June 16: Le Paradis ★★★★★
I have seldom been so impressed by a restaurant. Le Chien Noir has met is match in Toronto. Like Chien Noir, Le Paradis is homely, undiscovered and well-priced. Its unassuming character (it is situated a few steps away from a “Le Subway”) is what gives it its charm; it’s sufficiently close to Yorkville but far enough to lose the fancy cars and Justin Biebers (he was apparently at the Hazelton, adolescent girls adding to the fanfare).
The waitresses speak French and have no reservations of correcting mispronunciations of the menu. They also don’t lose the efficiency and slight air of pretentiousness that characterises Paris’ bistros…wonderful. In fact, French seems to be the language choice among the patrons. (I only found out it’s Le Paradis and not La Paradis because our neighbour said “Au Paradis” into his phone).
The food is fantastic. They have recently changed to printing menus daily. The way the French make steak-frites should really make ubiquitous steakhouse chains think twice. They have reduced it to a formula: a microwaved bun, a Caesar salad covered in bacon, Parmesan and heavy dressing (that has been sitting in a bottle for a year), and finally, a ridiculously thick piece of meat accompanied by either super-crunchy fries or a potato with mounds of cheddar, butter and sour crème. $40.
The steak-frites at Paradis sat in a tasty but not heavy peppercorn sauce. The sirloin was the proper size and texture. It was pan-fried, not grilled and properly seasoned. The fries were done right: thin, firm and in thyme. My lamb shank literally fell off the bone and was similarly light and tasty. The chickpeas in its tastelessness balanced the other flavors well.
In previous occasions, I have had the pork chop and the chicken, all under $20. The chicken was sizable. The pork chop was as good as pork can ever be.
As much as I would like this place to become more notable, I am also cognizant that its charm also originates from being hidden from the masses. It lets you be transported to a place far from home. I have a hope that this is what Paris might turn out to be in 2013.