Rating: NNNNNIt's a surreal scene. I feel like I'm in the chi-chi dinner party that's been hijacked by machine gun-toting.
It’s a surreal scene. I feel like I’m in the chi-chi dinner party that’s been hijacked by machine gun-toting terrorists in Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie. NFrom our opalescent banquette at Susur, the Literary Device and I have a front-row seat to the shakedown taking place directly outside the hottest — and hautest — restaurant in town. A convoy of cop cars road-block a suspected stolen SUV on a quiet stretch of King West.
Red revolving cruiser lights strafe the elegantly minimal white-on-white room as flack-jacketed police armed with shotguns apprehend the teenage alleged perp.
A woman at the next table looks up from her Gorgonzola-sauced black-pepper roasted venison loin sided with baked squash, braised Chinese cabbage and wild-rice gnocchi ($45) and notices the street hassle outside through an arched window.
“They’d better not get anywhere near my car,” she snorts before returning her attention to the awe-inspiring action occurring on the heavy white plate in front of her.
But then again, Mel and Marilyn Lastman could ride into the joint naked on a moose and no one would notice — Susur Lee’s food is that fantastic.
Don’t get the idea that this is some ascetic shrine to gourmania. Unlike Lee’s previous beanery, Lotus, the floor staff, at least 10 of whom float from table to table, are warm and informed. And the casually dressed crowd here on a Wednesday night — I smell Internet money — have obviously come for the cuisine and not the scene, unlike the big-hair and power-suit habitues of Lotus.
As yet another thesaurus-defying dish emerges from the kitchen — mustard-seed-and-garlic-marinated rack of lamb with braised jicama and turnip, taro dauphinois, mint chutney and a splash of green curry sauce ($45) — all heads turn, and gasps can be heard.
Expect to drop serious coin at Susur. Funny, I remember hearing foodie gossip that Lee’s new venture would be more accessible than the impossibly snooty Lotus. And it is — if you’ve just won the lottery.
Since tonight is a not-likely-to-be-repeated-soon experience, we throw caution — and credit card — to the wind by ordering Susur’s $100-per-person tasting menu. Anticipating a six-course trawl through the greatest hits of the a la carte menu, the Device and I count at least 10 different dishes by the evening’s end.
The spread starts with an amuse-gueule of chicken pâté topped with chili-spiked tomato puree and layered with crispy caramelized scallion rings and chervil shoots. Then, spinach-infused custard comes topped with wasabi-kicked salmon mousse tossed with coral-hued roe, nasturtium leaves and dill oil.
The bread basket disappoints — average baguette and sourdough slices with refrigerator-hard butter pats. Is it too much to expect more than the same stuff found in every second-rate trat on College?
The ensuing soup is jaw-droppingly superb. Gelatinous and thick with Dungeness crab, chewy shark fin, spiral-cut shrimp and earthy chanterelle mushrooms, it arrives in an exquisite globular zucchini complete with stem lid decorated with chive strands. Next, thin strips of seared foie gras garnished with beet sprouts arrive beside half a de-boned, roasted pink-flesh quail. Around them, pools of red wine and wild leek reductions offset a white turnip thimble and tart orange-onion marmalade.
On a long Japanese-inspired plate we find a near-mincemeat of black olive ‘n’ raisin compote, a slab of coarse squab, foie gras and tongue (!) terrine, wonton-wrapper crisp-bread, sweet almost-pickled beet puree, candied carrot threads and a scoop of insanely decadent ice-cream-like foie gras mousse.
Frankly, it’s like being bludgeoned over the head by an ermine-upholstered 2-by-4. But damn, it hurts so good! Now I know how geese force-fed to make foie gras feel. And although we’re only at the halfway mark, the Device says she’s as stuffed as the spinach-crab dumplings in steamed lemon grass basil-tomato broth ($14) that she spots at a nearby table.
Informing us that the chef’s feeling creative tonight, our server presents yet another visually gorgeous course, an “intermezzo” of dragon’s eye and tapioca pellets in cool melon soup delivered in a tiny espresso cup. The Device groans, wishing Susur doled out doggie bags so she could savour this meal’s intense flavours for a week.
With the home stretch in sight, we tuck into a pair of thick, loonie-sized pork tenderloin medallions sauced with an iffy mix of dark miso and Dijon, cushioned by steamed miniature veggies and an otherworldly triangle of grilled corn flan. We complete our divine endurance test with Gorgonzola-crumbled quiche-like tart, pale poached pear and blackberry sorbet, succeeded by grainy guava-textured plum sherbet, deep chocolate ice-cream in chocolate pastry and buttery mascarpone-enhanced crème brûlée.
Overkill? Indubitably, but what a way to go. And go again we will — as long as someone else picks up the cheque.
601 King West, 603-2205
601 King West, 603-2205
601 King West, 603-2205
Susur Lee is one of the top chefs in the world today, and here’s proof. Forget Lotus’s shabby chic — this cool, elegant room with suave service dishes up some of the most fabulous food that ever found its way to a plate. Occasionally, it borders on overkill, but what a spectacular way to go! Complete dinners for $160 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 6 to 10:30 pm. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: slight step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating:
Susur Lee is one of the top chefs in the world today, and here’s proof. Forget Lotus’s shabby chic — this cool, elegant room with suave service dishes up some of the most fabulous food that ever found its way to a plate. Occasionally, it borders on overkill, but what a spectacular way to go! Complete dinners for $160 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday 6 to 10:30 pm. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Access: slight step at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN
Here’s the recipe for Slow-Cooked Chili Duck Breast with Honey-Glazed Taro Root that Lee cooked on the Food Channel’s East Meets West, with Ming Tsai:
Tired of turkey? Revamp your holiday lineup with this four-course spread:
Duplicate Lee’s 1997 World Gourmet Summit menu in your own kitchen: