First Look: The masters of pocket-sized restaurants open Atlas at Av and Dupont


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Dishes from across the sections of the menu at Atlas.

Image: Yvonne Tsui

Toronto’s seasoned restaurant duo of chef Doug Penfold and Niall McCotter (Cava and Chabrol) are back with their newest addition to the family. It's called Atlas and is a French-Moroccan restaurant at the corner of Avenue and Dupont. 

The pair’s success seems to stem from the theme that each of their restaurants is an exploration and journey. “We don’t get bored and we’re hungry guys and we’ll keep exploring,” says Penfold.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

In keeping with the ethos of “quiet, small, character-driven spaces” the corner spot seats 24 and has tall ceilings and big windows that open up the room to prevent a feeling of claustrophobia.  

Moroccan cuisine is a vibrant one, and much like Toronto draws from many different sources, namely Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian and Berber with tiny bits of European and Subsaharian influence.  The recipes are known for their heavy uses of spices (read fragrant versus hot) and of course, couscous.

The concept grew from Penfold’s many travels to the country (starting as detours from his trips to the south of Spain) throughout the years. He hopes to lead Toronto diners “off the path” a bit. “The country is really delicious,” he adds and there is “a lot of variation from town to town — everyone is fiercely territorial and proud of their own recipes.”  

Chloe Lord, the general manager and sommelier at Atlas has chosen a wine-focused beverage program with a selection of wines that will be “as exciting as the food.” She adds that when bringing the wine list together she aimed for it to be “dynamic and exciting enough to keep up with the food and accentuate the flavours.” There are high-acid reds and “red wine that’s floral” as well as whites with interesting characteristics. “Diners are already on a bit of an adventure by being in the restaurant — so choosing more eccentric wines is a continuation of that journey,” she says.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The menu is made up of small plates and sharing plates which make it easy to taste a good chunk of it.  

Bread is very much at the centre of every meal in Morocco, used both as a utensil (to scoop up all the wonderful dips) and for sustenance. At Atlas, you can dip to your heart’s desire with an Eggplant Zaalouk (a “cooked salad” traditionally made with eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and spices) or Jben with Thyme (a Moroccan fresh cheese) that has a bit of added tang from the buttermilk.  

The appetizers section of the menu is a showcase of vegetables, with roasted beets, and two salads. The Sardine Kefta is served with the famed spice mix from North Africa, Ras el Hanout. Some dozen spices are called for by purists adhering strictly to form.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

And while the mention of tagine is most often associated with lamb and chicken, Penfold has decided to offer a lesser-known style made with whitefish (which changes seasonally) with potato, zucchini and peppers, a nod to the coastal city of Agadir. Those who wish to stick to the familiar can also find comfort in a roasted goat tagine with okra, chickpeas and squash.

There is also a Spiced Leg of Chicken served on a bed of apricots, pine nuts and accompaniment of creamed spinach and a Vadduvan Trout with Escarole and Jerusalem Artichoke Purée for those who want mains that are more protein-heavy.

A short list of four sides, including Grilled Red Peppers with Za’atar and Olive Oil and of course, couscous (which is prepared fresh daily, just before service), helps round out the meal.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

On the off-chance that you have room for dessert, the Roulade of Lavender & Sesame sees a fluffy cake roll on a bed of smooth blackberry purée and poached pears.

Atlas Restaurant, 16 Dupont St., 416-546-9050, Tuesday to Saturday from 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.  

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne is a freelance food and drink writer and the Director of Brand Experience at U-Feast, which curates unique, off-menu dining experiences.  Always in search of delicious. Decor and service be damned, food is king. Follow her @life_of_y and @u_feast.  Warning: don't look at her "feed" if you're hungry.

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