A business meeting brought me midtown for dinner. Midtown is a place where restaurants are restaurants and not political statements or abstract expressions of social activism. You can get an appetizer, main and dessert for a decent price without the need for an explanation about the difference between a starter, small plate or large plate. The menus tend to be simple and the decor looks like a restaurants and not like Johnny’s auto shop. Plus, you can have a conversation without having Radioactive by the Imagination Dragons blasting or listening to Run DMC remind me about footwear:
Now the Adidas I possess for one man is rare
myself homeboy got 50 pair
got blue and black cause I like to chill
and yellow and green when it’s time to get ill
got a pair that I wear when I’m playin ball
with the heal inside make me 10 feet tall
(This is no crack at Run DMC. I’d just as upset if Locked in the Trunk of a Car by the Tragically Hip were blasting in my ear).
Unlike it’s name, L’Avenue is a smallish bistro on Bayview, not Avenue. It’s easy to miss with its quaint front; a freckle of the mosaic that makes up the Leaside neighbourhood. Like the name suggests, it focuses on french style cooking, although updated with lighter, fresher techniques and local, seasonal ingredients. There is an fairly extensive and reasonably priced list of red and white wines available (many bottles are in the 35-50 dollar range) from a diversity of regions, Krombacher (Pils and Dark) on tap and a spattering of local and world renowned beer included a gluten-free choice as well
This night featured an oyster special which was served on a cloud of salty meringue. They were fresh and meaty and seasoned nicely although I’m always a fan of a little heat on the side.
For my hors d’oeuvres (or appetizers for the anglophone), I opted for sweetbreads in a promise to exchange some of them for the bone marrow at the table. Sometimes sweetbreads run the risk over being overly greasy or gritty. The chef avoided both and offered a simple dish atop fragrant streaks of coulis. The marrow was also served in it’s fundamental form, simple seasoned with some herbs and bread crumbs to add some crunch.
Our table’s family style commitment continued with an array of entrees which included the Fried Chicken “a la Basque”, Catalan Seafood Stew “Zarzuela” and a duck feature (we played rock paper and scissors to actually determine who would order the latter). In summary, the execution of each dish was spot on. The fried chicken was moist, the duck a beautiful medium rare and the scallop had a perfect char which housed a glistening white interior. Instead of relying on traditional french flavours such as ummm…butter, the chicken and seafood stew (as the names suggest) were infused with Spanish flavours including tomato and saffron respectively. The duck was a bit more traditional but the addition of rhubarb was stellar and a testament to their commitment to use seasonal ingredients.
Here’s an interesting fact. The pavlova dessert was named after the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova (God, I love wikipedia). You would think that a dish with meringue as its foundation would have European origins, but in fact Pavlova is a creation of culinary juggernaut New Zealand (although Australia also tries to lay claim, possibly fueling the bitter Rugby rivalry which exists to this day). It was presented on a plate and with a style reminiscent of tea at Gramma’s on Sunday. Let’s call it an endearing cheesiness. Like the dishes before, it was well executed with a twist, in this case a tart passion fruit custard.
Calling L’Avenue a french bistro is a bit of a misnomer. Instead of small rich portions served in the most pretentious manner, the chefs invite Basque and Catalan flavours into many of the dishes and serve hearty portions in the midst of a casual environment.
L’Avenue bistro is like a good nap. It’s not the most exciting thing but it is refreshing and satisfying. You get Egyptian cotton sheets and a small mint on your fluffed pillow iwhile relaxing as soft music senerades you in the background. They adhere to a theme of comfort and tradition instead of throwing down an air mattress and trying to convince you it’s cool to sleep on it while blasting 2 Live Crew and then retweeting it when you do.