What a pleasure it was to try the 5-course vegan tasting menu at Avelo Restaurant! Avelo Restaurant is located on a small street at 51 St Nicholas Street in downtown Toronto. Be alert as you walk down the street and look for the restaurant because we actually missed it and walked past it. It doesn’t have a big obvious signage and blends into the other Victorian heritage buildings on that street. It’s lovely though because of this and when you walk into the restaurant, you’ll realize that you have entered what looks like someone’s house for dinner! It was so cozy and had a warm and inviting vibe to it (despite the Plexiglass dividers).
Hubby easily booked our table for two ahead of time online (with a credit card deposit because they charge you $30 per person for no-shows or late cancellations) and indicated that we were celebrating our wedding anniversary. We chose the five-course tasting menu (for $65 as we were dining in on a Thursday). They also have an eight-course tasting menu. It is a blind tasting menu where the dishes change according to the season and sometimes even the day.
Here are the prices at the time of writing for their tasting menus:
8-course $120/person Fri-Sat, or $110 Wed-Thu
5-course $75/person Fri-Sat, or $65 Wed-Thu
Open for dinner, Wednesday through Saturday from 5:00pm
Last seating at 9:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 8:30pm other days
We arrived at 4:58 p.m. at the restaurant. I was so glad we arrived early because we were able to nab the only two-seater by the windows at the front of the house. Moments later, another couple came in and were seated at the booth near the flowery wall (which was very pretty and romantic too but nothing beats having a large window and street view to look out of; also, having natural light to photograph the food!). Had we walked in after them, we would have missed getting the table by the window!
Our five-course tasting menu for the evening was already printed out and laid out on the table for us to browse through. It was so nice to have this upfront to know right then and there what to expect that evening.
We ordered drinks off of their drinks menu. I got the non-alcoholic Fluere & Tonic while the hubby got the Espresso Martini.
The Fluere & Tonic: a classic Fluere non-alcoholic gin, fever tree tonic, and a slice of lime on the glass. This was a refreshing fizzy drink. Nothing too special though, but it was nice to drink in between dishes on the side than just water.
Espresso Martini: Grey Goose vodka, Kahlua, espresso, house-made double simple syrup. I didn’t try this drink, but DH said it was strong like espresso and alcohol mixed together. He liked it but couldn’t finish it because it was so strong. He liked how the foam held up the three espresso beans after each sip.
Having no need to choose anything off of the menu, once our server for the night knew we were ready to begin (washrooms visited and hands washed), we were served the first item of the night. (Our server also explained that while it was a five-course tasting menu, the kitchen included two amuse bouches and a few other items not counted in the five-course, so there were actually more than five items.) Everything was vegan and set according to what is in season and in the chef’s mind’s eye.
The first item was simply bread! However, it was absolutely not just sliced bread with butter that was served. This bread was one of the highlights of the meal actually. It was sourdough bread topped with macadamia cream cheese and smoked paprika carrots, pickled shallots, seagrapes, and chives. This was so pretty to look at and so savoury and delicious. It was warm to the touch. I actually tried to eat it delicately with a fork and knife but it was difficult to cut through. It reminded me of a loaded bagel with cheese and all the works. The tiny delicate seagrapes were chosen to represent caviar, and what a good creative “substitution” it was. The smoked paprika carrots were also such a chewy and meaty texture that I didn’t expect. This was such a joy to look at and eat.
The first course followed, which was the cantaloupe and coconut gazpacho garnished with micro basil, mint, thyme, jalapenos, and black shallots. I love how all the utensils and plates are given anew during each course during fine dining restaurants. (How I have missed these dining experiences!)
This was a very fitting soup for the end of summer (it’s still hot and 27 degrees out) as it was cool and refreshing. What a neat combination of cantaloupe and coconut too for a gazpacho! We could taste the cantaloupe and subtle hints of coconut in the creamy, smooth soup. It was so, so delicious. The micro basil was so fresh and crispy when you bit into it, and the black shallots reminded me of smoked bacon.
This was then followed with the first amuse bouche of the night. It was a “lollipop” made with pea and mint sorbet, coated with mint and cacao butter, freeze dried peas and sea salt. Oh, man, this was incredible too. Presentation points awarded all the way here because these were literally two lollipops propped up in a wooden container of uncooked quinoa. How creative!!
I took a bite out of the lollipop and could immediately taste the freshness of the freeze dried peas while the smooth cool sorbet surface was sweet and with a hint of sea salt. DH said he almost dropped his because it melted very quickly, so I popped the rest of mine into my mouth for the next bite. This was such a unique taste combination and so refreshing too! I absolutely loved the experience of eating it.
The second course was a plate which the server deemed a “sunset”. It had grilled baby artichoke hearts over a fennel puree, almond crumble and orange saffron sauce, and topped with pickled fennel, fennel pollen, chervil, and fennel fronds. This was an interesting explosion of flavours. The orange saffron was so fragrant — actually, almost everything was nice-smelling on this plate — while the other elements were a little salty. And it wasn’t until I got to the pickled fennel that I realized it was very sour! I should have eaten this one at the beginning to open up my palate. Although there were so many flavours here, I wasn’t a big fan of this dish because it seemed all over the place. There also weren’t a lot of substance on the plate.
The third course was a tempeh, but the server explained that this wasn’t your ordinary tempeh made with soybeans. This one was made with cranberry beans! It was glazed with a strawberry garum, topped with a strawberry sofrito, and pickled garlic scape. There was a grilled radicchio marinated in aji panca adobo next to it.
This was a fruity course with the strawberry elements. The cranberry bean tempeh was actually really interesting. Its taste reminded me of natto, and I liked it better than regular tempeh made with soybeans. The strawberry garum wasn’t sweet as its origin would suggest.
