Where To DINE Now: AGO Bistro

Peering through a narrow window into a large pink ball, reflections from a cosmic myopia of mirrored orbs peer back at me. I am at once voyeur and participant in this artful installation. An iridescent pumpkin patch teases a Halloween dreamscape from which to wander and wonder. Standing alone in the Infinity of Mirrors I am a mere filament in a galactic chandelier; a sea of candles that illuminate the darkness to eternity. Yayoi Kusama’s kaleidoscope mind reveals a universe of polka dots that explore time, the space between, and our connections to the universe.

Following The Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, one must sit and reflect on this incomparable experience offered by the Art Gallery of Ontario. Seated in the AGO Bistro, where menus are culinary incarnations of current exhibits, Yayoi Kusama meets the inimitable Chef Renée Bellefeuille.

In perfectly playful homage to the artist, goat cheese brûlée, resting on pickled crème coulis, is cool and refreshing, marrying the sweet and salt from the brûlée with a tang of carrots compressed with pickled ginger and passion fruit. A pastel coloured crisp of beet-infused fried tapioca borders this delightfully edible art piece. Soft shell crab, tempura-fried, is light and dusted with togarashi. An accompanying decorative slaw of Asian pear, radish and cucumber is wisped into a delicate calligraphy with a light ume dressing to diffuse the fry. This is a kitchen that cares. Chef Bellefeuille is truly thoughtful and imaginative. She clearly takes pride in her craft, and loves her ingredients—her palette from which to enliven the canvas of each plate.

Black cod, marinated in miso and soy, is torched to a delicate crisp, and rests on a risotto-styled medley of potatoes and bay scallops. Slowly cooked, the cod is silky and delicious, while the scallops, sweet and lightly poached in a yuzu beurre blanc add gentle and mellifluous texture. Baby eggplant is perfectly scored and grilled to add light crunch to its fleshy fruit and sits on vibrant, lightly sautéed brocollini. Black sesame paste roasted with sesame oil elicits a robust sesame flavour. Infused with quintessential Japanese ingredients like sesame, miso and seaweed, and flanked by crunchy croquettes of tofu and squash that crown a relish of ginger and scallions, this is a clean and aromatic plating reminiscent of Japan.

Japanese influences dot the entire menu, either through recipes or seasonality. The brunch menu includes sukiyaki and okonomiyaki. The Cinq-à-Sept Menu (5pm—7pm) includes charred pork belly, chicken karaage, steamed edamame and okonomi fries. An Omakase-Style Chef’s Menu includes sous vide razor clam with candied yuzu peel; tea-smoked duck breast with soy marinated marble duck egg, bonito and nori; and a dessert of matcha honey cake with yuzu salted-caramel. For pairing, there is also a selection of saké from local Izumi saké to Japanese saké from Kyoto, Nagano and Yamagata.

However, Chef Bellefeuille, ever conscious of her guests, is mindful that many patrons may prefer a classic juicy burger or roasted Cornish hen. Tender duck breast, seared in cherry-port jus, and resting on sautéed wheat berries and escarole, reaches savoury heights. This is also a great place to be a vegetarian. A vegan salad of fried chickpeas dusted with sumac and salt; baby cucumbers lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil; pickled onions; and gem lettuce, grilled and brushed with a sumac dressing, is clean and refreshing.

For a sweet finish, delicate palate-pleasing macarons of yellow and black are a brilliant nod to Yayoi Kusama’s All The Eternal Love I Have For The Pumpkins installation. The black macaron is composed of white sesame ganache inside coconut, charcoal and black sesame. The yellow macaron is a citric blast of passionfruit and yuzu jelly.

Whether for the love of art, dining or wine pairing; either before or after a visit to the gallery; or simply to enjoy a delicious meal; Chef Renée Bellefeuille has made the AGO Bistro a unique Toronto dining destination to impress and admire.

* Current menus are available for the duration of the Yayoi Kusama exhibit *

AGO Bistro, 317 Dundas Street West, 416 979 6688

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