Thursday, 26 November 2009

An Unusual and Delightful Indulgence on Meat

(I had meant to write and post this sooner after I finished my Ontario trip, but other matters, including an illness, dictated otherwise.)

Charcuterie... it's a style of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, and since it deals exclusively with meat and meat products, it is a vegetarian's nightmare. With respect to one particular charcuterie in Toronto, it may also be a conservative diner's nightmare as well. Allow me to explain: The Black Hoof also serves dishes that involve parts of animals that may not be considered as traditional fare, so don't expect ribs, chops or tenderloins at this place. I'll divulge on the details shortly along with the requisite pictures.

The Black Hoof, located in the centre of Toronto's Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood, was ranked #2 in En Route's 2009 list of Canada's 10 Best New Restaurants (refer to my previous entry), and having missed the opportunity to try Nota Bene last year, my sister and I made it a mission to try this place. Fortunately, two of our cousins agreed to join us, which was perfectly fine with me; the more the merrier... and the more dishes we could sample and share. Yes, when it comes to food, I admit that I at times may have ulterior motives to satisfy my indulgences.

No reservations are accepted here, and neither are credit cards, so armed with a trip to the bank we got there at the tail end of rush hour while there were still a few empty tables to take. When I entered The Black Hoof I thought of it as a scene of paradoxes; the decor seemed to say class, yet the metal and wood chairs reminded me of high school; the dishes were presented well, yet the restaurant only had a household Kenmore oven range for cooking them. Fortunately, the service was good and, more importantly, the food was delicious.

While my cousins and I waited for my sister who had to stay at work a bit late, we started indulging ourselves with our first order of the evening, the large charcuterie. Except for the chorizo (the dark slices at the bottom left of the wooden platter), all the meats and meat products shown were made by the restaurant itself. From what I can recall after two weeks, there was everything from pancetta and capicola to liverwurst and dill-infused lardo to smoked foie gras and foie gras mousse. Flavours got more intense as one moved from the right side of this picture to the left, and all of them were delightful. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we didn't leave any for my sister; she's guilt-tripped me royally about this, but that's another story.

When she did at last join us we ordered our own dishes; my first (yes, first) was Tongue on Brioche. Ah, the picture fooled you, huh? It certainly wasn't what I expected to see or even taste. The texture, both visually and physically, was very reminiscent to Montreal smoked meat, though it was comparatively leaner than actual Montreal smoked meat. The subtly sweet brioche helped bring out the flavours of the sliced tongue. My sister and I both agreed that, of all the dishes we tried that night, that was our favourite. (Yes, this wowed me more than their charcuterie plate, perhaps, in hindsight, likely to its ingenuity and presentation.)

Our second-favourite pick was my sister's first order, the Raw Horse Sammy. Consumption of horse meat may be illegal in certain jurisdictions, but not in Ontario apparently, and the chef's audacity to present the meat raw is testament as to how fresh it is. My sister opined that the texture was reminiscent to raw tuna. Notwithstanding the egg yolk and the spicy mayo, this may have arguably been the leanest dish sampled by us that evening.

Both of my cousins opted to order one dish each; one of them ordered Sweetbreads and Polenta. I only managed to sample some of the sweetbreads, which were fried to a nice texture, but though they definitely didn't feel nor taste greasy, the fried sweetbreads combined with polenta made it a heavy dish. (For those of you not familiar with them, sweetbreads are typically veal or beef thymus glands.)

My other cousin ordered Nduja Fetuccini, with the sauce made from that unique Calabrian sausage. The sauce was sufficiently rich in flavour that not as much was needed to coat the pasta as other sauces typically might.

After that, my sister and I felt ready for Round 2, so we ordered a couple more dishes to try. The next I ordered was Foie Gras PB & J. Pan-seared and resting on a brioche slice, the foie gras was heaven in my mouth; I'm sure I had a Chairman Kaga grin on my face during one of those bites. The "PB" refers to the peanut sauce on one side of the foie gras; the sauce's flavour and texture seemed closer to a southeast Asian version of peanut sauce instead of peanut butter as we know it. The "J" portion refers to the thick dark coulis, which on its own was a bit stronger in flavour than the peanut sauce but married well with the foie gras; somebody even took the time to peel and quarter a grape to place within the coulis on my dish. My sister called this dish a "heart attack on a plate", and I must admit that I must concede to that point. At least I've been a good boy and, until that night, had not hat any foie gras since the previous November.

My sister's second order was Tripe and Trotter Stew. It reminded my sister a little bit of French onion soup, and it was hearty, flavourful and belly-warming. The chickpeas added some contrasting texture to the generally soft and smooth textures of the tripe and trotter meat.

Finally, I was the only one who could only handle one more dish, and only then a small one at that; nonetheless we almost sampled the entire menu, and I had no regrets. To finish things off, I ordered the Roast Bone Marrow. The last time I had a dish where marrow was featured was at several Chinese restaurants when I was a kid as a stir-fry with some seafood and vegetables. Alas, that dish quickly disappeared from every menu I've seen to date since the BSE scare in Canada, and I was quite disappointed. Marrow is mild and sweet, and in the stir-fry dishes it was firm enough to stay as one piece when held with chopsticks, yet gave way easily like jelly or tofu when bitten. You could therefore imagine my anticipation to try this simple dish, and I was not disappointed. The bone was cut across and roasted on its own, the marrow had to be scooped out with a small spoon and some sea salt was needed to bring out the flavour. Spread on the supplied crostini the marrow was buttery and melted in the mouth.

The Black Hoof does a wonderful job showcasing meat and meat products, reminding us that some of the best treats offered by an animal is not necessarily in a rib eye steak or a rack of lamb. That said, in a sense I'm thankful I live well outside Toronto, as I'd be constantly tempted to try the restaurant again when I know I have to keep an eye on my own health; hey, the chef never said he'd only serve lean cuts at this place.

Name: The Black Hoof
Address: 928 Dundas St. W., Toronto, ON
Cuisine: Charcuterie
Price Range: Dinner ~$50
Accessible: No

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