Toronto’s favourite culinary celebration, Winterlicious, was upon us again a few weeks ago and I was lucky enough to have booked another table at an exquisite and extremely popular restaurant during their dinner service. For the people who do not live in Toronto or are not familiar with the concept of Winterlicious, it is a food festival in Toronto held semi-annually. During this time major restaurants across the city offer a prix fixe 3 set-course menu (appetizer, main, dessert) at a discount compared to their typical prices. It offers a chance for everyday foodies like myself who cannot afford their culinary creations normally to indulge and experience their food during this two-week time.
My first of two Winterlicious adventures I went on this year was to the fine dining restaurant Auberge du Pommier. It is owned and operated by Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini who since 1993 have created a Toronto empire of luxury restaurants that span from the likes of Canoe, Jump, Luma, O&B Canteen, Biff’s Bistro, and Bannock. Michael Bonacini is currently also a judge on this year’s first season of Masterchef Canada.
When I called to make a reservation, the receptionist said I took the last spot for their dinner service throughout the full 2 weeks of Winterlicious so as you could imagine I was pretty excited to take it. The expectations I had were extremely high since this was going to be the $45 dinner menu that I would be eating (Winterlicious restaurant participants will either offer a set dinner menu priced at $25, $35 or $45). My first impressions were completely met when I arrived. The restaurant itself is breathtakingly beautiful.
Auberge du Pommier is a French restaurant with cozy wood burning fire places in the winter and lush garden terraces in the summer. The waiting area pictured above is situated where their 500 label wine selection is beautifully displayed. You feel like you’ve stepped into this French palace as the dining areas are split up into many different rooms down these very rustic corridors. It makes you feel you’ve been invited to dinner by the French King and Queen themselves at their home.
Now getting down to the important stuff. The food! My appetizer that I chose to start off with was the Gnocchi a la Parisienne. I was surprised that gnocchi was offered as an appetizer as most of the time it is usually offered as a main. My first thought when I received it was that it was lukewarm and that the presentation of the dish looked a little sloppy. The appetizer came out at a lightning fast speed after I placed my order so I feel the dish must have been prepared in bulk before and then quickly re-heated to create a quick turnover of dishes to meet the onslaught of tables that were coming in.
Bacon and Escargot Hache, Spinach, Garlic Butter - Cost $45 Set Menu
My main course I chose was the Duck Confit. As you will see in the picture below, the skin was REALLY burnt. For a fine dining restaurant I was surprised they were even allowed to serve that. The presentation on this dish though was better than the appetizer and besides the burnt duck skin, the taste of it was great. The duck was incredibly moist and the meat would easily fall off the bone once you cut into it. The toasted barley had a nice hearty flavour to it and was seasoned very well. It really could have been a home run type of dish if not for the charred skin.
Toasted Barley, Root Vegetables, Spiced Duck Jus - Cost $45 Set Menu
To end the night off, I chose the dessert Cardamom Creme Brulee. I’ve had many creme brulee’s in my life and the one very unique thing about this creme brulee was that it was not served in a ceramic bowl. I don’t think I have ever eaten one served so vulnerable without the encasing of a bowl so I applaud the chefs for being able to accomplish that. The vanilla custard base tasted wonderful and the hard layer of caramelized sugar was very delicate and sweet. The one thing I will point out that is not seen in the picture below is at the very end of the plate, there was also one random slice of tangerine and grapefruit. To me the small pieces of fruit seemed very out of place as if they had some left over ingredients they needed to get rid of at the end of the night and just plopped them alongside the creme brulee.
Vanilla Streusel, Grapefruit Gastrique - Cost $45 Set Menu
Service wise our table had a very nice and attentive waiter. The only small issue we had was with the bread. At these fine dining restaurants normally after you order, the waiter will bring out some complimentary bread and butter for the table. We saw it at other tables but not ours and even after our appetizer had come, the bread was not there. In the end we took the initiative to ask the waiter if he could bring out some bread and he of course politely agreed. For some reason though he somehow served our bread to the table beside us and we had to ask him a second time before we eventually got ours. Nonetheless, if anyone comes here I would definitely recommend getting the complimentary bread and butter because it is to die for even if you have to ask for it yourself. It is well worth it!
There is also underground parking available to all customers. It is paid parking and you will need to get a ticket once you enter the lot. Be sure to take that parking ticket with you up to the restaurant because Auberge du Pommier will pay for the full fare. Just present your parking ticket when paying your bill and it will all be taken care of for you.
One last point to touch on that I wish I had known before was the difference between the Auberge du Pommier $25 set menu and the $45 set dinner menu. The $25 lunch menu serves 2 out of the 3 appetizers on the $45 menu, 1 out of the 3 main courses on the $45 menu, and the exact same 3 out of the 3 dessert courses on the $45 menu. I honestly felt a little ripped off after finding that out because with a $20 difference I felt we deserved a better offering of dishes. I was lucky and I unknowingly picked all the choices at dinner that were not served at lunch (besides the dessert), however a very unlucky person could have chosen all 3 of the lunch offerings and paid $45 instead of only $25. This is a lesson I have now learned thanks to this experience which is to always look at their lunch and dinner menu together before choosing which Winterlicious or Summerlicious restaurant to go to. In hindsight, the $25 lunch menu would have probably been a better choice in terms of value.
With anything that you place high expectations on, you are also bound to sometimes feel disappointment when it does not live up to those high hopes you set out. Auberge du Pommier was unfortunately a victim to that disappointment as it really did not live up to my expectations of it being one of the best fine dining restaurants in the city. Part of the blame probably has to go to the whole Winterlicious process and how the restaurants are thrown into this whirlwind of packed houses everyday. Should that be an excuse for them? No. Do I understand maybe why the food was lukewarm or the skin was burned or that our bread was not delivered? Sure. But when I pay $45 for my dinner I expect something a little extra ordinary, but unfortunately I only got the latter.
(416) 222 2220
Monday to Friday (11:45am to 2:30pm) - Lunch Hours
Monday to Thursday (5:30pm to 9:00pm); Friday to Sunday (5:30pm to 9:30pm) - Dinner Hours
Sunday (Open to Private Events)
The Everyday Foodie Report Card
Overall: 75% Everyday Foodie Satisfaction