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Opinion

Don Appetit! Le Notre’s French Kiss


Don Douloff, Food WriterEarlier this year, Le Notre opened  in the charming space, in Toronto’s leafy Annex neighbourhood, formerly occupied by Yunaghi Japanese restaurant.

Le Notre’s mode is French, but incorporating global influences, and under chef Cameron Nelson, the results are impressive.

Nelson believes in sourcing, wherever possible, the freshest local ingredients and letting their inherent flavours shine. Case in point: A delightful salad of sugar-sweet Ontario heirloom tomatoes and grilled fennel anointed with cold-pressed sunflower oil. It’s summer on a plate.

A bracing yuzu citrus vinaigrette moistens ultra-fresh arugula accessorized with shaved Manchego cheese and sherry-roasted pecans, whose sweet, smoky notes perfectly complement the greens.

A classic taste of France, escargot, is treated to chili butter and Reggiano cheese. I can’t remember when I’ve had snails as delicate as these.

Flourless chocolate cake.

Another French classic, bouillabaisse, features Fogo Island cod cheeks, PEI mussels, BC Chinook salmon and Atlantic porgy swimming in saffron-scented broth along with fingerling potatoes and fennel.

In a refreshingly elegant, host Serguei Kourokhtine presents, at table, the bouillabaisse in a lidded tureen and ladles out the liquid gold into a bowl.

I opt for the nightly meat special sourced from Ontario’s Donato Artisan Farm. It’s tenderloin of water buffalo finished in a wild leek pan jus, and it’s a revelation: mild, moist, deeply satisfying. Along for the ride are roasted heirloom carrots, wild leek roots and grilled zucchini.

To finish, there’s espresso crème brulee, and an uncommonly delicate flourless chocolate cake garnished with pink peppercorn/red chili marmalade.

Featuring picture windows looking out onto quiet Harbord Street, the understated room is anchored by a small bar, open kitchen and banquette and table seating. It’s the ideal neighbourhood bistro ambience.

Adding to the evening’s considerable pleasures is Serguei, one of the restaurant’s principals, who is gracious, polished and thoroughly professional.

Le Notre is available for group buyout and can seat 27 people. The restaurant also caters offsite events of all sizes.

— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,400 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.