It’s always sunny at Colette Grand Cafe

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Colette Grand Cafe is in the exclusive Thompson Hotel at Bathurst and Wellington St. W. By day this area of Wellington St. is relaxed with limited traffic and only the voices of children playing in the parkette across the street. Colette’s sophisticated and elegant blue and white decor make it like a French holiday complete with over-smiley waiters hurrying about.

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Arriving for a late lunch I am shown to my table at windows that border the dining area.  The oversized wing chairs in the lounge are taken up with casual business types. It’s busy, but it doesn’t have the noisy din as some of the other French restos and bistros in the city but I’m a little puzzled by the folk /rock soundtrack that’s playing. Maybe expecting to hear Edith Piaf songs would’ve been cliché.

As expected there’s a solid collection of wines and a tempting list of drinks. While I don’t entirely recall what the contents of this beverage is, it’s called Pirate Radio and is one of those drinks that about halfway through you experience invading your senses.

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My starters are delicate cheese straws, carrot salad fresh and simply dressed and accompanied by a delicate salmon pate. Shaved radish and celery complement the lightness of the salmon rillettes.

The main course of duck confit arrives and is just as perfect as described. Hearty and garnished with pistachios, the duck confit is one the finest I’ve had a French restaurant in some time.DuckThe traditional dessert tray is offered to diners with full bellies but gluttonous eyes. Colette’s is a glittering collection of French pastries.

Desserts

Cake of any kind, especially complex fruity beauties are my kryptonite. But you can’t miss all the other awaiting sweet treasures.

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Colette is a break you can enjoy in an afternoon. The kind where you treat yourself to a refreshing meal and talk. It’s a hotel restaurant, so expect to pay accordingly. The service and attention to detail is impeccable. Finding another time to dine here again, is high on my plan. Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

Via Vai lighting up Bay Street

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The section of Bay St. between Bloor and Dundas St. W. has long been in need of a neighborhood hot spot.  The area has acquired a few more restaurants in recent years but nothing as bright and bold as Via Vai.

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Opened at the end of April, Via Vai is an immense art gallery like space that spans four stories high.  The elaborate mural and glass paintings are the work of Italian artist, Sandro Martini and were completed in 2012. A mural by local Toronto artist, Hajar Moradi is featured at the back of the restaurant.

Interior west sideAs I understand, the building was formally the sales center for the Burano Condo development.  After admiring the towering views, I finally settle down to read the menu, a single page of Neopolitan pizza and pasta dishes.

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I start with the Insallata del Palladio – kalettes sprouts, pancetta, green apples, DOP Piave with valdobiedene procecco vinaigrette.  Crispy and refreshing, the pancetta adds just a little saltiness to bring out the sweetness of the apples and the tartness of the cheese.

Pizza

I love leafy greens, especially on hot summer days, they add a certain lightness to foods, so with that in mind, I have the Marinara Pizza.  My pizza arrives, its thin crust, risen and well-baked around the edges, dressed with prosciutto, tomato, Parmigiano and arugula.  This simple pizza is satisfying and not complicated by too many toppings, just basic and well done, the way it should be.

IMG_4632It is the end of lunch hour and the sun is shining, there is time for me and room in my stomach to enjoy dessert.  The Tortina Alla Pistochi is rich but light flourless chocolate cake.  The Tortina is rich but light. The crunchy and intense chocolate flavour is highlighted by the raspberry coulis.

The service is friendly and efficient, water glasses are re-filled regularly and courses are well-timed.  I order a cappuccino and sip it while I admire the spine of wine at the opposite end of the restaurant.  I am told that each shelf is dedicated to the different Italian wine regions. I make a mental note to eventually explore all levels and each region on my next visits.

Manager, Jordan Lazaruk and Chef, Joe Friday are part of the great team at Via Vai, taking great care to make sure that your experience meets their standards for excellence and service.  The restaurant has become a popular spot for private events, it’s not hard to see why.  There’s an informal patio outside, if you want to bask in the sun.  I however, prefer to sip my cappuccino slowly and soak in the art and light of this delicious afternoon.

A great place to meet friends, any time  – also, a fabulous event space, Bay St. north of Dundas St. now has a beautiful dining destination.  Bon Appetit, friends.

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Via Vai – www.viavai.ca

 

 

Cluny’s in the Distillery District

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It’s December 26, and while many of you have barely digested and recovered from your big Christmas dinners, I know there are also a lot of you looking forward to more eating for New Year’s.  So with that in mind, let me recommend Cluny’s in the Distillery District.  A few weeks ago, I ventured into this beautiful new restaurant on Tank House lane for a solo brunch.

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Washed in natural and warm lighting, Cluny’s is like a very large European cafe, there is an intricately laid blue and white tiled floor separating the space into grouped tables and intimate spaces.  Bouquets of cream and buttercup yellow flowers in large vases, showcase the bakery buffet where staff prepare your baskets of croissants and breads.

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The raw bar is stocked with a daily selection of oysters, claims and shrimp.  Behind the bar is the bustling kitchen, efficiently sending out orders or egg dishes, burgers and salads from the brunch menu.

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My server greets me warmly and asks what my preferences for my morning pastry basket to accompany my French press coffee.

