Food & Drink

Toronto’s best French restaurants

Our favourite spots for tartare, duck confit and steak frites

163 Spadina Ave., 3rd Floor, 416-260-2222,

Patrick Kriss’s aerie above the helter-skelter of Queen and Spadina is home to one of the most singular restaurant experiences in this city or any other. The wines range deep into small-producer, sustainable vintages. The servers are effortlessly polished and warm. And the menu of 10 courses, plus the occasional spontaneous addition, is a relative bargain at $135 (there’s also a slightly longer, more expensive menu for those who want counter seats at the open kitchen). One night this past summer started with an amuse of Raspberry Point oysters dotted with plum vinegar and wild chamomile petals, and a gold mirrored plate of savoury petit four. Matters grew only more exquisite: fluke sashimi lightly cured with a yuzu dressing and studded with a few flecks of coriander stem; meatier chunks of amberjack spritzed with finger lime and garnished with curling, finely julienned cucumber and radish; summer niblets, Saltspring mussels and chanterelle in a broth of smoked butter and a yukon gold espuma; Wagyu rib cap, competing in richness with a pool of black sesame, dashi and roasted eggplant; plus a series of desserts, the highlight a bowl of strawberries four ways: a dry-roasted sheet, macerated, a jelly, and a swirl of ice cream. By the end, as the elevator delivers you back to reality, you’ll be planning your return.

Auberge du Pommier
4150 Yonge St., 416-222-2220,

The dapper staff speak a soupçon of French to everyone they greet while guests can be heard chatting away in Portuguese, Korean, Spanish and Mandarin. Dark, toasty seared scallops are propped up by an oblong prism of crab terrine in a fresh architectural appetizer. À la carte items, while gussy, stick to the tried and true: halibut, risotto, beef tenderloin. There’s more experimentation on the $115 champagne tasting menu. Seared foie gras, nestled into a wee fluted chocolate tart, is joined by sweet corn and quince marmalade along with pickled chanterelles and apples for balance. And pucks of porcelet, slow-cooked suckling pig, are rich as can be.

60 Sudbury St., 416-586-1188,

Chef Luke Donato preps a first-rate choucroute with a white sausage stuffed with veal and another stuffed with foie gras; petal-thin slices of hamachi crudo and pebbles of cuke, dressed with a lemon emulsion; and a grand slab of two-months-aged côte de boeuf. But once you encounter an artist like pastry chef Cori Osborne, formerly of Alo, the thing that matters most is what comes last. The two meal-ending standouts are her slice of spiced baba au rhum topped with a wave of white-chocolate ganache, mini-cubes of pineapple and micro basil, and her sugar-dusted Paris-Brest, the finest doughnut known to humankind: two choux layers sandwiching hazelnut cream studded with flakes of feuilletine. For all the work Osborne puts into them, they’re not unduly precious—you don’t feel guilty taking up a fork. The room is a beauty, too, with its cognac banquettes and walls dressed in a toile depicting Toronto’s unsung icons—raccoons, Honest Ed’s and the Zanzibar.

Café Boulud
60 Yorkville Ave., 416-963-6000,

In the last six years, Daniel Boulud’s restaurant at the Four Seasons has changed chefs and undergone a renovation—as well as a menu overhaul—and the place is better than ever. Cured meat, terrines and pâtés are a specialty here, and the formidable charcuterie board is a great way to start a meal; an imported rotisserie oven perfectly slow-roasts everything from whole chickens to pineapples. The standout dish is the quenelle de brochet, a Lyon-style dish of emulsified northern pike blended with eggs, cooked into a flawless omelette, and plated in a bowl of rich cognac-lobster sauce. Like Café Boulud itself, the dish is seamless.

Cafe Cancan
89 Harbord St., 647-341-3100,

It’s impossible to be a grump at Victor Barry’s very-pink French spot. Everyone sips champagne cocktails or on-tap rosé while deciding between French classics: beefy onion soup under an oozing cap of gruyère; three foie gras options (seared, a parfait, with beef tenderloin); or a slice of coffee-scented opera cake. Luxury is the default mode. There’s even a Barry-fied burger slicked with remoulade on a house-made milk bun.

90 Yorkville Ave., 416-428-6641, There’s much toasting and petits bisous under the crystal chandeliers at Chabrol, Doug Penfold’s tiny new Yorkville bistro. It’s accessed via an alley and barely visible from the street: even an innocent lunch date acquires a whiff of discreet rendezvous. Penfold works at a couple of burners behind the bar, thriving under the constraints. He composes note-perfect pork liver mousse; chestnut soup fragrant with sorrel; a ballotine of chicken wrapped around roasted apples, with a jolt of herbaceousness from a watercress purée; and steaming side plates of celeriac and escarole gratin. He saves the best for last: made-to-order apple tart, with warm calvados sabayon slowly poured overtop.

