ON your plate: Taste at first sight

ON your plate: Taste at first sight


The art of plating at Guelph’s independent restaurants 

Independent restaurants around the city of Guelph take edible art to the next level. With a strong understanding that the pleasure of an excellent meal begins with the sense of sight and not taste, Guelph is a haven for the casual foodie.

Casual foodies know that dining out isn’t about strict dress codes, crisp white linens, or high menu prices.

It’s about enjoying a delicious meal that tastes as good as it looks, and walking away in love with a new restaurant you can’t wait to tell your friends about.

There are many places in Guelph that fit this description, but the holiday season proved too busy a time for many. Luckily, here are a couple of Guelph restaurants that were able to squeeze us in during the holiday rush.

ATMOSPHERE CAFE + ETC.  

Mirali Almaula | The Ontarion

Head Chef: Shawn Gilbert

Favourite menu items to eat:
French farmhouse, the peasant food — pâté, bread, cured meats, cured fish, coq au vin

Favourite menu item to cook:
Braised lamb shank, tender, cooked at a very low temperature for a long time so the meat just falls off the bone

Mirali Almaula | The Ontarion

Braised Ontario lamb shank — tender, fall-off-the bone lamb shank, served on top of pillowy whipped Yukon Gold potatoes and brightly-coloured seasonal vegetables.

Culinary background:
“My first co-op position was in grade nine at the Bookshelf Cafe, which is probably one of the very first scratch based restaurants in town, so I was 13 maybe, my first real kitchen… I just always had the luxury of working at very good restaurants with a chef and with a proper hierarchy. So, I don’t like to use the term ‘self-taught’ because that implies I taught myself. I learned on the job.”

Why plating is important:
“Plating is very important. Food is very visual. It needs to look good, too, so the plate is a frame for your food.”

Mirali Almaula | The Ontarion

Salmon crisps — house-cured salmon with sea salt and juniper berries served on top of rustic house-made potato crisps, garnished with a bright preserved lemon aioli and two slivers of green onion.

Plating tip for home cooks:
“I’m a big stickler to leave a two-inch border around the food, so when you’re plating your food, treat the rim of the plate as a frame. Plus, for logical reasons, someone needs to pick up the plate so you don’t want their thumbs touching your food. There should always be two inches around your food.”

YORK RD KITCHEN & CHOCOLATE BAR 

Owner: Sara Watson

Favourite menu items to eat:
Braised beef pasta with chocolate shells, steaks with chocolate rub, s’mores, chocolate mousse

Mariah Bridgeman

Pan seared salmon — warm salmon served on top of a lentil, spinach, and quinoa salad dressed with a bright citrus lemon brown butter.

Culinary background:
“We had a restaurant downtown for almost 19 years and it was always fine dining, so very much into the plating and the height of food and just everything being very fancy. And we’d done that for so long we just really wanted to do something comfort food and just make it good home-cooked food and keep it simple, but still appealing to a bigger crowd actually than we had before. We were very streamlined in terms of our demographic there. So it was nice to do stuff here, which is for everyone. We like to make our food from scratch, especially our pasta. That’s a big thing for us is making the pasta and just having home-cooked food.”

Mariah Bridgeman

Shrimp spaghettoni — thick house-made pasta with juicy shrimp served in a rich, roasted tomato cream sauce and garnished with cheese.

Approach to plating:
“We tried to make it a little more fun and whimsical here, with like the torpedo potatoes and that kind of thing. And food that is not too handled either. I find that with fine dining people are handling the food so much that by the time it gets to your plate three people have handled the food. We just wanted it to be simple, but a little bit whimsical and a little bit of an ‘ooh,’ right? Gotta have a little bit of fun with it. Like, there’s one dish, the espetada, that we do on the skewer and it’s flaming and it’s a little bit of ‘dinertainment.’ Everyone’s looking for a little bit extra in there, so just throwing in a couple things.”

Mariah Bridgeman

Prosciutto and arugula pizza — a generous personal pizza topped with salty prosciutto, peppery arugula, shaved cheese, and finished with a sweet and tangy balsamic reduction.

Plating tip for home cooks:
“Colour. Try and get something of every colour. That’s always a big thing for me. You gotta have a little bit of — even people who hate greens. It’s that little pop of colour just makes it stand out just that little bit from being kind of meh.”

Mariah Bridgeman

Dark chocolate fudge cake — a decadent slice of layered cake garnished with raspberry coulis and just a dollop of whipped cream.

Photo by Mirali Almaula/The Ontarion

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