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My oeufs en cocotte, eggs cooked in a vessel like a small dutch oven, arrives with a grilled tomato, greens, truffle and fries.  It is a dish that feels indulgent for a sunny but cold Sunday morning.  I am thrilled that the frites are still quite warm, and soak up the truffle mayonnaise very well.

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I people watch from my seat at the raw bar, where the friendly staff tell me about the menu and the features with entusiasm.  I also get a great view of the other dishes guests are enjoying at the bar next to me.

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Photo Credit: Cluny Bistro website – clunybistro.com

The dinner menu features traditional bistro fare including foie gras dishes, mussels and frogs legs as well as some continental favourites to satisfy kids and non-seafood eaters.  My best part of the menu for me,  is the selection of cheese dishes, which includes my favourite, Sauvagine stuffed with truffle and sauteed in wild mushroom.

A wonderful setting, lots of seats – however, it is popular, so many sure to call ahead and make a reservation.

 Cluny Bistro – 35 Tank House Lane, Distillery District, Toronto, Ontario

La Societe – more bar than bistro on Bloor St.

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Lasociete patio2It’s been embarrassingly too many weeks to count since my last post.  Who can believe it’s October already, and I’m trying to catch up on all my writing.  My summer was filled a lot of food festivals and events.  However,  I actually make it to La Societe Bistro in Yorkville after walking past the swank and expansive patio bar at the front of The Colonnade on Bloor W. many times.

On this July day, the second level patio with its many tables is full.  Wait staff in traditional bistro uniforms hustle about on this hot day refilling glasses and rushing to bring orders out.  The spacious interior is filling up as business people start to arrive for meetings over lunch.

La Societe is bistro fare at trendy upscale prices.  Remember, we’re in the Colonnade, home to Cartier, Chanel, Escada and Prada boutiques, to name a few.  While the look and the ambiance attempts to be authentic French bistro, the menu doesn’t necessarily reflect that and veers into contemporary American with selections of burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. Missing from the mid-day menu are cheese plates, pates and charcuteries. Prices compared to other bistros serving lunch is about 15% more for something like a Tuna Salad Nicoise.

Our orders of the LS Club sandwich with frites and the Grilled Chicken Cobb salad is good, but nothing special.  La Societe is not really about the food, it’s about the location, the opulent and luxurious patio. It’s about the chance to be spotted lounging on a chaise sipping Cinzano and exchanging business cards with a guy with a platinum corporate Amex card who’ll be picking up the bill.

La Societe is located at 131 Bloor St. W at Avenue Road.  As of today’s writing the upstairs patio is still  open and will probably remain until the weather grows too cold.  Bon Appetit, my friends!

Brasserie Les Halles – New York Restaurant week, Part 3

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Les Halles front

It would not have been a complete trip to New York without a visit to the Anthony Bourdain‘s home base, Brasserie Les Halles.  My reservation is  for two at seven-thirty on Saturday night at the Park Avenue location.

Two-hundred and ninety-four restaurants, including Les Halles,  take part in New York restaurant week which goes from July 22 to August 16th.  Restaurants offer prix-fixe menus for lunch at $25 and dinner for $38.

By New York standards seven-thirty is still a little early for dinner in this town that never sleeps, but the patio is full when we get there.  The hostess checks our reservation and shows us to our table.

The interior is old but charming and warm, the bar seats all taken with New Yorkers having wine and cocktails.  At the table next to us they are watching one as a cook prepare their bananas foster in the traditional way, table side.

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While the Restaurant Week menu does offer a good choice of dishes that make up the prix-fixe menu, we decide to try some of the other offerings.  We order the escargots and the Croutons de Coulommiers rotis, au miel et poivre, that is,  Brie topped with honey, cracked pepper, roasted and served on croutons.  The escargots are smooth, rich and tasty, melted butter does that to food.  The Brie is lightly drizzled with clover honey, light to the taste – not too sweet or heavy.

We are most excited about our side order of Truffle Mac and Cheese, we both immediately dig in.  The mac and cheese is perfect, the truffle oil is a great addition, however we both felt there was just a little too much, which made the flavour quite intense – nevertheless it didn’t stop us from devouring it.

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My daughter ordered the Magret de Canard, Sauce Grenade.  Beautiful med-well done duck breast with a pomegranate sauce, scalloped potatoes and French beans.  Typical, traditional bistro food – a hearty dish with soul.

duck les hallesThe Mignon de Porc Maison with garlic confit and mashed potatoes is mine.  Simple pork tenderloin, tender without a lot of overwhelming sauce or seasoning.

pork at les hallesA few glasses of an excellent French house white wine to make a good meal great, wine really can do no wrong with food.  The restaurant is  just about full by the time we are finishing up our meals.

We relax for a while feeling satisfied and happy with the food this evening, but we are not done, onto dessert.  We choose the featured dessert, the Frozen Walnut Mousse.  I also order a Cafe Les Halles with Kahlua, coffee, crème Chantilly and flambé with Grand Marnier.

It’s a comfortable evening in Midtown Manhattan.  The patio is still full with people enjoying the night and the slower pace of traffic along Park Avenue in the evening.  We walk a for few blocks talking about which part of the meal we enjoyed most.  I will go back on my next visit and I recommend you give it a try next time you’re in New York – honest bistro food, served the way it should be.

Happy eating, everyone!