Restaurant Review: The new Chantecler shines in spots, underwhelms in others


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Chantecler’s steak tartare

Image: CJ Baek

Meh.

This is how I’m feeling about the new Chantecler. And it shouldn’t have been like that, given my long-term relationship with old school French cooking. I even still adore quiche! And French onion soup! I never met a butterfat I didn’t love, and in my own kitchen if someone dares challenge the conventions of French cooking, there’s hell to pay.

So I was near to ecstasy when the ultra hipster Parkdale boîte Chantecler announced that its new chef, Jesse Mutch, was doing old school French, with nary a sign of foams or toasted rice toppings.

Chantecler’s owner, Jacob Wharton-Shukster, made reference to Montreal’s L’Express, which I always loved for its trad bistro cuisine. He had struggled with the restaurant’s future, closing weekdays for a while after the departure of his partner, chef Jonathan Poon, who opened Bar Fancy in 2014.

Chantecler 2.0 has nothing to do with the Asian fusion lettucy thingies of chef Poon, but the room is unchanged — still a small and incredibly sweet bistro with thick wooden tables, some high-top, some regulation height, white tile floors a la française and a cheerful atmosphere with friendly service.

Dinner starts off scrumptious with classic French cheese puffs — gougères. They’re tender and warm and melt-in-the-mouth. Fines herbes butter gilds the lily nicely. Then cometh a small soufflé dish of French onion soup. Too small to accommodate sufficient broth under its very good cheesy roof. A similar malfunction befalls the snails in puff pastry. There’s a reason why trad French chefs always had to apprentice for years and practice techniques over and over and over again. It’s an extremely technical cuisine, even at the bistro level. So snails in puff pastry with mushroom sherry cream sauce sounds fab, but if the pastry is tough and the cream sauce under-seasoned...

The duck and crepes main course is better, featuring perfectly pink ’n’ tender duck breast with leg and thigh blessed with crisp skin (hurrah!) and tender flesh. We love that, but why are the little chive crepes fridge-cold? And the so-called plum preserve doesn’t taste plummy. Better is the B.C. snapper with mussels. Despite the snapper being slightly overcooked it’s a fine dish thanks to perfectly cooked mussels and Pernod-scented tomato cream sauce.

Sides of frites with mayo and green beans with hollandaise and almond crumble are two of the best things on the menu. Way better than the lemon parfait dessert, whose lemon cream is denser than the citric cloud we expected. We’re counting on chef Mutch to do better soon. Much better.

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Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine. Follow her on Twitter @JoanneKates.

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