France ex-pat chef J.P. Challet has made a name for himself in Toronto for more than 20 years, helming the kitchens at some of the city's best French-inspired restaurants. So when he opened Ici Bistro in the Annex neighbourhood in 2009, diners and food critics expected good things. Challet has delivered, with a menu of modern interpretations on French classics (or nouveau classique, thank you very much). Now situated in the Windsor Arms hotel, the menu includes three different takes on steak tartare, and a flavourful lobster bisque topped with a quenelle (which means "a small seasoned ball") of salmon, among other delights. Ici Bistro has shown up on listings of Canada's best restaurants, as well as Toronto's most romantic dining rooms.
Omelette du jour. L'Hamburger. Even if you don't speak a lick of French, food sounds even more appetizing and sexy when it is French-ified. Colette Grand Cafe knows sexy food, with dishes so beautifully presented it would make anyone sign up for Instagram, just to brag. Lunch offers a salad bar buffet, with market salad, grilled meats and seafood and fine cheeses. The lettuce is just a small detail. Brunch and dinner are equally impressive, with everything from fois gras to oysters designed to take the edge off. During the summer months, it is highly recommended to sit outside on one of the bistro chairs in the outdoor pavillion.
With its checkerboard floors, chalkboard menus and white tablecloths, everything about Le Paradis suggests Parisian bistro. The menu of this restaurant in Toronto's Annex neighbourhood is classic bistro, too. Start with a bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels steamed with white wine, garlic and shallots. For your main, choose from the popular duck confit, or perhaps explore your adventurous side with veal kidneys with a mustard cream sauce, or pan-seared sweetbreads. To end, tarte tatin or créme caramel will conjure up thoughts of the famous Left Bank in Paris and make you realize why Le Paradis has been drawing Toronto diners for nearly 30 years.
Coquine Restaurant markets itself as "European" but let's be honest: it is Parisian all the way. It has all the crusty bread you could hope for (unless you are on a gluten free diet). It has a warm atmosphere with staff that won't make you feel stupid for not understanding the different between an accent aigu and an accent grave. Bistro food extends to silky French onion soup, steak frites with herb butter and a cassoulet that tops meat with Duck confit for the ultimate in protein. There is also brunch, which is a huge hit in summer, but this is old news for Torontonians. Brunch goes with Toronto almost as easily as the CN Tower.
Everyone, and everything looks better in candlelight and La Palette is well aware of this. Not that they are trying to hide anything. The food is high end French without any pretension. Even the meats are unique. Have you tried Horse Tenderloin? (Yes, it is legal in Canada.) The fries that accompany the steak frites are crispy and spot on. A prix fix menu comes with appetizer, main course and dessert. Consider romantic favourites such as escargot and molten chocolate cakes as the bookends for your meal. Meals skew towards the rich and creamy, which seems about right for a restaurant that is perfectly suited for date night.
Le Select takes the meticulousness of French cooking and knocks it out of the park in the heart of downtown Toronto. Dishes are diligently prepared with accents as pronounced as the one in the restaurant name. Most ingredients are organic and local, making exquisite flavours like grass fed beef steak tartare even more lavish. Stepping into Le Select is a way to visit Paris without the plane ticket. The duck confit and bacon wrapped rabbit is exclamation mark worthy. Should you wish to do food first, tourist attractions later, the Le Select Bistro brunch is definitely worth making reservations for.
On a small corner in Leslieville, the little Bonjour Brioche Bakery Cafe brings the taste of a true French patisserie to life. Known mostly for its brunch menu options, Bonjour Brioche is a great choice whether you crave a piece of quiche or the sandwich du jour. Try something decadent like the Croque Madam sandwich with toasted brioche, ham, gruyere cheese and a fried egg. Or, consider a lighter dish like scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and horseradish cream. And end your meal with a sweet decadence in the form of one of the pastries made in house. From the service to the setting, everything here is simple and relaxed.
Not all of Toronto's best restaurants are downtown, and Auberge Du Pommier proves that. Ontario chef Malcolm Campbell brings New French flair through his cuisine at this North York neighbourhood restaurant. Auberge has been constructed around two 1860's woodcutters cottages and exudes rustic charm. Enjoy the roaring fireplaces in the winter and the quaint terrace in the summer. The a la carte dinner menu includes exceptional choices like foie gras and risotto with a poached hen's egg. If you and your date decide to indulge in the tasting menu, Chef Campbell's selections will not disappoint. Camembert custard and cinnamon chantilly with brown butter crumble provide a nice balance between the savoury and the sweet. The considerable wine list provides a nice selection of cocktails, wines by the glass or half and full bottles. More than 500 choices means that you might want to bring your reading glasses.
This cozy French bistro in the heart of Yorkville focuses on dishes from the South of France, and there are far worse things to focus on, in our opinion. Chabrol refers to the French practice of adding a splash of wine to the last spoonfuls of soup to draw out a meal (which is a genius idea that we are going to start incorporating into our own eating regimes). Expect cheeses, perfect sauces and succulent meats. The wine menu has privately imported classics rather than markups from the LCBO. The space doubles in the summer with their open-air patio, just perfect for sipping a glass of chilled white.
Cluny Bistro takes French food and makes it unfussy. You can have your caramelized onion soup and moules frites but you don't need to have a side of snobbery. Even so, the backdrop for your dining experience is absolutely stunning with high ceilings that will have you convinced that the Eiffel Tower is within walking distance. The boulangerie is the takeaway aspect of the restaurant, with all things pastry waiting to be fawned over and taken home in a paper bag. But make sure to enjoy the classic French dishes on a plate, like the tuna tartare nicoise or the ginger-chili frog's legs.