Two weeks ago, I was saying my goodbyes to Toronto, a city where I have spent four of the past six years and where I have largely been incredibly happy and always felt very much at home. It is also a city where I have eaten extremely well – few places so well as at the Atlantic on Dundas, Nathan Isberg’s quirky little restaurant.
My husband and I have a long-standing admiration for this chef – early in our relationship we celebrated my admission to graduate studies at Oxford with an incredibly memorable meal at Coca on Queen, where he used to work. It was a surprise menu, and the deliciousness just kept coming. He quit and Coca closed down, but we were ecstatic when he opened the Atlantic in the spring of 2010. In June of 2010 we had our first incredible meal there, and I particularly remember the quail. We were talking about where we last had such incredibly well prepared quail, until we realized that it was, of course, at Coca in the hands of the same man.
(My last visit, with a friend back in May, is described here.)
So when departure was getting imminent, there was really only one place I wanted to go for a final dinner. Only, I hadn’t actually planned things very well. I knew he didn’t take reservations for the bar, so we figured we would just go at 7 pm and hope for a seat. Upon arrival, Chef Isberg was outside of the restaurant, and I asked if he was open yet. No, in fact he was closed Saturdays and Sundays all summer for renovations, he responded. Oh no, I thought, I leave Monday and I don’t know when I’ll be back 😦
Sensing my disappointment, perhaps frustrated with the renovations, he offered to cook for us anyway, if we were in a pinch (!!) If we could wait half an hour, and would take what he served up? Ehem – gluten, dairy and nut free…? we inquired. No problem! he responded, he was “moving in that direction” himself. Was he sure? Was he just trying to be polite? No, he insisted, he was not a polite person… We could hardly believe that something so lovely was happening in real life, and, remembering our first Coca surprise menu, we couldn’t say no to such an offer.
After a drink down the street at the Hen House, we returned 30 minutes later, to be met by a table for two set in the window, with a large sunflower as decoration. Then, the food started coming, accompanied by an endless supply of Niagara wine. It was an incredible meal, a more perfect adieu to the Toronto I love than I could have ever thought up myself.
The pictures are of slightly variable quality – taken with my old iPhone and in progressively bad light..
Salad of spinach, red quinoa, red cabbage, peach and nepitella (I believe)
A second salad, of raw sockeye salmon, yellow zucchini, chervil and wakame seaweed
The best risotto I have ever eaten, of Italian black and brown rice and mushrooms
Pickerel on a bed of “smashed” potatoes with tomato and basil, with a carrot sauce (I forget what the herb was)
Pure Valrhona chocolate mousse, by the Hervé This water method – the best chocolate mousse I have ever had (It was dark by this point, so the picture is poor)
I walked out of the restaurant hours later, drunk on wine and love and goodness, on a high of good food. It was just… perfection…