I was so happy and grateful to be able to attend my first ZomatoMeetUp!! The last time that I was invited to one, I had to decline it because I was travelling in New Zealand. I was especially bummed because they were going to Copacobana by the Sea and I really wanted to try out that all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant. Nevertheless, I was very excited to be able to make this ZomatoMeetUp so that I could meet fellow bloggers, Pam (the Community Manager for Zomato), and of course, dine at a great restaurant.
Carmen’s Steakhouse used to be a very well known Steak House since the 1960s. Unfortunately, the steakhouse faded into oblivion and was closed down. Fast forward to now, Chef Forrest Liu and his wife Karan have taken over the restaurant with their culinary knowledge and skills to breathe life into this beautiful 1820s steakhouse again.
Carmen’s Steakhouse is located at 26 Alexander Street near Church and Wellesley in downtown Toronto. It was a little hard to spot, but their big flashing signage helped me to find it. It is a grand old building that is enormous inside! Like I mentioned, it was built in the 1820s and much of its interior reflects the olden style and touch of that era. It was also like being in a big castle where the furniture and lights were are old-fashioned yet classy. After the meal, during our tour of the restaurant, Karan mentioned that the building has 18 real stained glass windows and even the U of T buildings only has one real stained glass window. What a gem!
When I arrived, Karan led me graciously to the upstairs private dining room where a table for 12 was set. It was a really nice room for dining and there was also couches and a living room area for you to sit down and chitchat. We were greeted with some cocktails as we schmoozed with Pam and some of the other foodies and bloggers. It was a pleasure to meet Pam and to put a face to the name that I’ve been communicating with over e-mail and social media. 🙂
The cocktail with tequila that we had was nice! It was a nice start to the night because it was fruity and helped to open up our appetite.
Soon after everyone arrived, we began our 9-course dinner. I was extremely excited for what we were going to try out that night and it was great that we were all fellow foodies so nobody felt awkward about taking too many pictures before they ate or even when we were sometimes a little silent because everyone was posting and updating their social media with lots of food pictures. I loved that!
We had three Zomato hosts that night, Pam included. It was great how they kept conversation alive out the night and made everyone feel very comfortable and welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed the night! 😀
Our first course was the Foie Gras Pate Brioche Sandwich which consisted of apple jelly and lemon jelly. I absolutely love foie gras pate! It was a little tiny piece where you picked up to eat with your hands. It was in fact tiny, but that didn’t foreshadow the superb taste of it at all. The foie gras pate was so smooth and flavourful. The apple and lemon jelly made the flavour stand out even more. Despite its small size, I really enjoyed this! It was a good start. 🙂
The Fresh Ontario Peach & Goat Cheese Salad was next. Again, this was a little teeny portion and for a second, I was afraid that all the dishes for the rest of the night were going to be this size. However, I was still excited because it was becoming real evident that the food quality was high. This goat cheese salad contained ginger kombucha, frisee, candied pecans, and tuille. The goat cheese was very creamy and the fresh peach was very sweet and juicy. I liked how the candied pecans were fresh and crunchy in your mouth. This was a really nice treat. Very unique.
The Spicy Steak Tartare was my absolute favourite appetizer of the night! It was again a really tiny dish that you ate with your hands, but it was amazing! It contained chili oil, pickles, and capers all piled on a little tortilla chip. (By the way, their cutlery was so pretty looking!)
The steak tartare was absolutely fresh, so smooth, and enriched with the chili oil, pickles, and capers so that its flavorful was so delectable. It’s hard to describe but it was absolutely a great combination that made my taste buds sing. The little tortilla chip was also so crispy and crunchy that it was like the cherry on top (except that it was crunchy and salty). Delicious!
Up next, the Seared Scallops continued to show off the impressive fine dining presentation skills of Chef Forrest. It was like an art work how nicely presented the dish was. This dish contained a single seared scallop that was topped with a jasmine sea salt emulsion and with a side of quinoa and sweet peas on the side. It was a particularly amazing dish to photograph.
This seared scallop was done just right. It was fantastically smooth and tender inside. Karan explained to us that the scallop wasn’t cooked fully as some restaurants like to cook it so that the seafood could maintain its freshness. This was definitely true! Everyone marveled at how tender the scallop was. It was incredible! The best part was also the jasmine sea salt emulsion. It was so and smooth! A thin slice of radish was stuck to the side too for presentation.
The quinoa was delicate and the sweet peas were fresh and crunchy. Delicious!
The fifth course was everybody’s favourite dish that night (we went around the table and shared this at the end of the night). It was a Miso Black Cod. It was paired with spinach risotto and katsuoboshi (bonito) flakes.
Again, when I slid my knife into the black cod, I was impressed with how soft the cod meat was. It was so, so tender, fresh, and soft. It was absolutely amazing. Again, I only have so many words I can use to describe an amazing piece of cod fish, but you really have to try it in order to know what I am talking about. The spinach risotto was also perfection and so well done. The entire dish of black cod was finished way too quickly and I wish I had more!
