Alo • Toronto, ON
163 Spadina Ave. 416-260-2222 alorestaurant.com
The crew orchestrating tonight’s tasting menu knows how to take care of the details without ever sweating them. Servers in tailored two-tone glide between tables in this third-floor sanctuary that’s sheltered by a wheezy elevator ride from the chaos of Queen and Spadina. I’m invited to select my preferred shade of napkin – dusty blue, thank you, to set off the pink stripes in my shirt.
A brass pendant lamp drops a spotlight on our tabletop because that’s where chef Patrick Kriss wants the action to be. Cherry-size gougères stuffed with melted fontina arrive atop a chrome pedestal, and balanced on the tray’s base are tiny bullets of foie gras torchon tucked into heart-of-palm and passion fruit meringue. Puréed spheres of English peas balance on a pea pod of crisped chicken skin. A flaky pain au lait bursts at its golden seams, baked with the buttermilk leftovers from Alo’s delightfully sour house-whipped butter. “When I return,” says our server as she removes a tiny bell jar, “I expect this butter dish to be clean, okay?”
Kriss, surveying the room from an open kitchen packed with dernier cri equipment, cooks precise, complicated food in the tradition of modern French. Each dish requires your full attention, like those meaty morels with fried shallots and crème fraîche from Normandy, juxtaposing creamy, crisp, earthy and acid. That’s why I’m thankful to GM Amanda Bradley. Her service troupe operates like Broadway stagehands, deftly swapping out props before you’ve even anticipated the next act. Few restaurants pursue perfection the way Alo does; the practiced hustle of true fine dining is high-wire entertainment.
For the blood-red Moulard duck breast with pistachio purée, which sits astride one slice of braised fennel, the sommelier pours a carignan-driven red from the Languedoc, all brambly and herbal. Then she recedes into the darkness, leaving me with the wine and the duck and my exquisite happiness. You might expect the soundtrack to this dinner theatre to be Tchaikovsky, maybe, or Gershwin. Surprise: As my halibut course arrives, with its golden buttery crust and pretty baby artichokes, the mean opening riff of Heart’s “Barracuda” kicks on the stereo. Alo had me at hello, and now it’s got me hook, line and sinker.