Artful midtown eatery overdoes it

[attach]7017[/attach]“Artisan” has become a catchword, but the degree to which many artisans can justify the title is limited. So I approached The Artisan Baker, though located in the trendy Yonge-St. Clair neighbourhood, with a large degree of skepticism.

This spot continues the Toronto trend toward funky décor. Tufted banquette fabric covers one entire wall, while the others feature colourful naïf pastoral scenes and black and white photos. Barnboard floors make an interesting contrast with elaborate chandeliers. It all works well to create a comfortable, attractive space.

Although most of the blog reviews for this spot focus on brunch, my guest and I are here for dinner. Sometime in its eight months of existence, it has morphed into The Artisan Bistro & Bakery (at least that’s what it says on the menu). But how will chef Bruno Beaudoin fare with meat and veg?

We start with glasses of wine, accompanied by slices of fresh bread and butter. The bread is perfect: crusty with a soft interior. His baking skills can’t be in doubt.

An appetizer of wild mushroom tart ($13.95) is a happy misnomer and continues the impression of excellent patisserie. It’s actually a creamy blend of button mushrooms and chanterelles (though there could have been more of these) with a few spears of asparagus overflowing from a croissant. Described as sautéed in cognac and port, the earthiness of the mushrooms has nonetheless been allowed to dominate. It’s a succulent starter and the portion is generous enough for two to share.

My main course is duck confit ($19.99). First marinated in salt and herbs, then slowly cooked in its own fat, the duck leg in traditional confit becomes crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Just to add a few more calories, the accompanying frites are usually also fried in duck fat.

My two legs, though a remarkably lavish portion, are a little too crisp in spots. In fact, I find the meat a little dry. The frites are golden and beautifully textured. The accompanying salad of arugula and goat cheese has a sprinkling of julienned fresh pear (a nice sweet touch) and the delicate dressing balances well with the heavier duck.

My guest orders braised lamb shank with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables ($21.25).
he lamb seems also to have spent a little too long cooking. The edges are dry though the centre is meaty. The sauce needs something — though neither of us can work out what. The lamb hasn’t the lovely, slightly gamey flavour one expects of this meat. The accompanying roasted zucchini and mashed potatoes are very tasty, but don’t overcome the shortcomings of the meat.

It’s disappointing.

Desserts, a cornucopia of patisserie, come displayed. From a board displaying mille feuilles, a large wedge of bread pudding, apricot tart and more, we chose a raspberry choux to share. (As I said, the portions here are generous to a fault.)

The choux pastry has been split and filled with a sweetened whipped cream and topped with beautifully plump fresh raspberries — a nice light finish to our meal. “Artisan” is an apt descriptive of this chef’s baking.

I think I’d like to return to give this spot another shot. I saw its signature coq au vin beautifully presented to another table. Perhaps I’ll come on an evening when live jazz is featured. Or perhaps I’ll join the majority and enjoy brunch here.

The Artisan Baker, 1423 Yonge St. 416-967-1423. [url=][/url].