Sure, pop-up restaurants are all the rage: holiday specials, ‘burb bistros visit city cafe’s. But, did you ever hear of a pop-up restaurant crossing continents? That’s exactly what occurred when Toronto’s Actinolite restaurant hosted Copenhagen’s Kodbyens Fiskebar (a fish bar). I was happy to be given the opportunity to experience it!
Actinolite is in a kind of ramshackle neighborhood in Toronto. It’s a small but cozy and relaxed, intimate space inside. I’d say you could go there on a date or with tables pushed together, with friends. Having gone through a few incarnations, its owner was dazzled by the restaurants in Denmark, including Kodbyens Fiskebar. When the Terroir Symposium (Canada’s hospitality symposium) was in Toronto last week, they incorporated a special pop up dinner into the events open to the public. Since Kodbyens Fiskebar is fanatical about using the finest fish and shellfish and Terroir was focusing on sustainable seafood, it was a perfect match.
There was a further twist: the Danes would be utilizing mostly Canadian ingredients and of course, the Canadian restaurant’s kitchen. Can you imagine? I know when I’m traveling I hardly feel like my authentic self, what with not wearing my delicate vintage dresses, heels or having the time to get myself ready. Often, there’s that pesky jet-lag. The Danes weren’t worrying about frocks, but owner Anders Selmer did confide in me that his jet-lag was brutal. He once also did a pop up in Berlin. His background is as a wine expert and restauranteur. He was restaurant manager and sommelier at Noma for the first 5 years. Selmer was also the creator and former winemaker at Lilleø wine.
I started off with some organic, natural champagne: no sugar or yeast added. I learned that such wines won’t give you hangovers like other wines. After having much more to drink that night than I normally do — I’m not a huge drinker — but I can say for myself, at least, it’s true! In Europe, they can add up to 55 additives without putting it on the label. Selmer travels to the vineyards of the world to find out what’s what.
A little “snack” (amuse bouche) was dynamically presented on tree bark: locally foraged herbs the kitchen staff — including sous-chef Peter Rose — had picked that morning. They included elder and aquatic mint made into an herb dip. It had grassy, peppery, savory notes and almost a protein flavor.
Then there was a bread served in a little enamelware crock: sprouted kamut. It was served alongside butter made with fine mushrooms.
The first course was sea urchin (the “foie gras” of seafood, for its taste and texture) from British Columbia with chicken skin (on menu, but I was told halibut skin), mushroom and ramson. These West Coast sea urchins had a soft texture with the skin cooked hard crisp like a veggie chip. It was dressed with a bit of house-made mayo and oak seeds. The flavors were intense with nutty and rich fish flavors, but not “fishy”. It was served with “Les Empreintes”, Laherte Freres, Champagne 2006.
Next came trout from Kolapore Springs, a fishery in Southern Ontario. It was presented with almond, rye bread brought straight from Denmark, foraged angelica and watercress. It was smoky, rich with dabs of almond emulsion like an aioli. The rye bread had a good salt kick; I could taste why they brought it from overseas. It was so flavorful! The trout was very tender, carpaccio style. It was served with Trebbiano, Cirelli, Abruzzo 2014.
I must say, the wines went with each course better than most couples go together!
Next came asparagus “by Aysha” with egg, seaweed, kelp salt, rich airy foam. Is it weird to think of seaweed being earthy? The unami in this dish was off the chart! It had soy flavors. The dish was served with “Lunar”, Movia, Slovenia 2008. I learned that the winemaker likes to do and grow everything by the phases of the moon — thus, the name. He lets the moon draw liquid out of casks. Lunar is considered a “volatile” wine.
The next dish was squid from the Azores presented with beet, black garlic and lardo. The garlic drops were further color enhanced with squid ink: it was sweet and vegetal, “green” tasting without being green.There was a little bit of sea salt taste. Squid had a grilled flavor. It was served with “Puro”, Movia, Slovenia 2005.
Then followed halibut from Nova Scotia presented with cucumber, as well as freshly foraged cattail, spruce. The cucumbers had a minty flavor and there was spruce-horseradish mayo. The halibut was buttery. Would this be the hardest dish in the world to pair wine with? I mean, maybe if they added some chocolate and artichoke for more challenge. It was paired with Rami COS, Sicily 2012. It really has baking spice flavors and went perfectly.
The first dessert was rhubarb from Ontario with white chocolate and tarragon. Rhubarb sorbet had tarragon whey, dried foraged woodruff, fried almond crumble and burnt salty white chocolate that sous-chef Peter Rose says they call “chef crack”. Rightfully so! It was paired with Ice Cider (also crack-like), Domaine Pinnacle, Quebec 2012. Pinnacle puts out great products; I have their apple creme liqueur in my liquor cabinet. I got to see my dessert being made in the kitchen, check out the photo slide show.
The next course was beer with barley and malt added to make cookie crisps and ice cream, made out of Oatmeal Stout, St. Ambroise, Quebec. I get the concept of taking down the sugars/brix numbers a notch to get to the cheese course, but I wasn’t in love. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest beer drinker, but this course seemed a little superfluous or not as beloved in the kitchen as the other dishes. You can see in the slide show that it kinda looks like “One of these things is not like the others.”
The cheese was made in house by Actinolite in professional aging “caves” they access. It was served with Blackball Riesling, Pearl Morisette, Niagara 2013. Niagara is only an hour away from Toronto.