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Don Appetit! Ricarda’s — French-Inflected Sophistication

Don Douloff, Food WriterOpen almost two years, Ricarda’s 134, in downtown Toronto’s entertainment district, is a hidden gem dishing up sophisticated cuisine at reasonable prices.

Heading up the kitchen is French-born Julien Laffargue, who joined Ricarda’s a little more than seven months ago. Chef Julien brings with him an impeccable pedigree, with a resume that includes kitchen stints at a number of Four Seasons hotels, including properties in Bora Bora, in French Polynesia and, most recently, Toronto.

His plates at Ricarda’s brim with creative ideas and understated sophistication, and show a kitchen fully in command of technique. I’m normally not a fan of carpaccio, but chef Julien’s version is a revelation: Slices of ruby red, melt-in-the-mouth veal, thick-cut for luxurious texture, are accessorized with truffle honey, feta and diced apple, with back notes of curry powder adding subtle exotic perfume.

Flatbread with duck sausage.

Candy cane beet, grenadine-pickled shallots and citrus crème fraiche animate cubes of translucent, ultra-fresh marinated wild salmon. Chef sears slices of duck foie gras and jazzes them with date puree, quince chutney and house-made five-spice crackers.

Cumin perfumes velvety squash soup. Duck sausage, sliced potato, red onion, rosemary and a rich cheese layer, all topped with two sunnyside-up fried eggs, turn the Toulon thin-crust flatbread into an extravagant experience. A hearty lamb ragout garnishes tiny raviolini filled with ricotta and spinach.

And then comes the best Arctic char I’ve ever had. It’s cut thick, pan-seared until the flesh is impossibly delicate and moist, and wears a slice of skin that’s as thin and crisp as parchment. Grilled flat-iron steak cuts like butter.

Dessert plate.

Desserts, from pastry chef Mark Cheese, finish the evening on a high note: Quenelle-shaped dollops of hazelnut cheesecake paired with port-marinated figs; a tart built on smooth Limoncello curd on sturdy pastry; and a refined tiramisu wrapped in a thin dark-chocolate shell.

Located on the ground floor of an office building, Ricarda’s includes a bakery café (dishing up breakfast sandwiches, pastries, breads and grab-and-go sandwiches, salads and sweets) and the main restaurant that is spacious and airy, with picture windows peering out onto Richmond and Peter Streets. In the evening, soft lighting and votive candles turn the restaurant into the perfect setting for chef’s inventive food.

Ricarda’s offers a number of group options. A high-ceilinged, wrap-around atrium accommodates 500 people, reception-style (passed canapes and interactive food stations) and 300 for seated meals (sit-down or buffet). Available for buyout, the restaurant accommodates 200, reception style and 160, seated. Attico Bar, which overlooks the atrium, accommodates 50, cocktail-style and 35, seated.

— 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.

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