Hoof Raw Bar
Hoof Raw Bar has opened next door to the Black Hoof on Dundas West. In a move sure to please those less infatuated with meat than the original restaurant's typical clientele, you won't find any turf at this seafood-only establishment. Owner Jen Agg has borrowed from many cultures' culinary use of sea creatures in putting together a menu that's as exciting for fish lovers as what meat-eaters are treated to at the original Hoof. From sashimi to gravlax, the menu is anything but predictable or boring. Needless to say, there were no bones to pick during my visit — not even in the fish.
Slate walls, sea foam-coloured chairs and white-washed brick walls evoke an elegant Martha's Vineyard style for the new restaurant. The layout, similar to the first Hoof, places the chefs centre stage with ample counter seating that wraps around the prep stations. There are several tables in back for those looking for a more quiet evening.
For opening night, the service was already impeccable, and our server deftly answered our many excited questions throughout the evening. Ditto for the speed at which our dishes came — there were no moments of impatience, but we also didn't feel rushed.
Despite the Hoof's excellent cocktail list, white wine reigned supreme at our dinner table. Greek wine has come into vogue lately and the Assyritko ($12) may not have the easy 'drinkability' that many favour, but nevertheless featured quite a versatile profile that paired nicely with our meal. We started off with a loaf of the milk bread, a staple from Japan that's slightly sweet, beyond soft, and just fantastic.
Not all will agree, but I'd already characterize the cured fish board ($22) as the signature dish at Hoof Raw Bar. With four types of fish and a scallop cured in various ways, it was by far the evening's knock-out with its trend-setting play on charcuterie. The chorizo-cured scallop has the familiar flavour of cured meat, and yet takes on completely new character when when applied to the raw bivalve. On the other end of the board, the olive-brined Branzino was delicate, with just a hint of brine to cut the buttery flesh.
A sizeable portion of the sea bream sashimi ($16) is accompanied by cucumber noodles, soy butter and nasturtium leaves. The taste of this dish is only matched by its beauty. Notes of acidity, sweetness, saltiness and even savoury elements come together harmoniously in this expertly executed dish that any Itamae would be proud to serve.
Chawanmushi ($11) is a Japanese loose egg custard that's steamed in a ramekin and topped with salmon roe, salted crispy kale and button mushrooms. More for the adventurous eater, the custard serves as a base to showcase the depth of flavour in the roe and complexity of the many textures at work.
A pequin sauce, shiitake mushrooms, and sweated scallions are lightly tossed with charred baby octopus ($15). The scallions and shiitakes ground the dish in classic pan-Asian flavours, yet the inclusion of the pequin and charred octopus lend a Provencal flare that's as welcome as it's unexpected. Imaginative and original, this is simply a must-order dish.
You can't help but have high expectations for Hoof Raw Bar with the reputation garnered by Black Hoof. The creativity and execution of our meal here was downright exceptional. No doubt, the line-ups will soon follow, so go now before "it's the one that got away."
Photos by Peter Henderson