Since leaving Niagara Street Cafe last winter Chef Nick Liu and partner, Christina Kuypers have had a long and challenging road toward opening their own place. They now have a firm location for Gwailo, the restaurant that will feature Liu's new Asian cooking matched with the cocktail-heavy beverage programme that Kuypers is designing.
They hope to be open early in the new year–both sagely admit that while they wait for their liquor license, the AGCO has the best idea of when exactly that will be–and are putting on another series of preview dinners this month to showcase what they have in mind. The SoHo Metropolitan Hotel is closing Sen5es so they have offered the private and main dining rooms for the temporary dinner series.
For eleven weekend evenings–every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday between now and November 24–they'll be serving a six-course, plus amuse tasting menu. Chef Liu will use the time from each Sunday to Wednesday to design a new menu for each weekend. I was invited to attend a media dinner yesterday and we were given a preview of this weekend's menu.
Our meal opened with a bit of a conundrum. Each spot at the table was set with both chopsticks and a knife and fork–appropriate for the Asian-culinary-tradition-in-a-Western-setting theme that is also the genesis for the cheeky name–but the lettuce-wrapped deep-fried shrimp with kimchi and pickled green tomatoes didn't seem suited to either. Our server stepped in and granted the chef's permission to use our fingers for the amuse.
His opening cultural swticheroo came with the first course: General Tso's Sweetbreads with jellyfish slaw. In various Chinese and other southeast Asian regional cuisines there are strong cook-the-whole-beast traditions, but sweetbreads are an ingredient I associate more with French and Italian chefs. A couple of my tablemates were squeamish about eating those glandular bits and I think must have been distracted by the jellyfish, which strikes me as the more challenging texture, from a Western perspective. That balanced dichotomy continued onto the plate where I had to concentrate and dig deeply to tell that the sweetbreads weren't some other meat, but the slaw was more obviously light-dressed jellyfish.
Japanese Bolognese, in round two, substituted handmade soba and beef tataki for the familiar Italian ingredients. The mushroom crisp and truffle pearls (which were eyes-to-the-back-of-your-head delicious) are two elements that I'm sure were easier to execute in the Sen5es tricked-out kitchen that chef Liu couldn't keep himself from raving about in our post-dinner chat.
Hickory-smoked cherry tomatoes were the star of course number three. They had a lightness and bright acidity that lifted the subtly sweet seared scallops better than bacon ever could.
The final savory dish, Braised Korean Short Rib, came with a theatrical panko egg yolk on top and deeply flavoured kimchi pommes puree as a base. Here we saw an example of chef Liu sticking to his commitment to borrow from many Asian pantries and flavour palettes across the length of the meal, but only one at a time within a course. The categories for the elements of this dish (starch, protein, and garnish) and the style of plating reminded me that two culinary threads–Asian and European–are being twisted together to form the yarn at Gwailo.
The dessert that followed was a refreshing ginger consommé paired the sweet, comforting flavour of shochu-poached pear with the lightness of star anise chantilly cream. Chef's signature peking duck brittle also found a place on the dessert plate.
The Gwailo popup menu is $75 per person, plus tax and an 18% gratuity. Wine and cocktail pairings can be had on a course-by-course basis (between $11 and $21 per glass for this menu) or for $45 a head for the full programme. Reservations can be made by calling 416-489-8922 or through the Sen5es' Opentable site.
Gwailo popup series at Sen5es in the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel
328 Wellington St. W.