First Look: Bacchanal has all the elements of an old-school French bistro


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

Luke Donato, executive chef and co-owner of the newly opened Bacchanal, is no stranger to fine dining.  He graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City and worked in some of Toronto’s finest restaurants such as North 44, Ortolan and most recently as sous chef at Campagnolo.

“By the time I was in my early 20s I wanted to take cooking seriously and in 2010 I looked up all the restaurants on enRoute Magazine’s Best Restaurants list and staged through all of them,” he explains.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The 3,500-square-foot “neo-bistro”  (formerly the home of Recess Diner) seats 100 with a spacious wraparound bar. “The space is designed for great theatrics — every seat is a great seat,” says Lachlan Dennis, co-owner and general manager. 

Ottawa design firm, Iron and Ivory is responsible for creating the modern bistro with leather banquettes and velvet bar seating, “jewel tones and brass accents” to create an “elevated yet inviting space.”  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The name is a nod to the Roman god Bacchus, the deity of wine, revelry, good times and sometimes, debauchery.  An apt moniker for Dennis’s focus on the wine program; he is a certified sommelier (ex-Le Séléct Bistro) and has created a list of some 25+ wines available by the glass.  “It’s just juice; it should just be drunk,” he adds about the approachable wine list which is predominantly French.  “It’s either French or interesting.”      


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Jason Griffin (formerly of Maison Boulud Montréal) is responsible for the bar program with a menu of cocktails that “have a link to French culture” by way of people and landmarks.  There’s the Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien named after Edith Piaf’s famed song which is a spirit-forward drink made with mescal, elderflower liqueur and ginger bitters, or the Dalí, who inspired the surrealist movement which started in Paris.  In keeping with French cuisine’s reputation of “composition and refinement,” Griffin hopes that the cocktails are a reflection of that.

The menu is a list of classics with a modern twist. “It’s fun to pull heartstrings while bringing the menu into 2017,” says Donato. 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Typical to French bistros you’ll find items such as steak frites and a raw bar complete with grand plateaus.  Shareable plates open the menu, including the Oeufs Pépin, a nod to the French culinary great who was also the dean at the French Culinary Institute where Donato received his culinary training.  “When kids were watching cartoons, I was watching [Jacques] Pépin on PBS,” says Donato. 

There’s a Gallantine de Volaille, foie gras wrapped in chicken skin and topped with pickled chanterelle or the Leeks Vinaigrette topped with a creamy sabayon and fine herbs.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The culinary inclination seems to run in Donato’s family; his mother is a trained chef and a graduate from George Brown. “I wasn’t raised on canned tuna casserole,” he says about his childhood.

The menu continues with small plates such as Oeufs en Meurette, a poached egg in a red-wine reduction topped with crispy bits of lardons and frisée.  The agnolotti is adorned with snails and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms with a sauce iodine, a “green sauce” of blanched parsley, watercress, and spinach with confit garlic.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

For mains there are classic dishes such as the Magret de Canard with plum, parsnip and foie gras or the recognizable steak frites.  On the lighter side of things is a Truite des Fjords, a nod to the Michelin star restaurant, Maison Troisgros with a sauce de l’oseille (sorrel).


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

And do save room for dessert — after all, that’s one of the other things the French are known for.  Pastry chef Cori Murphy (Alo) is churning out traditional sweets such as the Paris-Brest, a choux pastry filled with hazelnut praline crémeux or the classic Baba Au Rhum, with pineapple, all-spice and white chocolate.

For those who like surprises, let the chef cook you a “carte blanche,” family-style meal with a wine pairing option for a complete evening.  The team aims to “provide an approachable yet educational experience,” likening it to that of “knowing an industry insider” and entrusting them to create something exclusive and fun.  And, by all appearance, they have the pedigree at Bacchanal to deliver on that promise.

Bacchanal, 60 Sudbury St., 416-586-1188


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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