A Tale of Two Palates: Sara Waxman and Adam Waxman dine-out in Toronto’s restaurant scene and share their views.
Chef Claudio Aprile’s new restaurant incarnation, Copetin Restaurant & Bar opened this past spring. There was so much anticipation and expectation, and even without that, every restaurant needs time to oil the machine. We preferred to wait until now.
Sara Waxman: There are separate menus here for the bar and the dining room, but we can order from both. The dishes reflect Toronto’s diverse neighbourhoods, but I think also Chef Aprile’s own travels and life experiences. The name Copetin means “drop-in, aperitif, community and social,” and was suggested to Claudio by his mother. I like it when boys listen to their mothers.
Adam Waxman: Point taken… I think there are many chefs who stick to what they know and do it well. Chef Aprile is an artist who constantly challenges himself to expand his creative palette. He follows his instincts, not the trends; and keeps his cuisine relevant by being true to his own passion and who he is right now as a chef. That is unique from anyone else, and from what anyone else is doing. Post-Senses, post-Colborne Lane, post-Origin—this is Chef Aprile’s Copetin Period; this is Claudio 4.0. I’m excited.
SW: We’re seated in the lounge but we’ve ordered a number of “Snacks” from the bar menu. First to arrive is Korean fried quail. These are delicious nubbins of yumminess and no stupid little bones to deal with. I would come back here just for this.
AW: I’ve never had quail any other way than roasted or grilled whole. It should always be done like this. Tender morsels of meat with a serious crunch, laquered in a tangy sweet heat—and the cashews sprinkled on top add to that crunch. This is packed with flavour. The duck taco arrives, and the first thing I notice is a generous portion of duck. Anybody can make a duck taco by just putting some duck in it, but this is well-sourced, well-handled duck that happens to be presented in a taco. The hoisin sauce is just an accent. What I taste is really good quality duck meat. I feel that we could order another, but we don’t need to.
SW: The crispy squid and green mango salad with caramelized peanut sauce is delicious. It’s just like an ABBA harmony. It’s perfect. I would come back here just for this.
AW: Mama Mia. There are so many layers to this salad that even on my fourth bite I taste something new. I love this fried squid, and taste each ingredient from the galangal, cilantro and mango to the peanut crunch. Salad can be boring. Not here. This is refreshing. Each one of the flavours are subtle, and yet they each stand out, from the sweet notes to the spice, there’s a lot going on in this dish.
SW: I like the red curry crab with kimchee and naan bread. It’s very tasty.
AW: The kitchen has been too heavy handed with the salt in this dish, because it overwhelms the delicacy of the crab. I also feel that because the crabmeat is so fine, the naan, texturally, makes it indistinguishable. It could be anything. I do appreciate the naan for scooping up the rich and vibrant sauce; but the crab is better enjoyed without the naan.
SW: With apologies to Mom, this soup has replaced chicken soup in my heart. It’s presented as a bowl filled with a garden of puffed barley, shitake mushrooms, scallion pearls, pickled daikon, ginger and umeboshi. The server then pours a carafe of beef dashi that coalesces all the ingredients and elicits a wonderful exhilarating aroma. I would come back here just for this.
AW: In Japan, they say the purity of a chef is determined by his broth. This is a good chef. It’s a soothing bowl of umami. There are strong citric and ginger notes, but it’s not muscular or overpowering; it’s nurturing and complimentary. Chef Aprile is the Quentin Tarantino of cooking. We can order in any direction. No need to have a set beginning, middle or end. We could even start with dessert, and then go in any order we want. He’s got the whole world in this menu, and somehow makes it all work together seamlessly. There is also a customized botanist bar (in summer) with a built in herb garden on the patio—the only one of it’s kind in Canada—where we can pick the herbs of our choosing to combine with Chef Aprile’s own original sous vide fruit infusions and The Botanist dry gin. It’s uniquely empowering and interactive—like an actor breaking the fourth wall and involving the audience.
SW: Sea bream is a delicate fish. It takes a lot of skill to prepare it. This is perfectly cooked; the skin is crispy; and it is partnered on the plate with chorizo, potatoes, olives and clams and treated to a silky saffron and corn veloute pour-over. Chef Aprile respects each ingredient, and his wit shines through. One half of the clam shell is plump and juicy clam, and in the other half is a dice of potato. It’s all delicious. I would come back here just for this.
AW: The garnishes for the sea bream, like the candied lemon slice, are not just for “show and tell.” They’re all deliberate—there is a specific purpose to each ingredient and technique. The lamb loin rests on a rich base of black lentils, and between a duo of whipped harrisa and mint. A crown of sweet Vichy carrots has been sous vide in carrot juice and lemon, and sprinkled with pistachios. They’re the stars on this plate.
SW: These carrots have fulfilled their destiny and gone to heaven.
AW: The lamb loin is a thick cut. It is infused with such bold flavours, and textured with a really crunchy crust. This is as exotic a dish as we’ll find in Toronto.
SW: Every dish is unique with it’s own flavour surprises, and just when I think it couldn’t get any better, it does. Amazing, amazing, amazing! It’s been a long time since I have enjoyed such an exceptional, multi-faceted meal in this city. This is a menu for those who truly appreciate a chef’s expertise.
AW: The dessert menu promises Nirvana with dishes like Citric Moon and Caramelized Tres Leche Cake with cajeta and mole gelato, smoked peanuts and charred banana. The tres leche cake is a brioche cut in three slices like a mini French toast. Crunchy, crisp and just so ambrosial with the confluence of caramel and bananas. I love scooping up the dolce de leche. I have never tasted a richer, more loving chocolate gelato in my life.
SW: These are the most popular flavours for dessert: citrus and chocolate.
AW: The Citric Moon is a show. Liquid nitrogen is poured over a dome of white chocolate, which is then cracked open to reveal every citric blast under the moon. Kalamansi, yuzu, lemon, kumquat, grapefruit and orange meld into an explosion of refreshment. I would come back here just for that! Considering the range of dishes we’ve just tasted—it’s a trip around the world: the ingredients, the recipes, the techniques, the influences, and the way they harmonize. Like the Miles Davis portrait behind us, this reflects the virtuosity, finesse, and rebelliousness of a kitchen that can re-score all the notes into a uniquely innovative performance worthy of applause.
~Copetin Restaurant & Bar, 107 King St. East, 416-603-8009~
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.