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