Frilu, a fine-dining restaurant known for their carefully curated 10-course “Kaiseki” seasonal menus, opened just last year on June 2018. For every season, they welcome a new menu, including most recently for spring. Owner and Executive Chef John Vincent Troiano’s concept for Frilu was to bring the uptown area of Thornhill with a fine-dining restaurant as it was not as common as it was in downtown. After working in a variety of upscale restaurants internationally, including Japan, Copenhagen, and 3-star Michelin restaurant Benu in San Francisco, he brings that high quality experience to guests with unparalleled service and meticulously-curated dishes.
This year, Frilu’s menu takes it up an even higher notch by incorporating non-alcoholic drink pairings alongside each of his 10 courses in the spring menu. Alcoholic drink pairings are also an option. Even though non-alcoholic pairings, seem unconventional in North America, they are more commonly seen in Japan, and that is what Chef John-Vincent Troiano and general manager, Kelli Ewing, wanted to introduce to Toronto’s food scene. Traditionally, teas are used for non-alcoholic pairings in Japan but Kelli took a more modern approach in diversifying the ways of elevating a dish (beyond wind and spirits). She would mix fresh-pressed juices, herbal and sparkling elements to make pairings that focus on complimenting or contrasting the dominant flavours of the dish.
The first course is named “Secret Garden”, a fun dungeness crab appetizer that encapsulates the definition of spring. The seaweed salad gives off a rejuvenating first impression with its oceanic aroma. Detailed accents of onion cress, lovage, nastartium cilantro, mizona, dried kombu, kale powder, and edible flowers are added ontop of also add freshness to the beautifully presented salad. The Peach Kombucha is equally refreshing with its effervescent sweetness, yet also contrasts with the rich egg yolk and crab.
In terms of a dish and drink that strongly compliments one another, the 7th course does just that by highlighting smokey flavours. The concoction called “Temple of Heaven” is a gunpowder smoked green tea (from the Zhejiang Provence in China) and paired with a Spanish mackerel that has been smoked over a binchotan (Japanese charcoal). This dish, known as the “Seerfish no Nukazuke” is marinated with nuka (fermented rice bran used in Japan to make pickles) for 5 days. Whey foam sparkles on-top of the fish and is made in-house by infusing the grilled bones of the fish. Fennel accents are added on the side in the form of fronds and purée.
The “Vitello Tonnato” strongly contrasts with the astringent green juice pairing. This dish is a progressive take on a traditional Italian dish where the veal has been cooked sous-vide for 10 to 12 hours. The mayonnaise is made with smoked yellowtail, anchovies, capers, and garlic, which is the perfect tantalizing dip. A crunchy, tubular potato croquette sits atop with finely chopped parsley roots. The dish is paired with one of Chef Troiano’s favourite juices: “Be Light” from the Village Juicery, made from cucumber, spinach, parsley, lemon, mint and pink salt, which balances out the richness of the mayonnaise and fatty veal.
One of the most memorable courses was the second: “Ocean & the Pea” paired with a mint iced tea. The chef explained it visually as the peas sprouting through the melting ice. There was a playful contrast of textures within the gelée, crisp pea tendrils, and prawns. The shrimp oil finish is made of the spot prawn’s head mixed with sturgeon caviar, both from British Columbia. For the drink, the mint cleanses the palate and enhances the flavours from the prawn.
It is easy to see the amount of dedication that goes into not only choosing which flavours go into each dish, but also in the intricacy of each of the course’s presentation. Although perfection is an important standard that Troiano has set, one thing that he has taken away from the pressures of working for well-renowned restaurants is his belief in providing a better working environment for his close-knit team of chefs at Frilu. Each course is tested through many months of trial and error, and brought to life in a timely manner to celebrate nature’s elements. With inspiration drawn from his worldly experiences, one can experience a part of Chef Troiano’s culinary journey where Frilu paves the way for multi-course Kaiseki dinners and non-alcoholic pairings inspired by multiculturalism and seasons beyond Toronto.
Cover Photo: (Swiss chard, black garlic, almond)
Photos by Nick Lee