Restaurant Review: Actinolite features Justin Cournoyer’s edible Canadiana


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At Actinolite, whole pears are roasted in maple leaves, drizzled with thyme oil and served with house-made sour cream and fermented blueberries.

Image: Arash Moallemi

If you are not a foodie, do not read on. This is not for you. If food is fuel or something less purely utilitarian but not a key part of life’s great adventure, then you don’t need to dine at Actinolite. For this resto is food as entertainment, pure, original and local. It’s a wow!

The menu changes at the whim of chef Justin Cournoyer, and his whim is built almost entirely on that which is seasonal and local. But really local! Not since the early glory days of Michael Stadtländer and Jamie Kennedy has anyone dared — and succeeded — to use the likes of lichens and pine needles on a plate… and make them taste great. This is edible Canadiana with a dash of molecular gastronomy a la Ferran Adrià. Chef Cournoyer is channeling the greats with his set dinners.

You can do seven courses for $90 or four for $55, both with ingenious wine pairings for an additional cost. Recently chef started us with a tiny venison tartare on black radish topped with surprisingly sweet dehydrated lichen and pickled juniper. Then there was a maple roasted and halved pear with house-made ultra-smooth sour cream and fermented (!!) blueberries for kick. After that came a warmed egg — just enough to make it almost cooked — cradled in tiny hen-of-the-woods mushrooms fried crisp, Jerusalem artichokes three ways (puréed, sliced thin raw, and made into crisp chips), and tamarack infused slightly sweetened vinegar.


Image: Arash Moallemi

 

Chef says his food is simple but he lies. It tastes of strong simple messages but has been built painstakingly, layer upon layer, like Venetian underpainting. Like the next course: one warmed but not cooked Colville Bay oyster sitting on buttermilk scented with lemon verbena powder and topped with a nest of shredded turnip with fermented apple and cute little yeast crisps.

Then comes perfectly cooked brown trout from Collingwood in golden broth made of rutabaga cooked with moss and pine needles! Finally! Canadian food! And it tastes fab. Then chef, clearly a master of the gastro-understatement, presents a single pedigreed potato in a puddle of his own super-sweet just-made fresh cheese and lemon thyme broth.

He does two duck courses: First super-tender leg meat and then crisp-skinned breast aged for two weeks to tenderize it. Kale and fermented plum are the grace notes. 

For dessert chef has grilled (!!) small pieces of brown butter cake and gilded the lily all the way — sage ice cream, zabaglione and transparent sage tuiles on top. And before you go there is a rock with sponge taffy coated in chocolate with powdered mushroom fibre and dehydrated moss on top. Crunchy! Who could ever have imagined that the food of our country could be so much fun?

Actinolite, 971 Ossington Ave., 416-962-8943
$110 dinner for two.

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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. Follow her on Twitter @JoanneKates.

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