by Lauren Mote
How can one have the opportunity to dine at such a world renowned restaurant like The Fifth? My dining partner was in awe as she cordially accepted my invitation to enjoy Chef J.P. Challet’s tasting menu. General Manager and Sommelier Monsieur Christian Huot was on hand to carefully pair each course with an equally exquisite wine.
Upon arriving at the Fifth, the usher escorts us to the 1950s loft style elevator to the fifth floor where the M. Huot personally takes us to the bar for an aperitif. He carefully cracks open a bottle of brut champagne to be savoured while slurping a raspberry point oyster with a vodka, lemon and wild blueberry mignonette; simply delicious.
The gorgeous view of downtown Toronto is captured from our final seating destination along the Duncan St. side of the building. Beautiful linen canopies are matched with elegant table settings, a light breeze and well poised serving staff.
We start our tasting menu with an escargot duo. Chausson d’escargots done in a puff pastry turnover, with pan seared escargots atop white asparagus and clarified chive butter. M. Huot selected a Rosé from Corbières which he described as the classic pairing. Next we are presented with two wine glasses; one the left is 2000 Nichol’s Chardonnay from California and on the right is 2005 Solare Riesling from Alsace. The plate arrives with two dishes. On the left is the seared Atlantic halibut, topped with a “cheese-less pesto” and served with a saffron aioli, finished with citrus chutney, cleverly quenelled to look like a bright pink grapefruit segment. The chardonnay gives rich, earthy vegetables on the nose, and once consumed, it brightens the whole dish with its acidity. The dish on the right is a perfectly shelled lobster claw, atop a crab cake and finished with a stroke of olive tapenade. The Riesling was floral on the nose, with an essence of candied fruit; it was lasting on the palette. The wine maintains the lasting flavour of the lobster while the other plate components shine through one at a time.
This one is my favourite course; Quebec duck three ways. On the bottom is ruby red duck carpaccio. This is the base for the terrine of foie gras, that is topped with seared foie gras and stewed figs. It was delicate, yet very powerful. This amount of foie gras was decadent but we couldn’t stop. This dish was paired with two wines. First we have a slightly sweet South-West white from France. This wine brings out the sweeter side of the foie gras. The figs taste almost candied. It was important that we do not go back to the white after trying the big Burgundy sitting next to it on the table, as the white leaves some residual sugar. The Burgundy enhances the charcoal flavour of the seared foie gras and the light meatiness of the carpaccio. The foie gras was everything it should be, it melted in the mouth and was adaptable to different parts of the mouth that only the wine could enhance.
Our fifth course was an Ontario rack of lamb, with an herb crust, atop paper thin black truffles, potato croquette and trumpet mushrooms swimming in a sea of beurre blanc. M. Huot brings out a Cotês-du-Roussillion-Villages. “Seulement trois cuvees” – in one hundred years only three vintages have ever been produced. The wine is so juicy, and so earthy; it was only fair to give us the gaminess of the lamb and the pungent black truffle to sip the wine with; or maybe the other way around!
For our next course, the Cotês-du-Roussillion-Villages follows us. At this point, Chef Challet greets us and manages to get some information out of me before the review is completed. Yes Chef, everything IS delicious! Shortly after his departure, the food runner appears; the warm camembert with tomatoes and mini-potato croquette arrive; fabulous. One can only hope for a cheese course to aid in my digestion before dessert arrives.
Please do not be full… please… I recall chanting to myself. Alas, the dessert arrives; a true favourite for this French food enthusiast. Here lies the Crêpe Suzette with heavy cream, oranges and grand marnier; M. Huot’s finale was a pairing with Banyuls Blanc; dry, fruity and cuts through the heaviness of all the sweet ingredients.
As I reflect on my experience, I realize that the Fifth is a stomping ground for real Toronto foodies. Chef Challet is seasoned, simple and remarkable in his environment. M. Huot later tells me that before selecting a menu, both the Chef and himself sit with some great wines and design a menu together, from the standpoint of enhancing the food with the wine and vice-versa. This is old school mentality and it works so well. Even if one knows about wine, utilize the suggestions of a great sommelier at your next dining scene to turn an “eating experience” into a “gastronomical experience”.
Appetizers $9.00 to $32.00
Main Courses $19.00 – $38.00
The Fifth www.thefifth.com
225 Richmond St. West
Open for dinner Thursday to Saturday; call for reservations.