Chef Susur Lee is a legend amongst the Toronto culinary scene. He’s opened some of the city’s top restaurants, set up shop in Singapore, Washington DC and New York and even appeared on Food Network, in a (tie) battle vs. Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America and later on Top Chef: Masters.
Cari and I decided my birthday would be a good excuse to finally give Lee Restaurant a try. Of course, we made that decision on Thursday at which point our reservation options were 5:45pm or 9:15pm. We dropped Violet off at my parents and opted for a late dinner.
Upon our arrival, we overheard a patron leave, announcing “What a great restaurant. I can’t believe how good that restaurant was.” Good sign, we thought. We took a seat at the bar as we were waiting for our table and sampled two expensive but unbelievably good cocktails. I had the Mayan Winter ($17), an infusion of tequila, gin and lime juice with julienned apple and cucumber and a small red chili. Refreshing, spicy, delicious. Cari opted for the Burnt Orange Manhattan ($18) – bourbon, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, orange cream bitters and a burnt orange peel to finish.
Once seated at our table, our waiter gave us some background on how Lee operates. All plates are intended for sharing and for the two of us he recommended 3 or 4. He then took us through some of the dishes he would recommend the most. Eager to go outside of our usual comfort zone, we more or less followed his suggestions.
We started with the Singapore Slaw, a dish Susur Lee is apparently famous for. “I know what you’re thinking,” the waiter said to us. “Why would we waste a course on a slaw? But trust me… it will be the highlight of your meal.” And it was! They brought it us in a giant pile on a plate and mixed it. What we smelled was unbelievably appetizing. The server took us through the full list of ingredients… green onions, taro, rice noodles, cucumber, carrot, jicama, daikon, tomatoes, sesame seeds, pickled onion, roasted hazelnuts, fried shallots, edible-flower petals, basil, beet greens, daikon sprouts, pickled ginger and a salted-plum dressing. Phenomenal. And of course we had to add the sashimi tuna as an add on… of course.
Up next was the Caramelized Black Cod. Neither Cari or I are that into fish, which is part of why we wanted to order it – the whole “going outside of our comfort zone thing.” I know black cod is often the epitome of high class dining and this dish was moist and extremely flavourful. It was also served on a dim sum turnip cake, which is one of my favourite dim sum dishes.
Our third course was a special… a pulled beef with mushrooms, goat cheese and a marsala wine sauce. Astounding.
It seemed like the meal came and went in a flash, probably because we were so absorbed in our three dishes that time just disappeared. Next thing we knew it was nearing 11pm, we were full and satisfied. Ah, but dessert. The French & Chinese Tong Yuen was described as something of a sweet rice paper dumpling filled with warm ferrero rocher. That’s exactly what it tasted like! A great finish to a great meal.
Lee is not the most cost-effective meal, but it is an experience you will remember. If you appreciate food as much as we do, you’ll definitely want to give it a try.