Wednesday 8 April 2015

Toronto's R&D

Last night was the grand opening of R&D, the restaurant project by MasterChef Canada season one winner, Eric Chong, and MasterChef Canada judge, Alvin Leung. After the show, Eric accompanied Alvin to Hong Kong where he was mentored at Alvin's Michelin-star restaurant, Bo Innovation. Lots of preparation has since gone into their own restaurant in the heart of Toronto's Chinatown. R&D represents Eric (the Rebel) and Alvin (the Demon). The restaurant serves elevated Chinese cuisine with a modernized Canadian flair. Danny Raposo from season one's top 13 gathered a few of us together for the opening. There were a couple of last minute cancellations but of the top 50, only Danny, Carmela Campolargo and myself were able to make it. We got to see Eric and Alvin, which was pretty cool for me since I hadn't seen either of them since we were all on set together. 

The restaurant has a very vibrant atmosphere. There are elements of sophistication in the form of reclaimed wood and contemporary lighting.  It's a somewhat narrow space with the restaurant bar at the entrance before opening up at the back with casual seating, colourful decor and kitchen in full view.

Eric was working for the opening and managed to step out for a quick photo op with Danny. 

Alvin Leung was also there expediting the kitchen, greeting tables and charming food critics. 

Alvin stopped to catch up with us and take a photo with Carmela and myself. 

Here's one of my fave photos of the night: Danny, Carmela and me hamming it up. 


We were also joined by Danny's son, Carmela's husband, our friend Denise and Mathieu Beausoleil, who made it to the final stage of auditions for both seasons of MasterChef so far, but yet to be selected. It was a great group so we got a chance to try many of the dishes. The concept of the restaurant is mainly tapas portions, perfect for sharing. 

The brussels sprouts side with black bean butter and puffed rice. 

I started with the fried sweetbreads in oyster sauce with crispy seaweed, mushrooms and sweet potato purée. I was really impressed with this dish. I loved the plating and it was a convenient combination of things that I like. I first tried sweetbreads earlier this year at Ruby Watchco and was very surprised at how much I enjoyed them. I'm not much of an offal person but sweetbreads don't have that muddy flavour I associated with most of it. They're quite tasty and R&D did them justice. 

Carmela ordered the chop suey which was prepared at table side by our friendly server, Julia. It was a combination of different vegetables and a smoky plum sauce served with bibb lettuce. You have the option of adding seared foie gras to this dish. 

Danny and Mathieu both ordered the chargrilled octopus with choy sum chimichurri and yu heung eggplant. This was probably the most beautifully plated dish of the night. 

One of the dishes I ordered was the crab bibimbap which comes with their house chili sauce, kimchi and an egg. If you're looking at this thinking, "this doesn't look at all like bibimbap!", allow me to explain. Bibimbap is traditionally served in a heated, stone bowl which kind of sears the sticky rice at the bottom and gives it a beautiful caramelized flavour and crisp texture. When the dish came to the table, it looked beautiful but then the server immediately began to mash everything together with a pair of spoons. In doing so he maximized the surface area of the rice against the bowl. Then he advised to let it sit for a minute or so to let the rice get crispy. Was this a good tasting dish? Absolutely. I did get the maximum amount of crispiness out of the rice but overall I wished they hadn't done that. I thought it looked like a mess. They brought me this beautiful dish and then murdered it in front of me. lol! I get the concept but personally I don't think it was worth it. What do you guys think? Really tasty though.  

Another dish I ordered was the lobster chow mein. This was one of Eric's dishes that he presented on the season finale of MasterChef Canada. What can I say? I was intrigued. The cook on the lobster was really good and the natural flavour wasn't compromised by any other element in the dish. Personally I would have preferred a thinner noodle, but that's just my taste. The thickness of the noodle matched his dish on the finale of the show and it helped him win the title. They're made fresh from scratch.  

Mathieu and Danny also ordered the R&D take on the chicken and waffles with sichuan maple syrup and plum sauce. The quality of this photo is especially bad, my apologies. I got to try a drumstick and it was really good. I'm a sucker for fried chicken and unless I'm mistaken I thought I tasted Chinese 5 spice in the crispy breading, which was interesting. Chicken and waffles might seem like an odd concept to some people but it's a classic pairing in soul food with roots in the deep south. It's hard to explain but I quite like it in a cheat-on-your-diet-so-good kinda way. I'd recommend this dish if you get a chance to try it. 


Our table also ordered the sweet-n-sour ribs with a hawthorn-lemongrass-ginger slaw and pineapple.

We tried all three of their desserts as well. This the the crispy milk with malt ice cream dish. I'm not so sure how they made these but they were really interesting. The milk was firm custard texture with a smoky, caramelized coating reminiscent of fire-toasted marshmallows. It really gives the impression of a campfire. 

They also have an interesting take on a banana split. Instead of the traditional, strawberry, vanilla, chocolate they give you a scoop each of sour cherry sorbet, tamarind ice cream and a peanut butter-condensed milk ice cream with crispy tempura banana fritters, coconut cream and macerated cherries. This dish was really good and a fun interpretation of a classic. I'm not so sure if I understood the sour cherry and tamarind combination (both sour) with condensed milk and peanut butter. I guess I was expecting three different and contrasting flavours to balance each other out. Each ice cream was really good on their own though. Fried bananas are hard not to love too. 


Carmela ordered the crème brûlée with coconut sugar which came with a scoop of their sour cherry ice cream on top. She said she enjoyed it. 

Overall a very successful and enjoyable grand opening. I want to extend a big congratulations to both Eric and Alvin for the fantastic restaurant. I'm looking forward to going back. To be quite honest, there wasn't a single thing on the menu that I didn't want to try. That's always a good sign. We saw another table ordered a peking duck with steamed buns and Asian slaw. It looked amazing! R&D offers some creative and sophisticated dishes which are elevated and yet still hit that comfort food mark that not every cuisine can do. If you get a chance to dine at R&D, please do. 

R&D is located at 241 Spadina Ave in downtown Toronto's Chinatown neighbourhood. Their phone number is 416-586-1241 and you can see their web-site here

Well guys, that's it from me!

See you again soon!


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