Alo, splendour and difficulties in Toronto’s fine dining scene

Patrick Kriss is the patron chef of four successful establishments in the Canadian metropolis. Rising, but with an identity to build

01-11-2019
Canadian Patrick Kriss, 39, patron chef at Alo 

Canadian Patrick Kriss, 39, patron chef at Alo (90th in the World’s 50Best) AloetteAlo Yorkville and Salon, Toronto

During a recent trip to Canada at one point we asked a Torontonian: «Please excuse our ignorance, but what is your city’s or national typical dish?». The answer: «Dumplings. And then pasta and pizza». This statement explains two important things: first, Toronto is a very young place, inhabited with consistency only since two centuries ago, which is not enough time to single out one or more local specialties; second, out of its 3 million inhabitants, a high percentage is Chinese and Italian: our fellow countrymen are at least 500K but the children of Mao have been increasing for a few years now. Hence the popularity of dumplings and pasta.

If the city’s emergency number is equipped to answer in 150 different languages, how can one find a culinary identity for this country? «It’s a very difficult task», Patrick Kriss, one of the most prominent chefs in town, tells us, «fine dining has only recently appeared in Toronto and, in general, people still don’t show much curiosity for food, its origins, techniques...».

Toronto, the capital of Ontario, has little over 3 million inhabitants, coming from all over the world 

Toronto, the capital of Ontario, has little over 3 million inhabitants, coming from all over the world 

Cristopher Sealy (head sommelier) and John Bunner (director of operations at Alo)

Cristopher Sealy (head sommelier) and John Bunner (director of operations at Alo)

This didn’t discourage this shy and quiet 39-year-old who in less than 4 years conquered the local food scene: Alo Group of which he’s the patron, includes flagship Alo, a restaurant serving contemporary cuisine with an annexed cocktail bar; the more casual Aloette on the ground floor of the same building; Alo Yorkville, another cocktail bar in a popular shopping neighbourhood, and Salon, a fourth place, devoted to private dining. These projects have raised the bar of quality in town. A small kingdom with around one hundred employees, ready to expand further.

Our antennas are instinctively raised for Alo, the most ambitious establishment: at number 90 in the latest World’s 50Best, it’s the only Canadian restaurant in the popular list and it would have one or two Michelin stars if only the inspectors of the Red Guide could come to this side of the Niagara Falls, from the State of New York, and take the establishments of the least considered country in North America into consideration. «But it’s going to happen soon», the Canadians bet.
 

Kanpachi (amberjack), Alo

Kanpachi (amberjack), Alo

Maine lobster in Thai tom yam sauce, Alo

Maine lobster in Thai tom yam sauce, Alo

Aloette, same address as Alo, two floors below, on 163 Spadina Avenue

Aloette, same address as Alo, two floors below, on 163 Spadina Avenue

The tasting menu at Alo has a French backbone: Kriss spent two years and a half working beside Daniel Bouloud, the guru of haute cuisine in the Big Apple, and this is clear from the use of fonds, from the aesthetics of the dishes that would be appreciated by the people of Lyon, from the selection of precious raw materials of very far origins – sea urchins and scallops from Hokkaido, Wagyu meat, Atlantic bluefin tuna, the glorious lobster from Maine... The beef comes from Ontario, and it’s one of the few hints at the local products’ philosophy, a basin that gives little satisfaction when it comes to vegetables, given the very short summer season: «You can only get tomatoes between August and September», Krisssighs.

«When we opened in July 2015», the cook recalls, «everyone jinxed us: A restaurant on the third floor? It’s hopeless. Only a tasting menu? Nobody will come. But we weren’t discouraged, and facts proved us right». Every night the establishment is fully booked, in the dining room (the tasting menu is 145 Canadian dollars, around 100 euros), at the kitchen counter (respectively 165 and 113) looking at the cooks, and in the bar, a place that serves more casual food, in terms of technique and price, in a groovier atmosphere.

The counter at Aloette

The counter at Aloette

Fried chicken with yuzu honey, Aloette

Fried chicken with yuzu honey, Aloette

The success is certainly due to the incredible service and kindness of the dining room staff: everyone’s smiling, regardless of their task, a constancy that would have many establishment in Italy blush. And seeing sommelier Christopher Sealy at work is marvellous because of his deep knowledge of Italian wines (and not only Italian ones) and for the great palate on which he bases the pairings with his patron’s dishes.

Finally, it’s nice to see that the lovely Aloette, a few windows overlooking the street, two floors below, is not just a diminutive, or a B-side of the headquarters: it’s a place where you can share the perfect Chicken with yuzu honey, or the Cauliflower with green curry and kaffir lime. Book here even before booking the flight.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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