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Toronto's Delicious French Restaurants Go Way Beyond Escargot



This is an interesting time in the history of French food. Although once associated with an attention-to-detail than bordered on the edge of snooty, we do live in a different time. A time of food trucks. Now "young cuisine" is making way and the delicious ingredients that make French food - well, French - are still in place without having the word "haute" in front.

Like the classic dishes that define French food, many of Toronto's best French restaurants have thrived unchanged for years. Auberge du Pommier has served Toronto diners since 1987 from its space in a 19th century uptown cottage. While the kitchen staff changes (some of Toronto's most popular chefs have taken turns operating the stoves here) the food remains consistently good. There is also an atmosphere at Auberge that makes you sit up a little taller and notice the finer details in life.

The newer French restaurant in the Distillery, Cluny, is more modern and relaxed yet still has charming tableware and crusty bread ready to transport you to a place where a "Oui" is in order. Executive chef Paul Benallick came from Auberge du Pommier roots and crafted a menu that leans French architecture on Canadian soil, such as roasted duck poutine.

The restaurants take away the pomp and Michelin stars and leave us with food that makes us go "Ooh la la." Modern or traditional, isn't that what matters?


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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.

Recommended for French because: French bistro dishes rarely stray from their classic preparations. Ici Bistro stands out for its experimentation, with memorable modern takes.

Courtney's expert tip: Ici Bistro used to be only 24 seats but the new location means that there is more room. Even so, be sure to reserve a table as far ahead of your desired visit to avoid disappointment.

Read more about Ici Bistro →




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.

Recommended for French because: If it's wrong to judge a French restaurant on the quality of their croissants we don't want to be right. Colette delivers.

Courtney's expert tip: The breakfast buffet is pricy, but certainly worth a splurge for beef wellington and all-you-can-eat omelettes. Bring stretchy pants.

Read more about Colette Grand Cafe →


8
Downtown


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.

Recommended for French because: There aren't too many Toronto restaurants that have been consistently good for three decades. Le Paradis focuses on one cuisine, and does it well.

Courtney's expert tip: Make reservations. The good food and low prices make this a popular dining spot every night of the week.

Read more about Le Paradis →


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7
North Toronto


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.

Recommended for French because: An Art deco setting, French inspired seating and a heck of a lot of cheese. Heaven, is that you?

Courtney's expert tip: There are set menus for those who have come to eat, which will narrow the extensive selection and even save a few bucks.

Read more about Coquine →


6
Queen West


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.

Recommended for French because: Exceptional wait staff, exceptional food and just enough coziness to make you want to hold hands.

Courtney's expert tip: Most of the dishes are in French, except for Quack 'N' Track. Daffy Duck and Black Beauty on a plate come highly recommended (vegetarians, close your eyes).

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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.

Recommended for French because: Reasonable prices, classic French bistro dishes done right and one of Toronto's biggest wine lists make this a popular choice for diners.

Courtney's expert tip: Le Select Bistro is just as popular for its Paris-inspired brunch menu as it is for its dinner carte.

Read more about Le Sélect Bistro →


Bonjour Brioche Bakery Cafe


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.

Recommended for French because: Bonjour Brioche is filled to the brim with the carbs of our dreams.

Courtney's expert tip: Bonjour Brioche doesn't take reservations, and accepts cash only. Be prepared to wait in line and also be prepared to say the following words: "It was worth it."

Read more about Bonjour Brioche Bakery Cafe →


3
North Toronto


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.

Recommended for French because: This is one of Toronto's longest-lasting and most popular fine dining restaurants. Several of the city's better chefs have done stints here.

Courtney's expert tip: Auberge du Pommier often offers a lower priced menu during Toronto's Summerlicious and Winterlicious food festivals. Get in on it.

Read more about Auberge du Pommier →




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.

Recommended for French because: 20 tables are crammed into a room for the sole purpose of gastronomic pleasure.

Courtney's expert tip: Save some room for the Apple Tarte for dessert. You won't regret it.

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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.

Recommended for French because: The attention to detail is sublime and the talented wait staff will make you feel well cared for.

Courtney's expert tip: The asparagus spears coated in sesame seeds with a sriracha dip are not always available, but if they are, for the love of Pierre, eat them.

Read more about Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie →


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Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney

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