When Momofuku Shoto debuted in Toronto in 2012, Globe and Mail critic Chris Nuttall-Smith quickly awarded David Chang's restaurant four stars and named it the city's best. Four years later, Nuttall-Smith still appreciates Shoto's many peaks, but he says other Toronto restaurants have matched — even surpassed — Chang's spot. As such, the critic has dropped it to three stars in his latest review.
"It's a three-star restaurant these days, when in its opening months it was a four-star spot and much more than that, also," Nuttall-Smith writes. "Shoto, in its early days, was 'more inventive, more gleefully promiscuous with ideas and ingredients, more artfully conceived and many levels more technically masterful than anything else in the city,' as I put it at the time."
Before we place Shoto on a death watch, it's worth noting that three stars is still pretty good. Quite good, in fact. The Globe and Mail defines this rating as "excellent, with few caveats, if any." Many a chef would sell their soul for a three-star review, and Chang should't feel too bad about this. Nuttall-Smith describes one recent dish at the restaurant as leaving him "smiling afterward into my empty bowl." Another "lit up all the right pleasure centers."
Nevertheless, it is a downgrade. And it comes four months after Times critic Pete Wells panned Nishi, one of Chang's New York restaurants, and a couple of weeks after the restaurateur was portrayed in an unflattering light in a New Yorker profile on Wells. When it rains, it pours, but Chang isn't taking the review lying down. While the critic throws shade at Shoto's Manitoba roll — "it is not at all bad but not at all great" — Chang has taken to Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to defend the dish.
Nuttall-Smith cites restaurants such as Edulis, Actinolite, and Canoe, all of which, like Shoto, execute tasting menus. Of these rising competitors for Toronto's ultimate dining accolades, he says they deliver "something far greater than mere pleasure and appreciation." As for his meals at Shoto over the past seven months: "I have yet to feel more than a few all-too-brief flickers of those feelings."
Concluding his first review of Shoto in November 2012, Nuttall-Smith wrote, "Do other tasting menu restaurants make diners feel this way? A handful do, the destination places, almost always elsewhere. There's one in the city now, with any luck the first of many more." It appears Toronto diners are in luck.