Toronto, ON M5S 3L7
When Toronto’s club king boasted about changing the face of dining in Yorkville a couple years back, many an eye did roll. After all, Charles Khabouth is more closely associated with night spots such as Kool Haus and the Guvernment. But then he goes and opens French bistro La Société, and it seems as though many people will be eating their words along with the classic French cuisine on offer.
La Société eschews the trends of the day. It has nothing to do with local food, rustic Italian or other popular restaurant formats sprouting up in Toronto.
As we walk up the old Colonnade Hotel steps on Bloor Street West in Yorkville and enter La Société, we take in the Parisian splendour and details of the room. The most spectacular visual elements are the dazzling stained glass ceiling and the mosaic tile floor underfoot.
These are the types of places you see in movies: stacked with outdoor seafood bars overflowing with lobster, langoustines and all varieties of seafood.
We walk gingerly across the floor and arrive in the main dining room, which is filled with leather banquettes, brass rails and globe light fixtures. The abundance of dark wood makes the room feel warm, and the clamour is lively.
So far, the entertainers have tended to every little visual detail. The menu is surprisingly approachable and a bit at odds with the overwhelmingly rich and luxurious surroundings.
Many of the main course items are in the $20 to $30 range, and there are only two items that actually break the $30 barrier, as well as a Dover sole dish at $44. There is even a three-course prix fixe menu for just $33, which includes a classic steak frites option.
No need to break the bank. Khabouth is going for fun here as much as fine fare, despite the high-end look of the place.
Co-owner Charles Khabouth
The first taste is a slice of chewy, toothsome baguette with just soft but still cold butter.
The chef starts off well with a rich and robust French onion soup ($10). The flavourful Gruyère mingles with onions that have been cooked with patience: very low and slow to yield that perfectly soft consistency.
The foie gras poele ($24) is scored with a sharp and precise hand with smoking heat, to just sear the exterior, preserving the luscious interior in a golden crust. Accompaniments are equally rapturous, with brioche enrobed in a fine dusting of hazelnuts, and a pear port glaze.
Things start to fall apart, both literally and figuratively, with the goat cheese salad ($13) served with herbes de Provence. It is lacking that vivacious French vinaigrette necessary to accompany a good aged goat cheese. Croutes were either toasted way too long or shipped from Paris — either way, they crumble on the plate.
La Marseillaise ($38) might be an interesting twist on a bouillabaisse, but with bland flavours and a timid broth, who cares? This bowl is crying out for some acidity to wake up the fish medley. Rouille with croutes are better executed but offer small consolation. Crisp frites are well presented in a fun little fry basket and are worth ordering.
We are excited to try the cassoulet, a bistro classic, but none is available this night. The next best thing is a duck confit ($28). While the duck is tender with fairly crisp skin, the bed of creamy Savoy cabbage lacks an adequate contrast to complement the fowl, and the entire dish suffers as a result.
We are impressed by the swift and professional service. Never ceasing to move with purpose, each server offers their expertise in a friendly but not too relaxed manner.
Dessert is always something to look forward to, but once the profiteroles arrive, plated very simply with chocolate sauce and nuts, I sigh, as they are just OK. The vanilla ice cream filling is sub-standard and the pastry is just average. The galette features very chewy apple slices on a chewy pastry.
Maybe Khabouth is the right guy for the job after all.
La Société is not about fine dining. It is about having fun with good food. It is about being transported to another place and time. La Société offers an exhaustive late-night menu. It has affordable prices. Yes, it serves Dover sole and cassoulet, but you can also grab a burger.
What it doesn’t have is attitude. So just go with it.
Published on: Aug 16, 2011