Is there anything more exciting for a foodie than having no expectations at all from a new restaurant, then having it explode into a bonanza of intricate, delicious, amazing dishes? The world is topsy turvy. Time was, the most import aspect of a restaurant’s success was location, location, location. Today, it’s a “build it and they will come” society. An obscure building on what was until recently a commercial block has quickly become the holy grail for those who admire modern French cuisine: Bacchanal.
Taking stock of my surroundings in this spacious window walled room, I’m impressed. The good sized wine cellar doubles as a private dining room and the table is prettily set for twelve. A local artist collaborated with the owners to create blue and white wall paper that, on closer inspection, depicts scenes of early Toronto. Curved leather booths hold parties of six or eight and the mix of seating removes all thoughts of regimentation.
My mind and my palate are open to explore the promised delights of the Tasting Menu, and scanning the menu provokes anticipation. Our server has a captivating smile as he pours the wine that pairs with our h’ordeuvres. He knows we will be enthralled with poached leeks vinaigrette smothered with sabayon and fines herbs; Galantine du volaille which is an elegant chicken and foie gras roulade; Oeufs Pepin (so named after one of France’s favorite chefs) blanketed with sauce Marie-Rose and wearing a jaunty cap of anchovy.
I need to look out of the window to remind myself that I am not at a Michelin Star restaurant on the Champs Elysee in Paris, but on plain old Sudbury Street.
And it gets better. To start, a glass of chilled celeriac and fennel soup, lobster meat, parsley, chives and tarragon. The coalescence of flavours and textures is intelligent and balanced. The seafood tower, more refined than a recent one I enjoyed in Hong Kong, is a treasure trove of Hokkaido scallop cru with jalapeno and avocado; poached shrimp; Raspberry Point oysters, and a goblet of kitchen-made waffle iron chips, each one perfect.
It’s the next few courses that convinces me there must be a retired ex-pat French chef in the kitchen carefully executing these extraordinary dishes. We’re presented with Agnolotti, the dough made dark with cocoa powder, stuffed with button mushrooms, and sharing the bowl with earthy hen of the woods mushrooms and plump garlic-y snails. A few leaves of baby spinach, thyme and tarragon which seems to be the chefs personal herb bouquet, is anchored and perfumed with charred garlic puree. Ocean trout, pan seared, is enlightened by batons of warmed cucumber and sauce l’osielle, a taste of the sea.
There is one course left in this gastronomic marathon. Can I make it across the finish line? I am determined to enjoy excess with finesse. The chef, clearly a wild and creative soul imagined magret du canard, ruby beets, dark sweet cherries and taggiasca olives, then insisted that a sprinkling of red sprouts is the one accessory that would “finish” the dish. Absurd and dazzling!
Let’s invite the chef out to receive our thanks and respect. Surprise! Young Chef Luke Donato is the gifted wizard here, an enthusiastic local boy with impressive international credentials. Kitchen duties are ably shared by Sous Chef Damon Clements. Bravo to these young men, I can only imagine where there careers will take them.
Dessert? Absolutely. The only way to eat a beautiful dessert is to forget the guilt and indulge. A textbook-perfect Paris Brest made of choux pastry, filled with hazelnut praline cremeux and drizzled with salted caramel.
These chefs have raised the bar, and made the sublime even more sublime.
~Bacchanal, 60 Sudbury St, 416-586-1188~
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Publisher/Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.