I first encountered Matt Kantor and his cooking at the Australia Day dinner a couple years back. Well known for his Secret Pickle dinners and events about town, when I had heard that Kantor was on the hunt for a space, I kept an eye on his progress towards establishing his own restaurant. Though his search had been a long and arduous battle, once Kantor got his hand his hand on the space, things were turned around in what seemed like only a couple of weeks. Now, with Bero’s doors open, it was time to check out what Kantor’s self-described Basque and Spanish-influenced cooking really meant.
Through the doors, weather-worn brown woods, black accents, and warm lighting gave the room a cozy and soft appearance. As a group of eight, we could request the full-menu option and be served family-style. And so we did.
We started with a parade of dishes that celebrated the flavours of summer in a way I haven’t experienced on the palate in some time. Matt came out to start things off and introduced our first course: the White Gazpacho. Shallow bowls cradled a cluster of compressed cucumber infused with orange blossom. Against these vibrant shades of greens and yellows, a single leaf of sorrel sat, its red veins in colourful contrast against the verdant backdrop. With its pulpy texture, coffee-soaked chia seeds that sat hidden below gave an interesting dimension to the creaminess of the soup. The gazpacho itself was devoid of the traditional chunky consistency that comes from processed bread and nuts and retained a subtle garlicky tang. Very refined in composition and lovely way to kick off our meal.Next, a branzino ceviche. With its granités of grapefruit and lime, we quickly pounced on this before things melted. Loved the pickled onions and cilantro purée against the fish chopped with poblano pepper and black radish. The branzino, subtle in flavour, was more of a textural canvas to the rest of lively the elements.Waiting for us next was the heirloom tomato duo. Part 1 was a soft, spongy marshmallow of tangy tomato and a salty smear of parmesan cream. The intense and bright tomato flavour played well with mallow’s delicate texture. Really fascinating to eat with it pushing my expectations.Heirloom tomato, part 2. An eye-popping course in shades of red, green, and yellow accompanied the marshmallows and would usually be plated together. Fried capers burst with briny explosions against the more subtle flavours of kaffir lime-compressed watermelon and the sweet acidity of heirloom tomatoes. Rings of golden kumquat lent a floral citrus note and along the edge of the plate, quenelles of blue cheese mousse added a subtle hint of earthiness. A truly crazy pile of flavours that worked deliciously well.
Nordic shrimp and rolls of compressed romaine hearts sitting on a burnt scallion purée. Chermoula sauce (often made of a mixture of herbs, oil, lemon juice, pickled lemons, garlic, cumin, and salt used in Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian cooking), spongy banana “biscuit”, and cilantro. Delicate and delicious shrimp along with the joy of sucking shrimp heads were the standouts on this dish.
Bone marrow gnocchi, with celeriac cream, parsley purée, fried garlic, parsley, and snails. Everyone just about lost their minds over this dish and I am pretty certain we could have all eaten a bowl each. The rich and subtle flavour of marrow with the soft gnocchi and chew of snails – unbelievably good. I loved the tint of green in the gnocchi that came from the addition of parsley.Mushroom lovers take note: burnished brown king oysters, golden hues of chanterelles, and a timbale of cremini and shiitake. Raw peas and a mint purée provide a fresh foil to the earthiness of the mushrooms and bright yellow mounds of vanilla sabayon gave the dish a sweet, creamy touch that could have doubled as dessert if it were on its own.The fried arroz negro (black rice) with a beautifully coloured beet-infused squid on piperrada (a typical Basque dish prepared with onion, green peppers, and tomatoes sautéd and flavoured with red espelette pepper). When Kantor quizzed us about any comments on the dinner, this was one of the few (of two, even) things we called out. More of that saffron mayo – the splash of colour and punch of flavour went so well with the dish – and a higher ratio of crust to rice for the arancini itself. All really minor notes, as we still enjoyed the course and polished off every last bit of it.
We continue our meaty dishes with the lamb saddle dusted with wattle seed and sided with a colourful progression of peruvian potato, apricot, and zucchini anchored by a buttermilk-avocado puree. A lone purple potato had sat on one of the dishes until Kantor came out and jokingly stared us down.Rare slices of roasted duck breast on a duck confit cannelloni (wrapped in leek) sitting on leek purée. Soft corn custard with nuggets of freeze-dried corn and a swoosh of a black garlic sauce finish off the plate. Really enjoyed the sweetness of the corn custard and the hit of leek with the duck.A more non-traditional surf and turf: a pairing of pork loin and octopus on chick peas, red onion, and a mango-yogurt sauce. The coins of octopus were really tender and beautifully flavoured with the smoked paprika. A much more delicate dish compared to the rest of the meats.One of my dining companions brought in some freshly-picked Niagara peaches and Chef used them in this incredible pairing of an onion caramel and star anise ice cream. A very savoury dessert with surprisingly harmonious flavours. It reminded many at the table of Chinese braised meat dishes. The sweet taste and aroma of peach really played well off of the black liquorice and caramelized onion notes.More surprisingly savoury options for dessert appeared. While the eggplant frozen yogurt was odd on its own, eating it with all the elements on the plate (chocolate flourless cake, halvah, and hints of orange), made for a lovely flavour profile. I ate a lot of this, I liked it so much. Really subtle sweetness and depth from the eggplant.Strawberries, strawberry meringue, black malt and beer soil, with a caramelized white chocolate ganache and milk sorbet. The white chocolate ganache was initially mistaken for a dulce de leche – and with good reason – very similar flavour/texture profiles.Tubes of crème Catalan on a crumble of cardamom-chickpea sablé and chamomile-infused blueberry. Blueberry sauce and green leaves of lemon balm round out the plate. Quite liked the crème and use of in-season blueberries.A highly impressive dinner all-around. Fourteen beautiful and well-composed dishes for under $80 makes this incredibly accessible and worth checking out. Though only hinting at Basque country (I’ll be better able to speak about that after May next year..!), the menu and inventiveness is more reminiscent of my experience at Eleven Madison Park – and that was my most memorable meal in 2012.
Leslieville is a great neighbourhood and Bero adds a relaxed sophistication to the already impressive stable of restaurants in the area. With fantastic food and an atmosphere that invites conversation, Bero should have a lock on the locals and with Toronto in general. It certainly has made my personal list of new favourites!
- Bero 889 Queen Street East, Toronto