Torontonicity was invited to sample the menu at Batifole, a casual French restaurant in the heart of Toronto’s East Chinatown, and I gladly accepted since I am eager to visit the restaurants that are near my new Leslieville neighbourhood. Chef/owner Pascal Geffroy’s Gerrard Street East bistro was bustling on a recent Saturday night and the 26°C weather meant that some patrons even opted to dine on the restaurant’s small patio.
For wine lovers, Batifole has an impressively extensive wine cellar. My dining partner opted for a glass of Merlot ($10 for 5 oz.) with lovely clarity and full-bodied aroma.
For starters, my dining partner opted for the Escargot Fricasee ($11). These delicious snails were prepared in a light cream sauce with finely-chopped vegetables and herbs, perfect for dipping the thin, crisp French bread. Amy, the restaurant manager, advised us that you will not taste escargot like this anywhere else in Toronto and I must agree that this appetizer was superb, full of delicate flavour and not heavy at all. If you love escargot, this is a must-order dish when visiting Batifole.
At Amy’s suggestion, I ordered one of the special appetizers of the day: Brandade de Morue ($11), an emulsion of salt cod, potato and Mascarpone cheese and notably, a specialty of Provence. I had never had this dish before and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised when I took a bite. The dish was unexpectedly light despite the ingredients, and the texture was wonderfully smooth. It was hard to detect the ingredients as none of them dominated the dish. There is, however, a substantial amount served for an appetizer so you may want to skip this if you don’t have a hearty appetite.
For an entree, my dining partner ordered one of the specials, a Flank Steak with Bordelais sauce ($25). She said the steak was so tender that it tasted like filet mignon.
I ordered the Veal Chop stuffed with goat cheese and prosciutto on Marsala sauce ($28). The sweet wine sauce enhanced the delicate taste of the veal, that had been cooked to tender perfection, while the goat cheese elevated this dish to something extraordinary.
Vegetables are ordered separately as side dishes. I ordered Mixed Green Vegetables sauteed with Sweet Garlic ($6) and Potato Gratin ($6). I loved the green vegetable dish with freshly, chopped bok choy; it’s another must-order dish on this menu. The potato gratin was tasty if a little on the bland side, but I found it too filling since I had ordered the veal chop.
Batifole was quite busy on this particular Saturday evening and as a result, the volume levels of people talking over each other were quite high. In fact, at one point, voices were so loud that they drowned out the background music. This is not a huge restaurant, perhaps seating 60 maximum, so noise is concentrated. I would imagine on less busy evenings that you could have a more intimate conversation over dinner.
For the finale, Amy recited a number of dessert specials. The day’s Peach Melba caught my dining partner’s imagination while I chose the traditional Crème Brûlée on the restaurant’s regular menu. Fresh peaches were served atop ice cream and a strawberry coulis, resulting in a light, but pleasing end to a sumptuous meal. My Crème Brûlée had a crispy, taffy-like topping that hid a well-executed, silky vanilla custard. Thankfully, another light dessert to end a substantial meal.
Although Batifole Restaurant serves fine French dining, the east Toronto restaurant’s atmosphere is refreshingly homey and relaxed and reminded me of a bistro I visited on my first night in Paris in the residential section of the 7th arrondissement. Many Riverdale locals arrived at the restaurant, appearing to have strolled around the corner from their Victorian brick homes overlooking the Don Valley, perhaps after a day of garden work or house chores. But if you are a fan of French Provencal cuisine and not a local, it’s worth the drive east across the Don Valley to visit this gem on Gerrard.
If you’d like to enjoy an introductory taste of Batifole, you can celebrate Bastille Day on July 14, 2014 from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Batifole. For $10 cash at the door, you’ll get to sample appetizers (drinks not included).
Batifole Restaurant, 744 Gerrard Street East (one block west of Logan Avenue), 416-462-9965