A month or so ago, I checked Instagram and saw an amazing post by local chef/owner Marc Lepine of Atelier. He was asking for about 60 taste-testers for new menu items – FREE!! -- with the caveat that guests would need to fill out a comment card before leaving. All you needed to do to get in on this special event was call and leave a message – the first callers would be added to the guest list. So I called right away and within a few minutes, he called me back to confirm that I was able to get the four seats I had requested. Award-winning Chef Marc Lepine is well known for his out-of-the-box style with a focus on molecular gastronomy. He has won numerous awards including: Canadian Culinary Championship (Gold Metal Plates) in 2012, top 40 under 40 (2012), and he was International Shellfish champion (2012). He has worked in many kitchens Toronto, France, Italy, and Chicago before opening up Atelier in late 2008. Since then the restaurant has been on many lists. Most recently, it was one of the only two Canadian restaurants on the Best Restaurants in the World in 2014, and No. 19 on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants in 2015. More a complete list, click here. On a normal night, Atelier offers a 12-course tasting menu and with fewer than 25 seats, reservations are usually difficult to get unless you plan well in advance. The menu changes frequently and guests always are in for an experience when they come here. We arrived a few minutes before our 5:30 reservation. I had actually never been to Atelier before so I was really looking forward to getting a good look. For anyone that hasn’t been here, you wouldn’t actually know it’s a restaurant from the outside. It’s located at 540 Rochester Street and in brick building with a plain gray door. There is no “Atelier” sign anywhere to be found. The experience started as soon as we opened the door to hear a cat meowing (not a real cat!….) yes meowing!
Not long after we were seated the first item came out – carbonated bison tenderloin tartare served with oyster leaf.
Second was Yellow Fin Tuna served on a picture frame! This frame had a lot going on and it was almost too beautiful to eat but we were curious to see the picture underneath, plus it was delicious. Full of flavour and a unique combination, it left us wanting more.
Raw yellowfin tuna tossed with almond oil, wasabi creme fraiche snow, seaweed salad, bacon fat powder, roasted seaweed mayo, yuzu-compressed cucumber, heart of palm marinated in lime pickle, crispy chicken skin, burnt lime drizzle, and green finger chilies. This was served on a picture frame with a photo of Justin (who works in our kitchen) in a robe.
Our table was soon presented with a mini tank filled with lobster tails and claws. We were cheekily asked which one we preferred and then they took the tank back into the kitchen. A few seconds later, the server returned with this:
Time for dessert! Our server laid down a white tablecloth in the middle of the table. We had no idea what was going to happen but we knew that we would probably finish off with something over the top and memorable. And that it was! Out came double kitchen sinks. On every table!!. The sinks were filled with dessert “dishes” that included: nitro smashed strawberries, passion fruit puree, microwave tonka bean sponge cake, sous-vide cheesecake, whipped star anise syrup.
It didn’t end there; the comment card questions were hilarious and really didn’t have much to do with the food at all. Here’s a look:
From beginning to end this was truly an experience that we will not soon forget. We didn’t know what to expect coming into this but we are so grateful to be among the 60 people that got to experience it. The food was fresh, lively, and full of colour and flavour, and the fun atmosphere just put it over the top. If you missed out on this, you still have a chance to try some of Chef Lepine’s food for just $2 per course. Just posted on Instagram a few days ago was “Where’s Atelier”. On Thursday, August 6th they will be at different locations around the city and hints will be via pictures on Instagram to figure out the location. After an 1 hour they will move onto the next location. Will you participate in “Where’s Atelier”?
MORE ABOUT THE RESTAURANT
Address: 540 Rochester Street
Reservations: Yes (online or call) Parking: Street or lot beside (paid)