AZURE WINTERLICIOUS

Azure Winterlicious

The latest season of Winterlicious is in full swing and Toronto restaurants are packed with diners taking advantage of the many delicious three-course prix fixe menus being offered. Azure Restaurant and Bar, located in the Intercontinental Toronto Centre, has participated in the Licious event for several years and will again be offering a delectable lunch and dinner menu this year. I was invited for a behind the scenes view into Azure’s Winterlicious menu with a hands-on workshop led by Executive Chef Shawn Whalen and Chef de Cuisine Grace Di Fede. During the hour long cooking demonstration, I learned how to poach scallops, sear osso bucco and deep fry fritters.

Disclaimer: All food and drinks reviewed below were provided complimentary. All opinions expressed below are wholly mine.

Our night at Azure began with a workshop with Chef Whalen and Chef Di Fede. Chef Whalen joined Azure in 2013 and brought with him 30+ years of culinary experience, while Chef Di Fede has worked at Azure since 2011, being promoted to Chef De Cuisine in 2013. Aprons and tall chef hats were laid out, allowing us to look the part while we cooked with the chefs. We walked through the steps to put together two appetizers, an entree and the Tiramisu Parfait dessert. Once all the pots were going, the aroma in the room was heavenly, especially the simmering Port and Black Cherry Braised Osso Bucco. Chef Di Fede plated an Octopus & Scallop Escabeche live for us and I loved seeing the dish come together from start to end. We all tasted a few of the freshly fried Maple & Oka Fritters, part of the Squash & Caramelized Pear Soup appetizer. I only wish we had more time with the Chefs to see more finished plates, but we could only keep them from the busy kitchen for so long.

After the workshop, we got to taste the menu. While I had a lot of fun cooking, eating was still my favourite part of the evening. I had the chance to taste 80% of the Winterlicious dinner menu and while every bite was good, there were definite standouts for each course and they weren’t the dishes I would have normally ordered. For the appetizers, based just on words, I would have order the Octopus & Scallop Escabeche, which was poached seafood marinated in lime juice and olive oil. The scallop was sweet and the octopus incredibly tender. I would have been very happy with this appetizer, if I didn’t get to try the Squash and Caramelized Pear Soup, which was incredible. The thick soup was rich in flavour, earthy and sweet and perfect with the cold weather. I cleaned my bowl as well I could with a spoon and had to resist licking the last drops.

For entrees, I was initially drawn to the Grain Mustard Coated Salmon, but after smelling the simmering osso bucco, I opted for the Port & Black Cherry Braised Veal Shank as my main. The shank was served with a mascarpone risotto cake that was well seasoned, a good texture and quite filling. I really liked the spoonful of marrow in the bone, but for me, the shank itself was a touch dry. The salmon was cooked well, flaking with a light touch and served on a bed of couscous. Of the three entrees, the one that I was not interested in was the Lumache (a snail shell shaped pasta) with Gorgonzola Cream but we ordered a plate to share. Oh my god. It was amazing. The pasta was a perfect texture and the creamy, cheese sauce was heavenly with a hint of sweetness from the apples. Of the three entrees, the Lumache was my favourite and I ate more than my fair share of the plate.

By the time we made it to dessert, I only had room to really try one and I was happy with my choice of Tiramisu Parfait. The layers of cream were airy and sweet without being heavy. I would’ve liked a little more texture in the parfait, but the biscotti dipped in was perfect.

Overall, at $48 the dinner menu at Azure for Winterlicious is a great steal. Even better, all of my favourite dishes are available on their lunch menu as well for just $28. My perfect meal would start with the Squash and Caramelized Pear Soup, followed by the Lumache with Gorgonzola Cream and ending with the Tiramisu Parfait. Winterlicious this year runs until February 9th.

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