Thursday, 24 October 2013

Case No. 2: Relish et. al. v Origin

This King East mainstay is the jewel in the crown of Chef Claudio Aprile’s Origin empire. While the food blogs were buzzing about the opening of his new spot, Origin North, I wasn’t willing to truck up to Bayview Village for a meal. When I’m in that neck of the woods, I only eat the finest that the North York IKEA has to offer: meatballs, that red sauce with the meatballs, a side of geflurben-dürben-whatever the fuck etc… So I decided instead to hit up the original location for Sunday brunch with my gals Cocoa Chanel and Vera Meringue. These fashionable women appreciate the finer things, so Origin seemed like a good fit. Plus it was close to work, in case I received that lucky phone call dragging me back to the office to tab 574 documents.

Origin ain’t your local greasy spoon. You won’t find chocolate chip pancakes or eggs over easy with a mound of bacon on the menu. Aprile is one of the city’s most well-known and revered chefs, and the cuisine and prices at this spot are a reflection of that. Nevertheless, as we sat down, I was a touch surprised at the atmosphere. It wasn’t quite the white-tablecloth vibe I’d expected. Chatty twenty-something girlfriends in leather jackets and scarves sat nearby; a Ralph Lauren-bedecked man in his 50s with his youngish wife and son trying out the spicy Spanish fries; two young male professionals, strolling in at 1 looking slightly weary from the night before, but still pulling off casual, chic weekend-wear. The crowd was decidedly young and fashionable. So the three of us fit right in *snap* *snap* *snap*

Cocoa and I had arrived before Vera, but we were able to be seated immediately due to a reservation made in advance. It wasn’t full, but I’d recommend making one just in case. This can be done online through OpenTable if you’re weird like me and don’t like talking to people on the phone. And yes, you heard me. We didn’t wait in line. When was the last time you went to brunch in this city and didn’t stand outside in the bitter cold for an hour to have someone overcharge you for eggs? We were seated near the front window at a decidedly modern glass table and presented with menus. I faced away from the window and looked directly upon the open kitchen. Sometimes an open kitchen can be obnoxious and gimmicky, but these chefs were well-behaved and low-key. No one needs to hear someone shouting about burning the fucking brioche at 11AM. This is brunch.

The décor was modern, with masculine and feminine influences colliding. Exposed brick juts up against a fuschia-painted accent wall, with some questionable art hung on both. The lighting is bright, but unnecessary in the day, as the bright front windows let in plenty of light. This is not a place to hide from the sun if you’re too hungover to bear exposure to UV rays.

We perused the menu, which was short, but diverse. Very few classic brunch dishes, but enough range for everyone to find something they’ll enjoy. However, the diversity is maybe a little too strange. Asian and Mexican inspired dishes seem odd when placed contrast to banana French toast or an egg white frittata, especially on a menu of its’ size.

Vera arrived and we ordered coffees and drinks. I opted for the blood orange juice as my only drink, being not a devotee of the holy coffee bean, and Vera was inspired to add one to her coffee order. The waitress delivered Vera her coffee and juice, leaving me without a beverage for 10 minutes while another was freshly squeezed. A minor service faux pas, but worth the wait when it came. It was extremely flavourful, the bright tang of the blood orange in all its glory, and the colour a rich, satisfying purple-red. It came in a tall glass that might at some dodgier place be reserved for Long Island Iced Tea, so I wasn’t spending $5 for something the size of a thimble (Like I have before. Many many times.)

Our dishes came after a wait. It was a bit longer than I would have liked, even for a leisurely brunch. Nevertheless, yet again, the wait was worth it.

I had opted for the Duck Confit French Toast. I told you this isn’t your usual joint. Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? I don’t normally take duck before noon. Like drunken raving with underage suburban kids at Underground, it somehow seems more appropriate for the evening. But I had to try it, just like I had to try a drunk suburban kid at Under… ahem, never mind.

It was, first and foremost, a feast for the eyes. Easily the most attractive brunch plate I’ve seen in ages. Sandwiched in between two golden brown slices of rich, buttery French toast was a hearty portion of duck confit, falling apart with the touch of a fork tine, just like confit should. It was topped with a healthy dose of reddish-green leaves of some sort, with scallions tossed about, and drizzled with a blueberry sauce that was chock full of whole berries. That’s not all. A hearty dose of sour cream and hoisin sauce rounded out the flavours, and a crispy sprinkling of a sesame seed brittle completed the dish. Some divine and hellish creature created this dish. It was divine like a Botticelli angel or a Hugo Boss sample sale. Hellish, because it was going to make me drag my fat ass to Equinox at 6AM for the next week.
Oooh! Ahhhh!

But Mr. Aprile, my kudos to you. The dish was phenomenal. Rich and delicate, the flavours played on one another very well. It was at once dainty in presentation, yet was hearty and filling. I had the nerve to add some Sriracha sauce to the dish, on the recommendation of the waitress, which I must admit it benefitted from. The sweet, savoury and spicy combination drove me mad. It is here that the Asian-fusion inspiration of the restaurant truly came through, in the hoisin and sesame seed brittle, playing well with classically French flavours like brioche and duck confit. A triumph. I ate the whole thing.
Arty close-up for textural purposes

Cocoa ordered the same dish and was similarly lulled into a sweet, sweet confit coma. Vera opted for the Tostada Ranchero, one of the Mexican-inspired dishes, that offered avocado, black beans, salsa and bacon in its’ tostada, topped with a fried egg. She enjoyed it as well, but it was no match for the confit.
Brunch for one, with coffee, a main, juice and tip will come to between $25-$30. Not bad for a splurge brunch, but too pricey to become a weekly mainstay.

So, what’s the verdict?
Origin is found GUILTY of providing imperfect service and perhaps a disjointed, too varied menu.

We also find them GUILTY of providing excellent food, both in taste and presentation, a bright, airy dining room and well-behaved chefs. And we didn’t wait in line!

We find them NOT GUILTY of falling into the usual trap of other brunch establishments, with their teeny tiny juice glasses and “quantity over quality” style. That’s right, Denny’s, I’m talkin’ to you.

We also find them NOT GUILTY of having any taste in art. In my (sophisticated, well informed and lah-di-dah cultured) opinion.

These minor infractions aside, I declare this brunch, an 8.5/10.

Origin is located at 107 King Street East in the St. Lawrence Market district. Dinner is served from Monday to Sunday, lunch from Monday to Friday (for all you lucky expense account bastards) and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. They have two other locations, Origin Liberty in Liberty Village and Origin North in Bayview Village, so make sure you make a reservation at the right one, dumbass. Reservations are recommended.
Origin Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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