119 Harbord Street
Once in a (very long) while we're able to get away and venture into the big city of Toronto to sample the latest culinary trends. Sadly, it seems that the era of fine dining in Toronto is coming to a close with many high end establishments falling victim to the shrinking expense accounts (and employment, for that matter) of bankers and financiers. So far, we in Kitchener-Waterloo seem to be holding up fairly well, and as long as people keep buying Blackberries it seems this town will do okay.
Rising from ashes are a number of new restaurants that focus on a somewhat lower price point, but still emphasize high quality ingredients, good service, and sophisticated flavours and cooking techniques. We visited one such place a few weeks ago, Loire Casual Gourmet. Rated one of the top new restaurants of 2008 by Toronto Life, we figured it was worth a visit and would be much more affordable than the remaining high end spots.
The restaurant is tucked in a quiet corner away from the shadows of the banking towers, along a street brimming with good restaurants. It has a very neighbourhoody feel to it, and we immediately felt at home as Sylvain (sommelier and owner) led us to our table. Being there for a late afternoon weekday lunch, the place was very quiet but the phone was ringing off the hook for dinner reservations, so there certainly seems to be a buzz about the place.
For my main, I had the braised pulled-pork sandwich ($14). It was served on multigrain bread with carmelized apples. On the side was a chipolte mayo and home fries. The pork was very tender and moist, especially when combined with the juicy apples. The fries were very finely cut, and mostly crisp, but some where a little soggy. The mayo was nice but wasn't very heavy on the chipolte, and enough was provided that you could easily put on some weight if you finished it all. The execution was very good, but the plate lacked a little green - both visually and for taste balance.
We shared two desserts - one was the pecan tart with honey-thyme roasted pear puree and butterscotch gelato ($9) and the other a lemongrass-ginger crème brûlée with a mini coconut cake ($9). The tart was very sweet and probably would have gone better with a less sweet gelato. I felt the need to drink something between every bite, but perhaps I'm just getting old and can't hold my sugar like I used to be able to. The crème brûlée was also very strongly flavoured but nice, and the coconut cake was perfectly toasted and full of intense coconut flavour.
Service was friendly and prompt, although with only 3-4 four tables it was not especially difficult for Sylvain to service all the tables by himself.
I would have to agree with Toronto Life that this place has great potential. While the dishes are not at the extreme high end of cuisine, it is certainly a restaurant that is suitable for the current times. A more down to earth, friendly dinner spot with good quality, well executed bistro fair. Contrast this with Splendido -- which we coincidentally visited recently as well -- just a couple of blocks down the road. This was a place for the pre-bailout era and as a result, it is undergoing a reinvention of itself to compete with with more affordable places. Here at Loire, the title casual gourmet fits perfectly.