by Cathy Carter

A warm welcome awaits beyond the doors of Tu Casa, a new fine dining establishment in Lorne Park.

Living up to its name (tu casa means “your house” in Spanish) the staff at Tu Casa greet you most convivially, much like visiting a good friend in their home. Indeed, on the night we were there it was apparent many good friends and neighbours were enjoying the intimate, upscale restaurant as the atmosphere was definitely one of warmth and great hospitality.

Attentive staff glide noiselessly and efficiently around white-linen draped tables. Subdued lighting, amber gold walls and heavily textured bright oil paintings with European scenes work to create a rich, warm but sophisticated

But the true focus of the visit is the cuisine ““ and indeed it is cuisine ““ of a world class chef.

The man behind the scenes is Chef Pascal Gendron, a French born and trained chef educated in the Loire Valley. He has been a chef for more than 20 years in Canada and was instrumental in the success of such fine dining restaurants as The Blackshop and most recently 20 Hobson St., both in Cambridge.

He is passionate about fine dining and thoroughly enjoys the creativity involved in putting together one-of-a-kind dishes. His favourite items to cook are fish and seafood because of their challenge. “Fish and seafood are delicate and you need knowledge to cook them perfectly. It's art to combine the flavours and cook it just so.”

“I grew up in Orleans, in the Loire Valley, which is known as the Garden of France,” says Pascal. “I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, with my grandmother and my mother, cooking. We had such beautiful, fresh herbs, fish and vegetables to work with and such good times.”

That French influence is very much apparent in his dishes today, now combined with a distinct Mediterranean inspiration. When asked if he has a specialty, Pascal humbly laughs and says no, but it's very apparent in subsequent conversation that he does: he specializes in working off the printed menu to create unique, flavourful items that are “specials” for a short period of time. It is not often that one comes into a restaurant and finds upwards of 17 elegant, masterful specials!

“I cook from my heart,” says Pascal. “I love what I do ““ I love the many combinations of flavours and textures and I love using rich herbs and spices to create dishes that are an experience.”

The weekends are the time when the chef showcases his vast array of specials. “We find people are coming in now and don't even look at the menu ““ they just want to know the specials and order from there.”

On the evening we visited wild boar, venison, orange roughy, elk and caribou were just some of the dishes on the
“special” menu.

All food items are made by Chef Pascal and his staff daily ““ including the breads, the pasta, the pesto, sauces and desserts. The only exceptions right now are the sorbet, which comes between courses to cleanse the palate, and the ice cream ““ but eventually Pascal wants to invest in equipment that will allow him to make those himself.

During our visit, although all the offerings were tempting. The butternut squash soup with a maple-infused crí¨me drizzled on top was delicious and baked goat cheese salad with carmelized pecans and lightly dressed greens was excellent.

The orange roughy was moist and cooked to perfection, topped with a warm crab roumelade and grilled shrimp. The fish lay on a vegetable lasagna of sorts: a homemade pasta leaf over oven-roasted tomatoes, spinach and portobello mushrooms in a warm lemon beurre blanc. Gorgeous. Succulent bone-in beef tenderloin with Madagascar pepper sauce and deliciously seasoned vegetables, was done so perfectly it almost felt like it melted in your mouth.

The extensive wine list, interestingly mostly new world wines, makes finding an accompanying wine an easy feat.
Tu Casa opened in July 2009 where the former Barracuda restaurant was. In the short months since its opening, it has quickly become a dining destination not just for the neighbourhood, but for visitors from Oakville, Toronto and Burlington as well.

For his part, Chef Pascal Gendron is equally at home in his kitchen, using the finest of ingredients and creating dishes that clearly reflect his passion for meals out of the ordinary. As our waiter, Sasha, proudly commented, “There's love in every dish.” It shows.

– 1107 Lorne Park Rd; 905.271.9898