CUISINE: French Bistro ADDRESS: 432 Richmond Street DATE: August 30, 2013
If someone asks me what my favourite kinds of food are, I’m always quick to go to Spice Country—Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern food.
French food would be about 15th, behind, like “street meat” and “food court Chinese”.
[NOTE TO SELF: If you don’t immediately want to crave a Canadian Tire hot dog and Manchu Wok, don’t mention them in your blog when you’re ABSOLUTELY STARVING.]
I feel like my aversion to French food came from a number of unfortunate events.
FRENCH FOOD HATRED: INCITING INCIDENT NUMBER ONE
When I was high school, we went to a French restaurant for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary. All I remember about it was that It had many paintings of bears, and I found the food inedible. But it has recently come to my attention that I didn’t possess the expansive palette I have today.
SCENE: My parents’ backyard. A warm summer day. My parents, my sister and her kids, and myself are lounging by the pool.
MOM: (eating from a bowl) Did you want to try some of this? It’s gazpacho. Daddy made it.
DAD: Made mostly from ingredients that Fatima [their neighbour] passed over the fence. Peppers, tomatoes…
ME: (taking a spoonful) Um, yum! That is SO GOOD!
NIECE: That. Looks. Disgusting. It’s, like, orange.
[NOTE: she’s 10, and into One Direction.]
ME: You would totally like it. It kinda tastes like salsa. You love salsa.
NIECE: Salsa. Isn’t. Orange.
ME: Well, the important thing is to keep trying things. When I was younger, I didn’t like nearly as many things as I like now.
DAD: You didn’t like ANYTHING.
Now, that’s not exactly true.
I liked chicken fajitas. My parents used to say that we could go to any restaurant as long as it had chicken fajitas.
And no bear paintings, apparently.
And, I also liked…
OK, I didn’t like anything.
FRENCH FOOD HATRED: INCITING INCIDENT NUMBER TWO
The next time I tried to eat French food I was on my honeymoon.
If we had gone somewhere, you know, French for our honeymoon.
Ian and I went on our honeymoon at an All-Inclusive Resort in the Dominican Republic. It was a 5-star, but a DR five-star is not going to give you the Michelin-rated French dining experience you were hoping for.
It will give you more reading time in the bathroom, if that’s what you’re after…
FRENCH FOOD HATRED: INCITING INCIDENT NUMBER THREE
I had a really terrible French teacher in Grade 9. I feel like that may be true of everybody, but mine was reallllly terrible. So terrible that I went from getting 100% in Grade 8 French, to never taking French again.
The aversion to all things French was so complete that I now lack the proper vocabulary to tell this story.
I shall do my best.
My teacher was already horrible: she wore the same brown sweater and skirt every day, she had BO, her breath smelled like she had drunk 10 cups of coffee, smoked 20 cigarettes, and a monkey had defecated in her mouth…
She was bad. But there was one incident that I never recovered from.
SCENE: A Grade 9 French classroom. October. Mdme. McKay is quizzing the class about female and male verb conjugation.
MDME. MCKAY: So, how would we say Megan and Dani wear glasses?
MEGAN: (being a super-browner, hand raised) Elles vous porter des lunettes.
(NOTE: I told you I don’t remember how to do French anymore. I’m trying to say that two girls wear glasses. And in Grade 9, I said it correctly.)
MDME. MCKAY: C’est faux.
MEGAN: (confused) Nooooo.
MDME. MCKAY: Ils vous porter des lunettes.
MEGAN: (stubbornly, and also confused) Nooooo, elles. When it’s two girls….
MDME. MCKAY: Noooooo. Dani est un GARCON.
But here’s the thing: Dani wasn’t a garçon. Dani was a girl that I had gone to school with since Grade 3. And Dani was the one who ran out of the classroom in tears after our teacher OF TWO MONTHS told the whole Grade 9 class that she believed Dani to be MALE.
And I was a part of it, inadvertently, and felt HORRIBLE. And basically refused to speak to the teacher for the rest of the semester.
So, basically, my distaste for all things French has been slow and insidious.
But I went to Paris last summer. And LOVED it. Even the pervasive smell of urine that dominated every public area couldn’t prevent me from loving that city. And the crepes, macarons, bread, cheese, and one amazing meal at a winery made me decide that I was most DEFINITELY on board with French food again.
