Every now and then a meal rocks your world so completely that it almost defies words.
This past weekend I experienced such a meal.
Having tried the lunch at CHARCUT last summer, I was anxious to come back for dinner. And when the discussion began about where to celebrate my birthday this year, CHARCUT immediately jumped to the top of the list.
My wife Robyn and I packed up the car and headed down the Queen Elizabeth Highway toward gluttony. But not before Robyn discovered this wannabe stowaway in our bags….
When we arrived, we were shown to our seats at the kitchenside eating bar where Chef/ Co-owner John recognized us from a chance encounter earlier in the day and made us feel welcome. Sitting at the eating bar gave us a perfect vantage point to the sights and sounds of a busy kitchen dinner service. I enjoyed every minute of that.
And then the feasting began.
Right away a welcome gift of Linguica sausage and organic Turkey Tasso, topped with shavings of delicious St. George cheese arrived for our pleasure. And please it did. The turkey tasso was thinly shaved, and deliciously peppery. I could have eaten a pound of it. By the time I worked back around to the linguica, it was almost all gone! I reasoned that a hungry bird must have flown in and liberated us of our sausage, but then I noticed the sheepish grin on Robyn’s face. I did however manage to get a couple slivers, and I can see why it vanished so fast.
Seconds later, our next dish arrived at the counter. Warm Raclette Cheese with house made brioche rolls. Rich and creamy, this one really satisfied the cheese fiend in me. However, I actually think the highlight of the dish is the brioche rolls. Warm, soft, and oh so buttery, they were gone in an instant. Although very tasty, I did find myself wishing it was a bigger pot of cheese for the price. ($16)
Knowing that CHARCUT’s strengths are their house made charcuterie items, we were really excited to check out the charcut board. And it did not disappoint. Especially the Pig Head Mortadella. House made sausage stuffed with pistachios and truffles never tasted so good.
Trying the specials is a must in a good restaurant. With the Octopus Bolognaise stuffed pasta shells with San Marzano tomatoes, chorizo, and basil coming so highly recommended by our server, we had to give it a try. Neither Robyn or I are big seafood fans, and we both would put octopus on the strong dislike list. However, I have to say that this dish really surprised me. The fishy odour and taste dissipated nicely after the first bite, and you were left with that delicious San Marzano tomato sauce.
The meat parade continued with a Duck Rillettes, flavoured with orange and thyme. The pork version was a highlight of our lunch in the summer, and the duck was also very good. It had all the creaminess, but we preferred the milder flavour of the pork. I’m sure duck lovers will go quackers for it though. (haha, very punny)
As we sat digesting, we discussed the fact that neither of us had ever tried bone marrow, and debated whether we’d ever order it. Moments later, an order showed up at the table, compliments of the chefs. What a perfect way to sample something you’re apprehensive about. We scooped the gelatinous marrow onto the crostini and topped with the escargot au gratin. Rich, and creamy, and rich… did I mention it’s rich? I found it quite tasty, and Robyn found it utterly divine.
Finally, we got to our main course with sides. I know, I know, it seems like we already ate enough for a family of 5 (and we did), but I guess that’s what happens when you’re excited to sample the whole menu.
We wisely elected to split one entree, and after much debate we settled on the Pork belly with chanterelles, served atop black truffle cheddar grits. Unfortunately, this is the one dish out of the 10 we tried that we both found to be a let down. I enjoyed the flavour of the grits, but they needed to be a bit more tender for my taste. This being my first taste of grits, I was expecting a more porridge-like consistency, but instead these were more of a pellet form. The pork belly itself, while still moist, just lacked some caramelization and that memorable quality of the rest of the dishes. Everything else was making such a bold impression, that the pork belly seemed very bland in comparison. Sitting atop the pork belly was some crispy cracklins. The idea of crispy fried pork skin sounds pretty good to me, but these were more of a petrified state. So I guess this whole dish was a miss for me.
We couldn’t decide between the duck fat fried poutine and the smashed potatoes with sour cream, rosemary, and bacon. So we got both. (pop goes the buttons)
The poutine was topped with enough rich and meaty gravy to satisfy even Dustin Penner, and the duck fat french fries were a perfect vessel for all that gooey gravy and cheese goodness.
The smashed potatoes were packed with rosemary flavour and topped with sour cream and thin crispy bacon. Good luck finding a fault with that!
As usual, I decided to leave the picking of the dessert to the expert, Robyn. Knowing her addiction to chocolate, I wasn’t surprised when she decided on the Valrhona Chocolate Pudding with Chantilly cream and sweet brioche croutons. It ended up being a really nice, creamy finish to a pretty epic meal.
Happy Birthday to me!