GEORGE (111 Queen East, at Mutual, 416-863-6006 ) Complete meals for $120 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $22. Open Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday. Licensed. Access: four steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
I first fell in love with Lorenzo Loseto , the gifted chef currently causing a stir at George on Queen East, when my lips and tongue first touched his insidiously delicious chocolate meringue tart last fall at Verity. It cost a dollar. Talk about bang for your buck.
Then, his brightly lit take-away doubled as the de facto kitchen for the just-launched exclusive Queen Street women's spa-cum-networking-facility of the same name. Though the shockingly inexpensive, considering the circumstances, café still caters to the rest of us, it's since evolved into George, perhaps downtown's most posh rendezvous for the power elite of both sexes.
Though written up on the style pages as Toronto's hottest new chef, Loseto is no neophyte, most recently having spent what I imagine must have been an uncomfortable stint under those chrome-domed Rubino brothers at Rain. Before that, he was Susur Lee's sous at Lotus.
No other local chef of recent memory has been both praised and pilloried in the press and online chat rooms as much as Loseto and his work at George. He's either the second coming of Escoffier - son of Susur, surely - or a pretentious charlatan. And how they've complained. As the punchline to the vaudeville gag about the Jewish couple kvetching about the food at their Catskill resort goes: and such small portions!
My curiosity pushed me to make a beeline for the joint. Who wouldn't?
Once inside, we find a large 19th century warehouse space, all burnished gold and dark browns accented with deep purples that Doug on Trading Spaces would call Funky Formality. I'm glad I've worn my Nehru jacket. And here I'd imagined chain-link fencing.
The first to arrive this early weeknight evening, we're led to a corner table by the front window, "the best seat in the house," assures the first of a series of very affable servers. With their matching stripy shirts and rumpled aprons, they wouldn't be out of place at some chic suburban Ponderosa. Relax, Berniece, they wear pants and shoes, too.
The next one explains that George's menu is divided into five courses - two starters, then a main, followed by cheese and dessert - and that portions are not on the huge side.
Our orders taken, he quickly returns with an amusing amuse bouche of a dozen or so miniature orecchiette glazed with roasted arugula pesto. They spill out of a single conchiglione pasta shell lined with lemongrass mayo like some horn o' plenty in reverse.
A daub of assertively salty black olive tapenade sits next to it. Where's the bread, dude? In a flash we're delivered a rough burlap-wrapped board of fantastic, warm house-baked focaccia and fabulously addictive buttery flatbread that recalls paper-thin flaky pie crust tossed with sea salt.
Then the food arrives, which is when the fun really begins. Floating atop a pale green pool of foamy, swoon-worthy apple-infused whipped cream kicked with wasabi, a pair of barely seared smoky, butter-smooth, sashimi-sized hamachi yellowtail fillets ($19) come crusted with black peppercorn and tiered with a salad of sweet lobster shards wrapped with rainbow-striped beet. While daubs of balsamic ring the spectacular dish's perimeter, a diaphanous blistered bean curd wafer stands at attention, held upright by a scallion-stalk sentry.
Juxtaposed against the tart tangle of an Asian-inspired slaw - finely shredded Fuji apple, jicama and celery leaf tossed with chive chiffonade - a diminutive mound of sliced rare miso-cured duck breast ($15) rides a shortbread cracker laced with foie gras.
At the opposite end of a large rectangular plate scattered with the occasional pumpkin seed, another shortbread - this time tempered with rosemary - comes dolloped with foie gras mousse and festooned with radish sprouts.
A teensy lidded teacup reveals Loseto's glorious ricotta gnocchi ($12) - all 17 of 'em - offset with delicate shiitake 'shrooms and ribbons of basil in deeply delish beurre brûlé.
A teaspoonful of shiitake duxelles and curly shavings of toasted almond garnish this awesome take on country comfort food. Speaking of which, a diminutive slab of smoked wild boar belly ($14) garlanded with threads of red and white fennel and plated over tender soy bean and barley risotto permeated with monkfish may as well be chef's version of pork 'n' beans, albeit in a parallel universe.
The provisional mains follow. Slow-cooked in a citrusy ancho braise, a relatively hefty cube of miso-glazed short ribs ($25) arrives at table layered with seared Quebec foie gras.
The sides are an ingenious spinach-stuffed ravioli (one) made from yam-like boniato and what Loseto calls kimchi carrots, Korean-style root veg scented with rice vinegar and sesame oil.
Pardon my gush, but Loseto's artistry is best exemplified by the trio of jasmine tea-cured venison tenderloin medallions ($18) he pairs with an amazing sour cherry jus kicked with a counterpoint of kumquat and candied walnut. By its side, a mini-napoleon of winter squash topped with caramelized banana is simplicity itself .
We finish with a plate of crumbly Benedictine blue cheese coupled with thinly sliced apple and parmesan brioche ($7/30 g, $12/60 g) and a pleasant lemon tart dressed with white chocolate ganache and candied orange peel ($10).
Yes, these plates are small. They are also some of the most eye-popping around, as stimulating to the eye as to the taste buds. You want to linger over every single sensation, to make them last forever.
But if that's not your scene and your hunger, both metaphoric and literal, still isn't satisfied after dinner at George, there's always poutine at the greasy spoon across the way.