One of Toronto’s hottest tickets right now is Alo Restaurant located at 163 Spadina Avenue near Queen Street. In a slightly seedy neighborhood in a gritty corner of Toronto, it is reminiscent of an old-fashioned speakeasy. The entrance is almost hidden, you are greeted on the main floor by a hostess who lets you into a dingy elevator which you take up to the third floor. There you are greeted by a second hostess, albeit in a much nicer space. You have to book two months in advance for dining at this little oasis. That is if you are lucky enough to secure a seat in this modern, unpretentious restaurant. The main dining room has high ceilings, soft blue furnishings, brass fixtures, dim lighting, hidden bathrooms and an open kitchen. It was voted the number one restaurant in Toronto last year by Joanne Kates. They have an ace team who own and operate it. The Chef, Patrick Kriss, has worked previously at Auberge de Pommier, Arcadia and Splendido, and done a three-year stint at Daniel in New York. That is not a bad resume. His partner and GM is Amanda Bradley, who’s worked in France at a Michelin starred restaurant and also at George restaurant in Toronto. The pastry chef was previously at Canoe and other sous chefs in the kitchen also have high pedigrees. One once worked at the three-star Mugaritz, in San Sebastián. All are at a high level of expertise. So as you can imagine the restaurant serves high-end, ambitious food. The main dining room serves a five-course tasting menu which also comes with several amuse bouche for $95. I must be honest I didn’t recognize a lot of the wines on the menu but the sommelier is very helpful in assisting you in making a decision. The menu is French inspired with many Canadian ingredients. The food is classically and meticulously prepared. But it is not theatrical or whimsical as you find in other restaurants of this caliber. But as I said it is not easy to get into this gastronomic temple. So we decided to try eating at The Bar at Alo.
They offer a tiny a la carte menu in the small room which holds about 20 people. You can grab a seat at the lovely bar or one of the cocktail tables which were comfortable enough. There are seven choices on the menu plus one dessert. Unfortunately, you can’t get anything from the tasting menu (I asked). But the good news is the food comes from the same kitchen and the staff are trained to be just as knowledgeable and friendly as the main dining room. The bar provides shareable plates to snack on or create a delicious dinner which is inspired from the main dining room. And let’s face it, sometimes you don’t want to sit through a 2-3 hour tasting meal. The bar is manned by John Bunner of Byblos and the Toronto Temperance society. He has some top shelf choices as does the craft cocktail program.
The portions are on the small side so I think you need about three items each if you are coming for dinner. Prices for food range from $12-22 per plate. We tried the pork belly with ginger and coriander. The sauce was amazing but I don’t feel good about eating something with SO much fat on it. The hamachi with avocado and radish was a lovely presentation and was light tasting, but not particularly memorable. The Pacific halibut with French white asparagus and chanterelles was a winner, very moist and delicious. The morel mushrooms with crispy chicken skin and sherry vinegar was also a hit, although could have been served warmer. My favourite dish was the Chateau de Bourgogne cheese with a buttered, honey and toasted bread. This was outstanding. For dessert, there was only one choice which was a mini Pâte à Choux pastry filled with chantilly cream and caramel. They were so good we had a second order. The food at the bar was quite impressive and creative, with a unique medley of flavours. I enjoyed being able to eat well, in a casual but tasteful interior. The staff was friendly, polite and professional. The whole restaurant and bar is not a stuffy atmosphere, but the staff are hospitable and things are expertly run.
There really isn’t another place like this that I can think of in Toronto, although other large cities of the world do.
The biggest complaint besides not being able to get a reservation easily, is the parking. I recommend taking a taxi or Uber to dinner, especially on a busy weekend.
The Bar at Alo merits a visit in its own right.
Alo is closed on Sunday and Mondays. The bar is open 5-1 am.