I was quite prepared for a posh soiree as I strolled into the small Bloor Street mall, past the Gucci and Cartier stores to enter the lavish environment which is La Societe. Unlike a number of other French bistros in Toronto, La Societe is quite expansive, with stained glass reminiscent of l’eglise and a bar with a Hollywood-like bibliotheque. Not surprising for a Charles Khabouth joint. The question was whether it would be a scenic adventure with little substance or if the food would be as appealing to taste as the scenery was to observe.
Perhaps most ironic was the fact that the best dish wasn’t french. Ceviche is all about balance and La Societe’s version hit the mark. Aggressive citrus and chili accents elevated the subtle and fresh trio of scallops, shrimp and snapper. Be warned though…it’s a small portion for about 250 pesos ($21).
The duck confit was a combination of roasted breast and a croquette-like portion of leg. The breast was quite average due to it’s rather tough texture and unimpressive rendering of the fatty cut. Hands down, the highlight of the plate was the croquette. Nicely fried and full of flavour, it was stuffed with tender shreds of duck leg which was nicely balanced with the tangy cherry jus.
Most desserts were priced in the double digits . The Tahitian vanilla creme brulee was tasty but unremarkable. The lemon tart was equally as predictable, tasting less like a rich, tangy curd and more like my mom’s early attempts at a lemon meringue pie. The hazelnut chocolate bar with salted caramel ice cream was a bit more exciting but a little outdated. In the end, the desserts were a bit ennuyeux.
It wasn’t so much the food, but the value that was quite mundane. Here are a few examples:
Dover Sole $48. Ok. I’ve give you that…it sells for up to $75 in New York.
Steak Frites $32. Ok, that’s a little steep.
The duck confit and seafood ceviche were $29 and $21 respectively. Other possible choices included $24 mussels or vegetarian cavatelli, $13 french onion soup and an $18 burger. I appreciate the interior like the Louvres but the menu is priced like its souvenir shop.
La Societe bistro is not a bistro. Wikipedia defines a bistro as “a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting”. This restaurant is not small, the food is not cheap and the setting is not modest. The layout is expansive and uncharacteristic of most french bistros (making me question the lack of intimacy), the food is decent but with markups similar to the Gucci purses downstairs and the decor is anything but modest. To be fair, they do have a decent prix fixe menu at $44. As long as Yorkville remains the epitome of lavish spending, La Societe will blend in but it will be interesting to see if the migration of the luxury hotels and accommodations to other areas of town pressures this and other local eateries to come down to earth a little with pricing. Until then, I’ll seek my scenery at the Royal Ontario Museum and indulge on ceviche elsewhere. C’est la vie!