Date of Visit: Wednesday June 28, 2006
Reservation for 5 at 19:00, seated immediately
169 Niagara Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
3-course dinner for 5 plus drinks (tax included): $230
Our party ordered quite a variety of dishes from the menu. However, I would stick with reporting only on the dishes that I tasted.
House Smoked Whitefish Crepe served with Crushed Fava Beans and Wild Leeks: I liked the constrast of the slightly sweet crepe against the smokiness of the whitefish. Besides, they have a surprisingly similar texture that was delicious.
Galantine of Quail and Rabbit Liver served with Haricots Vert dressed in Dijonnaise: This dish brought me back to Paris! The round of creamy liver and gamey quail meat was tightly bounded by cauled fat. It was sooo tasty with just the right balance of rich and lean. Whether I spreaded it on the thin toasted baguette slices or ate it by the forkful, it was a joy to devour. The haricots vert were just that little bit crunchy and picked up the Dijonnaise dressing nicely.
Smoked Veal Cheeks served with Peas and Green Garlic in Manchego Broth: Such a tender piece of meat! I love tete de veau for the gelatinous property that the dish typically imparts. This smoked veal cheeks certainly shares this trait. The manchego broth was hearty but the richness was cut by the fresh sweet peas. I ate every last drop of the broth with the spoon. Would be so nice to have some crusty sourdough bread to mop up the broth.
Roasted Scallops served with Swiss Chard, Saffron Mussel Soup: The scallops were smaller than I expected but they were very sweet. I adored the caramelization all over the sides of the each scallop. It added much complexity in flavour to the natural sweetness of the scallops.
Meyer Lemon Tart served with Ontario Strawberries and Creme Fraiche: A very thin and crunchy pate sucree tart shell was good though a little tough. The Meyer lemon curd was not as tart as a regular lemon curd but still had that lilting citrus quality. Continuing my Paris reverie, I can so easily picture this tart topped with "frais de bois" instead of Ontario strawberries...
Selection of 3 Cheeses served with Pear Jam, Candied Walnuts, and Toasted Baguette: From a cheeseboard filled with 6 or 7 different cheeses, I chose an ash-covered goat cheese from Valencay, and two Spanish cheeses whose name escaped me. I'm not a cheese-expert though I'm a cheese-lover. I thoroughly enjoyed this course both for the distinctive tastes each cheese selection contributed and the way that this course was presented. First, the cheese were served at room temperature for the best flavour and texture. Secondly, our waiter gave a good introduction for each cheese including the place of origin, flavour profile, and what kind of milk it was made with (cow, sheep, goat). Nicely done.
The service at Niagara Street cafe was efficient and friendly. However, it was the waiters' knowledge on the menu which left the deepest impression. We asked them all kinds of questions including who made their bread, the ingredients used for a vinaigrette, what was used to hold the galantine together, and availability of tasting menu. Our waiters calmly answered all of our questions (correctly, I may add) without needing to rush back to the kitchen to ask the chef. By Toronto standard, I was very impressed.
This is probably one of the best-value cafe/bistro in Toronto. The classical approach to cuisine and the excellent execution of great comfort food remind me of my dining experience at Le Comptoir (here and here) in Paris. Between the five of us, we tried most of the dishes on the menu and we agreed that most of the dishes were top notch. The thing that really won me over was their great selection of cheese for the cheese course. Not only was our waiter knowledgeable on the menu, he also gave us a lively overview of the different cheeses available and their characteristics. For those who don't like dessert, having such a nicely done cheese course as an alternative or additional to the dessert course is great idea.
The wallet-friendly menu at Niagara Street Cafe make this a fabulous spot for frequent casual dinner or romantic date night. Now, I know that I'll come back for dinner for one when the fancy strikes. As for a romantic date night? I'll first have to figure out who to ask...
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