The classic Yorkville restaurant formula is four-fifths party lounge, one-fifth eatery: Dark interior with shiny metallic accents, pricey cocktails, small shareable plates and that awful, ubiquitous house-lounge music mix that seems to play in every bar, eatery and hotel where self-proclaimed Instagram influencers, rich middle-aged men and the overcologned with Adam Levine beards hang out. Servers seem to be hired based on their ability to wear tight clothing, above all other qualification. You’re here to party, sip, take selfies; the food is almost incidental.
Alo Bar Yorkville, which is now the third restaurant of chef-restaurateur Patrick Kriss’s empire, embraces many of these Yorkville clichés. There’s an expensive menu set against the backdrop of a dark, gold-accented room with plush banquettes and that predictable soundtrack. The crowd is a mix of young strivers as well as older wealthy types who are absolutely convinced they haven’t aged since turning 30.
Alo Bar gets the neighbourhood party thing down, and yet, it still stands apart in Yorkville’s nightlife scene. The reasons: The food here isn’t a sideshow – it’s very good – and the service is top-notch.
Alo Bar sits in between Mr. Kriss’s two existing establishments in terms of price point and formality – there’s no three-hour tasting menu, as there is at Alo, but it isn’t as casual as Aloette is, with its burgers and sundaes. A meal at Alo Bar most closely resembles the experience of eating at the bar at the original Alo, where one can order off a small-plates menu and get a well-made cocktail. Be prepared to spend: This is Yorkville, after all.
Hidden in a courtyard-facing spot that’s nestled between Cumberland Street and Yorkville Avenue, the location recently housed forgettable French bistro Crème Brasserie. Crème used to have white tablecloths and ornate patio seats suitable for your grandmother’s garden. Alo Bar is a contemporary overhaul, with bare wooden tables, midcentury-like chairs and angular gold light fixtures. Change the soundtrack to hip hop and this restaurant could easily fit in on King Street West.
As expected from a fine-dining chef such as Mr. Kriss, the food is global in flavour but French in technique and preparation. There is little overlap in the menus between all three of Mr. Kriss’s restaurants – impressive since Aloette opened less than a year prior, and Alo’s creative demands are so high.
The menu features many luxe ingredients, fitting for the neighbourhood. There’s foie gras, king crab, iberico ham, scallops, lamb. I strain not to roll my eyes when I see tuna tartare with Australian truffles on the menu. Truffles at this time of year, between the peak of the Australian and start of the French truffle seasons, is surely just an ostentatious trap for the nouveau-riche status-conscious who hang out here, I think. We order them anyway.
Good that we did. The dish is absolutely delicious. The small puck of fish, free of any sinew or the chewy bits that can creep into tartares at other places, is topped with a mound of preserved Australian truffle shavings and pickled chanterelles. The fish is of excellent quality. The truffles, not as powerful as your winter ones from France, but still decent, added an aromatic and earthy note – a dose of land to balance the tartare of the sea.
Mr. Kriss shows off creativity with salads once again. At Aloette, I loved his take on the wedge salad, updating a midcentury dish for the millennial eater with toasted seeds and grains. Here at Alo Bar, Mr. Kriss shows creativity with a sort of reimagined Greek salad – cucumber, melon, pickled shallots, feta and yogurt. It’s a brilliant mix of flavours and textures.
Among the hot dishes, the scallops score highly. The four scallops are lightly seared, accompanied with a creamy corn purée that kept us scraping with our forks. The other meat dishes are competent, though less innovative on the flavour front: Muscovy duck breast and the rack of lamb are both perfectly cooked, with a bit of jus and tiny vegetable adornments. They are fine, but won’t blow anyone away.
There are four desserts – all good – but the mille-feuille easily stands above them all. I’m a sucker for a good mille-feuille and Alo Bar’s version is, happily, an example from the French fine-dining textbook. Three sheets of light, flaky pastry are intertwined with three colours of whipped cream. It’s sweet, as it’s supposed to be. Raspberry is the dominant flavour; indulgence is the dominant emotion. Alo Bar’s version is on par with the ones I’ve eaten at Michelin-star restaurants in Paris.
The wine list, selected by sommelier Christopher Sealy, is well curated. On one visit, he steered me to a 2004 Cabernet Franc made by René-Noël Legrand of the Saumur-Champigny region in France’s Loire valley. Wines from this area are most often consumed young, but this proved its age-worthiness – full of fruity energy, with a tiny hint of the forest floor. It’s a brilliant wine offered by the glass.
We have long expected that Mr. Kriss can lead a team to cook well – and he delivers. But perhaps underappreciated at all his restaurants is the consistency and attentiveness of the service. Pampering is expected at a restaurant as pricey and formal as Alo, but even at Aloette and Alo Bar, the standard is higher than at most venues in this city.
Servers are uniformed and efficient and rarely interrupt conversation among diners. They are engaging and warm and will join into discussion if asked, but there’s always a formal distance and quietude about what they do. The prices at Alo Bar may make some gasp, but rest assured you’ll be treated like a player while you’re here. Dining at Alo Bar reminds me of eating at European restaurants, where service is deemed a profession, not a transitional phase between education and a career. Like those in the kitchen, the servers here take their job seriously and it shows.
Alo Bar still gets its share of festive drinking and loud music, but the serious service and food pull it apart from the Yorkville restaurant crowd. Mr. Kriss redefined the Toronto diner with Aloette, he’s doing a similar tweak on the Yorkville party resto. It’s working, and once again proof that Mr. Kriss is setting the standard in our city.
- Alo Bar Yorkville
- Address: 162 Cumberland St.
- Atmosphere: French-inspired small plates for sharing in a dark dining room with gold accents inhabited by the actual and aspirationally wealthy.
- Price: Cold dishes ($16-$38), hot dishes ($24-$48); ribeye steak ($70), sides ($10-$18), desserts ($14)
- Drinks: Cocktails ($15-$16), 11 wines by the glass ($15-$34)
Our star system
No stars: Not recommended
One star: Good, but won’t blow a lot of minds.
Two stars: Very good, with some standout qualities.
Three stars: Excellent, with few caveats, if any.
Four stars: Extraordinary, with near-perfect execution.