Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Edulis
By Joanne Kates
At Edulis, the menu is international and changes daily, but there’s Spanish flair throughout (Image: Cheol Joon Baek)
Anton Potvin had enough of walking the floor every night at his marvellous Niagara Street Café, and his friends, the husband-and-wife culinary team of Tobey Nemeth and Michael Caballo, were just back from four years of cooking their way around the world. They made the deal, sealed it with a tequila, and shazam, Niagara Street Café became Edulis, Nemeth and Caballo’s new baby.
They did a minor reno, adding marble tables and Mexican tiles, and opened Edulis in the spring. Nemeth, who was chef at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, is the eternally gracious maître d’, and Caballo, who worked for Potvin as chef for three years (2005 to 2008) is in the kitchen. And you can taste the plans they were hatching in every bite at Edulis; you can imagine them sitting in a tapas bar in Spain or a trattoria in Chianti, saying: “Let’s serve a little amuse of Spanish olives stuffed with anchovies, and how about we bake our own crusty Red Fife bread every day? And let’s say on the menu that people shouldn’t use their cells at the table.”
And that’s what they’ve done.
All of which makes Edulis (Latin for “edible,” and for porcini mushrooms) so charming. Caballo, who is of Spanish heritage, leans towards Spain in his cooking but his food work dances to world music.
He has two menus: the carte blanche (“Put your belly in our hands … we promise to be nice”) is five or six courses for $50 or $70 per person. The à la carte menu is mostly small plates and it changes often, Caballo taking daily inspiration from the produce, etc., that shows up at his kitchen door.
If they’re still in season, chef’s live B.C. spot prawns are de rigueur, and not for the faint of heart. He deep-fries the heads (still with antennae) crispy crunchy and serves the sweet succulent tails tossed with skinned almonds and radish sprouts in thin tangy mayo.
Chef purées the restaurant’s namesake mushrooms for a deep rich jus and pools it at the base of tiny towers of wilted spinach topped with salt-cured foie gras and a single fresh clam. He grills tiny, impeccably fresh squid rings till they’re barely translucent and sets them on a Spanish earthenware dish over roasted onions and creamed onion sauce spiked with a tiny pool of vinaigrette for acid and balance.
The man is a sensualist and an enabler. I know chicken skin is bad for me, but this guy smokes it and crisps it to the point of irresistible — as a throwaway line beside velvety warm chicken terrine with light herbed vinaigrette (which is completely different from the vinaigrette on the squid). He wraps tender sweetbreads and veal up in little packages with sweet fresh walnuts and sets them off with apple slivers in tangy mayo remoulade.
And for dessert there is rum baba that might be better than most sex. It is a white cake, intensely buttery and of very fine crumb. The server pours on rum syrup, proffers whipped cream in a tiny copper pot, and we are in rum baba heaven.
Edith Piaf is singing “Non, je ne regrette rien.” We too have no regrets.
Edulis, 169 Niagara Street, 416-703-4222. $65 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, and she was the Globe and Mail's restaurant critic for 38 years.