Origin is Claudio Aprile's second restaurant in Toronto. Located on the corner of King and Church, this $1.3-million project was envisioned to be a casual dining place for fans of Aprile's contemporary tapas fare.
Designed by the same team behind Aprile's Colborne Lane, Stroudfoot Inc. stamps its signature urban decay look throughout the restaurant. There's a stripped-down brick wall infused with glowing light from industrial-type lamps. There's an organic piece of reclaimed wood sculptured into an eating counter around a glossy, open-concept kitchen. It's an exquisite centre stage for the Toronto chef and his staff.
As far as the menu goes, 36 tapas-style dishes with influences from Asia, Europe, and molecular gastronomy are divided into sections: Snacks & Sides, Raw Bar, Mozzarella Bar, Chilled, and Hot.
I opt for Smoked Cod Croquettes ($6) to start. Five perfect spheres arrive in a white bowl with a generous dollop of saffron aioli. It's delicious, although I can't help but notice how other items seem more ambitious.
From the Raw section, the Spicy Tuna Roll ($9) is a hand crafted seaweed cone with spicy tuna tartare, batons of crisp green apples, various shades of shiso leaves, miso mayo, and a sprinkling of puffed amaranth. The dish is absolutely sublime, bursting with robust flavours in each bite - and one that I would order again.
From the Chilled section of the menu, I try Foie Gras Mousse ($27), which is presented in a mason jar. There's a baffling layer of solid fat surrounding the liver mousse inside, and to get to the foie gras, I chip away the coat that's as palatable as bacon lard left to cool in the refrigerator. Needless to say, I am not a fan of this one.
However, the kitchen redeems itself with a dish made in heaven. A thick loin of well-cooked Miso-Glazed Black Cod ($20) shows up on top of al dente soba noodles floating in a light ginger-miso broth. There's a garnish of gentle pea sprouts and a surprising squirt of truffle oil, both of which add an extra dimension to this already wonderful hot entrée.
Overall, I'm hedging my bet on this one - like those traders down on Bay Street. 50% of the food I had, I enjoyed; the other 50% was ho-hum. Yet, I am incorrigibly curious to try some of the other interesting dishes in their market-driven menu. If Aprile continues to do his casual experimentations in the kitchen, then I would certainly bet that something special would rise above all that liquid nitrogen - and Origin's stock would go through the roof!
Writing and photos by Jen Laceda