In less time than it takes to drive through downtown Toronto and find suitable parking that doesn’t cost as much as an entree, we arrive in downtown Markham, park for free, and stand before the glass-walled cube of Terre Rouge. Husband and wife team, Chef Forrest Liu and Karan Tsoi are as endearing as they are industrious. They have traveled the world, trained under the likes of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Susur Lee and Mark McEwan; toiled and sacrificed; even opened a pop-up restaurant in their own living room to test out menu ideas and create capital on the road to realizing their dream of owning their own restaurant, with the freedom to share their own passion, in their own way.
AW: I can’t believe how quickly we got here. I know we’re still in Toronto, but I like the feeling that we’re on an out-of-town getaway. They have created an oasis-like warmth within these glass walls. Outside is a skating rink and carousel. We’re seated near the open kitchen with full view of the action.
SW: I like to start with a cocktail. The Terre Rouge has all the flavours that appeal to my palate. I love the edginess of the burnt orange and the orange peel. It’s a refreshing cocktail with intense, deep flavour.
AW: An amuse bouche of uni brushed with yuzu jelly, compressed cucumber, wasabi oil and ginger soy on a squid ink rice cracker is a whimsical and elaborate morsel that ignites the appetite and presages the bold flavours and flare of things to come. I’ve never met a foie gras I didn’t love, and this, set on a brioche crumble and crowned by apple mostarda and dollops of passion fruit, all combined, is a silky confluence bursting with fresh citrus and complimented by a delicate crunch. Excited to share a new menu item, Chef Liu offers a squid ink, panko-crusted oyster. It’s the culinary equivalent of a mic drop, and yet we’ve only just begun.
SW: I am thrilled with the elegance of the Hokkaido scallop Carpaccio. Prized by sushi chefs world-wide, here, Chef Liu naps it with buttery vermouth sauce and juxtaposes the sweetness with mustard greens. It’s been some time since I’ve seen labour-intensive vol au vent on a menu hereabouts. Chef Liu knows his way around puff pastry, and he has filled it with plump escargot and mushrooms nestled in a rich valout that hints of garlic, pepper and the flavour of the sea. White firm-fleshed halibut is a delicate fish and benefits from its accessories of ginger beurre blanc, chickpeas, paper-thin cucumber, edamame and cherry tomato. This rendition is a successful marriage of Asian and French techniques.
AW: I’ve asked our attentive waiter for some bread to soak up these luscious sauces. In the meantime, I’m watching the chef expedite in the kitchen. He runs a tight ship, and deftly puts the finishing touches on the most gorgeous lamb chops I’ve ever seen. Pink from one end to the other, meaty, and encrusted in vibrant garden green. We’re not even through our main courses, and I’m already thinking about what to order next time! Tender roasted duck leg with sublime crunchy-crisped skin is smartly seasoned with five-spice, gently rests on a smooth and light whipped potato with charred corn, and is complimented with a tableside serving of beer foam. Each ingredient serves a purpose in presenting an element of Canadiana, and together is sheer joy. If I could choose one dish for a sporting event, or my “last supper,” it would be Chef Liu’s poutine of truffle fries lavished in oxtail jus and fontina cheese, with a generous portion of foie gras. This is comfort food on steroids. Every mouthful is savoury ecstasy.
SW: Miso-glazed luscious black cod, cradled by creamy spinach risotto with bright green pea shoots and quivering bonito flakes create a lively sense of uber-freshness. I feel privileged to indulge in this truly delicate, beautifully textured fish.
AW: The black cod gleams golden from its verdant accoutrements. Plump and crisp; it is perfectly marinated and glazed in a reduction of mirin, sake and soy sauce. From sea to land, Chef Liu’s passion shines, and there is no better example of east-meets-west than this 6 oz striploin from Snake River Farms. With his background in grilling, we trust this chef. American wagyu, more precisely known as washugyu, in the right hands, should be the ideal balance of marbled texture and really juicy flavour. Chef Liu knows exactly how to handle this delicacy: how to prepare the meat; the right seasoning; the right temperature; and, after my earnest pleas, shares with me “the secret” to cooking wagyu. Sorry, I can’t share it with you…it’s a secret. This is the most beautiful steak I’ve tasted in memory. This is how it’s supposed to be. Few could rival this. The soft texture and robust flavour are the mark of a wonderful chef.
SW: There it is: the perfect steak, naked on the plate, with a necklace of oxtail jus; promising succulent beefy fulfillment. Until now, I would never have thought to say, “It’s worth the drive to Markham for dinner.” Dessert? Who can choose from this litany of complex sweets. Just bring me a spoon and I’ll have whatever you put in front of me.
AW: House-baked molten lava cake is elevated by a scoop of black sesame ice cream, flash frozen by the magic of liquid nitrogen for the appearance of pumice from a pyroclastic flow. This is a unique and fun presentation heightening this decadent dessert concept, and leaving us swooning.
SW: Markham is well served by Chef Forrest Liu and Karan Tsoi at Terre Rouge. And, so are we.
Terre Rouge, 162 Enterprise Blvd, 905-597-5668