Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Origin North
By Joanne Kates
Toronto’s third Origin seats 350 (Image: Cheol Joon Baek)
I am sometimes confused about how to present myself. It’s clear from the amount of Lululemon walking down the street that other women of my age and income bracket may have similar confusion. We parade around town wearing booty-hugging “yoga pants” that show off all the fat we’re avoiding by our gym habits and non-fat skinny lattes. Is this what my mother looked like at 63?
I try to avoid the truth of my age with products and services designed to confuse both viewers and my mirror. Sometimes I forget how old I am.
I sympathize when somebody doesn’t know who they are. Like a suburban restaurant that can’t decide whether to brand itself as uptown or downtown.
You walk into Origin North, it screams downtown! There’s the podium with the two (never just one) hot chicks behind it, wearing short tight black dresses. There are massive wooden beams hanging from the ceiling, fat wooden tables and the ne plus ultra of Ossingtonian trendiness — polished concrete floors. I’m thinking wannabe downtown — with 350 seats to fill. Then our server starts talking.
“Is this your first time?… Let me tell you how our menu works. It’s small plates and they’re meant for sharing.” He goes on ad nauseam with his tutorial on tapas. Clearly the guy has been trained to give the lecture to the poor yobs from north of Lawrence who’ve never been to a tapas restaurant before.
One can imagine Origin’s staff meetings, the ones where they agonize over who their customer is. Is their customer, they must wonder, a wealthy cosmopolite who lives north of Lawrence because they like the real estate up here? Or are they uncultured suburbanites who fear sin city south of Eglinton?
Surely they don’t mean to strike such a condescending note. Or to mess up our order so badly. After we order, the waiter says that since there are four of us, he recommends adding one or two pieces to all our dishes to make them four, since most of them come with only two or three pieces. We assent.
When the food comes, it’s all in two or three pieces and when we ask him why, he says he thought it was too much food. Think of a better story next time.
But most of it tastes wonderful. Claudio Aprile (of Origin and Origin Liberty Village) still plays with molecular gastronomy and freeze-dries foods to boost flavour, but since the demise of his high-end Colborne Lane he’s reined in some of those flights of fancy — which is good.
Origin North pays homage to Aprile’s habitual juxtaposition of Asian, Mexican and Italian, with mostly great results. The best item on the menu is scallop ceviche, small sweet raw scallops set off by coconut-yuzu broth and frozen chili-lime dressing — hot and cold at the same time — with crispy plantain chips on top. Three orders of that, a dry martini and a short espresso afterwards, and I’d go to heaven. Almost as charming is the chinois duck, classic sweet/hot hoisen and sriracha duck wrapped in soft flour tortilla with cucumber and sour cream.
Claudio Aprile’s kitchen speaks many languages. His Bangkok beef salad is toned down Thai — no chili bite — but still delectable, thanks to rare beef with toasted peanuts, mint, mango and crispy glass noodles. Similar Asian flavours to the smoked pork lettuce wrap, also nicely balanced.
The only missteps are crispy Chinese broccoli — which isn’t. Gobbed up in heavy batter and deep-fried, it’s sad and mushy. Same problem with spicy Spanish fries with chorizo and manchego, which are like mediocre poutine. Also problematic is the mozzarella bar: good fior di latte sits on a tough slice of baguette with garnishes. Actually it falls off. Unfortunate. As is the dulce de leche that tastes only of yogurt, and the chocolate crunch bar that lacks complexity.
Methinks three restaurants is a lot for one guy to wrangle. For everything to be as good as the scallops and the chinois duck, Mr. Aprile will need to learn the true meaning of the expression “control freak.”
Origin North, 2901 Bayview Ave., 416-479-8833
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.