After work last Wednesday, I walked down 124th street to meet Charles for our 8PM reservation at North 53. Although first impressions weren't great (I must have waited at the entrance for about five minutes before being greeted by anyone), service was friendly and prompt throughout the remainder of our evening, and the incredible food and drinks went well beyond our expectations.
Smoke + Oak Old Fashioned ($15) - A piece of maple wood is torched until smoking, and is then left to accumulate in the glass. At the table, the server pulls the glass off the wood and pours the pre mixed Old Fashioned into the smoky glass from a separate vessel. Smells delicious, tastes delicious.
There are two food menus - A tasting made up of six courses for $100 and an à la carte menu. We skipped the tasting menu, opting to share five dishes to test the waters so to speak, before committing during a future visit. Still though, I can't figure out if the tasting menu is meant for one person, or as something to share; The six dishes seemed to be the same as those on the à la carte menu, but I'm unsure of portion sizes.
Our server divided our order so that we had a cold course followed by a hot course. First up, 'Lamb', 'Carrot' and 'Various Beets'.
The lamb tartare ($16) was incredibly tender and flavourful, and we loved the various textures provided by the sunchokes (this was a theme throughout the cold dishes - one ingredient prepared in various fashions). My favourite feature of the dish was the cured egg yolk shaved around the side of the plate, providing a perfect salty punch.
Carrot ($10) - Pickled, roasted and raw carrot, with black garlic. Shaved caraway bread, watercress and carrot tops provided a lovely bitterness. This was Charles' favourite dish during our 'first course'.
The presentation and flavours of the 'Various Beets' ($12) plate was definitely my favourite. Beets prepared in different ways (roasted, raw, pickled, etc.), with beet meringues (amazing texture!), silky, sour crème fraîche and walnuts (I do not know what they did to those nuts, but they were an incredible mix of sweet-salt-fat).
Our 'second course' consisted of the 'Pork Belly' and, of course, the 'Sockeye Salmon' they led with in the Journal article.
The salmon ($18) was certainly impressive on all counts - The dish comes out with a glass dome over top, and upon arrival, the server lifts the lid allowing the juniper smoke to take over the entire table (and all your senses). It's magical. The salmon was incredibly soft, with the beans providing a contrasting mealiness; I also loved the tang from the crème fraîche wrapped around them. A small pile of pickles on the side provided some colour and lovely acidity when eaten with the salmon.
The pork belly ($16) won Charles over immediately (our server commented that it was cooked sous vide for 72 hours; the resulting texture was buttery soft). The black barley was a perfect contrast to the fatty pork belly, particularly with the ramps and pickled maitake mushrooms.
At the beginning of the evening, our server mentioned that all the ingredients on the menu were sourced from Canada, and while that was certainly reflected throughout our meal, it really hit me with the desserts; This is probably the first dessert menu I've encountered without chocolate or citrus (it was comprised of only three items, but still, they were all imaginative and fresh). I'd heard from co-workers that the desserts were delicious, so we decided on two - the 'Soured Yogurt' and 'Apple'.
In the end the soured yogurt ($10) won it for me, particularly with the creamy, flavourful chamomile ice cream (the part I had heard raves about). I enjoyed the crisp meringue, providing almost all the sweetness, the sour yogurt throughout the plate and the very floral bee pollen and elderflower. An incredibly fresh and lovely dessert to encounter mid winter.
The 'apple' ($10) dish
was comprised of comprises a warm doughnut, apple curd (made with apple cider vinegar), an apple ice cream and tapioca (freeze dried I think). While apple cider vinegar is still not my favourite flavour, it was delicious alongside the doughnut and ice cream, and once again, they win with the textural elements.
At the end of our meal, we were full. We feel the portion sizes were fair for the price (the dishes went from $10 for the 'Carrot' to $20 for the 'Heritage Turkey'), and same goes for the cocktails ($11-15, with Calvados flights, comprised of two drinks, for $14). Our bill came to $92 for food, and $54 for drinks (two cocktails, two beer and coffee afterward).
North 53 is certainly impressive. It's early days, and I think the front of house service could use a little polishing, but the kitchen and bar staff are solid with both timing and execution. We can't wait for an excuse to head back.
*Their website is supposed to be finalized in the next couple weeks, though the reservation form is still working. They seem to be posting their daily menus on both Twitter and Facebook. They are closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but are open Wednesdays through Sundays starting at 5pm.
Apologies for the Instagram photos. We planned to bring the camera, but it was left at home in a rush. And if you got this far, thanks for baring with me - This was my first restaurant post in a long while... I'm
a little very rusty.