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Jan 26, 2010 09:33 AM

Ici Bistro... also over there

After all the wrangling to finally get a liquor licence, I was looking forward to the opening of JP Challet's Ici Bistro at Harbord and Manning. But! He's going to the Windsor Arms to revamp Prime, which apparently will be called Ici.

The place on Harbord is still in the works and will be called Ici Aussi.

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      1. Went to Ici on Sat night for a late reservation. We decided on five of the smaller dishes. The highlight for me was the duck and the not at all classic take on lobster thermidor. Only one dish was a disappointment - snails. I love snails usually but they were over powered by the sauce and the potato garnish lacked any sort of flavour or seasonings.

        I would now like to rave about the service. It was outstanding. It has been a very long time since I've had a server who was as knowledgeable, genuine, and obviously committed to his profession. I wish I could remember his name b/c he deserves tons of props.

        Five 2/3 course sizes split between the two of us, a total of 24 ounces of wine pairings, and two espressos and the bill was $160 for two people plus tip.

        We left stuff and feeling truly taken care of. Good food, good wine, amazing service. Wonderful experience overall.

        5 Replies
        1. re: JennaBean

          Thanks for the review JennaBean. I've been meaning to check it out!

          1. re: JennaBean

            Yes, thanks for the review! Makes me more motivated to visit.

            1. re: JennaBean

              A group of us sadly didn't get around to calling for a reservation prior to the review in the globe last weekend(maybe previous one) and there was nothing available for quite some time. We were looking for a reservation this past Tuesday.
              Glad to hear you enjoyed your meal.

              1. re: damonster

       partner is going to kill me now for posting, but as a sign of my loyalty to chow....i will spill...this place is incredible, cosy, gorgeous food - creative, delicious and no pretension whatsoever..its like the tiny perfect piece of paris that landed on harbord...

                the bread is out of this world, baked by the chef in a wood oven,,,gorgeous crust, crispy with a great bite and smoky...mmm. Where to start...the beet and goat cheese canneloni app is to die for, the beef bourginon is a brilliant, and light take on a classic, beautifully prepared. the Gran Marnier souffle is absolutely ethereal....desert heaven. The sablefish was so well done with olives and capers ....and had the most divine version of polenta with it, a little disc of polenta, crisped on the outside, creamy on the inside infused with cumin and ginger..

                Finished the night with two comped glasses of pear eau de vie...
                seriously excellent. i feel i have committed a sin telling it is a complete gem..ok so none of you go now or my reservations will be even further apart than they are now. the lobster bisque...ethereal...light not overly creamy and blah...

                ok...this place is special and i did not tell you.

                1. re: Minister of Kebab

                  ya, it got a brilliant review in the G&M a month or so back so word is kind of out.....and thanks to all of the hounds who regularly share their fave spots.

            2. We went there recently & tried just about everything on the menu in small portions. All the flavors were solid & plates very well executed. Highlight was the braised beef & mushroom ravioli with artichoke's puree. Only minor disappointment was they substituted black cod for mackerel without telling us, til we called their bluff, but it was very good nonetheless. The deserts could be improved to match the food standards. The wine list has great surprises you will not find anywhere else in Ontario, especially with wines from the Okanagan. Overall, an excellent place. We'll return for sure.

              1. Any recent reviews of Ici? While reviews on this board have been almost universally positive, a number of my friends who I typically trust for recs have been quite disappointed on several fronts (quality and value primarily). They refuse to go back. I'm wondering if they drew the short straw on their various visits.

                I'm keen to check it out because I've found CHers to be a generally reliable bunch provided that you can parse posters' individual comments (i.e. "Super good! Mmmmmm" is not a terribly informative review).

                6 Replies
                1. re: vidkid

                  we went a couple of weeks ago and found everything from service to food to be very good. they are a bistro. they make bistro style food...slightly glamorized. i think if people go after hearing the hype, how difficult it is to get a reso etc, and are expecting avant garde cuisine they are bound to be disappointed. we had a great meal served by friendly knowledgeable people that we found to be good value. we shared everything on the menu except the soup

                  1. re: downtownfoodie

                    Excellent, thanks for the fast response. I'll make a reso and report back.

