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Eat & Drink

GwaiLo's month-long pop-up a huge hit

Posted by Jason Finestone / November 6, 2012

gwailo toronto popupThe backdrop in the Senses Restaurant dining room was fitting for the occasion. With bottles of Chinese oyster sauce racked up behind a large pane of glass and a playful arrangement of chopsticks and takeout boxes spread across the table, the GwaiLo Pop-Up gestured to the flavour for the evening before we had even tasted the food.

gwailo popup torontoThe new collaboration between acclaimed Toronto chef Nick Liu (Niagara Street Cafe) and cocktail maven Christina Kuypers (Splendido), takes temporary residence at Senses Restaurant in the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel from November 1- November 24, 2012 (Thursdays-Sundays). Reservations are are mandatory and can only be made online by visiting their website.

gwailo popup torontoSet to change each week, Chef Liu crafts the menu based on inspiration from his travels abroad and the influence of his Asian heritage. The name GwaiLo itself — a disparaging term for foreigners (literally: "foreign devil") popularized in Southern China during the Opium Wars — is a humorous reference to both Liu and Kuypers' mixed backgrounds.

gwailo popup torontoOf course, a night of feasting would not be complete without the presence of a few good cocktails. Kuypers flaunted her creative flair as she schmoozed the room and explained the various drinks that will be featured on the menu throughout the duration of the pop-up (are you tired of that term yet?). The Gov. Dawson ($13) is a fresh, peppery mixture of Hendrick's gin, green chartreuse, ginger, jalapeno and cucumber. For a unique play on a Sidecar, the Scooter ($12) is a delightfully palatable brandy beverage made with pisco, maraschino, guava, lemon juice, Boker's Bitters, lemon and cherry.

As an inventive addendum to the temporary restaurant, Kuypers will be hosting a free Sunday School up until December 9, focused on cocktail seminars for service industry professionals, as well as general fans of alcohol.

gwailo popup torontoIt's a good thing that they pulled us down to the main dining area, or I would have destroyed my appetite on the appetizers alone. The crispy fried tofu was smooth as silk on the inside with a salty, chip-like crust. We also indulged in deep-fried shrimp, whose heads I wish would replace popcorn at the movie theatre.

The conventional GwaiLo Pop-Up experience (if I can call it that) would technically begin now. Each diner receives an artfully prepared amuse bouche, followed by a four course series of small plates, a palate cleanser and then dessert, all for $75. Full wine pairings are also available for an additional $45 per person.

gwailo pop up torontoThe night's amuse was a fried kimchi lettuce wrap — a crisp and fresh little bite of love. The first course — General Tso's Sweetbreads — jumped out at me from the page of the menu and seemed to be a logical start to a fusion meal. The sauce was sweet and clung perfectly to the battered exterior of the sweetbreads, which were buttery on the inside. Unfortunately, the accompanied jellyfish slaw left a little to be desired and could have benefited from a bit more acidity.

gwailo popup torontoOur next course was also a mix of the exceptional and the slightly underwhelming: Japanese Bolognese, composed of pristinely cooked beef tataki, handmade soba noodles that missed the mark texturally, a tomato consommé, parmigiano-reggiano, mushroom crisp, basil, and truffle pearls. Despite the battle between the beef and buckwheat noodles, the light, airy, mushroom crisp and delicate truffle pearls made this dish something I'd still order again in a heartbeat.

gwailo popup torontoWith our tastebuds, stomachs and livers nicely warmed up, we moved on to a dish of seared scallops. Perhaps the most picturesque of the evening — though none of the night's offerings lacked in elegant presentation — the soft scallops were scattered about the plate with an arrangement of seriously smokey, hand-picked cherry tomatoes direct from Liu's garden, honey mushrooms, pickled carrot, basil and a sauce of tom yum beurre blanc. The scallops and mushrooms stood out amongst the blander flavours of the carrots and the sauce.

gwailo popup torontoWith the final main course approaching I was comfortable in the warmly styled dining room, but had yet to be completely knocked out by a dish. To say that I'm not much of a dessert fiend would be an understatement, so I was hoping that Liu's braised Korean short rib would floor me.

gwailo popup torontoIt did. Resting atop a velvety bed of kimchi pommes purée and drizzled with a sweet asian pear BBQ sauce sat a short rib so soft that you could effortlessly cut it with a fork. Crunchy, tart bits of what I assumed to be kimchi daikon served as an excellent contrast to the succulent meat. But the real one-two punch was delivered by a deep fried panko egg yolk — this is the stuff of dreams. One slice through the centre of that expertly cooked, gooey yellow yolk and the damn thing just spread its love all over an already incredible mix of flavours. For the sake of all future patrons at the GwaiLo Pop-Up, I hope this dish stays on the menu.

