and shallots, and it let the pickled walnut dressing be the focal point. The meat was surprisingly tender, sliced thinly and dispersed throughout the salad. The salad was a great start to our dinner.

Lamb liver parfait with a fois gras "crust", pickled peaches and blueberries, The Feasting Room

Our next course was lamb liver parfait, “sealed” with a layer of fois gras and sided with pickled blueberries and peaches.  Here’s where lamb gets tricky.  Offal such as liver will normally have a stronger taste than your standard cuts of meat, but gamey lamb offal has the chance of overwhelming the palate.  I admit that the first bite of pate did leave a stronger-than-accustomed aftertaste, but that was quickly chased away with the subsequent chomps. The fois fat helped to take some of the gamey edge off and, very quickly, we were in pate love. I was making little capped snowmen with the pickled blueberries.

Lamb liver parfait and shameless blueberry snowmen, The Feasting Room

“O hello, Frosty da Parfait Snowman!”

We shamelessly scraped the jar down to the glass. Yum.

Lamb brains with cauliflower 3 ways, tahini, sumac and zatar, The Feasting Room

We them moved northward and had a zombilicious serving of lamb brains mixes with cauliflower three ways (puree, florets and dried chips) and tahini.  If you’ve never had brains before, fear not.  It had a rich and creamy feel with a relatively mild taste.  Pairing brains with cauliflower was a playful palate take on cauliflower gratin, and the finishing spices of sumac and zatar that were mixed with the deep-fried florets were an intelligent interpretation of comfort food. And no, I can’t avoid the brain-related pun. Sorry.

Semi-pulled lamb shank, sheep's milk cheese curds and French-style potato "poutine", The Tasting Room

It feels like we’re still riding the poutine wave, with every restaurant offering their take on the Quebecois dish. The Feasting Room offered a neat angle, making a semi-pulled shank poutine that was served with sheep’s milk cheese curd and French-style potato.  This dish worked very well when a bite of cheese made it to my fork and mixed with the potatos and lamb. The cheese offered a kick and a saltiness that worked really well with the rest of the dish. Without the cheese, the dish was good but not spectacular. So like to kids in those horrible 1980’s commercials: “(more) Cheese please!”

Pan-seared kidneys, roasted lamb leg and spatzele "steak and kidney pie", The Feasting Room

Our server brought us two mini casserole dishes and proclaimed that we were about to eat the chef’s take on steak and kidney pie.  The kidneys were pan seared then deglazed with Worcestershire sauce and chicken stock. They were then placed in a casserole with lamb leg, veggies, a Guinness sauce and house-make spatzele.  The kidney was by far the strongest and gamiest of cuts we tried, having a strong sharp taste to it.  The small casserole made it difficult to cut up the kidney and mix it with the spazele and other large, awkward cut of meat.  The cute casserole dish could have worked if the meat was in smaller pieces or there was less kidney. Otherwise, a different vessel might have elevated our enjoyment of this dish.

Sheep's milk ricotta cheesecake, raspberry coulis & compote with vanilla-spiked whey, The Feasting Room

The menu was completed with a sheep’s ricotta cheesecake, topped with raspberry coulis and compete and accompanied by a espresso cup’s of vanilla-dusted whey. It was a neat yin-yang dessert that played on the “nothing is wasted” theme of the restaurant.  The ricotta gave the cheesecake a  refreshing flavour to it instead of a typical sweet-and-creamy cream cheese cheesecake.  Pouring spoonfuls of whey as cheesecake chasers was definitely the tasty way to go.

We were stuffed and really enjoyed our meal, but made sure we didn’t linger too long.  At 9:30, the restaurant morphs back into a bar, so unless you enjoy audibly hearing about the bartender’s recent escapades, book a reservation to eat before 7:30.


