By: Carly Spears
The tables are out and the streets are lined with people buzzing over drinks and snacks – it must be summer in Toronto.
This was definitely the case on Avenue Road last Thursday night at the official opening of NAO’s summer patio. Bustling with stylish young professionals sipping Moscow Mules and tossing back freshly-shucked oysters, it was clear that the “Summer of NAO” had officially started.
Having eaten a decent but fairly unmemorable meal in the dining room following the launch of the steakhouse last year, I wasn’t sure what to expect by attending this event. Much to my surprise, each and every canapé I sampled was uniquely crafted and absolutely delicious.
We started at the far right side of the patio, set up with a 10-foot-long oyster bar. Here, East Coast oysters shucked-to-serve were available to be topped with your choice of fresh horseradish, homemade cocktail sauce and a wide variety of fruit vinegar mignonettes. I opt for the cocktail sauce, blueberry and cucumber mignonettes – each of which was a refreshing and unique change for someone who typically steers clear of horseradish.
Moving on, we find ourselves intrigued - running to grab the ceramic Chinese-style soup spoons filled with additional raw seafood options. First up was the ceviche spoon. Raw bay scallops accompanied by rock shrimp and a fresh jalapeno offered an explosion of perfectly balanced flavours fresh from the sea. The next spoon, however, was the winner for me. A meaty slice of hamachi, curled up with a jalapeno was swimming in a delicious pool of sweet and sour yuzu, providing bursting sensation for each and every section of my taste buds.
On the deep fried front, panko-crusted, kimchi-topped crab cakes and delicately battered tempura shrimp were each served with their own unique house-mayo as garnish. While both were inventive and delicious plays on classics, these were probably two of the more underwhelming canapés of the night.
As a contemporary steakhouse, we knew there had to be beef coming out soon. We were not wrong. Following the crab cakes and shrimp, we were finally greeted with dry aged beef in the form of both gyoza and sliders. Served with a light ponzu sauce and scallion wasabi, the pan-fried gyoza were a pleasant “upscale” play on the Japanese classic.
Nonetheless, the sliders were definitely the highlight here (and, maybe, of the night). Sitting on homemade truffle aioli and topped with caramelized onions, two succulent mini beef patties lay sandwiched between a freshly baked house slider bun. As the juice began to drip down the side of my wrist, all I could think about was how I needed to get another!
While searching for more sliders, we had no choice but to start digging into not one, not two, but four mini dessert options flowing our way. Because, what’s a summer launch party, or any dinner for that matter, without some delicious sweets? Featuring items from their daily “pie trolley” each mini version of dessert was better than the next.
A fan of anything and everything Nutella, I was excited to see a group of mini whoopie pies featuring a chocolate hazelnut ganache sitting on a caramel-drizzled, rose-petal lined serving plate.
Next, raspberry coconut cream pies and yuzu tarts, lined up on long white plates, started making their way from the kitchen. Each of which were built on a crispy, yet tender, buttery tart shell, and filled with deliciously sweet but balanced fillings.
Finally: the cheesecake tart. Simple, right? Wrong. Upon biting into the crackling chocolate-coated phyllo shell, we soon found out that it was actually a goat cheese filling! Offering a uniquely tangy twist on this classic dessert, this was a more than pleasant surprise to end the night with.
I don’t know whether or not this is the Summer of NAO but, I can tell you this, I would host a patio party here any day!
Carly Spears is a marketing and communications professional who writes about and photographs food from Toronto and on various travels around the world. Follow her on Instagram @thechewreview.