gwailo popup torontoWhatever was to follow that freakishly good finale seemed insignificant at this point, but our palates were thoroughly cleansed with the powerful, herbed punch of a ginger consommé with fennel gelée, goji berry and mint oil.

gwailo popup torontoThe dessert course was a pretty assembly — sochu poached pear with peking duck brittle, elderberries and star anise chantilly. I'm not a big fan of licorice so I found the chantilly overpowering, but the pear was nicely cooked, and the fact that Liu successfully incorporated duck into a dessert made this meat lover beam.

gwailo popup torontoChef Liu says that "the concept of GwaiLo Pop-Up was designed to bring our food and dining philosophy to a larger audience while we work to establish a permanent home for our restaurant." For those of us that are intrigued enough to attend, it offers us a fun and flavourful glimpse into the minds and palates of a great hometown chef and an inspiring liquor-expert.



j-rock / November 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm
The food looks great, but I was always under the impression that the term "Gwailo" had pretty negative connotations.
jensen / November 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm
I was taught "Bakgwai" carried negative connotations, "gwailo" and "Huk gwailo" were okay.
Khristopher / November 6, 2012 at 01:21 pm
How can this racist term be allowed to be used as a store name? How would Asian people feel if we had a store with the same connotation?
Sam / November 6, 2012 at 02:10 pm
It's a funny term, used with affection in my family. If you really did intend it to sting, you'd be wise to actually read the Wiki article which states you would preface with "sei".

Either way, the food looks amazing & I can't wait to dine there next week!
j-rock replying to a comment from \motorboatme / November 6, 2012 at 03:11 pm
This why I love the internet. We got from a restaurant review to an offer to motorboat in six posts.
A Chinese guy replying to a comment from Khristopher / November 6, 2012 at 03:12 pm
We've had lots of racist terms thrown at us over the years, so we share your pain and indignation, Khristopher.
Gloria / November 6, 2012 at 06:07 pm
It's actually more literally "ghost man." Gwai = ghost. Lo = guy/man. But you know ... "foreign devil" sounds way better.
Cynthia / November 6, 2012 at 06:20 pm
Why are they allowed to call it Gwailo? Isn't that a slur?
P.K. / November 6, 2012 at 11:15 pm
Quite ironic if a white person eats here.
Honey Boo Boo / November 7, 2012 at 12:06 am
Anyone who's offended by "GwaiLo" is being overly sensitive and needs to get a life. That term may have carried negative connotations--150 years ago! (when Europeans first tried to invade China). Nowadays, it's about as offensive as using the term "Oriental" when referring to Asians. Besides, it's just a temporary pop-up restaurant.

If you really want something to complain about, how about looking into the origin of the name "Lululemon".
Will replying to a comment from Good Job / November 7, 2012 at 08:51 am
Good job, Good Job. Do you think that a silly debate over a term that A doesn't really have a North American base and B has slipped through the Canadian sensory board in other public forms already is an excuse to say the C word and the N word. I can say hands down that you clearly don't know what YOU are talking about. Its like saying that calling someone a Yankee is the same as calling them a %#$@! Thats right, insert word you used, for real, offensive words. Watch your language in a public forum. Forum = decorum
j-rock / November 7, 2012 at 09:12 am
When I lived in Japan, we used to often have similar discussions over the use of the term "Gaijin". A word with an ugly history that's been rehabilitated to some degree, but still generally avoided in polite company.
jer replying to a comment from Honey Boo Boo / November 7, 2012 at 10:11 am
I agree with your comments overall, but, a correction... It is a pop-up for now but will be the name of the new restaurant when it opens up.
ebrench / November 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm
I lived in Guangzhou for 6 years (where the Opium Wars were mostly centered) and can say with great confidence that the modern use for the term 'Gwailo' is more playful than hurtful. Its effect is derived entirely from the context in which it is used. While a blunt, sweeping reference to a foreigner as 'gwailo' sticks in my craw a bit, in almost every use I came across, it represents a joking and playful term meant to softly chide a friend or acquaintance. Nothing more.
Ricky / November 7, 2012 at 08:30 pm
It's like Japanese freely using Hitler as a popular icon for adveritsments and shows. As long as a majority uses it enough, totally fine to make Hilter a playful character. Same with this word. So what's the problem?
Another chinese guy / November 7, 2012 at 09:06 pm
I shall open a restaurant and name it Big Six.
JennyM / November 12, 2012 at 10:16 am
I love Nick Liu
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