Photos by Katrina Lat.
Assembly Chef’s Hall is a newly opened food hall in the Financial District, bringing together the best restaurants of Toronto’s food scene in one place. On April 7, they hosted their first ever Chef’s Party, with each vendor offering up samples of their fare for a food ticket. Now I have to admit, one of the best features of this event was that the food tickets are included in the cost of the event ticket. I’ve been to many a food event in the city where you pay a fee for entry and then have to pay for each food item that you want to try. Not so at the Chef’s Party, where $30 gets you entry to the event and 6 food tickets, averaging out to $5 per food ticket. We discussed the possibility of buying more food tickets – 12 tickets between us and 18 food vendors meant we’d be missing out on some snacks – but portion sizes varied and we filled up pretty quickly. This was definitely a food marathon and as we stumbled our way out of the hall 3 hours later, we could (and should) have run an actual marathon!
The benefit of having the best of Toronto food under one roof is that there are no bad decisions. With a line up of stalls covering the cuisines of many different locales, there truly is something for everyone. Notably, there isn’t an Indian or South Asian stall – for a cuisine that is so ingrained in the fabric of this city, this was a slight disappointment! The best dishes of the event were indicative of the places we’d return to get a full sized meal. While not all of the items available at the Chef’s Party were part of the regular menus, they provided a little taste of the deliciousness potential of choosing to dine at those stalls again.
The first stand-out dish for us was the Boho Gnoc from Resto Boemo, which specializes in contemporary comfort foods. The dish was a ricotta gnocchi with a mushroom truffle cream, and it was decadent. The gnocchi was light and fluffy and the cream sauce was the perfect blanket (for the gnocchi and for my stomach) – this dish was the beacon of elevated comfort food.
Reyna, the Assembly outpost of Yorkville’s Bar Reyna, offered up Lamb Baklava, an item featured on their regular menu. Food mash-ups are not always successful, but this item married together braised lamb shank with elements of a traditional baklava – crisp pastry, honey glaze, pistachios – and it was a match made in heaven. The burnt honey sauce had just the right amount of sweetness to balance the savoury flavour of the lamb, and the pistachios and saffron rounded out the baklava for a well-balanced bite. This was certainly the most innovative of the samples we tried!
Ramen Isshin served up a Sea Salt Yuzu Soup with Tofu which was exactly what was needed on a cold and windy April day (such is the Toronto life). The citrus notes from the yuzu were perfectly complemented by the ginger, earthy mushroom, and green onion. This soup was a delicate balance of flavours and the thought of possibly never being able to drink it again still haunts me, as it isn’t on the Ramen Isshin regular menu.
Little Khao, of the Khao San Road family, provided some spice with Som Tum Mun Tod, a crispy potato chip “salad” in a spicy sauce. This was the only item with actual heat that we sampled at Chef’s Party, and it certainly lingered on our tastebuds until we made our way to the Short and Sweet Bake Shoppe stall!
The Short and Sweet stall is the ideal place to satisfy the most intense of sugar cravings. We took a chocolate crinkle cookie which was rich and chocolatey and had that perfect crisp exterior and soft, chewy interior. We also grabbed a massive rainbow cookie sandwich filled with rainbow buttercream icing for the road. Unicorn snack goals: achieved! The only thing missing was a glass of milk to wash it all down.
The inaugural Chef’s Party was a great introduction to Assembly Chef’s Hall and its variety of food to meet any and all cravings. Though it is located inside of an office building, the spacious hall with ample seating and rough-yet-refined design elements make it a great addition to the Financial District food scene.