Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Momofuku Shōtō
By Joanne Kates
Momofuku Shōtō: 10 courses, 22 people, $150 per person (Image: Momofuku)
Shōtō is as big a deal as this town makes of a dinner. You can only reserve online, and not more than two weeks in advance. When you reserve, you get a snippy email: “If you cancel this reservation less than 24 hours in advance of your seating time or do not attend this reservation, you will be charged $150.00 per person [the cost of dinner] ... If you are more than 15 minutes late without notice, your seats will be forfeited.”
I get it that when you’re serving a 10-course tasting dinner to 22 people per sitting it’s a bummer to get stiffed, but c’mon: one, Toronto isn’t New York, and two, if you have to do that, do some work on the tone of the message.
Shōtō is 22 seats at a black granite bar around a gleaming stainless steel kitchen. Black tiles, loud music: cosy and noisy. Cosy part good, noisy part okay in hour one. The set dinner is a parade of excellent French-inflected Orientalia. It changes every day but always reflects the training of Momofuku maestro David Chang. First cometh Manitoba roll, an uber buttery bread product. Then a little grilled rice cube scented with pork fat. Then B.C. sea urchin atop cranberry jelly with crunch from almond tuile chunks and almond oil. Then an eentsy cube of poached pear with mustard seed and some marvellous crunch. Then a wallop of milk in celery root soup with tiny cubes of apple and fatty lamb.
It’s five items in and nobody has explained anything to us. All the food is delivered by the cooks, who proffer terse lists of the main ingredients but neither smiles nor details. Are we wrong to wish for warm fuzzies for our $400 night out?
Next comes sliced raw fluke with cherry bomb peppers. Then geoduck and shaved squash (both raw) with black soy and chili oil. This is fabulous and I would have liked it to be an entrée. But the beat goes on. Next is goose dumpling with a chiffonade of Brussels sprouts and mustard oil. Then smoked salmon roe atop wasabi with egg. Then seared ground shrimp with pumpkin tortellini, toasted pumpkin seeds and ricotta salata.
Now it’s 9:30, two hours after we sat down to dine. Watching the five cooks was fun for a while but it got old after 9 p.m. They’re making the same things over and over for each group of diners.
The next course is roasted monkfish with carrots, a cloud of carrot yogurt mousse, and vadouvan (Frenchified curry). Then sunchoke consommé with poached foie gras and sunflower seed granola. It’s 9:55. Now that I have watched the squab being prepared five times I don’t want to eat it. It would help if the squab dish were not the evening’s sole misstep. It’s tough and the Peking spicing isn’t a patch on what we get in Chinatown.
At 10:10 they bring sansyo and mirin ice cream with apple soda in a shot glass. Interesting. At 10:18 we’re given an edible pun, a play on PB and J on toast: coronation grape sorbet with puree of toast and heavy cream (!!) with fragments of crispy cone and black sesame. And a goody bag to take home: Vacuum packed kimchee, pickles, sesame seeds and plum sauce.
I will not go back. Three hours and $400 (plus parking and bar) to feel too full, talk over loud music and wish for the waiterly charm that normally accompanies a big deal dinner? This is not good for people who like either control or intimacy.
Momofuku Shōtō, 190 University Ave., $400 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.