Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Paradisappointment

The evening started out with such great promise, as we entered Le Paradis expecting an authentic French bistro experience. The main room had the look down, with its long wood bar, butcher-paper tablecloths and brightly colored posters. With Pastis as the gold standard for the genre in Toronto (not to even mention Au Pied du Cochon in Montréal and Le Crémant in Seattle), I thought to myself: the competition is going to be stiff.

As we were whisked into an adjoining space that had the ambiance of an institutional dining room, my hopes began to fade. The prices were unexpectedly reasonable, the waitstaff competent and the service efficient. The problem was the food. The meal started on an upbeat note with the paté but quickly devolved into clichés that lacked any evidence of passion or inventiveness - most notably, the braised lamb shank, which arrived lukewarm and bland, and the frites which bordered on fast-food taste and quality.

Next time I'll bypass Le Paradis.

166 Bedford Road
http://www.leparadis.com/

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Silver Spoon Turns to Gold

We had heard a bit of a build-up about the Silver Spoon (fresh ingredients, a foodie's delight, good value), but nothing prepared us for the actual experience. And was it an experience!

From the moment you walk into the intimate dining room, there's a calm that overtakes you and you sit down ready to be cared for. The server welcomes you and after you have a chance to settle in, an amuse-bouche served on chinese soup spoons - two swirls, one red (red pepper), one white (chick pea) - tempts your palate as it should. A simple paper menu is set in front of you and the adventure begins.

Normally I have control issues over menus - everything we order must be determined by mutual consent. But tonight, overtaken by the atmosphere and overwhelmed by the choices, I sit back and sigh, "Order for both of us, would you dear?"

As we sip our gewurztraminer, our firsts arrive, starting with an appetizer of rye and maple cured salmon with vanilla mayonnaise and grapefruit pieces. From my first bite, I know the watch words for the evening are texture, flavor, and inspired combinations. The maple and vanilla are a match made in heaven. The next dish, ordered from the "other lovely things" category on the menu, was heaven on a plate. Foie-gras semi-freddo rolled in a walnut praline, with cured duck breast proscuitto, fig jam, truffle puree and toast. The foie-gras was whipped into a frenzy; smeared onto the other ingredients, the sweetness of the dish came close to qualifying as a dessert! I nearly overlooked the truffle puree sitting off to the side on its own little plate - but it paid off as I savored a bolus of intense flavor atop my last dollop of foie-gras.

Our entrees were no less spectacular. Seared scallops atop braised fennel and leek with a coconut milk, lemongrass infused tomato puree and jicama salad, came laid out on a long skinny plate; I would start on the left with a scallop, use my fork to glide it across the coconut milk to the jicama and have all of the flavors released in one bite. The juniper berry infused crispy duck confit was a mascot for the slow food movement and a perfect foil for the whimsical lychee and blueberry jus served with crusted yams. And yes, we are told after we wonder aloud, the demi-glace is house-made from scratch.

When it came to dessert, I could tell nodrog was not himself tonight either. Dessert is defined by having chocolate as the star ingredient. What, we weren't ordering the chocolate 4 ways? No, we simply had to have the citrus-vanilla goat's cheese-stuffed french toast. Equally at home on a brunch menu, this dish was a perfect pairing of tart and sweet, with what I'm guessing was homebaked brioche.
Even as I write this several days after the fact, I can taste each dish all over again. I should also mention our server, who was quite charming, attentive and interesting and not intrusive in any way.

Advice for next time: Bring friends and sample even more delights!

PS - for you chocoholics out there who simply had to know the 4 ways:
*Chocolate sorbet with chocolate brownie
*Chocolate cheescake with white chocolate and pistachio sauce
*Warm flourless chocolate cake with creme anglaise and chocolate sauce
*Chocolate creme brulee

Dinner for two with wine: $185
Silver Spoon
390 Roncesvalles
416-516-8112
http://www.silverspoon.ca/

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mad About Montréal

And now for the top ten list (in chronological order) from our first weekend jaunt to Montréal. Drum roll please.

1 - Save the March 2006 issue of Gourmet magazine on "North America's Most European City", read it over and over again obsessively, and bring it with you in lieu of a guide book

2 - Fly Porter Airlines from the downtown airport and avoid the insanity of Pearson. http://www.flyporter.com/

3 - Rent bikes in Old Montréal and ride along the Lachine Canal to the Marché Atwater. http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/qc/canallachine/index_e.asp


4 - Buy fresh-baked sesame seed bagels at St.-Viateur Bagel Shop and enjoy them over a double espresso at Café Olimpico down the street. http://www.stviateurbagel.com/



5 - Sample the sights, tastes and smells of two of the city's amazing markets on your bike ride through town: Marché Atwater and Marché Jean-Talon. http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/

6 - Spend a few hours admiring the collection at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. http://www.macm.org/

7 - Start an amazing meal at at Au Pied du Cochon with the Apple Foie Gras (one of 10 foie gras appetizer choices; a sinful slice atop a tarte tatin). http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/

8 - Repeat #4, but with a Chocolate Babka chaser from Cheskie Heimishe Bakery
9 - Pretend you're back in college as you wander aimlessly around the campus of McGill. http://www.mcgill.ca/

10 - Exhausted from a whirlwind weekend, ride the subway back to your hotel in the Old Town before cabbing it to the airport for your flight home. http://www.stm.info/English/metro/a-mapmet.htm,
http://www.hotelxixsiecle.com/