rating scale allowed it, would be belittling to this gem to say the least. This eating house is a category all it's own – because of the chef's unique style, but mostly due to the fact that every single dish is like an elaborately prepared work of art done by a renowned artist.
Atelier has been on my wish list for quite a while now. A Christmas gift from my father-in-law and his wife made this want a reality (thanks so much Darrell and Brenda!). I'd read many reviews about them before, but still wasn't sure what to expect. One of my biggest surprises was that if I had no idea this was a molecular gastronomy restaurant, I'm not sure I would have pegged it as one. Every single creation of the 10 courses we had was like my own personal food God had come down to prepare a dream plate specifically for me. And my friends were just there to enjoy the ride.
The service made us feel just as special as the food. I was blown away by both our servers' (or should I say curators') knowledge of each dish and ability to remember ingredients without exception. That impression doubled when I overheard one of them recounting the meal in French at the table next to ours. Steve, who we dealt with most, had an exceptional ability to describe the details on how things were made and was a true raconteur for every wine pairing he introduced. Every tasting note was described to a T. I would love to do a wine tasting with that guy!
I started off with a St Ambroise Oatmeal Stout from their limited but perfect beer selection. My husband went with the Tankhouse, Cathy the Cava Brut, and Tony a Manhattan with 2 cherries that had been dipped in nitroglycerin to serve as ice cubes. Dill pickle bread, with powdered butter that turned to oil once in contact with the heat of your mouth, decorated the table.
Each plate had an extensive list of goings-on. I'm going to do my best to make a mention of the ingredients involved, but can almost guarantee that not all will be touched on.
Truffled! La Sauvagine cheese wrapped in duck confit and truffle sitting in a spoon that held a burning piece of rosemary for olfactory stimulation. Fantastic way to start.
Tuna Salad – Blow torched albacore tuna loin, virtually like sushi, spotted with green grapes and tucked in by a grape sheet, high acid lime foam, chive mayo and fennel done 2 ways, the first serving as a bed for the tuna and the second as a garnish (looks like dill). This dish was paired with a lovely 2009 Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand.
Beetroot/Grapefruit, a sweet and sour combination including a Dr Seuss-like egg (think green eggs and ham), the centre being a pod full of beet juice that exploded in your mouth. Tarragon cream with duck, grapefruit cells, foam with a honey centre, cumquat, marshmallow foam and balsamic. A burning cinnamon stick arrived before the dish to get our senses prepared. 2006 Seifried Riesling from Nelson, New Zealand brought the whole thing together.
Gallo Mussel with bits of smoked duck breast, cremini mushrooms, brown butter, chive oil, scallion, milk foam, shiso leaf and Jerusalem artichoke purée was to die for. The dish had a nice spice from the curry oil. And Steve's description of the 2008 Niagara College Teaching Winery Pinot Noir was bang-on.
Southern Comfort, and oh how comforting this was. Pulled pork marinated for 11 hours in coke and garlic and then pan seared in bbq sauce was heavenly. Torched bbq meringue, sweet cornbread powder, shallots served as onion rings, sweet potato onion, and baked bean purée decorating the plate. St Peter's Organic English Ale was served alongside.
Fruit Cocktail functioning as a cleanser. High acid, pears poached in red wine, passion fruit seed, mascarpone cheese, apple purée, apple cider vinegar, sugar glass, drunken watermelon soaked in vodka and chestnut cream.
Soup-er Bowl – mouthwatering chorizo sausage topped with pop corn and placed neatly next to a custard made from Beau's beer that had been poured into nitroglycerin. A warm milky liquid coated the ingredients transforming the dish to soup with cumin and white cheddar. 2006 Fielding Estate Viognier from Niagara was lovely.
Meat and Potatoes. Lamb leg done 9 hours sous-vide, or “under vacuum” which is a cooking method that keeps the integrity of the meat by heating it for a long time under low temperatures. The result was insanely tender, medium-rare lamb. Potatoes, celery root, mustard, red cabbage sprout and a dehydrated mustard sheet. So insane I jumped in before taking the photo. 2003 Domaine Lignères le signal from Corbières, France was a divine pairing.
Greece Lightning – Greek flavours surrounding succulent elk, roasted fig and roasted eggplant purée. Chive oil, green olive caviar and mustard crest. The wine was a 2006 Luigi Bosca Single Vineyard Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.
Red Rover, dessert in it's most complicated form. Aloe vera and cranberry foam, cheesecake, angel food cake, streusel, soft and hard meringue, beet and blood orange sponge, dehydrated cranberry sheets, hibiscus gel, beet powder, vanilla ice cream and pomegranate seeds. Light and with a little sweetness, 2008 Cantina San Pancrazio Brachetto from Piemonte, Italy was served at the same time.
Every angle so different from the other, you almost need a shot from every side of the plate.
Hot Chocolate ended our culinary marathon with chocolate and Chinese five-spice Ganache. Candied peanut, dehydrated mango sorbet, crème anglaise, sriracha, ginger ale foam, brownie streusel marked with five-spice, chocolate shortbread and 3 dots of lemongrass gel that glittered like gold. Again, paired with the perfect wine, 2007 Cantine Pellegrino Passito Liquoroso from Pantelleria, Italy.
An espresso and an Unfortunate Cookie allowed us to decompress and look back on the magical feast we had just completed. We were even escorted to the kitchen where we met the man of the evening, Marc Lepine and expressed our gratitude for such a brilliant evening. The kitchen was pristine and showed no signs of having assembled such fascinating plates.
The entire evening was one I believe everyone should experience at least once in their lives. The 10 courses are $85 per person and the wine pairing at $55, to me, is part of the whole experience and should not be overlooked. The restaurant is small but very comfortable with simple and unobtrusive decor. Service of course, impeccable. Oh and I must make a mention of the washrooms. The Dyson Airblade was insane, giving you dry hands in 12 seconds. Even the toilet seat dropped slowly, my husband commented, after putting the seat down.
I'm anxious to post Tony's follow-up thoughts on the experience from his pre-conceived notion of earlier. I'm confident there will be some changes.