A good snap shot of the new Zinc menu. That statement was one of the last things Chef David Omar left us with after indulging us with 19 of his newest creations this past Monday. When I was invited to experience the newly revamped fall menu, I was intrigued by Chef Omar’s idea of “by the bite” or “by the plate”. I’m sure we all know about ordering wine by the glass, but how would this work with food? Would someone be able to grasp the whole picture from just “a bite”? I suppose I’d have to sacrifice my empty stomach for you and find out!
The restaurant, which is normally closed on Mondays, saw a bit of table shuffling to accommodate the guests. Noticing Marianne and Charles walk in a few minutes after our own arrival, Sarah and I quickly grabbed a seat in the center of the room to catch up. As we gabbed away, we were soon joined by Mack and Sharon; giving our table quite the digital presence. With all 6 of the tables available seats now occupied, a member of the serving staff promptly set the evening in motion by setting our table napkins on our laps. Where they would stay clean and unused for the better part of an hour, but I digress.
With no idea how the night would unroll, we were each presented with a menu that seemed a little daunting. Would we pick something from each course? Share everything family style? Wrong on both accounts; as everyone at the table soon realized we would be eating every “by the bite” option available. I do suppose this would give us the snap shot that Chef Omar would tell us about after dinner. Now to change things up from the usual post, Sarah has asked to help with the food commentary. Which means we’re going to tag team the night. As a note, each of the nights six courses included three ‘bites’.
Cucumber & Tomato Salad ($4) – Brunoise Cucumber, Quinoa Tabbouleh, Tomato Dressed greens
CW:Nothing special here, the almighty quinoa felt bland when not mixed with the lemon vinaigrette, while the tomato was nonexistent.
ST:I don’t remember any tomato in mine; unmemorable.
Beet Salad ($4) – Beet Puree, Roasted Red Beets, Candied Beets, Greens
CW: As a big fan of beets I enjoyed the dish. The beet puree however was subbed out for white turnip as Chef Omar mentioned troubles sourcing a quality product. Very refreshing.
ST: Amazing! I liked the beat crisp (Chris’ dish didn’t come with one).
Caesar Salad ($4) – Romaine Filets, Crispy Prosciutto, Caper & Peppercorn Dressing, Crostini, Parmesan
CW: The prosciutto was deep fried and crispy! Dangerously delicious I say. The greens were fresh, but I think you might scare away some vampires if you ate more than a mouthful.
ST: Too garlicky. Loved the prosciutto crisps and I thought the ‘crouton’ was tasty.
Lobster Bisque ($4) – French Served, Truffled Lobster Salad
CW: Where’s my lobster salad? Oh and the bisque, I kept hoping for some actual meat. Maybe they just use the shells to create the broth. Overall, pretty average.
ST: I didn’t like it.
Salmon Three Ways ($5) – Maple Cured Candy, Salt and Dill Smoked Gravlox, Salmon Tartar
CW: The candied version, which we heard was a big hit at the Omar family, tasted more like the ocean than candy, while having the texture of jerky. The smoked and tartar options were both quite good. Chef Omar also mentioned that he didn’t want to include salmon on the menu. Interesting.
ST: I liked the tartar version and the smoked salmon had a good dill flavour. The candied salmon was chewy like beef jerky, and wasn’t very sweet.
Pan Seared Scallops ($6) – Sweet Potato and Maple Ginger Puree, Red Radish Micro Greens, Demi Glaze & Citrus Foam
CW: My scallop was cooked more than I would have liked . The sweet potato base was deliciously good. I think Marianne made the best statement when she said it could make a perfect soup. We did miss the demi glaze as Chef Omar was late to the room and the wait staff didn’t come around with the demi until he spoke.
ST: Loved it!
Beef ($9) – “Spring Creek Ranch” Strip Tender, Goat Cheese Butter, Roasted Potatoes, Root Vegetables, Shiraz Jus
CW: The beef here was cooked to well done. It almost hurt me inside. If I paid for this dish, I would have been beyond disappointed.
ST: I liked the goat cheese butter, but my beef was also overcooked.
Vegetarian ($7) – Creamy Orzo, Sundried Tomatoes, Saffron, Basil Pesto
CW: Besides not being creamy, I felt the tomato and pesto were spot on and worked well with the orzo. Chef Omar did mention this is the only vegetarian option; how can that be? Note to self, Zinc isn’t for the everyday vegetarian.
ST: Well, it wasn’t very creamy….
Chicken ($7) – Chicken Supreme Saltimbocca, Red Pepper Butter, Papperdelle Noodles, Green Asparagus
CW: I ate this dish in one big bite, and can’t tell you much other than to say the spicy sauce overwhelmed every single part of the bite.
ST: It was really good. Had some nice spice.
Duck ($8) – Green Tea Smoked “Brome Lake” Breast, Pumpkin and Potato Puree, Vanilla Scented Cherry Tomato, Blue Berry Jus
CW: The duck breast wasn’t bad, but in such a small piece it would be all but impossible to get any green tea smoke. The vanilla from the cherry tomato worked well when I mixed it into the puree, but stole any goodness that the tomato may bring.
