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Jan 5, 2014 03:32 PM

Complicated old-fashioned French cuisine in GTA or beyond

A recent trip Down Under got me thinking that Aussies do French better than Canadians. Big statement, but true. In Australia, one can find French restaurants that actually serve complex, traditional French food: savoury soufflé, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, sauces, regional specialties, frog legs, foie gras, escargots, rabbit, squab, you name it. Here, our French restaurants seem to rely on bistro fare, steak frites, and lots of fusion. Maybe that's the authentic way people eat in France these days, but I'm not looking for modern French, I'm looking for the France of Julia Child nostalgia. A dream, perhaps.

Is there a truly traditional French restaurant for a sit-down meal in the GTA or beyond? Disclaimer: I've still never eaten at Auberge du Pommier or Celestin or Ici or Tati Bistro, but after Didier and the original Thuet closed down, I'm not sure if anything else matches up. I have been to all the usual suspects and I suppose Le Select Bistro comes close but is still quite simple. My experiences at Edulis and Scaramouche didn't match what I'm looking for.

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  1. Ici is very good, and several classic French dishes are always on the menu. They have a couple dessert souffles on their menu. I'd think Ici would be your best bet.

    I haven't been to Tati or Loire, but I get the impression they serve food that is on the simple side compared to the food at Ici.

    I used to love Celestin about 7-8 years ago, but the food had slipped after a change in ownership, and I haven't been in several years.

    You might also want to consider Left Bank Bistro, Mogette, Le Paradis and L'Avenue.

    I'm not sure what the food at Le Trou Normand in Yorkville might be like. Looks old-fashioned, but I've never heard anything about the food.

    By the way, juno started a cassoulet thread last year.

    9 Replies
    1. re: prima

      I have eaten at Le Paradis over the years and it comes across as "simpler" though it is amazing value for money and pretty consistent. Thank you for the extensive helpful reply! Ici looks promising:

      1. re: Food Tourist

        My pleasure.
        By the way, most of the dishes you mention are served at Le Trou Normand. Hopefully a Chowhound who has dined there can let you know if it's worth visiting for classic dishes.
        La Palette serves frogs' legs:

        1. re: prima

          La Palette's quack & track - forgot about that! ;) They also have cassoulet. Hmm, may be time for a visit.

          1. re: Food Tourist

            Don't go to La Palette. Horrible execution. Literally dead. Dried-out burnt escargots and mushrooms. Out of stock on most french aperitifs.

          2. re: prima

            Trou Normand menu looks dodgy. Despite the calvados cream sauce dish and the bouillabaisse, the inclusion of pasta and caesar salad, and lack of many of the dishes I mentioned (soufflé, etc.) worries me.

            1. re: Food Tourist

              I guess I don't hold it against a restaurant if they serve Caesar salad and pasta, or haven't put time/effort/money/much thought into their website. I'm guessing Le Trou isn't a hiddden gem (despite its name), but it has managed to survive 40 years, so there must be some sort of secret to its longevity,when many of its restaurant neighbours in Yorkville have typically had a relatively short life span. Maybe the pasta and Caesars have helped keep them in business. The Coffee Mill also serves Caesar salad alongside its goulash ,schnitzel and palascinta, as does ll Posto, so the Caesar Salad might be a piece of the Yorkville restaurant survival puzzle. :)

              Does Jacques serve a Caesar salad? Their Nicoise is pretty good.

          3. re: Food Tourist

            I had dinner last night at Le Paradis for the first time in ages. What a disappointment. Poorly-made cocktails. Horrible appetizer of vegetables covered in melted cheese. Neither the vegetables nor the cheese were adequately present in this sparse, ugly, oily, weird dish (we could not identify the type of vegetables). Escargots were tasty though a little strange with the addition of thin slices of what can only be described as pepperoni. Mediocre mussels. Main of duck confit with frites and one tiny piece of bok choy was fairly mundane. Side dish of butternut squash cubes was the highlight of the evening along with the balthazar flourless chocolate cake (moist) and decent noisette (macchiato). Strange tarte tat in. Decent service overall but he never asked how anything was so I suppose he lost points for neglect.

            1. re: Food Tourist

              Growing up Le Paradis was such a special treat. Wonderful memories.

              Now I won't go. Blech food. Worse service.

          4. You can check out Batifole as well?! Used to be very good but haven't been for a long while.
            Here's their current menu for your reference:


            5 Replies
            1. re: Charles Yu

              Me too. I used to go years ago. They also had quite simple dishes (executed very well) for low prices. Now that I see their updated menu, I would give them another shot. Not to mention they are enticing me with Paris brest and tarte tatin.

              1. re: Charles Yu

                You liked Batifole in the past? We stopped going after 3 visits as it was obvious that many of the main dishes we were served where heated in a microwave, most likely from frozen. Frozen or not, I didn't find the food enjoyable and none of our friends liked it also. We have not been there since around 2006. I just looked at the website and see that it has been sold to the former chef de cuisine. Maybe it's time to re-visit it.

                1. re: foodyDudey

                  Curious if you ended up gong to Batifole recently? Or if anyone else has gone since Pascal Geffroy took over ownership.

                  1. re: ylsf

                    I just saw this today... No I have not been. I often pass by it, and am wondering if it is worth a visit. Has anyone else been?

                2. re: Charles Yu

                  From the menu.
                  "Paris Breast. Choux Pastry with a Praline Flavoured Cream"
                  I prefer the leg.

                3. Great chef, well executed classics, outstanding professional table side service, overseen by attentive management ? Yeah, well, sorry, no.

                  Pack your best suit, and book a flight to NY or Paris.

                  BTW - Read Pierre Franey's memoir "A Chef's Tale" and be motivated to cook...

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: PoppiYYZ

                    Honestly, I don't care about service or atmosphere. Just good food. And no, sadly, I don't have 3 days to create cassoulet nor time or cash to fly to Paris.

                    1. re: Food Tourist

                      "don't care about service or atmosphere" ? hmmm.

                      Check out the book. A great trip to excellent traditional french cuisine, and another era, without a plane ticket or a time machine.

                    2. re: PoppiYYZ

                      It isn't easy to find French restaurants serving well-executed, complicated old-fashioned classics with outstanding professional tableside service and attentive management in Paris or NYC, either.
                      Apart from La Grenouille, I can't think of too many French restaurants in NYC sticking with old-fashioned, formal French classics rather than bistro fare.

                    3. Tati's been closed for a while (and was more of a bistro when it was open.) +1 for ICI - their dishes are rich, but many are traditional, and all are perfect for a winter night!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Minnow

                        Cassoulet is back on the menu at Mogette, on Mount Pleasant Rd., which also has a few other classic French offerings - first-rate onion soup, escargots, that sort of thing. Mogette's cooking is a cut or two above that of a French bistro (as are its prices), but everything on the limited menu is very well executed. Not sure if the menu has the Julia Child-ish breadth that the OP is looking for, but it's sure good enough for me when I feel like going upscale from Le Paradis. BYOB on Tuesdays for $2.

                        1. re: juno

                          They do have escargots in vol au vent. Yum.

                      2. I like the very much under the radar Jacques Bistro du Parc on Cumberland, in Yorkville.

                        Delish poached salmon!

                        1 Reply