So, David’s Bistro has been one of my most anticipated dining experiences so far. And since I wrote my “initial impressions” blog, David’s Bistro has moved up from #3 on Trip Advisor, to the #1 restaurant in London.
(Ahead of Schmokey Rob’s? Wow. Londoners get classy!)
And Ian and I were being joined by a big group: my friend Jordyn (in her FIRST blog appearance!) had recently locked in her first full-time teaching job, which these days is KIND OF A BIG DEAL.
A good restaurant, a happy occasion, and we ended up with 7 of us headed to David’s on a Friday:
Rebekkah, Jess, Jordyn, myself and Ian. Not pictured: two jerks who walked out to the car when I said “GROUP PHOTO”. Otherwise known as Dylan and Steve.
David’s is a cute little bistro on Richmond Row near Carling. It is VERY dimly lit (like, photo-ruining dark—BE WARNED) with red walls, and a lovely ambience. The restaurant was busy on this Friday, and probably only has about 12 tables. We had a reservation, and were warmly welcomed to our table by the maitre d’.
And when I say warmly, I mean both emotionally, and temperature-wise: It was pretty stinking hot in there.
Within a few minutes, we notice a couple of awesome things:
1)Like the Black Trumpet, the menu was a simple photocopied piece of paper. It’s like, at Milestones you get a leather folder; here, you get a Xerox.
It probably allows them to keep the menu in a seasonal rotation.
2)for a fine-dining French Bistro, the prices for the food and wine were both extremely reasonable (most bottles around $30, most entrees less than the prices at stupid Crave), and they had an awesome-sounding 3-course price fixe.
3) The charm, humour and professionalism of our waiter/maitre d’ made a lot of sense when we realized that we were being served by THE David. He was funny, solicitous, knowledgeable, and made our evening even more special.
Jess, who, as a Celiac-sufferer, usually has to do a lot of explaining, was DELIGHTED by her options:
SCENE: A dimly lit, 80+ degree, but nonetheless lovely bistro.
JESS: Hi, I am Celiac, and was looking at your menu and hoping…
DAVID: This is David’s, anything is possible!
JESS: (laughs) Wonderful. I was hoping to have the scallops and risotto.
DAVID: Yes, yes, of course. (glances at her menu) Actually, everything on here, with the exception of the fritters, is fine.
JESS: (dies of shock).
Jordyn and Steve ordered cocktails and apps, while Rebekkah, Dylan, Ian and I were hoping for a Chef’s menu option.
DYLAN: We were wondering about a Chef’s Menu…
DAVID: The “Trust Me” menu? Absolutely. You can do three or four courses. Appetizer, soup, entree, dessert.
REBEKKAH: With wine pairings?
DAVID: Whatever you wish!
DYLAN: Well, I’m not drinking much tonight.
DAVID: We could do half-glasses if you like.
(All decide on the four courses. Rebekkah orders wine, Dylan and Ian get half-glasses. David turns to Megan)
MEGAN: I’ll do the four-course “Trust Me” menu. (pause) And I’ll do the wine pairings.
DAVID: (deadpan, with a look) Thought you might.
David assured us that we would each be receiving different dishes, and all were “off-menu” and would be thoughtfully prepared by his chef, Elvis.
Our first round of drinks and appetizers appeared within moments, and Jess was overjoyed to see her mixed green salad, served with crispy parsnips.
Fresh greens with fried parsnips and a creamy balsamic dressing.
Steve’s artichoke and crab fritters were huge, and looked very fresh. He declared them “good”.
Jordyn and Steve are excited to ingest this goodness.
Jordyn’s mussels were served in a cioppini sauce, which she described as ” a thin and flavourful tomato soup—my favourite.” She even ate the vegetables in the broth!
And the four “Trust Me” victims were the recipients of four UNREAL appetizers that proved that Elvis might actually be psychic: we all got something we’d LOVE:
Mine was a lobster salad with huge chunks of tender lobster, fresh shaved corn, peppers and jalepeno, served in creamy glaze. I felt compelled, in the moment, to use the word UNCTUOUS to describe what I was eating; but it turns out that word means “greasy or soapy”. I meant, rich-tasting and decadent. Maybe I meant “succulent”.
The wine pairings were making me SMARTER.
