NATURAL LIGHT INFILTRATES La Bohème, Sha Taheri’s new French café in North Toronto. Moms on maternity leave head to the back to gossip and lounge on a low couch positioned before a coffee table; busybodies on their lunch breaks perch on stools at an open wood counter; and friends opt for one of the room’s many white two-seat tables.
The decor, like the seating, is also varied. An assortment, in style and size, of artwork adds colour to white walls; a marker board of offerings and prices is propped up haphazardly atop the espresso machine.
Glass cases and counter space along the south wall display the day’s offerings — any number of quiches (whole or wedges), sandwiches, pizzas, salads and, of course, countless pastries and sweet treats (patisserie items come from Jules on Mt. Pleasant).
Mini ciabattas and baguettes fold around various fillings in daily sandwiches ($7.75), as in smoked salmon or grilled vegetable.
Generous tuna salad blends a judicious amount of mayonnaise into the flaked fish, with diced red and green peppers adding crunch and colour. A hint of lemon juice balances the creaminess.
Pizzas go fast. By 12:30 one Thursday lunch, only one slice remains. The huge square portion ($4.50) sees long, thin slivers of green and red peppers, tomato slices and purple onion strings crown a crisp, thin crust. Sharper knives, s’il vous plaît.
Reheating has rendered the vegetables a bit dry and, in places, burnt, but overall the flavours remain balanced — thanks, in part, to the light tomato saucing, which lets the inherent sweetness of the vegetables stand out.
From a choice of six salads (100 grams/$2.20) comes a stir of sweet, halved baby tomatoes and whole bocconcini. The freshness of the ingredients, newly plucked thyme and a very light vinaigrette make this salad a standout.
Asparagus salad also impresses. The inclusion of chopped walnuts, fresh coriander, mushrooms, tomato, green onion and plenty of fresh garlic translates into a new taste and texture experience with each mouthful.
Those with a sweet tooth, smaller appetite or craving for a pastry fix choose from croissants (buttery or almond), pan au chocolats, Danishes, cakes, petits fours glacés, tartlets and the like.
A large, fresh blackberry and crescent slice of candied lemon top an individually sized classic lemon tart ($4.65).The smooth and dense filling, more cream than curd, balances the tartness and sweetness of the citrus, complemented by a simple and satisfyingly crunchy shortbread crust.
The pastry in tarte poire ($4.35) is less successful — fork wrestling required — but the simple pear slice topping plus the liberal serving size compensate.
Caffeine enthusiasts wait patiently in line for brewed or packaged coffee from Te Aro in Leslieville.