The grilled radicchio (when I looked at the neighbouring table who was eating it later) resembled octopus tentacles. Perhaps Avelo was trying to imitate this visually? Taste-wise, the aji panca adobo marination reminded me of a non-spicy kimchi paste.
This course was rather okay to me too. It reminded us of all the vegetable courses that we had had at Frilu (maybe I will have time to blog about this restaurant some day).
We then received the second amuse bouche which was a croquette! There was tomato sofrito and cauliflower croquette over a parsley aioli. I was so excited to see how this was presented and I was not disappointed. This was a large single croquette sitting on top of a smear of bright green parsley aioli in a small curved dish. It was so cute! I couldn’t taste the tomato much but upon cutting open the croquette, I could see the cauliflower inside. I really enjoyed the smoothness of the parsley aioli. It wasn’t very strong in flavour (perfect for an amuse bouche) but fresh and delicious. I ended up licking the small dish to clean up/savour all of it. 😊
Our last and final savory course was the rye berries and corn: rye berries with huitlacoche (corn truffles) served on corn and pumpkin seeds mole topped with a popcorn cracker. The server referred to this dish as a “risotto” dish. This was one of the more substantial dishes. I really liked the texture of the plate on which this was served on. It felt like crumpled paper! It was so cool. I also liked how warm the bottom of the dishes felt. It was like a comforting kind of warmth when I put my hands on the plate.
There was a lot going on in this dish too, but we both really enjoyed this. It tasted more like a “healthy” dish and reminded me of healthy oats or oatmeal. The huitlacoche (corn truffles) were fresh and chewy but also “popped” in your mouth when you bit into them. The rye berries provided the sweet element of the dish. The hubby really liked the popcorn cracker; it was slightly salty but crispy. The corn and pumpkin seeds mole was very smooth and provided the moistness to the dish. I liked the creativity of this dish!
We then quickly came to the mignardise, or the “pre-dessert”, of the evening. Its name means a bite-sized dessert served at the end of the meal. In this case, it was a hazelnut cone: hazelnut tuile drizzled with chocolate and filled with a hazelnut cream. It was a small hand-held sweet treat before the actual dessert course of the night and this was so appreciated by us! Anyone who loves eating Ferrero Rocher would also appreciate this mignardise. It was a creative hazelnut cone that was filled with rich chocolate and hazelnut cream. You simply pop it in your mouth with your hands and it’s delectable! We could taste the quality chocolate in this dessert. It’s nothing like the regular milk chocolate that you get in ordinary chocolate desserts.
The fifth and final course was dessert! The menu showed that there were two: “tonka amazake and chocolate” and a pina colada tart. We thought that we were each going to receive both desserts, but we actually received one of each dessert to share (or to pick and choose). We were wondering what would happen if there was a single diner or if there were diners in a group of odd numbers. Would the kitchen ask the diners what they preferred or would they provide everyone the chance to try both desserts?
The tonka amazake and chocolate: tonka amazake mousse filled with a cream of almond milk chocolate mixed with adzuki beans and cacao nib miso, topped with almond chocolate and cacao nibs served on an almond shortbread. The almond chocolate and cacao nibs were so decadent and sweet with a similar caliber quality like the hazelnut cone. The tonka amazake mousse was so smooth while the almond shortbread was sturdy but soft. This dessert was all right although I liked the almond chocolate and cacao nibs especially.
The pina colada tart was a coconut cake topped with pineapple cooked in rum, coconut mousse topped with a pineapple coulis, served over compressed pineapple in tepache, and finished with candied lime skin. The candied lime skin was certainly unique with the tarty lime rind flavour. The coconut cake part was all right to me and didn’t taste very “pina colada” ish. It was quite dense whereas the coconut mousse was very soft. I also wasn’t a huge fan of this dessert; I’m not a fan of pineapple in general.
Thus, my favourite sweet dish of the night actually was the pre-dessert. How funny.
I was disappointed that there wasn’t anything special done for us for our anniversary even though we had indicated it at the time of booking. I thought there might have been a candle to blow or even a greeting scribed on a plate to recognize the celebration. Did the restaurant forget? Did we have to remind the server?
All in all, the lack of something special aside, the food, ambience, service, and creativity were all really great. I loved the first three dishes especially: the bread, the gazpacho, and the first amuse bouche. The tempeh was unique as well as the croquette amuse bouche and mignardise. I would love to see how their menu differs on another day/season to see how the chef changes up the creations.
I would definitely recommend Avelo if you are into fine dining and especially plant-based foods.
Considering we had the five-course tasting menu, we were relatively full. However, I have to say that we both ate something around 2-3 p.m. (a late lunch), so that has an effect on how full we felt after the meal too. I think most of the other patrons that dined during the time we were there chose the five-course tasting menu too. $65 for five courses is very reasonable (and because they throw in the extra dishes too). It just gets a little more expensive after tax and mandatory 18% tip though, so it was a little over $100 per person.
The service was wonderful. Our main server was so thorough in her explanation of the dishes and always professional and polite when clearing away dishes and removing and adding new cutlery to our table. I did notice that our cloth napkins weren’t folded for us upon each return to the seat (something I remember the staff at Alo and Splendido would do).
The restrooms are upstairs along with a second dining room. They don’t seem to have an elevator unfortunately for those who need it. The space is so beautiful and elegant with large flowers all around the restaurant and a dark green colour scheme.
Fun fact about the restaurant:
Our restaurant is located in a Victorian heritage building on St Nicholas Street, a quaint street in the heart of downtown near Yonge and Bloor. The house was originally built in the 1880’s in a row of worker’s townhomes. Each house has a name engraved on a stone block – ours is “Hazel Cottage.” “Avelo” means “hazelnut” in Esperanto.
Is this a restaurant you would be interested to try?