Monday, July 16, 2012

THE BLACK HOOF


This is the first in a series of posts we will be publishing over the coming weeks about the meals we had during our recent trip to Toronto - so stay tuned! We had been planning to make it to Toronto for a while now, and recently we took a long weekend as an opportunity to do so. It came as no surprise to friends and family that when we were asked what our purpose for driving 5 hours west of Montreal to Toronto was, our answer was an emphatic "to eat". Really, a more specific answer would have been: to eat at The Black Hoof.


We first heard of "The Hoof" as Toronto locals like to call it, about 10 months ago through their twitter account. We took a look at their website and had a good laugh at the "People" section that offers a short autobiography of every member of their staff complete with funny anecdotes. Once we moved on to the menu, we were sold. We knew then that it was not a matter of "if", but rather "when" we would be headed to Toronto to eat there. So we made a trip of it, searched for a few more restaurants to fill-up our itinerary and hit the road with empty stomachs and big expectations.

We left Montreal at about 5:00PM on a Saturday afternoon and hit the 401 West, direction: Black Hoof. We arrived in Toronto sometime around 10:00PM, and rather than doing the normal thing and checking into our hotel first, we got off the highway and went directly to The Black Hoof. The restaurant has a no-reservation policy and some pretty unorthodox business hours (be sure to check their hours before planning your own trip) so we've heard that lineups out front are commonplace, but since we arrived as late as we did we were lucky enough to get a seat right away. We grabbed a spot at the bar and began to take the place in over a bottle of Norman Hardie Cabernet Franc from Prince Edward County - after all, when in Rome.. or Ontario. The bottle started out a little on the mediocre side but after it had a chance to breathe it really improved a lot.

Looking around, the first thing we noticed was how small the kitchen was, in our experience the smaller the kitchen we've worked in the more efficient it became as a result of necessity; we've worked in some pretty small kitchens before, and this one is certainly up there. Brawny, dark-stained wood floors and the gigantic mirror in a white, vintage frame behind the bar that doubles as a cocktail menu toned down the more streamline and modern feel of the long white bar-top with seafoam green bar chairs, glass tiled walls, and corrugated tin ceiling. Seated near the front door, we began to notice the staff running back and forth to a location across the street, eventually we asked our waiter about it who confirmed our growing suspicion that it was in fact an auxiliary prep-kitchen.

We hate to use this term, but for lack of a more accurate one the menu would be best described as a tapas style structure conducive to ordering a couple of dishes at a time and sharing until you've satisfied your appetite rather than the more common menu division of appetizers and mains. Our meal began with an order of mackerel and n'duja. Large slices of mackerel filet topped with a light, chopped egg salad were alternated in a long thin white dish that looked like a canoe with proportionally sized pieces of n'duja, a unique sort-of spreadable salami that's heavily seasoned with smoked paprika or other peppers. The potent, smokey flavor of the n'duja next to the delicately seasoned fish and egg salad were a well conceived balance, a great way to begin our meal.

Mackerel, N'duja, Egg Salad - 15$

Our next dish, pork belly and nori was a dish with a surprisingly japanese influence for a restaurant with an awning out front bearing the word "charcuterie". This dish was recommended to us by one of the women behind the bar. A substantially sized, fatty slab of pork belly with a crisp exterior was delicious and flawless. It came served in a paint stoke of sauce made from nori on a teardrop shaped plate, topped with a heaping mound of pickled honshimeji mushrooms and puffed rice. The lightly sour, vinegary kick from the mushrooms cut through the fattiness of the pork belly effortlessly but we disagreed on the flavor of the nori sauce; one us found it had a good and surprisingly sweet taste, the other not so fond of it. We both agreed though, that the sauce's sticky and slightly slimy texture was a less desirable attribute than it's undeniable creativity.

Pork Belly, Nori, Honshimeji - 16$

Following the pork belly were two dishes that we had been looking forward to eating even before we left Montreal, both of which completely lived up to our expectations. A chopped, lightly spicy horse tartare was generously garnished with crunchy bits of matchstick fried potatoes, and dollops of a sauce that our waiter described as "caper béarnaise". Béarnaise is a derivative of hollandaise, one of the classical French "mother sauces" made from emulsifying egg yolks and clarified butter. The flavor with which one chooses to fortify their hollandaise determines its name, béarnaise for example is flavored with a distinct punch of tarragon. Since there was no tarragon in it, calling this sauce a "caper béarnaise" is technically a misnomer but it does nonetheless describe it quite accurately; additionally it was a clever way of incorporating the quintessential flavor of capers one would normally find in a tartare in an alternate form. The meat was ultra lean and extremely tender, it was spicy without overwhelming the flavor of the horse itself, we sincerely loved this dish.

Horse Tartare - 16$

Just when we thought it couldn't have gotten any better than that stunning horse tartare, along came our next dish, labelled on the menu as "tongue on brioche". A generous portion of hot, sliced tongue arrived skewered and sandwiched between a couple of thick slices of buttery brioche with tarragon mayonnaise, a few cornichons and a quenelle of pickled mustard seed. The fattiness of the tongue combined with the thinness to which it had been sliced caused it to literally melt in your mouth. Aside from the mayonnaise and the meat having been sliced on a meat slicer we were astonished at how much this dish reminded us of eating Montreal smoked meat. Our waiter told us that this is a Black Hoof classic that always remains on the menu and we could easily see why, do not miss this dish if you visit.

Tongue on Brioche - 14$

For dessert we ordered a special of the day, an olive oil cake topped with a grapefruit foam and garnished with little bits of meringue in the shape of chocolate chips, freeze-dried raspberries and crumbled pistachio. Our favorite part of this dish were the little meringue chips. The pistachio was virtually indistinguishable, the foam tasted intensely of grapefruit, but unfortunately it overwhelmed the subtlety of the olive oil cake. It was a relatively light dessert after such a decadent meal but objectively dessert wound up being the low point of the meal.

Olive Oil Cake, Grapefruit, Pistachio, Meringue, Raspberry - 10$

If we hadn't gone anywhere else for dinner, just eating the tongue, horse tartare and mackerel at The Black Hoof would have been worth the trip to Toronto. We sat at the bar eating, drinking and at several points in our meal, commenting to one another about how well we felt a restaurant like this would do in Montreal; the menu just felt like the type of thing Montrealers like us would love to have and support. No reservations required, loud, casual, and zero pretension, just a wide variety of reasonably sized plates of our favorite cuts of meat in the 15$ price range. A place for open minded eaters to share, order at their own pace and pair with a well priced wine list. Capitalizing on their success and a following of eager clients unfazed by the lineups, the people responsible for The Black Hoof appear to be on a mission to dominate their neighborhood. They've recently opened a second location right next door called Hoof Raw Bar where the focus is shifted from charcuterie to seafood, raw, smoked and pickled fish. They also run a popular bar across the street from the two restaurants appropriately named Cocktail Bar for those looking to keep the party going or just grab a solid snack and a good drink. We loved our visit to The Black Hoof and would be unlikely to revisit Toronto without a return-trip - We're looking forward to it already.

Stay tuned for post 2 in our 3 part series spotlighting the restaurants we visited while in Toronto. Next up: Beast


The Black Hoof
928 Dundas Street West
Toronto, ON
416-551-8854
www.theblackhoof.com

Black Hoof on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Didn't make it to The Black Hoof last time I was in Toronto... but I sure wish I had now that I read this!

    I did however make it to Guu - I have to say I simply LOOOOOVED the place and would go back anytime!

    I also stumbled upon Mother's Dumpling on Spadina et I still dream of their dumplings!

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