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This past Friday, I had the pleasure of attending one of Toben Food by Design‘s pop-up dinners at their new partnered venue, Grace. Guests were treated to an amazing family-style dinner in a multi-faceted space. Grace was the perfect backdrop for the evening: a beautifully designed space using a mixture of heritage tones and contemporary touches. Luckily, Olive Photography was able to capture all the wonderful moments of the evening.
Pop-up dinners are not new in Toronto, but to execute one with such exceptional food is what sets this one apart. The Lǚkè dinner embodies the small community closeness of the Asian culture, without sacrificing the privacy and space to which western dining culture is accustomed. Having traveled all over various parts of Asia, both Chef Toben and Chef Liam brought forth their inspiration from their trips straight to the dinner tables in the most wonderful way.
Upon entering Grace, guests are escorted to their communal tables, and drink orders were taken. The inspiration from their Asia travels is quite evident right from the presentation of the tables to the subtle nuances across the 8 courses we had the pleasure of enjoying. Each course was carefully prepared with consideration of its Asian influence such that the overall experience was an adventure in itself.
The three specialty cocktails (Taramind Sour, Sake Cocktail and Thai Coconut) perfectly complemented all of the Asian-inspired dishes. I opted for the Thai Coconut, a sweet mixture of white rum, lemongrass syrup, lime bitters and coconut water. Yum!
As a seasoned traveler myself, I’ve had the chance to experience my share of Asian cuisine and can attest to the fact that the best cuisine out there really stimulates all five taste senses: saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and umami. The dishes prepared by Toben certainly did just that: it is clear that a lot of attention was placed into ensuring that each one of these flavors was incorporated and balanced across the 8 delectable dishes.
We began dinner with three snacks. First up, deviled eggs which were carefully crafted with miso-crème fraiche yolk – a sensational taste of its Italian origin coupled with an Asian accent thanks to the red shisho, and Liam’s cured salmon roe. These were to die for, and the general consensus of our table was that we wished we had more of them!
The second snack was the Vegetarian Hot and Sour soup, which was the dish we found incorporated the greatest amount of Asian influence. With its exotic mushrooms, and 5 spice lotus root chips, this soup did not shy away from its Asian heritage leaving a very savory experience in one’s palette.
The third snack served as a tasty palette cleanser to the first two dishes, “resetting” our respective palette in preparation for the main meal. I cannot think of a better way to do it than using Hamachi Crudo paired with baby cucumber, and various herbs. This dish’s origin is actually Italian and serves as an answer to the Japanese Sashimi. The idea here was to bring the ocean to your dish without countering the natural flavors. This dish itself was light, gentle and served its purpose in preparing us for the main courses.
The first main course was Jumbo Fried Chicken Wings accompanied by its own set of Bachan – Kimchi, Cucumber Salad, and Picked Daikon. Over the last several years, Korean Fried Chicken (KFC) has popped up everywhere and has earned its staying power for a very good reason. The idea of having bachan Korean sides that are light and breezy, followed by fried chicken really elevated the flavours as opposed to fried food on top of fried food that you typically find at most fried chicken restaurants.
The next main course was the Charred Octopus, another very well-known Italian dish, seasoned with Black Bean Pineapple, and Lime. The two chefs cleverly fused an Asian staple food to this dish that every Asian household is very well aware of: Lap Cheong Sausages. The sausages were cut into tiny pieces to create a visually pleasing presentation, but also added flavor that complemented the octopus.
We ended off the main meal with a rather intricate salad consisting of many ingredients. The Shaved Winter Vegetable Salad composed of Kohlrabi, beets, heirloom carrots, Brussels sprouts, dandelion greens, radishes, pumpkin seeds, heirloom cherry tomato, and drizzled in a creamy golden miso dressing. I liked that it was filling and packed with flavor.
Wok Fried Water Spinach is an essential dish in Asian home-style cooking and restaurants. Toben’s version mixed oyster sauce, lemongrass, galangal and garlic to re-create a classic vegetable dish.
The night ended off on a sweet note with the Black Tea-Sea Salt Creme Caramel. Simply divine!
Overall, the evening certainly lived up to its goals of delivering guests that true globetrotter experience. Every detail of the dinner from start to finish was meticulously arranged, which culminated into a fantastic dinner and overall guest experience.
We look forward to the next pop up event hosted by these two seasoned traveler chefs! If you’re interested in giving this meal a try, the next event in the L?kè Pop Up Series: I will take place at Grace on April 5th at 7 pm. Grab your tickets here.
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