ST: The pumpkin puree was good, but I’m not a big fan of duck and this did nothing to change that. I found the vanilla overpowering.
Lamb ($9) – Pan Seared Lamb Loin, Tomato Mozzarella Crust, Polenta Medallian, Brussel Sprouts, Cassis Jus
CW: The polenta was bland and the lamb was still too well done for me. I though the chunky of melted cheese did absolutely nothing as it wasn’t a crust; more of a wet gob.
ST: I really liked the lamb and crust. In fact, probably the first time I’ve ever enjoyed lamb. The polenta lacked any flavour.
Braised Lentils ($4) – Braised Beluga Lentils, Pork Belly, Red Curry Cream, House Pickled Carrots
CW: Who doesn’t love picked veg!! The lentils were cooked to perfect al dente but I don’t recall the curry cream. The pork belly was a disappointment for me, as it was just a hunk of fat. 100% fat.
ST: I loved the carrot, as it reminded me of grandmas. The pork belly had too much fat, and I still can’t figure out why people like pork belly so much.
Cannelloni ($6) – House Made Cannelloni, Mushrooms, Braised Leeks, Paddy’s Cheese
CW: Chef Omar described the pasta as very rich, and I’d have to agree as the cheese and confit duck was not something you would need to gorge on. Well you could, but you’d be the size of a house. Even though this may be one of the house specialties, it didn’t do much for me. I wonder if it’s because the pasta came out cold. Then again, I’m not much of a pasta guy,
ST: I did not like it. The dish was much to rich for my palette.
Pork Tenderloin Medallion ($6) – Natural Jus, Crispy Root Chips, Braised Cabbage
CT: We learned that listing no specific cabbage on the menu allows Chef Omar to pick a different version on a whim. Tonight’s choice was savoy cabbage and was cooked perfectly. The pork was, yet again, overcooked and failed to deliver.
ST: A good dish, but the pork was a little overcooked.
Bison ($9) – Pan Seared Tenderloin, Potato Gratin, Zucchini Spaghetti Squash, Saskatoon Berry Jus
CW: I thought any bison characteristics were lost when I combined the plates ingredients together. Not as overcooked as some, this may have been the best piece of meat during the night.
ST: The bison, was again, a little overcooked. The squash didn’t offer any flavour.
Bison Carpaccio ($6) – Parmesan, Herb Oil, Bitter Lettuce, Pink Peppercorn, Poached Egg
CW: Just an example about how the “by the bite” dishes won’t give you the best show, there was no egg involved with our plates. As well, the bison was so thin that it had to scraped, with effort mind you, off the plate. It was shame.
ST: *shakes head* It was stuck to the plate. (see below)
Salmon ($8) – Wild Pacific Salmon, Lemon Butter, Roasted Barley Pilaf, Kohlrabi & Carrot
CW: My salmon was cooked past the point of flaky and almost to the point of rubber. The roasted barley pilaf was cooked perfectly. I started to wonder between the barley and the orzo, maybe Chef Omar should have more grains on the menu.
ST: What was the foam on top? My salmon seemed to be cooked alright; at least a corner of it.
Spaghetti ($8) – Alpaca Meatballs, Roasted Roma Tomato Sauce, House Made Spaghetti Noodles, “Paddy’s” Cheese
CW: With a dish that’s labeled spaghetti, you might think the small version would include some pasta. Chef Omar took the time to discuss Alpaca farming and mentioned just like bison 10 years ago, people need to start including alpaca meat into their diet. I couldn’t help but think of Kevin Costner; cook it, and they will come. Too bad the meatball was dry and wasn’t salvageable by the sauce.
ST: It was just dry.
Not listed on the night’s menu, we were treated to a final dessert. Banana Bread Pudding – Glazed Banana, Spiced Rum Caramel Sauce
CW: This dish reminded me of a banana muffin, and not of bread pudding, but that doesn’t take anything away as it was quite good. I also really enjoyed the slightly caramelized banana.
ST: I liked it, but could have done without the sauce.
With a tasting menu like this, which was designed for different media groups, I often wonder if it’s a true representation of the establishment. Much like a new restaurant opening, the kitchen can be off their normal pace with fresh assignments, the dishes may not be true to the menu and so on. Except, this isn’t a new restaurant and these aren’t off-menu promotional items. Don’t get me wrong. I really like what Chef Omar is doing. There is a focus on local and sustainable products, regardless of what the giant organization (Compass Group) behind Zinc says. However, at the end of the day, no matter how chic your friends are, or how hip the potential clientele may be, it’s the food that matters to me. Small bites of meat need short cooking times. Clearly something that was not evident in our food on this occasion. In fact, it’s the vegetable (beets/sweet potatoes) and grain (barley/orzo) components that stole the show. If you are making the trek to Zinc, my suggestion is to go big, or “by the plate”. I have a hunch the increased cooking time in the larger plates will give the staff greater control of the final product, meaning you have a better shot at receiving a quality dish. After all, the last thing you want is a meal that doesn’t live up to the name or the price.
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square