                  2. re: vidkid

                    Hi My husband and I went to Ici last night and it was fantastic.
                    AMBIENCE: it really was a romantic spot, depsite the fact that we were at the bar, it really felt quite private and intimate. We also felt like we were getting a lot of one on one attention from 2 incredible servers which brings me to SERVICE: this was probably one of the best service I've exeperienced in Toronto...the servers were friendly, helpful and passionate about the food they served, also since we wanted to try an assortment of dishes we opted to go with small plates, I was considering ordering 5/6 small plates but the server warned us that 4 should be sufficient(I really appreciated her honesty). Also they weren't hurrying things up (there wasnt a delay either) they just made each course an enjoyable experience i.e. they brought dishes one after another rather than simultaneously. FOOD: the food was very good, the highlight of the night for me was the praline souffle, I also loved the scallop dish and the lab sausage gnocchi...the tartare with croquette and braised beef with ravioli were also very good. We will definately return:)

                    1. re: akhorasanee

                      excellent!! cannot wait, I am going next weekend for my birthday. Thanks for the heads up.

                      1. re: hungryabbey

                        So we went for my Bday on saturday. We were sat at the "chefs rail", a bar-stool type table that overlooked the kitchen and got me about a foot away from chef Challet (not sure if thats the same bar as you, akhorasanee). I agree that service was amazing. Our server was absolutely lovely, and a complete wiz at selecting wines for us. I told her the type of varieties and flavours I like, and she absolutely nailed it. My only regret now was that I had meant to ask her to write down the name of the red I had with my main.. but all the more reason to return.
                        Okay quickly to the food, which was fabulous and one of the best meals I have had in TO in a long time. I like the way the menu is set up so that you can choose almost anything (with the exception of the chicken supreme) as either an appetizer or a main course. I love this because sometimes I see two mains or two apps that catch my attention, while nothing in the other category really strike me as interesting. This solves this dilemma. It also allows big eaters to order two mains, and small eaters to order two apps. We tried:
                        Amuse Bouche of Goat cheese and caramelized onion tartlette- Delicious sweet onions were balanced beautifully by that tarte goats cheese. Love.
                        Jalousie of Snails, Haricot Verts and Fingerlings- Snails were cooked well, and the lattice crust "jalousie" was nice for sopping up the butter sauce. Just wish that said sauce had been better seasoned. Found the dish a little bit bland.
                        Merguez Sausage, St-Maure Cheese and Gnocchi-This, by contrast, was anything but bland. Absolutely deliciously crispy sausage with a nice spicy mustard mayonnaise, that was tempered nicely by the cheese. The best part though were those crispy fried gnocchi. They were like biting into a tater tot that has the smoothest most luxurious texture imaginable. More please.
                        Rack of lamb, Ontario Leg of Lamb Cannelloni, Monteforte Tomme & Mushroom Truffle Ragout- The lamb chop was simply done, but cooked very well. I loved the lamb cannelloni which was stuffed with very tender pulled lamb meat. And that mushroom ragout was thick, sweet without an excessive truffle flavour. Definitely the better of the two mains we tried.
                        Duck Magret a l'Orange and Grand Marnier- Not sure why they chose this boring boiled (I think?)potato, as it was really uninteresting and again, underseasoned. The salad was a little bit better, but again, missing something. Thankfully, the duck was absolutely divine with a sweet and aromatic orange glaze. I usually am not a fan of orange flavoured sauces, but this one was amazing.
                        Trio of Banana: Banana crepe, banana ice cream, banana cake and chocolate mousse- One of the better banana cakes I have had, as it was very moist with a perfect amount of sweetness. The crepe was delicate and delicious, and the ice cream had a nice "real" banana flavour (which got me pumped up for my Christmas dinner where I'm making banana ice cream). The chocolate mousse was a bit too heavy and rich for me, I like when mousse is more airy and light, but I am also biased by my disinterest in chocolate in general.
                        Trio of lemon: Lemon tart, lemon raspberry semifreddo, and tropical sorbet: I prefer my lemon tarts to have a bit more filling:crust ratio (but that's because I am not a fan of pie crust). The Semifreddo was the best part of this one because they had managed to brulee the top so you got a real punch of tart lemon/raspberry flavour, balanced off by a crunchy burnt sugar slightly sweet/ slightly bitter crust. The sorbet was also very nice and refreshing.

                        So for the 2 apps, 2 mains, 2 desserts, 2 6 oz pours of wine, 4 3 oz pours of wine, a capp and a glass of late harvest dessert wine, the total bill with tax and tip was about $275. This is in the higher range for TO dining, but it was also certainly one of the more interesting, better meals. Would I return? I absolutely would! The menu was all very appealing, and I had a very hard time making my choice, so if I am ever able to plan super far in advance again ( I had to book several weeks in advance) than I would be excited to return.

                        1. re: hungryabbey

                          Very thorough! Thanks for sharing your experience and pictures. I'm giving it a try this week and I can't wait :)