1320 Queen St. W., 416-628-3586,

Dinner at Parkdale’s petite French-inspired bistro is both delicious and cacophonous. Music is loud. Cutlery clatters. And, when the street-facing window is open, a literal siren song serenades. Luckily you don’t need ears to enjoy what chef Peter Robson sends out of the twee kitchen: garlicky escargot with grilled sourdough; asparagus drizzled with shallot hollandaise and finished with bacon crumbles; duck two ways (smoked breast, crispy leg) with jus. It’s all very good, and it’s all very rich, so it’s serendipitous that the only available parking spot was five blocks west and two blocks south—a post-prandial walk won’t hurt.

2075 Yonge St., 416-322-6767,

The pressed tin ceiling, cabaret posters and vintage Parisian photos demonstrate Coquine’s ardent commitment to Gallic tradition, and the Davisville dining set keeps the checkered floor well trafficked. The menu also sticks to the familiar. Escargots are sautéed in Pernod-splashed garlic butter and capped with a thick layer of bubbling gruyère. Cassoulet—braised white beans stewed with soft pork belly, spicy sausage and rich duck confit—reveals a kitchen in command of its ingredients. The warm maple-apple cake topped with vanilla gelato is just as comforting and sweet as it sounds.

Gare de L’Est
1190 Dundas St. E., 416-792-1626,

Dinner and a show no longer means having to schlep all the way downtown—and pay $40 for parking. The new Streetcar Crowsnest is a residential-entertainment complex at Dundas and Carlaw: the contemporary Crow’s Theatre provides the entertainment, and the handsome Gare de L’Est Brasserie the meal. The kitchen—run by chef de cuisine Deron Engbers and the east-side tag team of Erik Joyal and John Sinopoli (Ascari Enoteca)—specializes in Parisian classics. Pre-theatre menus are available, starting at $35. For a nightcap, the by-the-glass wine list is littered with trendy picks that are typically bottle-only. And yes, there’s plenty of street parking nearby.


Greta Solomon’s Dining Room
1118 Queen St. E., 647-347-8640, room

Owner Darlene Mitchell hails from Newfoundland—home of cod tongues and flipper pie—but the food she and chef James Vigil (Pangaea) serve in this tiny Leslieville room is unmistakably French. A pan-seared sea scallop, sourced from neighbouring Hooked, is flanked by crispy bits of oxtail, radish slices, plump raisins, turnip purée and pickled cauliflower, and piping-hot swiss chard gratin with bacon is sauced with creamy mornay and topped with ­gruyère. Ontario beef tenderloin is served on fingerling confit potatoes, and spectacular morels—done up in duck fat and ­demi-­glace—are dressed to impress in chive-studded béarnaise. The wine list is long and thoughtful for such a diminutive spot, and the desserts—like a ­deconstructed fruit tart wrapped in a shortbread collar with elderflower chantilly—equally so.

La Banane
227 Ossington Ave., 416 -551- 6263,

Chef Brandon Olsen’s foray into French cuisine reliably delivers both expertly rendered Gallic classics and unexpected twists bound to inspire more than a few toothy grins. Forget the muted image of the stuffy bistro: this one springs to life in green, gold and copper, with the ambiance of a nightly New Year’s Eve dinner party, complete with disco tunes and coupes of boozy cocktails like the bourbon-based Banane Banane, spiked with banana liqueur. Here, you’ll find the city’s finest example of a pâté en croûte, with golden pastry encasing peppery duck-pork stuffing and a cap of wine gelée on top. Julia Child would approve of how Olsen finishes his creamy crab and paella rice gratin in the crustacean’s shell, and how he achieves that extremely rare thing: a correct omelette—nearly custardy within, timed to the microsecond. And then there’s the Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg: it’s the city’s original paint-splattered chocolate ovoid, made by part-time confectioner Olsen (Toronto’s own Willy Wonka), and a party trick—smash it open with a spoon to reveal delicate chocolate truffles—that never gets old.

Le Sélect
432 Wellington St. W., 416-596-6405,

This grand room is elegant and polished, with pressed tin ceiling tiles and a long zinc bar. On occasion, the cooking is sublime—smoked whitefish terrine is airy, cool and expertly seasoned. For the most part, though, the kitchen turns out comforting classics, like bright, acidic sauerkraut laden with fatty pork hock, belly and sausage. It needs just a dollop of the accompanying mustard to hit all the right notes. Bouillabaisse, deconstructed with a bland bisque poured overtop, is the only dish that fails to charm. The magnificent wine list reads like a scholarly treatise, and by-the-glass options are excellent. Chocolate mousse and lemon tart leave nothing to be desired.

72 Ossington Ave., 416-850-0093,

For the past nine years, chef Teo Paul’s Union has been un petit piece of Paris on Ossington and has avoided the trendiness trap by simply putting out excellent food made with high-quality ingredients day after day. Things like oysters served with horseradish and mignonette, but also with a killer habanero spread. The same kicky concoction comes with one of the city’s best steak tartares, served with toasted cornbread instead of the usual paper-thin crostini. Also good: fried and baked polenta soaking in a tomato bath, and sticky pork ribs, smoked and slathered in a sweet-and-sour house barbecue sauce. The dining room is a tad cramped, but nobody seems to care—throw in delicious food, great cocktails and smiling service and suddenly personal space is no longer an issue.


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