Words by Richard, photography by Robin


La Carnita

2 Jul

La Carnita

When word got around that La Carnita, the darlings of Toronto’s new pop-up restaurant trend, were setting up a brick-and-mortar restaurant, many foodies held their collective breaths. Would an every-day restaurant lose some of the excitement and exclusiveness that its “Tweet today, gone tomorrow” incarnation had?  Could they keep quality and innovation going over time when they’re serving food on a daily basis?

The answer is very simple.  La Carnita’s restaurant breathes the culture and vibe that grew with the various pop-ups and food events.  It’s a logical progression of an idea that matured over the past year, and we diners get to reap and eat its delicious rewards.

It’s inevitable that people will compare La Carnita to Grand Electric, so let’s get that out of the way. La Carnita is like Grand Electric’s gainfully employed older brother. It doesn’t have the fun “f-you!” punk attitude that Grand Electric has. It’s more grown up and has a sophisticated hip-hop feel.  Think of East LA meets Ossington meets New York with hip hop playing – but not blasting – but with less hip irony that other west-end joints are thought to have.  There are also three visible differences: La Carnita does not have a patio, La Carnita focuses on tequila (versus bourbon) and La Carnita has more inside seating than Grand Electric. La Carnita will also take your phone number and call you when your table is ready, where Grand Electric doesn’t offer that courtesy anymore.

Interior, La Carnita

From the bat-signaleque Meathead sign in the front, to the gold-toothed “GRINGO” threshold welcoming you into the restaurant or the graffiti-tagged walls and chicken-coop light fixtures inside the restaurant, you’re hit with a chiq yet cool-trash vibe that greets you at every turn. It’s clear that Andrew Richmond, the guy behind La Carnita, has a background in design. Every element of this place has been carefully selected to reflect La Carnita’s “steez”.

Menu at La Carnita

The menu is focused and to the point. We came for the tacos but wanted to also eat our way through the delicious starters.

Mezcal chipotle pate & tortilla chips, La Carnita

We ordered the tortilla chips with mezcal chipotle pate. The crispy, house-made tortillas and the pate were lightly sprinkled with a zesty chilli powder, combining the creamy liver goodness with a nice kick of heat.

Mexican street corn, La Carnita

The Mexican street corn tastes as delicious as it looks. The gentle dribble of  Mexican crema and queso  played well off the grilled corn flavours, with the nice chilli kick to chase the flavours down.  Normally I wouldn’t be squeeing over corn, but this corn is squee-worthy.

Avocado mango salad, La Carnita

The avocado mango salad is a nice take on the Thai style of mango salad. The presentation was nice; you have a few springs of cilantro and shredded mango sitting on top of a perfectly-ripened half avocado.  The flavours were excellent, with the creaminess of the avocado playing off the citrus tones of the mango quite well.

And now: taco porn.

Tacos at La Carnita

Tacos at La Carnita

Tacos at La Carnita

With six tacos on their menu, its easy for a couple to order one of each. So we did, and ate our way through: cod, beef tongue, skirt steak, chorizo, chicken and a vegetarian taco. The toppings are also more intricate than what you find at other taquerias. Each taco was delicious with the beef tongue being my favourite and the ever-faithful fish taco (named “In Cod We Trust”) being Robin’s list topper.  None of them disappointed.

More taco porn:

Tacos at La Carnita

Tacos at La Carnita

For dessert, we decided that we needed a palate cleanser. We shared the key lime paleta. Its now what you expect when you’re ordering a key lime dessert.

Key lime paleta at La Carnita

This fruity key lime pie-flavoured ice pop is a delicious combination of tart and sweet, with a graham cracker-like crust that has a pinch of salt to it. I’m not sure how quickly the paleta melts, since ours disappeared in 2 minutes.

La Carnita’s Underground Market and pop-up days may be on hiatus, but that’s not a bad thing.  Toronto now has another great option to get our Latin American soul food fix, and it’s a pretty perfect way to get that fix.  Come for the tacos, stay for the ambiance, tequila and the rest of the delicious menu.

La Carnita
501 College St

Photos by Robin. Text by Richard.

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