Chicken Torchon was paired with garlic scape, amaranth, and porcini jus. Everyone raved about the jus for this one. Pam even said that she wished there was a bowl that she could have drank the jus from. It was so delectable! The chicken was wrapped around its perimeter and the garlic scape was a nice touch. I liked the porcini jus as it was very simple and it wasn’t particularly rich or complicated. I tried to get as much of the jus as possible since it was so delicious! The chicken was tender (it seems like there is a theme going on for the night…).
Since Chef Forrest hails from Shanghai, China, he incorporated a little bit of the culture and the way they make pork belly into this Braised Pork Belly dish. It was a big chunk of pork belly in a square shape that sat in a truffle parsnip puree and cherry jus. Again, this pork belly was done right! It was marinated for enough time that all of the fat had evaporated so all that was left was the meat and the collagen (as Karan explained to us). The collagen made it so tasty and tender and soft! It was fantastic. I could definitely taste the Shanghainese touch in it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the truffle parsnip puree though. It was a little too chunky for me.
Our last course before dessert was a 3 oz Canadian Ribeye Steak. This was the peak of the night since we were dining in a steakhouse after all. This didn’t disappoint. The ribeye steak was a good portion for me and it was done perfectly. It was medium rare, slight red on the inside, tender and moist, and the exterior was a little grainy and crispy with a light touching of salt. Delicious. This is how steak should be! I was impressed yet again. The mashed potatoes were also great. It was just how mashed potatoes should be made; mushy and soft, yet contained a grainy texture. I love mashed potatoes and these were made the way I like them and expect them to be. Everyone ooed and aahed about the quality of the steak. I know Natalia couldn’t stop making moaning noises about how great each bite was (sorry, Natalia lol).
It came time to our last course, dessert! You would think that with such small plates of food that we would have room for more, but the way each course was brought out (with the servers replacing our dirty cutlery with clean ones after almost each course), we had time to digest the food slowly so that we actually felt quite full by the time it was dessert. I never thought I would say that I was actually looking forward to dessert and the last course because I was too full to enjoy any more food!
The Coconut Creme Brulee included an egg cookie, almonds, and a frozen blueberry. By this time, Chef Forrest had come out to greet us and advised us to eat the frozen blueberry last. I dug my spoon into the little cup and was satisfied with how the creme brulee tasted. It had the perfect taste and texture. Seriously, this is how creme brulee should be done! It was interesting to have whole almonds on top of the glazed top (I’m not a big fan of nuts), but the almonds themselves were fresh and tasted so good. The frozen blueberry was a good touch to finish off the dessert since it was definitely frozen.
Wow, there we have it. All nine courses of food blogged about! What an adventure!
Chef Forrest shared his story and how he got started his cooking journey with us once we were all done our food. It was quite amazing because Forrest is only 25 years old and has accomplished so much already in the culinary world. He has been cooking for over 10 years and his story includes working in many established kitchens like Jean Georges, Canoe, George, Lee Restaurant, Bent Restaurant and Le Select Bistro, and for Paul Pairet at Shangri-La Hotel. His main message for cooking is derived from Jean Georges, which, as I remember, is based on the simplicity of food and its taste. Nowadays, a lot of kitchens are experimenting with fusion foods in order to make food different or unique. But for him, Forrest wants to capture the true essence and original taste of the food. This is why everyone that we tried on the menu that night was all about the real taste and texture of the food. There was nothing too complicated or fancy. I definitely think he achieved this goal because every dish was made so perfectly and it really captured how good food should taste like. Bravo to Chef Forrest!
After that, we had a small tour around the restaurant. This building is absolutely huge! There were two levels to it and several dining rooms. We also took a look at the kitchen. Much of its decor is original and maintains the old Carman Steakhouse touch, including photos of celebrities who have eaten at the restaurant.
Forrest and Karan hope to restore this restaurant and to serve many more customers in the future. I believe with his fine attention to detail and impeccable culinary skills, he will be able to attract a lot of customers who are looking for quality fine dining food. (After all, part of his start as a restaurant owner started with his own group of friends and family paying him for home-cooked meals because it was so good!). They hope to expand their menu beyond steaks and fine dining with happy hour specials and an afternoon high tea. Good luck! I think in order to do well and to reach their goal of becoming one of Toronto’s top 10 restaurants before May 2016, they will have to promote their restaurant more so that more people know about it and to expand into more modern day affairs (not just fancy steaks and fine dining). Use of social media on different platforms is recommended as I have yet to see much social media advertising from them so far.
Thank you to the Zomato team for bringing us to this fine establishment and having a great night of delicious food and fine dining. 🙂
FTC Disclaimer: Although Zomato reached out and invited me to a complimentary meal to dine at Carmen’s Steakhouse, the opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of Zomato or the restaurant.