As someone who dines out frequently, I tire of yet another pizzeria. When a chef dares to try something new, he/she has my support. Pushing the envelope stretches it beyond what it was before—for everyone.
Enter FRILU. Chef/owner John-Vincent Troiano, influenced by Nordic and Japanese aesthetics, has created a warm, minimalist space to separate us from the toil and traffic outside. On the wall, a quote from Henrik Ibsen: “There’s a bench, a stove, sweet smelling air, and time to breath at leisure.” For Troiano, this image encapsulates the essence of what he strives to achieve with his restaurant.
We begin with a clear cedar-infused spirit that promotes circulation and aids digestion. Clean and woodsy, it is a portent of what is to come on this seasonally inspired menu, “Harvest Moon, Changing Leaves,” that reads like haiku. The kitchen has prepared warm crunchy autumn bread with koji butter that is wholesome and nourishing. We trust the chef respects the quality and goodness of his ingredients. The service is equally attentive.
I’m usually apprehensive about tasting menus, because typically we consume more time than sustenance. However, this menu catches my attention for its unique creativity. It is an experience, and one for which our time is respected.
Each course is truly a taste of this kitchen’s imagination, beginning with Lar-Eo. Is this an Oreo cookie? No. Light and playful, its delicate black quinoa and blueberry biscuits surround a centre of rendered and whipped pork fat.
Troiano describes his cuisine as “Canadian contemporary with a little Asian influence.” Our next dishes show a range of colour and ingredients. Rainbow trout is aged in prosciutto, and set in fermented ground cherry, sake and yeast oil. Agedashi is a common Japanese dish of fried tofu, but here it is given a twist, and prepared instead with burdock root in a roasted chicken jus, topped with a generous portion of sea urchin and black radish. This is what the chef refers to as Ground and Sea–a gentle confluence of textures that I savour with every morsel.
There is no limit to Chef Troiano’s palette of ingredients, but most impressive for me is his presentation. The Pumpkin Patch is totally unique. I scoop a velvety soufflé of pumpkin and bone marrow dusted with cinnamon and spice that sings of autumn. Accompanying pumpkin seed bread is for spreading the soufflé, but I find both to be very satisfying on their own too.
Dry-aged duck breast is cooked over a charcoal grill and seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon. This dish, called Waterfowl: Marsh, is set in a bowl with rice and dehydrated nubbins of apple, turnip, kale, nori and bonito flakes that are re-hydrated with burnt onion jus that blends all the richness together.
Chef Troiano has a delicate touch and explores his litany of ingredients with thought and finesse. Artfully composed, our Earth Apple dessert continues the autumnal theme and ends our journey on a high note. Jerusalem artichoke ice cream sits on burnt coffee crumble with dollops of burnt apple puree and is speckled with dehydrated and fried crisp leaves of Jerusalem artichoke.
Loosely translated, Friluftsliv is Norwegian for “open air life”, and suggests balance, recreation and rejuvenation, the spirit of which is imbued in every dish.
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 Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.