It's hard to be wowed by seafood in Toronto. It's not like being in Cape Cod or Vancouver, areas situated right on the shore and the fish that is brought in is only hours old.
But at Chiado, a Portuguese restaurant on College that is celebrating its seventeenth year in business, the seafood is flown in from Portugal daily, so that you are receiving the freshest fish and oh my, the variety!
I was thrilled to see fish I'd only heard about. And by see, I mean that a server brings around a pl
ate of fresh fish, flown in that day from the Azores. The large platter is full of fish steaks, fillets and two whole fish where their freshness, seen in the colour of the skin and clarity of their eyes, is obvious.
Our incredibly informed server Jill went on to show and educate us about the fish available: Dorada, a golden sea bream; a Boganegra from the Perch family; skate wing; and tilefish, which, according to the Field Guide to Seafood "are colourful fish known as 'the clown of the sea,' with blue, green, rose, and yellow skin that fades when removed from the water." There is also a whole, fresh Atlantic salmon, along with monkfish, grouper filets among others.
Each fish is uniquely prepared with different seasonings and sides. The attention to detail, considering both the quality of preparation and the server's incredible knowledge of not only the fish, but the water that it came from, is so impressive.
And it doesn't stop with just the fish.
Our other young server Staz tells us extensive stories about the wine we're having: the place where it comes from and the quality and maturity of the grapes. And he does it all without talking down to us or making us feel uninformed.
I haven't seen service like this in years. (I am astonished and a little enamoured.)
Then the food is laid down before my companion and I and that's when the oohs and ahhs begin.
To start, we share the Atlantic salmon ($15) which is marinated and smoked with apple chips and served with fresh dill on crisp bread, making it both a textural and savory sensation.
The grilled tiger shrimp ($25) are cooked to perfection, spiced with a light piri piri sauce which includes white wine and garlic, and are accompanied by grilled Portobello mushrooms, grilled pineapples, roasted jalapenos and super-hot banana peppers. The shrimp are the biggest we've ever had; they are just massive. We gobble them up with just a hint of sweat forming on our brows and above our lips.
We look at one another and smile. We can't believe our luck.
Carpaccio of grouper ($16) is certainly an unusual way to serve this fish, but the thin white rounds of fish melt on your tongue and taste of warm sun and the sea. Served alongside white asparagus, roasted pine nuts and citrus preserves, it oozes modernity.
The roasted Australian rack of lamb ($45) is marinated with garlic, bay leaves, and extra virgin olive oil and then crusted with honey, pommery and bread crumbs. A light, yet flavourful, red Douro wine and rosemary sauce lifts the lamb and the sweet yam and delicious roasted potatoes, making this a hearty dish without the usual heaviness. My companion remarks that he thought it would be too rich, but instead a nice balance has been achieved.
The variety of dishes and incredible selections are seemingly endless-there doesn't seem to be the same sides to any dish.
Normally presentation isn't something I take much notice of, but here at Chiado, Executive Chef Manuel Vilela has created an incredibly modern offering, while honouring the traditions and foods of Portugal and bringing it to today's diner with flourish and flair.
Partner and sommelier for Chiado, Albino Silva, has created a cozy atmosphere with close tables so that when our desserts arrive, our neighbours next to us ask us what we got.
We chose peras cozias ($12)-poached pears with Madeira wine, citrus, cinnamon, anise and saffron; leite crÃƒÂ¨me ($12)-crÃƒÂ¨me brule with butter cookies; and molotof ($12)-a light meringue of egg whites served with vanilla cream sauce
On our way out that we see the Chiado's adjoining Senhor Antonio Tapas and Wine Bar. We pause and look at one another-can we possibly?
We can't right now; we leave with full tummies, but feel incredibly invigorated and with stimulated palates and talk of nothing else on the way home.