Be ready to clap. On any particular day, there will be a happy birthday singalong or suddenly the room will fall into a hush as someone pulls out a ring and proposes. I might be partly to blame, since anytime someone asks me where to take someone for a special but not stupidly fancy dinner (a frequent question, and a hazard of this job), I send them to this note-perfect bistro. Dreyfus pulls off the trick of seeming like it’s been around for ages, between the vintage flowery plates, bentwood chairs packed close together, flickering candles, jazz standards and shelves of curios seemingly pilfered from a Victorian explorer’s private museum. But it’s also wholly original. Zach Kolomeir, the chef and owner, and previously the chef de cuisine at Montreal’s cult favourite Joe Beef, had a specific vision in mind: a restaurant that shows off his personal network of Ontario and Quebec small-scale farmers, cheesemakers and the like, while building on bistro staples with frequent diversions into Jewish deli. The kitchen is small, and he often delivers dishes to your table. He seems to be a friend or soon-to-be-friend of almost everyone in the room, which I recognize as particular to the DNA of Montreal’s restaurants.
I’ve taken my own someone special here, too, for what turned out to be one of the most delicious meals I’ve had this year, or any year. We had potato-choux puffs topped with crème fraîche and caviar, skate schnitzel in a lemony grenobloise sauce, slow-roasted squash and pepitas, bite-sized cubano sandwiches made with house-smoked ham and a wafer of pickle, and a peppery rack of Ontario lamb, the last of the night. We drank well, from a list of elusive bottles from natural winemakers in France, Italy and Prince Edward County. And for dessert, despite reaching peak stuffed capacity, we snuck in a plate of sugar-dusted, warm-from-the-oven madeleines. They were better than any birthday cake.
Dreyfus, 96 Harbord St., dreyfustoronto.com