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Susur Lee (centre) and sons Kai (left) and Levi Bent-Lee share their family secrets.
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Don’t miss the swoon-worthy duck salad.
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Kai Bent-Lee puts together a delish Asian Caesar (right).
BENT (777 Dundas West, at Markham, 647-352-0093, bentrestaurant.com) Complete tapas-style dinners for $60 per person, including, tax, tip and a cocktail. Average tapas $16. Open for dinner Tuesday to Thursday 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Bar till close. Closed Sunday, Monday, some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
In case you miss it, the concept of Susur Lee's latest temple to gastronomy is literally spelled out in large three-dimensional letters over the west-side resto's front door: BENT FAMILY RESTAURANT.
Some family! That'd be the genre-busting Mr. Lee, whose inspired fusion of Asian ingredients with French technique single-handedly put Toronto on the international foodie map.
There's his wife, Brenda Bent, who not only gives her name to the operation but designed the gorgeous space with partner Karen Gable.
The two impossibly suave dudes working the front? Susur and Brenda's sons, Kai and Levi. They've been involved in the family business since they were teenagers. Long-serving sous Bryan Gunness runs the kitchen when the boss is off overseeing his concerns in Singapore and Washington, DC.
"It's the best team I've ever had," says the modest Lee. "Everything's really come together."
And so we get dangerously delicious tapas-style plates like sake-cured salmon gravlax ($10) layered over blocks of eggy tamago on a bed of horseradish crème fraiche, showered with a julienne of toasted nori, a stack of buckwheat blini on the side. Cubes of red watermelon cleverly mimic tuna ceviche ($16) when dressed with a riot of slivered chilies and a squeeze calamansi lime. Wash them down with a potent Asian Caesar ($16) laced with a cayenne pepper and Sriracha and go home a very happy camper.
But then you'd miss chef's spectacular duck salad ($14), a playful spin on his signature Singapore Slaw, here with shredded duck breast, crackling and kohlrabi finished with crispy taro ribbons and a shower of exotic sprouts and edible flowers. His ambrosial foie gras and chicken pâté ($15) should come with instructions: Dip brioche toasts spread with Chinese olive tapenade into sweet ice-wine syrup. Spoon on onion marmalade and a heap of buttery-smooth pâté. Insert. Swoon. Repeat ad infinitum.
If every other toque in town can do tacos, why not Susur Lee, especially when he fashions tortilla shells from deep-fried taro, then stuffs them with house-smoked cod, tomatillo guacamole and spicy mango salad ($16 for four)? Only his dim sum-style dumplings thick with juicy chicken and shiitake 'shrooms ($15 for five) overshoot the mark. We're all for thinking outside of the box, but do shui mai really need cheese sauce, even if it is artisanal chèvre?
Just because there are no desserts on the menu doesn't mean there aren't any. Who can resist shot glasses tiered with lemon curd parfait and wild blueberry preserves or coriander-infused chocolate mousse and peanut feuilletine particularly if they're free?
"Most chefs give you something at the beginning of the meal, so I thought I'd do it the other way," says the ever-contrary Lee. "Like a fortune cookie."