A nostalgic start
At Cluny, the Distillery’s grand ode to the cuisine of France, exec chef Paul Benallick serves up bistro favourites done with a modern twist. Meant to be shared, the baked La Sauvagine cheese — which has been on the menu since November — is Benallick’s play on a starter that would not be considered out of the ordinary in an ’80s dinner spread ($22). “It’s sort of a take on the baked brie from when we were kids,” he notes. “It’s a little bit of the idea that all that’s old is new.” Chef stuffs La Sauvagine cheese, which hails from Quebec, with ground Italian truffles — or whatever’s freshest — mushrooms, shallots and thyme. The subtle flavour of the cheese allows all elements to co-habitate with ease, prepping the palate for richer French fare.
Cluny Bistro, 35 Tank House Ln., 416-203-2632
A handsome hen
At downtown’s au courant new eatery Thoroughbred, chef Ariel Coplan’s well-named chicken soigne is, indeed, a rather well-groomed dinner pick ($79). “Basically, the idea was to take a simple thing and elevate it,” Coplan notes. The opulent affair begins with organic Mennonite chicken. Its skin is kept completely intact while all the bones are removed; the bird’s flesh is brined; the skin blanched before Coplan does an “old school” roulade, stuffing the meat with layers of foie gras terrine — done in-house — and shaved truffles. The entire chicken is cooked sous vide, rendering the foie gras from the centre into the actual bird and resulting in a decadent meal fit to share.
Thoroughbred, 304 Richmond St. W., 416-551-9221
The perfect cut
Those seeking out a place to share the perfect steak need look no further than Nao, the latest success story from the marriage between Charles Khabouth, Hanif Harji and exec chef Stuart Cameron. The 32-ounce rib-eye is “definitely a two-person kind of steak,” notes Cameron. Plucked from Nebraska, the USDA prime protein is dry-aged for 40 days by their butcher shop. The restaurant portions the beef itself and cooks it over a natural flame (explaining the scent of firewood in the space). Each steak is seasoned with natural sea salt, including pink-hued crystals from the Philippines, which get their colouration from shrimp in the waters. Diners can then salt the meat further and sauce it with the hand-pestled Bulldog sauce. Nothing like a little blood for your valentine.
Nao Steakhouse, 90 Avenue Rd., 416-367-4141
Fondue pour deux
On the menu since day one, MoRoCo’s chocolate fondue is the ultimate V-Day dessert ($24). It’s crafted from premium Valrhona chocolate, with chocolate aficionados able to choose their preferred type: 66 per cent Venezuelan dark chocolate, white chocolate or, for classicists, milk chocolate that will likely conjure up images of the French Alps. The silky-smooth pot is accompanied by a medley of signature dippers, ranging from fruit (rounds of banana, plump grapes and pineapple hunks) to pastel-hued macaron shells. Homemade marshmallows round out the dip picks and are done in flavours that include raspberry and classic vanilla.
MoRoCo, 99 Yorkville Ave., 416-961-2202