The more I encounter restaurant servers, the more I have come to value the good ones. And at Crème Brasserie, I found a gem — a waiter who takes the time, even in a busy restaurant, to ask whether the customer is happy.
As it happened, I did have a complaint: my Americano was impossibly strong (even after adding half a cup of milk). He explained the vagaries of the espresso machine, and then insisted on removing it from my bill.
I hasten to add that my guest loved his coffee. These things are undoubtedly a matter of taste, but it’s nice to find someone who understands.
But what is the food like?
We start with housemade hummus. Delicious and very garlicky, it comes with slices of baguette that later prove useful.
My guest’s starter is Moules Poulette, mussels nestling in a broth of leeks, lots of lovely mushrooms (oyster, cremini, possibly shiitake), white wine, cream and lemon ($13). In general, cream and mussels aren’t a combination I relish, but this is gorgeous.
So yummy, in fact, that my guest uses some of the aforementioned bread to sop up the remaining broth.
The waiter heartily recommends tomato consommé, with finely chopped scallions, rabbit dumplings, slices of shiitake and a couple of heirloom grape tomatoes ($9). I order some.
He’s not wrong. The consommé is beautiful as it stands, but the addition of two plump ravioli, filled with rabbit, takes this soup to another level.
The meal keeps getting better. My guest orders classic fish and chips with mushy peas ($16). But these are not the usual marrowfat peas so beloved of Brits. Trust a French resto to take it up a notch with tiny peas, not cooked to extinction in the usual manner — still with some bite in them.
The haddock is beautifully battered and the chips (twice fried, if I’m not mistaken) are crisp and hot. My guest, a big fan of this traditional British fare, has nothing but praise. My plate of striped bass with heirloom tomatoes and black olives comes with a generous quantity of Grand Marnier beurre blanc ($16).
The only off-note in the whole dish is a lone, very vinegary tomato that disturbs the harmony. Apart from this, the fish is plump and perfectly cooked, the skin beautifully crisp.
It is served atop a bed of fat corn kernels. The sauce is tangy and so good I find myself emulating my guest — putting the last remaining piece of baguette to use.
A dessert of poached pear Cardinal is topped with vanilla ice cream, raspberry purée and sliced almonds ($10). The pear is still firm and succulent, a sweet finish for my guest.
My own chocolate crêpes, filled with flambéed bananas and topped with fresh strawberry slices ($10), is overwhelmed with dark chocolate sauce. In theory, the dark chocolate should be the perfect foil for the slightly caramelized bananas and sweet berries.
But there is so much of it no other flavours have a chance, especially as the crêpes are also chocolate. It’s disappointing, but don’t let crêpes put you off.
A second trip is definitely in the cards. I want to try the chicken Forestière I observed at another table. It appears to be brimming with mushrooms.
Crème Brasserie is a real find.
Crème Brasserie, 162 Cumberland (in the little mews) 416-962-7363. www.cremebrasserie.com. Note that lunch prices are slightly lower than the evening ones. Reservations recommended.
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