“A little farmhouse revival” in downtown Toronto
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being invited to dine at the Chef’s table at Marben, a cozy and cool restaurant specializing in the art of butchery and charcuterie. From what I understand, the imaginative and passionate kitchen staff of Marben are responsible for making nearly every single item that hits the table, right down to the bread and condiments. What makes things even better is the fact that most, if not all, of the produce and meats served are grown and purchased within 100km of Toronto, meaning guests are served the freshest ingredients, and local farmers are supported. Awesome!
When we first approached the Wellington Street restaurant, I immediately hoped to be seated on the patio. With lovely wooded tables lit with candles, and enclosed by thick wooden beams and exposed brick, the atmosphere was conducive to how I most enjoy spending a warm Toronto evening… with good food, and good wine. Upon entering the restaurant, my attention was captured again, this time by an extensive wine collection and a well stocked bar, followed by a large painting of a bird. The lights had bird cages and giant mixers as shades, and a chalkboard wall depicted Toronto in relation to the rest of Ontario and the great lakes. We were ushered to the back of the restaurant to a large butcher block type table/bar looking into an open kitchen, busy with the hustle of service. I really enjoy food, and watching it being prepared, so needless to say, I was pretty excited. We ordered a beer, and settled in. I, being a rather indecisive individual, immediately began to ponder which menu item I would choose. When we met the chef, we were informed that he would be cooking the ENTIRE menu for us… which was great because I no longer had to eliminate menu options!
The first plate to be presented was a quartet of fresh oysters, finished with cucumber mignonette. I declined the oyster due to an unfortunate allergy, but did sample the topper… which was delicious. The second plate was the warm up round to say the least… the charcuterie. Prior to my trip to Toronto, my experience with charcuterie was about as extensive as the pepperoni aisle at Loblaws. I was entirely unaware of the art that is the utilization of the parts that are commonly left over after the typical parts of the animal are used… for example, cow tongue. I tried cow tongue! Not only was it not as bad as it sounds, I really enjoyed it! The tongues were accompanied by a number of other house cured meats, pates, pickles veggies and sauces. I was happy to have two other mouths at work with me on this.
Our meal progressed through a number of other courses that featured things like salads with pink grapefruit or crispy fried eggs, to wild boar belly poutine with sheep curds, gnocci with sage and brown butter (mmmm), venison ragout with hand-rolled cavatelli, and duck confit with rhubarb chutney… just to name a few menu items. Every item I tried, I would consider a “get-again” (a term my mother uses when she orders something at a restaurant that she deems tasty enough to come back and order again), but the entrée that had me really made me want to elbow my way in for the last piece was… (drum roll please)… the burger. Now I’m not normally the type to order a burger at a restaurant, but since it was ordered for me, I was obliged to dig in to this anything-but-ordinary burg. I don’t remember the dressings, condiments, bun, or side orders, for my memory is blinded by the tender and juicy patty, stuffed with nothing less that braised ribs. I can confidently deem this burger the best burger I have ever, or will ever eat. This burger alone guarantees that I will make a reappearance at Marben next time I am in the GTA.
Lastly, I need to give specific praise to my favourite part of any meal… dessert. While I was nearly too stuffed to eat another bite of anything, after being presented a piece of warm apple bread pudding with Bailey’s caramel. I loved this so much that the chef gave me the recipe… the yield is an entire hotel baking pan… which sounds like just the right amount for me
Hoping to make a return trip as soon as possible, for great food and great company!