Finally, Thornhill can boast having an outstanding restaurant, and it is about time, thanks to the efforts of Chef John Vincent Troiano and his wife Sandra. It was even worth a trek from downtown Toronto to visit this new venture, and treasure, Frilu, located at 7713 Yonge Street.
Here you will find a modern, casual eatery, serving fine dining, with warm, gracious hospitality and showcasing playful, creative and dramatic food.
The room is designed in pale blond woods, with light gray slate floors, black and copper light fixtures, with an open kitchen in the back sporting moss wall details. The restaurant seats 28 people inside. The outside patio for eight only serves bar snacks and drinks. Even the washroom was attractive and was kept spotless. Someone continually went in to clean and tidy up. Can you recall the last time you’ve seen that?
We were warmly welcomed by the front of the house manager, Kelly, who walked us through the menu and suggested a wonderful sake to go with our dinner. They also offer a curated alcohol pairing to go with the tasting menu at $55.
The chef has quite the pedigree, having worked for three years apprenticing with Master Chef Masaki Hashimoto, as well as working under Alida Solomon at Tutti Matti, where he learned Tuscan cooking. He even did a stint at one of the worlds finest restaurants, Noma in Copenhagen. With this background, the chef has created a most interesting, creative and innovative menu. There is only one tasting menu offered, 11-courses plus an amuse bouche, unless you come for some bar snacks and a drink. At $95 for dinner, I found this to be a relative bargain for what was offered, and I know that a similar meal downtown might go for twice the price.
Ours was the “summer touch spring revival menu”. Since the chef chooses local and seasonal produce, the menu will be changing to the fall and winter menu soon.
The name “Frilu” is a Norwegian, short for “friufslv”, meaning “free air life”, or living/being one with nature, or having a strong connection with nature. That is the feeling you will get with the menu, where you will see different elements of nature throughout. The menu is contemporary with Canadian, Asian, Norwegian, and Italian influences. Everything is not as it seems.
One course, the Lar-eo, looks like an Oreo cookie, and you are encouraged to eat it like you would at home, separating the layers, and enjoying each bite. Here, the outer shell is made from blueberry and black quinoa flour, the inside “icing”, is actually lardo, rendered pork fat and spices.
Clever names like “Morning Dew”, a palate cleanser, that looks like morning dew, which actually is a sake ball, served over a muskmelon with lime granita. The chef had a friend in Maple, Ontario who makes the most absolutely wonderful homemade pasta. Here the chef serves it with sweet Dungeness crab, in a cold fresh tomato broth. Tomatoes were at their peak when I ate this dish and the taste was glorious.
The chef’s Italian roots show through in his skill making a deep-fried zucchini flower in a beer batter, stuffed with mortadella pork, with a side of sweet lemon purée. The combination is very unusual and it works marvelously. Another unique dish is the pickled cucumber and pear in a dill, horseradish emulsion. Next up – a blackened eggplant, in grilled chicken fat juices and thyme with a squid custard. This might sound gross to some, but it is a brilliant dish. A fish course followed. We had grouper, substituting for the fluke, in a sake and salt bone broth, with a citrus jus, and garnished with garlic chives. The final protein was a seasonal, golden and crispy pork belly, fermented in a rice bran, served with a sweet peaches and cream purée, smoked peaches and perfect cracklings. I’m salivating just writing about it.
The next dish is a riff on a Japanese tea ceremony. But instead of matcha tea, the chef takes kale, that he dehydrates into a powder and then adds a warm liquid. He then serves a sweet treat made with peas on the side to create a perfect balance, a ying and yang effect. Next up is a “tartufo”, a play on truffles, chocolate and black. Break open the tartufo, and inside is banana ice cream, black truffles, and sponge cake, surrounded by cacao. Lastly, a small planter is placed in front of you, with what looks to be a pot with black earth and a single pea shoot, called “pulling weeds”, when in fact it is toasted tea, topping a sweet cream and summer fruit.
Our sensational, aesthetically pleasing meal was tied perfectly to the season.
So Sakata has the role of head chef, under Chef John and together they are putting out a combination Japanese meets Kaiseki meets Norwegian meets Tuscan vibe, with a remarkable harmony of tastes, textures and delicacies. Finally the 905 has a winner.