About a year ago, Le Baratin opened in Toronto’s Dundas Street West/Dufferin Street area. It’s a classic neighbourhood bistro, seating 30 in welcoming, unadorned setting (bare wood tables; children’s books displayed on wall shelves).
Manning the stoves, visible in the tiny open kitchen beside the bar, at the back of the restaurant, is Jean-Regis Raynaud, who has worked at Le Paradis, in Toronto; Aubaine, in London, England; and in such estimable Parisian establishments as Hotel Costes, Ladurée Paris Champ Élysée and le Train Bleu.
Eating at Le Baratin reminds me why I love the heartiness and straightforward flavours of French bistro food. In chef Raynaud’s hands, it is food made with careful attention to detail and lots of love.
A great example is the daily soup, in which chef transforms humble cabbage and mixed vegetables into a dish fit for a king, based on ultra-flavourful enriched stock.
Chef cures salmon into silky gravlax and slices it thin, serving it with cream jazzed with grainy mustard and horseradish. Both house-made, velvety hummus and creamy boursin (garlic- and herb-scented cheese) are irresistible scooped up with superlative house-made olive bread.
Mains show equal care. Roast salmon, a nightly special, is delicate and moist, and served with ratatouille and quinoa tabbouleh. Another nightly special, Cornish hen, is terrifically moist and flavourful, and ably complemented by earthy reduced mushroom sauce and roasted veg. And chef’s fork-tender braised lamb shank is one of the best versions I’ve had (and also one of the most generous). Served with white kidney beans and reduced cooking juices, it is French-style comfort food at its best.
Chef is also a pastry wizard. Finishing the evening on a high note is luxurious, eggy, crème caramel; fluffy chocolate mousse spiked with Amaretto; and tarte Tatin built on caramelized apples and puff pastry.
Seating 30, the restaurant is available for corporate buyouts (sit-down dinners or cocktail parties) from Monday to Thursday. Le Baratin also provides catering (food only, not the service, at the time of writing) and offers office lunches delivered through the Foodee corporate catering website.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,300 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.