Alo Restaurant - The Finest Dining
Toronto has become awfully casual of late. We’ve latched onto fast casual dining, ordering food via cab/bike, and dining out in flip flops and tank tops a little too eagerly.
Alo Restaurant is changing that by bringing modern fine dining back to The Six with a vengeance.
First of all, the space on the third floor in the Victorian brick building at the corner of Queen and Spadina is so fiercely stunning, you won’t want to leave (you’d never know this was a former modeling agency and clothing store – walls were knocked down, the ceiling elevated).
Commute Design created a striking and sexy room, playing with both modern and art deco features. Divided into a bar area and separate dining space, the sumptuous textures – luxe leathers, rare marble, eye-catching brass, mirrors, wood – exudes a deep richness and elegance.
Black and gold Chinoiserie-style wallpaper encircles the custom made wraparound mahogany bar, just oozing fun and sophistication. With drinks experts Sarah Parniak and Shane Mulvany whipping up phenomenal cocktails (created by John Bunner), no question you’re staying until last call. Cushy row seating makes getting acquainted tres facile and tempting small sharing dishes tide you over until dinner.
Awash in dove grey tufted banquettes, sleek upholstered chairs, gold pendants and finishes, light wood floors, vaulted ceiling and almost floor-to-ceiling windows, the elevated dining room is polished and sophisticated. Truly a breath of fresh air.
Dinner isn’t just a meal here, it’s an experience.
Alo, the first venture by chef Patrick Kriss (Acadia, Splendido) and general manager Amanda Bradley (George), is a modern French restaurant whose five course tasting menus ($85/pp) take you on a journey.
Everything has been carefully considered by the duo – from the type of service (French, nothing’s on the table when you’re seated) to the cutlery (Studio William - they spent three months choosing – don’t ask how long they spent on the logo).
But don’t mistake it for stuffy. The tasting menus are meant as a way for the diner to not be dictated the experience; the guest instead chooses what they expect. Dining here is meant to be a vacation from the usual restaurant rituals.
Bradley says, "I don't believe in educating the diner. We're here to be hospitable, not teach people. We want it to be fun." Kriss remarks, "Trust us. you're in good hands. Enjoy the element of surprise." Guests who are used to websites brimming with photos and visual updates of dishes every few seconds on Instagram will find a much quieter approach here. It’s all about the adventure that begins when you enter the building, ride the elevator and step into the third floor restaurant. It is the antithesis of recreating the same experience over and again like the goal of most restaurants. Here, it’s about making this night different from all the rest.
The food is French all the way, done with French technique in a French run kitchen, though presented in a much more modern fashion that you’re used to. This ain’t no bistro or boulangerie - it's high concept. Kriss has extensive experience cooking French food - Michelin-rated Daniel (of Daniel Boulud) in NYC for three years, and in France at Régis Marcon and La Maison Troisgros. In Toronto, he worked in fine dining establishment Splendido and acclaimed Acadia before taking a year and a half off to work on this project.
The meticulous plating and technique of this contemporary French fare, by Kriss and his team [Sous Chef - Noah Matthew Betsch (11 Madison Park), Nick Bentley (Acadia, Spendido), and Pastry Chef Cori Murphy (Canoe)], can be seen from the dining room. The open kitchen is centered around an island, built by two men, and is a French way of working – everyone around the same space.
The tasting menu with elements changing frequently, includes four savoury courses, two options each, and three desserts. Guests will think it’s only five, so again – give into the element of surprise here (Kriss and Bradley liked the bread and butter so much, they made it into its own course). There is a vegetarian and pescetarian selection available, and with 24 hours notice, vegans can be accommodated as well. The staff take extensive notes, so should you return, you won’t get the same thing and the server will know that you don’t like nuts/tomatoes/cilantro.
A fine selection of wines has been curated by Sommelier Anjana Viswanatha and, the kitchen counter is now available for seating, offering a ten(ish) course menu with no option.
The execution and presentation of dishes are as modern as it gets. While perhaps not full-on molecular gastronomy, Kriss uses tweezers to plate micro herbs, sprays dishes with delicate beads of salt water and sherry vinegar, and scoops cream from a container from which a liquid nitrogen cloud rises.
The sharp flavours and textures – summer fresh peas, oysters full of briny ocean goodness, satiny rich foie gras – are an experience unto their own. Dishes where you’ll be tempted to use a knife, you’ll be encouraged to use a spoon instead. Everything has been painstakingly thought out.
Is Toronto ready for this kind of modern fine dining? You’ll have to put down that burger and throw something over that ironic tee with a hole in the shoulder first. Then, you’re just going to have to visit to find out. After all, Alo is all about the element of surprise.
In the meantime, here's a little sneak peek…