Avelo’s 8-course meal ($120) leaves you comfortably full, without sickness, given dishes aren’t overly heavy. Perhaps that’s what I found lacking, the one or two course that simply envelops you in glutinous comfort food. The closest contender was probably the fourth course - a buckwheat gnocchi with fermented porcini sauce – still, the buckwheat gave the gnocchi a nutty fibrous kick and the sauce was more umami than rich. Hardly the sinful plate I was looking for. At least it was flavourful and the chanterelles beautifully sauteed.
The sourdough everything bagel on the bottom of the first course was superb: crusty on the outside and fluffy on the inside. In lieu of cream cheese and lox, Avelo uses kojified carrot and macadamia cheese, which replicates the slight smoky creaminess on the bagel. It’s just an interesting way of starting a tasting menu, maybe Avelo’s version of a bread course?
Having dined at Avelo’s predecessor, Awai, I was praying for the mushroom soup, a heavenly concoction that had even those who detest mushrooms nodding in approval. Sadly, it didn’t make an appearance and the soup featured roasted kabocha squash instead. It’s difficult to make squash soup exciting, something that can so easily be made at home. Avelo tried to enhance its presentation with apple and salsify pieces to decorate the bowl, but they did little to augment the experience as they’re rather similar in texture. The pumpkin dust was a good start, adding a bit of grittiness to the smooth soup, but it really did need something else crispy or chewy (perhaps a puffed tapioca) to balance out all the mushiness.
Interestingly, after a rutabaga is roasted, it gives off a potato-like flavour, except it’s a severely dry spud. The kitchen tried adding mashed cauliflower to create moisture in the dish, but the small dollop was hardly enough. What it really needed was a sauce, something that would add liquid and flavour as the dish was so boring - when you’re serving vegetables flavour is your friend.
Slices of truffle garnished the rutabaga, but its dry texture meant the truffle was wasted. If anything, this prized ingredient would have been better featured with the gnocchi instead.
Their one bite amuse bouche was impressive: a potato galette that’s described as Avelo’s version of cauliflower tots. I’d say it’s more like fried mac ‘n’ cheese except without the pasta. The galette is piping hot and delicious. Still, some of my friends found the horseradish garnish overpowering, adding a sharp tang when the onion base was already good on its own.
Give me another galette in lieu of the celeriac kofta any day. The kofta is just a drier less exciting version of the potato galette. Sure, it was plated prettily with a well roasted parsnip log adorned with flowers but didn’t taste nearly as good.
What does Avelo’s kitchen have against moisture? I can imagine someone at a stove grumbling about never wanting to make a French sauce again. All their dishes are dry and screaming for sauce… like the cranberry bean tempeh with roasted radicchio. The fruity glaze on the tempeh was fine, giving the beany slab an almost Asian sweet and savoury flavour. But then the huge slice of bitter radicchio was such an inappropriate side. If anything, they could have continued with the Asian influences by having the tempeh sit on a bed of soba or slaw, switching out the pickled okra for snow peas for crunch.
After scanning the menu, the dish I most anticipated was the rye berry risotto. Overall, the execution was satisfactory, but the grain could have been cooked longer to allow the exterior to soften; as it stands, its more wild rice than risotto. I did enjoy the mole base (yay, a sauce!) that when mixed with the plain grains gave it a boost of flavours. The crispy crackers were also a nice garnish that contrast textures, and useful for scooping up the rye berry and mole to create a fancy tortilla and salsa.
Avelo presented two different desserts amongst the table and recommended people share with their neighbour. It’s a smart idea to encourage diners to try something different. Initially, I thought the pineapple upside-down cake would be a winner but found the coconut mousse base (not a cake) made the dessert taste more like pineapple pannacotta and lacked the buttery richness I was craving.
While the tonka bean amazake wasn’t my first choice, the hints of cocao nibs gave the gelatin-based dessert an earthy depth. Still, it could be creamier. If Avelo was going to feature two desserts, they should consider making each stand out – two pannacotta-like desserts with different flavours are hardly exciting - I would have much preferred if they switched it up and did a sweet and savoury option. The later being a nut cheese and cracker plate that is also more shareable.
At least their mignardise was impressive. In lieu of the traditional truffle, Avelo presented their version of a “Ferro Roche”, a silky hazelnut ganache piped into a crispy caramel cone dipped in chocolate. Now this is inventive and fantastic, something the other desserts should aspire to grow into.
Overall, the meal wasn’t bad, it’s just not overly exciting and tastes like a vegan meal – healthy and void of rich elements, which is what you need to counteract course after course of vegetable and grains.
Still, I could probably overlook the blasé food and rate the experience a 6 out of 10 if it weren’t for the service. Maybe we just got someone who was too new that was left on her own. The gentlemen who eventually stepped in to explain the dishes was so passionate and animated that I loved hearing his descriptions of each course… somehow, he made a piece of charred radicchio sound exciting (it’s not). But our main sever just didn’t perform basic things I’d expect from a restaurant:
1) Using proper glassware for wine. When we ordered Prosecco, it wasn’t served with a flute or champagne glass, instead those small 3oz glasses you’d find at a winery tasting. It was a little strange as these hardly bring out the bubbles of the wine, but we used it without complaint.
It was when we switched to a bold red and our server brought another round of these mediocre glasses that my friend stepped in to politely ask if she could bring us the red wine glasses, we clearly saw displayed at the bar instead. Our server’s response, “Oh, I guess you’d prefer something that can let the wine breathe more?” Ding, ding, ding! Yes, and something to allow us to take in the aroma of the wine.
2) Performing basic math to split a bill. I completely understand if a restaurant can’t accommodate bill splitting for large tables, but our group was less than six. Since everyone didn’t partake in the wine equally, we asked if she could split the first bottle amongst the table and the second to the few who drank it.
After making it sound like a HUGE favour, something that could be accommodated this one time as they weren’t busy, the bill was merely split equally in five. C’mon, if it’s dividing by five, I could have done that calculation in three seconds with a phone. After explaining again what we were hoping for (uneven bills given the wine situation), on the second attempt, she simply took both bottles and split it amongst the few.
With this much modern technology and the tasting menu prices being constant, is splitting two bottles of wine differently that difficult? In retrospect, I wish she just said she couldn’t do the math as I could have easily calculated them myself.
To sum the experience up in an equation: boring dry food (6) less lack of basic serving skills (1) = experience at Avelo (5).
Gastro World's Grading System
- Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
- 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
- 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
- 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
- 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
- 10 - absolute perfection!
Is That It? I Want More!
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