July 29, 2014
Jan 20, 2014
12:17 PM
Eat

Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Bero

Bero’s sleek interior (Image: Cheol Joon Baek)

The restaurant critics who’ve pronounced on Bero have been all over the map. Some love it (the Globe) and some hate it (pretty much everybody else). Which is incredibly interesting. Foodies who follow Toronto restaurant reviews know that the critics are usually pretty much on the same page with minor variations.

But on Bero it’s a love versus hate thing. Toronto Life called the cooking “flavour flops” and damned the “fussy compositions.” The Globe said the kitchen has “the skills to support its imagination,” in an ecstatic review. Who’s right? Neither, of course, because the cooking at Bero is wildly inconsistent. It is always imaginative (to a fault) and veers from the sublime to the ridiculous.

In fact chef Matt Kantor, who has scant professional cooking experience (most of it pop-ups and stages) reminds me of myself. I love to cook. It’s my hobby. But I sometimes mess up fairly badly because I often cook stuff for company that I’ve only done once or twice before (or never) and it doesn’t work out. The difference between us, however, is that I don’t charge for dinner.

There are two choices (no à la carte): Four courses for $68 or seven courses for $98. You choose two apps, a main and a dessert. For amuse they brought us a cute little sweet potato and bourbon chip with mustard ganache. Ganache is sweet cream, the chip is uncrisp and kinda tough but yummy. Then they pour crystalline ham broth onto hamachi to cook it. It’s topped with some yummy white powdery mousse. When I ask the waiter what it is, he says powdered ham, but it doesn’t taste like ham. The service is like that: Waiters can’t answer our various ingredient questions and nobody ever offers us water.

There’s a good carrot soup with a hint of coconut, and super-soft gnocchi with snails, garlic chips and celeriac cream in way too much butter. The most ambitious app is weirdly blackened sweetbreads with little bits of salt-cured egg yolk, sweet powdered brown butter, browned parsnip, smears of spicy romesco and chunks of nicely browned parsley root. We’re impressed now.

But mains let us down hard. The sturgeon is musty like a bad farmed fish. It comes with fab deep-fried Brussels sprouts, powdered schmaltz (???) and dots of mustard vinaigrette. Chef says there’s popcorn something under the fish, but we can’t find it. Duck breast is somewhat tough, its sides an over-ambitious wannabe molecular gastronomy combo of rye crumbs, morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) and a lukewarm log of bland broccoli custard.

Desserts are more confusion of quality: Little savarin cakes with lemon curd are buttery and delicious, but their mascarpone cream has no mascarpone taste and white peach sorbet is blah. The lemon dessert is lemon curd with mozzarella, calamansi custard and candied Buddha’s hand. Google those last two. It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon of a boomer whose central goal was to serve his dinner guests foods they’d never heard of. Too bad nobody’s reining in a chef who could probably be good if he controlled his impulse to be Toronto’s Ferran Adrià.

BERO, 889 Queen St. E., $136 Dinner for two

Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine.