Last week JC and I went to Alo Restaurant to celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary and the other exciting things going on in our lives: a promotion, a new and growing business, my growing belly (p.s. I’m pregnant), and so many wonderful little things that have added up over the last couple of years. It’s nice to be here in this place in life, and that seems like something worth celebrating.
I like tasting menus because they tend to be indulgent, not in quantity, but in terms of showcasing a chef’s pride and work. Plus it’s fun to splurge on a fun meal and experience (Oh and The Process, The Process!), and I’m indecisive so it’s perfect for me to have a variety of thoughtfully prepared dishes come out one by one (as long as they’re vegan). JC had had read a review in the Globe and Mail earlier this month that mentioned “vegan tasting menu available with 24hrs notice,” so he sprang into action, and thoughtfully made reservations for our anniversary while I was still wondering if we should do anything at all.
Alo Restaurant has been open since sometime in July, and from the reviews I read before heading in, has been a wonderful and spectacular success – so we had to find out for ourselves. Would they make vegan food with the same passion as their other creations? Sadly, I wish I could show you better pictures, but as luck would have it, my favourite food camera lens (yes, I have one) broke a few days before we went in. Typical. But I wondered if this lack of clicking would help me enjoy my meal a little bit more. Maybe? We’d soon find out. (Spoilers: we still took a few crappy pictures with our cell phones anyway.)
We had a later seating which was perfect for the otherwise busy day – 8:30. We walked down Spadina up to a pretty simple looking office building. I can’t remember if there was any signage there, but once you walk in the door there is a host waiting to direct you to the elevator and take your name. Alo is on the third floor.
Upon exiting the elevator you see a dimly lit bar/lounge area on the left, and the bright kitchen and dining area on the right. When you get out, you’re greeted by another host – who takes you to your table. Everyone was very nice, but it didn’t seem stuffy or formal, just friendly and professional.
I liked how spaced out the tables were. It was comfortable and at no point did I feel like we were sitting to close to anyone. At some places it seems like the goal is to cram as many tables as possible in the space – not here – it’s nice. At some point we got shifted to a booth, which made for darker photos, but a more intimate setting.
At the end of the meal, they very helpfully, give you a small keepsake menu listing off every dish you tried that evening, so here is a picture of both. For paper nerds – please note the embossed envelope. Feels nice.
I started with a bloody mary, without alcohol or worcestershire sauce (basically – I ordered spicy tomato juice), and JC had this great minty cucumber iced thing, also without alcohol, so I could try it too, and maybe out of solidarity. Normally, we’d probably get the wine pairing to go with this sort of thing (and as you can see from the picture of the menu above, they do have wine pairing suggestions with everything, we just didn’t order them.)
Now on to the food. The pictures are mediocre (because cellphone) but are included to give you some idea of what portions look like.
Fennel, Citrus, Olive Oil
To start – there was a candied spear of citrus, wrapped in fronds of fennel, and covered with an olive oil foam.
Matsutake Mushrooms, Celery Root
Mushroom, mushroom, with sprigs of parsley and shaved celery root slices. There are bits of whipped oil everywhere. They seemed to make a point of saying the V word every once and awhile (but not too often) so we knew they had remembered. I liked the way the flavours played around together – trying to grab a bit of everything simultaneously for maximum savoury.
Pain au Lait – except in our case it was a roll with sunflower butter.
Warm crusty whole wheat rolls with a whipped sunflower butter. The little butter dish was so pretty – they churn their own butter at Alo, so I suppose making a bit of sunflower butter wasn’t a big thing – but it was a nice detail. We were wondering if we’d get any bread. Or if we did, if there would be olive oil with it. Nope, sunflower butter was a nice surprise.
Carolina Gold Rice, Parsley, Black Garlic
I’d say this was my favourite dish, but that would be a lie. The next three dishes, including this one were my favourite non-desserts of the evening. The carolina gold rice was mixed in with blended parsley (and normally, I don’t like parsley), topped off with some puffed rice, onions, garlic, and in one of my favourite plates of the evening.
Globe Artichokes, Arugula, Mustard
Oh sliced and fried artichokes, how do I love thee? With sharp flavours of radish, mustard and arugula of course.
Romano Bean, Tomato, Basil, Mustard Seeds
If there was a dish of the three that would win, this was one of my favourite things. So powerfully savoury. Plump stewed tomatoes, with romano beans, fresh basil, a bit of mustard in whipped oil. JC watched them plate it with precision.
I was hoping not to see a sorbet this evening, but it came anyway. Ah the sorbet, the default vegan option during every Summer/Winterlicious restaurant menu. You know what though – this sorbet wasn’t boring. Sure, it was apple, but they had rolled it in crumbled up popcorn, and that immediately made it better.
Dark Chocolate, Tonka Bean, Pear
I have suspicions that this is just one of their standard desserts that happens to be vegan. It was a rich circle of a brownie, surrounded by a dark chocolate shell, with fruits and other things inside.
Concord Grape, Verjus
And finally, JC got an espresso and they made a decaf americano for me (they were unable to make a soy latte) and we got our last plate. Frozen concord grapes with nuts and verjus (an acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes) were a nice palate cleanser. Frozen concord grapes are my favourites, though mine are usually the deep dark purple kind.
Other than the food and the atmosphere, I really liked all the plates at Alo, and from skulking around the Alo instagram, I found out they are made right here in Toronto, by Kosoy Bouchard Ceramics. We had a great time, sat there for hours. The plates were all spaced out well for comfortable conversation, our sparkling water kept getting refilled, and everyone was nice, helpful, and friendly.
I asked someone where the restroom was, they actually told me to follow them and showed me, because it could be hard to find – and you know what, if I had gone to the end of the room where it was, and that helpful person wasn’t there, I probably would have missed it. It’s behind a sliding door. (accessibility-wise – the restrooms are too small for a wheelchair.)
Finally, I loved eating here, and best of all, I got to do it with my favourite person, and celebrate several happy things.
Alo takes reservations online via Open Table.
Alo Restaurant and Alo Bar,
163 Spadina Ave., 3rd Floor. Toronto
Accessibility: Elevator access from the 3rd floor, once there, there is a step to get into the dining area, but the lounge is level. Washrooms are not wheelchair accessible.