Bero | Innovative cuisine, good food, poor branding

Bero menuBero opened last year in the fall of 2013.  According to Toronto Life, it was “the fourth high-profile Spanish restaurant to open…following Patria, Bar Isabel and Carmen”.  I am really hoping for the Chef’s sake that the reason why the place was so quiet was due to inclement weather and not any other reasons.  Other than myself, there was only another table during dinner service for the first opening night of the week.

Bero is an intimate restaurant located at Queen Street East and Logan in Toronto/Leslieville.  Finding street parking along Queen St was relatively easy, and that’s always a big plus when it comes to downtown dining.  Featuring a four-course tasting menu for $63, wine pairing comes at an extra $36, with an option to add additional courses at a la carte price.  The menu is designed so for each course, you choose one of the three options.  Each course (except for dessert) has a meat/seafood or vegetarian choice.  I ordered 2 glasses of wines to go with the menu – a glass of Spanish Albariño and a glass of Côtes du Rhône.  Both were generous pours, and for ~$10 to $12 per glass, they were very decent wines.  One thing I wondered, if I happened to order the wine pairing, if the wines weren’t already opened, wouldn’t that be a steep business expense to uncork 4 fresh bottles and only charging $36?

Before I delve into details about each dish, I need to say upfront that it was indeed a rewarding experience to dine at Bero.  I compliment the Chef’s thoughtfulness and his attentiveness to details.  I wish them every success, while bearing in mind that there are a few areas that can be improved upon.

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Amuse-bouche ~ rabbit meat with sage foam ~ Tasty, although the rabbit reminded me of canned tuna.

Bero Amuse Bouche

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1st course #1 ~ Cold vichyssoise with cream, egg yolk, foie gras ~Very refreshing and yummy.  Something in the vichyssoise tasted like cheese, the server said it was probably the bourbon infused foie gras.  Now I’ve had foie gras many times before and I guarantee you it doesn’t taste like that.  In fact, there wasn’t really a trace of foie gras in the soup.  Nonetheless, it was well done.

1st course #2 ~ Clams with portobello, yuzu, shiso ~ Breathtaking presentation.  With this dish came a side-dish of hot stones with cumin to appeal to our sense of smell, not to be consumed, very thoughtful.  The beets were refreshing, the clams were cooked in different ways, raw and steamed.  Unfortunately the steamed ones were a bit chewy, raw is the way to go!

Bero1stcourse.jpg

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2nd course #1 ~ Mussels with sea beans, ricotta, beer broth ~ The bad thing about having a soup in both the second course is that sometimes careless customers like me, who weren’t looking at the fine prints, ended up ordering 2 soup appetizers.  The beer broth was savory and reminded me of a Japanese clam and sake broth. The squid ink cracker with a mussel cream on the side was superb, my favorite bite of the evening.

2nd course #2 ~ Trout with radish, parsnip and potato ~ Trout wasn’t completely cooked so it was still soft and juicy.  Potato was presented in a form of puree.  Both parsnip skin and fish skin were present in the dish, and they looked so similar that I got tricked.

Bero2ndcourse.jpg

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3rd course #1 ~ Hamachi with kimchi, celery, wild rice ~ Hamachi was served in sashimi style, and was very fresh.  I was told that there’s uni (sea urchin) infused cream, but again I couldn’t taste it.  Perhaps a bit of lemon juice would help enhance the flavor of the fish.

3rd course #2 ~ Duck with carrots, chestnut, sherry ~ Having a bit of meat and carbs from the chestnut ravioli in the stomach certainly made this meal more complete and fulfilling.

Bero3rdcourse.jpg

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4th course #1 ~ Panna Cotta with tamarind, yogurt, raspberry ~ Not your typical dessert as the panna cotta had a bit of savouriness from the tamarind sand, and frozen shaved shortbread.  The frozen raspberries added a nice splash of red.

4th course #2 ~ Banana with mousse, caramel ~ Different forms of bananas, in bread, frozen, deep fried, in sand, in ice cream.  Loved the ice cream (or mousse they called it).

Bero4thcourse.jpg

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Suggestions for improvements:

1.  The menu is not updated on Bero’s website.  It still contains the old chef’s 7-course tasting menu, which is confusing.

2.  The cumin on hot stones was a great idea, but while I was enjoying my dessert and it was brought out again for the other table (the scent pretty much filled up the whole restaurant), all of a sudden it wasn’t so pleasant anymore.

3.  Sometimes when a particular ingredient was mentioned in the menu, the scent/taste was hardly noticeable (e.g. foie gras, uni, kimchi)

4.  I think the biggest turn-off for most people would be the fact that after dining here, they wouldn’t feel full.  The four course menu may be enough for some, but certainly not everyone.  Some restaurants like Alinea or French Laundry only serve tasting menu, one with more courses and one with less.  When we asked the server why the 7-course menu is no longer available, she alluded to the fact that the extra effort spent on food preparation wasn’t paying off.  But since 12 dishes are ready under the current menu anyways, simply regroup them into three different tasting menus, one longer, one shorter, and one vegetarian!  One can argue that if the 4-course menu wasn’t filling enough you can always add-on extra dishes.  But unfortunately, this probably won’t be the case.  If after my 3rd course and I’m still hungry, I’d have to tell the server to hold off on my dessert, and let me squeeze in a couple more courses (which may take another 30 minutes)?  I’d rather just finish my meal and go get a hotdog!

5.  Branding, branding, branding…I am shocked to see the word “Spanish” mentioned on a few articles and blogs.  There is absolutely nothing Spanish about Bero (well if you insist then maybe I’d say they used sherry in their sauce?  But they also used beer and bourbon?!)  If this is my restaurant, I’d put more emphasis on ‘molecular gastronomy’, which sadly, in Toronto food scene is still in its infancy.  But this also means there’s a lot of room to grow.  Perhaps it’s time for restaurateurs to start educating customers and calibrating our palates.  I still remember the good old days when I used to get teased for liking fish.  The idea of eating raw fish was non-existent!  And look at where we are today!  Come on, Torontonians are salvageable!  Chefs who are daring and innovative, please don’t give up on us just yet!

Bero on Urbanspoon

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