August 1, 2014

Four little bistros that could

A quartet of the city’s most charming French restaurants


Celestin’s baby beet and goat cheese ravioli

North Toronto meets Paris

When Célestin’s chef/owner, Pascal Ribreau, left Toronto to make a TV show in France, he sold the restaurant to his sous-chef Ivan Tarazona — who was clearly well schooled by le maître.

The former CIBC bank building is a white tablecloth bastion of formal dining. In-the-know gastronomic francophiles love it for the careful classic French cuisine with just enough modern touches: ethereal saffron sabayon on lobster ravioli ... every day a different take on foie grad. It’s not enough to cook bass perfectly; proving that nouvelle French food spans the world, the bass must be sauced with a gossamer emulsion of ginger and saffron.

Other combos are equally built on the twin pillars of invention and technique, for example, veal with ravioli of young garlic, rhubarb and green tomato jus.

This is the French cooking of the future. Célestin is located at 623 Mount Pleasant Rd., 416-544-9035.


Muscovy duck duo at Loire Casual Gourmet

Brie and then some

Loire is that sweet little Parisian bistro of your youth, which exists only in memory — and on Harbord Street. It’s tiny, noisy and delicious.

You never know what they’re cooking because the menu changes every three weeks or so, thanks to markets and seasons. But hope for the likes of perfectly cooked scallops, their white wine sauce rescued from the mundane by chorizo, saff ron and red peppers.

The $17 burger is meaty, juicy perfection, with the added pleasure of melted Quebec brie and deep rich tomato jam; $20 buys carrot coriander risotto, which is a model of small but mighty flavours and impeccable texture, with a chèvre foam cloud as a moat around it.

Chef ’s duck confit is crispy, his potato and Gruyère gratin properly creamy. Bon appétit!

Loire Casual Gourmet is located at 119 Harbord St., 416-850-8330.


Stuffed duck neck at La Palette, which will be featured on a prix fixe menu

Palette pleasers

In a world where rustic Italiana rules, and the likes of French onion soup and coq au vin are from when dinosaurs walked the earth, La Palette is a charming throwback.

Yes, you can still make us happy with great lashings of butterfat — in unctuous sauce on pasta, in the compound butter on the steak with sweet frites. There are the usual bistro stalwarts of confit and pâté, foie gras and escargots.

It’s unclear how slow-cooked venison ribs in perfectly judged barbecue sauce are French, but they taste great.

The room is classic inexpensive bistro all the way, from the Provençal print tablecloths to the paper napkins.

La Palette is located at 492 Queen St. W., 416-603-4900.


Mogette’s rainbow trout

From Alsace with love

One 30-seat bistro + two chefs = authentic French bistro.

Philippe Couerdassier from Alsace and Daniel Muia (who cooked at the Fifth under then-chef Didier Leroy, at Célestin and for Jamie Kennedy) are the chefs — and a mogette is a small white bean. Cooking them till they’re just soft enough, with a complex tomato-based sauce, and adding grilled lamb medallions, is a marriage made in gastro-heaven.

Mogette’s French onion soup is rich and strong, and a moist, plump chicken breast is wrapped in crisped prosciutto and garnished with an entertaining stew of sweet peppers and onions in olive oil.

Rainbow trout, so often overcooked, is perfectly judged and in a happy partnership with gaufrette potatoes (crunchy deep-fried waffle-cut slices), good strong ratatouille and black olive ravigote.

Mogette Bistro is located at 581 Mt. Pleasant Rd., 647-350-5772.