Where to go to celebrate Bastille Day, July 14? Well, I’m saluting the holiday at L’Avenue, a new French-inspired bistro on Bayview, the main drag of Harperland, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s birthplace. Leaside is an historic WASP stamping ground, located conveniently between the RCYC to the South, and the Toronto Polo Club to the North. Funny place to eat French, I hear detractors sniff, WASPS never gave a fig for good food.
Wrong. Once the city’s Waspocracy and French cooking went together like marriage and divorce. The local plutocrats were the spiritual heirs of Scrooge McDuck, Disney’s thrifty Scottish millionaire, modelled, some say, on Andrew Carnegie, the great poacher turned gamekeeper, robber baron morphing into philanthropist. Dining out wasn’t hedonistic but a social occasion. Etiquette was strict. Diners were obliged to put on the soup and fish. High-end French restos enforced the dress code. I recall going to La Grenouille , which thirty years ago was the French flagship in Manhattan, to interview a soon-to-be famous Sam Waterston – only to be turned away because he was wearing jeans and a sweater and refused management’s offer of a jacket and tie. Imagine today when celebs look like train wrecks! Chefs could be tyrannical. A story still circulates of a couple being escorted to the door of a Toronto restaurant by a chef enraged because the husband ordered the tasting menu, but the wife asked for pasta.
Still, once you jumped the hurdles, the food was good. In Toronto, expatriate French chefs genteelly colonized local palates at places like La Chaumiere and Napoleon,educating eaters in the art of wielding that tooth extracting tool for winkling out escargots served on dimpled plates, sole meuniere, the surprise simplicity of oeufs a la neige – steak au poivre of course, rich rillettes, celeri remoulade…..
Toronto is now a city of scores of cuisines, most of all,our own emerging one, and France no longer holds the pole position. It was a significant moment when the long-running Provence Delices on Amelia Street closed and was replaced by F’ Amelia, a pasta/pizza place. Still, the French connection is all over the city in restaurants like Ici Bistro, Elle M’a Dit, Le Restaurant, Le Select, Didier, Batifole…. Mount Pleasant has several bistros, notably Mogette, but L’Avenue is, I think, a first for Bayview, which is just showing green shoots of gastronomy with the patisseries Rahier and La Cigogne.
At first glimpse, L’Avenue sounds, looks like same old same old. Nice panelling, soft lighting, moody French music, and a comfortable group of regulars. The owner is Otta Zapotocky, a Czech, an informal and effervescent maitre d’, a former sommelier at Nota Bene. We sit on the sidewalk patio, cheek by jowl with two other restaurants. Place would be hopping with febrile competition in the Hautbo West End. Here, there’s just a relaxed air of bonhomie.
A cursory glance at the menu elicits uhuh – French Onion Soup, Moulard Duck Breast. But then – a twist. The chef is Jeremy Dyer, formerly of L.A.B., Howard Dubrowsky’s experiment in Haute Veg which, before it closed, had that rarity – an innovative kitchen. No muddy fusion, but actually original dishes. I recall a scarlet risotto strewn with silver leaf, a pernod-flavoured vegetable ragout.
Spirits rising, we pick through the dishes. The East coast oysters, six for $16, come already dressed with a Cucumber Champagne Mignonette . We follow that with a deep fried trio, a plangent chunk of King Oyster, a soft bauble of sweetbread, a crunch of bread all circled in a fresh parsley coulis $10. I love snails drowned in OTT garlic butter, but I have to say that novelty’s fun too, the rubbery mollusks being retrieved from a bath of leeks, white wine and cream $10.
The fish of the day is superbly pan-seared Salmon Trout, brick red and just a little chewy with that minimal, fresh-caught flavour, $22, accompanied by fingerlings, and a bacon-wrapped bundle of haricot vert. But i guess the highest five has to go Fried Chicken “A La Basque”, $19. A tower of handcut summer slaw with peppery tomato sauce tops tender fried chicken – it’s reminiscent of L.A.B.’s famous root vegetable Calamari. On the side: a bowl of those little humble frites. VG.
The meal ends delightfully. Fresh Ontario Strawberries at last ! They come in a Pavlova laid out like a blossoming rose, spiked with passion fruit custard. Raspberry Truffle Cake, also $7, is rich with walnuts and toffee.
L’Avenue Bistro, 1568 Bayview Ave. 416-485-1568. Dinner for Two: food plus tax $100.
Out of four stars: Food ** and a half. Service and Vibe **
This entry was posted in News
. Bookmark the permalink