Before Ian went for the “Trust Me” menu, he had his eye on the rack of lamb. So it was perfect that he ended up with the lamb and chevre salad with a sweet vinagrette.
Bekk got a soft-shelled crab (which, it is to be noted, is eaten in its entirety, including the shell) salad, served with a creamy balsamic. She loved it, but worried about filling up (SPOILER ALERT: IT HAPPENED), and gave me a taste of a claw. It kind of tasted like calamari, without the rubbery-ness that calamari typically has.
And Dylan practically licked his lips and rubbed his hands together in anticipation of eating this pork belly (with a crispy, brûléed top) served with a Nova Scotia scallop.
With another round of wine delivered (David acted as sommelier, and kept us informed of where our wine was visiting from: my wines were mostly Chilean and Australian), the “Trust Me” four were treated to four different soups:
From top: Rebekkah’s lobster bisque, my minestrone with crostini, Ian’s wild mushroom bisque, and Dylan’s green pea bisque. All artfully prepared, and enjoyed by the recipient.
We were trying to picture Elvis scrambling around in the kitchen to make 4 custom soups, but then realized three were bisques, and my minestrone was actually on the menu. Still, pretty impressive.
There was a noticeable gap between the soup course and the entrees, about half an hour, which put Jess, Jordyn and Steve at more than 45 minutes between appetizer and entree. We chalked it up to Elvis preparing all our meals “off-menu”, but by 9:25, the longer we had to wait, the more we talked about how HOT it was in the restaurant. Discussions of leg sweat and shiny faces lasted much longer than they should have.
But when they did arrive, the meals were EPIC. And certainly worth the wait.
Steve’s Chicken Supreme with bacon and mushrooms made me super jealous. He declared it “delicious”.
Jordyn got the filet mignon with béarnaise sauce and chive potatoes.
Jess’ Nova Scotia scallops with risotto looked unbelieveable. I asked her if she wanted to pack up the lemon at the end of the meal, because it was the only thing left on her plate.
I had pan-seared halibut on green and yellow beans, fresh corn and new potatoes. It was a hardy fish, perfectly cooked, but I thought it was a tad oversalted.
Ian’s soy-glazed arctic char was so tender, and the glaze was to-die-for. I was a little jealous.
I have somehow misplaced the photos of Rebekkah and Dylan’s meals. Bekk had pistachio-crusted tilapia and a HUGE portion of lentils. By this point, she was so stuffed, she could barely make a dent in her entree, and David was noticeably concerned when he returned. She assured him it was splendid, but she was going to explode.
(We should have done the three-course.)
Dylan had a classic steak and mashed potatoes meal, which looked wonderful.
By the time we had made our best attempt at our entrees, we were all groaning with fullness.
So much so, that only six of the seven of us got dessert. Such restraint.
And Ian and I got dessert wine. Because we’re elegant ladies.
Jess was beyond excited that she was able to get the chocolate torte. It was partially soft, and partially crunchy, but because it was made with organic cornflakes, she could indulge.
By the time she was at dessert, Jess was already making plans to return with her sister, who is not only Celiac but also has to eat dairy-free.
(I would die.)
Jordo went with the lavender panna cotta, which had the requisite jiggle and a lovely lavender flavour. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything in a traditional bath soap flavour, but it was actually really delicate and yummy.
Despite our protestations, the “Trust Me’ bunch passed around our desserts and managed to finish almost everyone one.
From Top Left: Dylan’s raspberry ice cream pie with cookie crust, Rebekkah’s fig butter tart with vanilla bean ice cream, my cheesecake with an apricot reduction, and Ian’s peach sorbet with fresh local berries.
The one funny thing about the Chef’s menu option is that you find yourself wondering about the bill. Even if they tell you the price in advance (usually they do, but we forgot to ask), as each dish comes out, you somehow think it couldn’t possibly be that cheap. With Ian and I having 4 courses, with 4 wine pairings each, Our bill came to $140. An amazing price for a wonderful evening.
There’s something about putting your choices in the hands of the chef that makes a meal more exciting, and the evening more momentous. It makes for a special, memorable meal that none of us will soon forget.
I don’t know what I thought French food was, but now I know what it is: artfully-prepared, simple, thoughtful food. And our experience at the exceptional David’s Bistro has moved it way, way up to my favourites list.