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Late Harvest: vibrant, stylish, a little green

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Caviar pie. Photo by - MARK LEE

Wine lovers know well that late-harvested grapes often produce wines of great concentration, depth and complexity. Chef Ryan Nelson’s cooking has always aspired to champion these qualities, and the dishes on offer at Late Harvest certainly display no shortage of vibrant, multi-faceted flavors and textures that combine to form a harmonious whole.

Although the exterior of this stylish new restaurant could be mistaken for an up-market chain, (perhaps not a bad idea, given the locale) the interior, with its warm wood and stone tones, its high ceilings and elegant place settings, is like a temple to fine dining.

It’s not easy to pin down the dominant culinary theme at Late Harvest, although the online mission statement suggests a combination of the best elements of fine dining with a neighborhood restaurant. A neighborhood restaurant in London or Paris, perhaps, but not yet in these parts, more’s the pity. With a couple of notable exceptions, you’re not likely to find pork belly, pork cheeks, duck confit or salt cod brandade on any menu in town, so to find them all front and center here is something of a dream come true for the omnivore.

In spite of being quite busy for a weekday evening, a recent visit found Late Harvest’s front of house firing on all cylinders with quiet but friendly efficiency.

Of the several dishes we sampled, standouts included a really splendid plate of braised pork cheeks ($25), which evidently came from pigs that had done a bit of rooting around and chewing on their food. The texture was firm yet melting, almost like pork belly but more muscular. This was accompanied by some deliciously earthy chanterelle mushrooms. A second main course, a fish dish, was less successful, but I think we can attribute this to teething problems in the kitchen. Suffice to say, the issue was handled expertly and without fuss.

As a first course, we really enjoyed the brandade ($10), a sort of thick paste of salt cod, fresh cod, cream and olive oil, served straight from the oven. This was one of the finest such dishes I have tasted in a restaurant, with a profound, yet not too salty, flavor. All too often this dish winds up tasting like mashed potato. Not so here. Both this dish and the caviar pie ($16) were served with house-baked bread (brioche in the case of the latter.) Although beautiful to look at and ambitious in scope, I found that the caviar was overwhelmed by its creamy cheese base and admittedly delicious garnish, as well as by the heavy char on the otherwise excellent brioche.

A small plate of house-made kielbasa ($9) had all the makings of a fine dish, but the sausage was under-seasoned, and the accompanying Brussels sprouts still a bit raw. A side of poutine ($8), perfectly fried potatoes with cheese curds and an egg, was fantastically decadent. The dessert, a magnificent sticky toffee pudding, was little short of immaculate.

It only stands to reason that a restaurant this ambitious and young would experience some teething problems early on: there can be no doubt that Late Harvest is set to become one of the city’s finest dining destinations. I am certain that next time around this excellent new restaurant will merit a much higher score.

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