The Meandering Epicurist

Le Sélect Bistro

After a holiday season of excess and gastronomic fripperies, it’s time for simpler things. First stop, Le Sélect Bistro—a Toronto institution from my past, when cheek-by-jowl dining on then not-so-chic Queen Street West passed for hip. Le Sélect has now been relocated to a vaguely commercial section of Wellington West where, to my distinct pleasure, I discover there is street parking.

The two-storey building, with its mouldings, faux columns and French doors that open onto a seasonal front patio, looks the part. Inside the lighting is low, reminiscent of Le Sélect’s ancestry. Tables are standard bistro-issue bare dark wood, with Bentwood café chairs and jazz playing gently in the background. In my book, anywhere with a framed poster of Catherine Deneuve in Luis Buñuel’s movie Belle de Jour should get a Michelin star for style.

The large, double-sided menu is classic bistro with a wine list to match. All my comfort food favourites are here: Onion soup, steak frites, duck confit and cassoulet. Two members of my party go for the well-priced, three-course prix fix menu. I can’t resist the crispy sow’s ear strip and an earthy lentil and watercress salad with zingy bits of pork, followed by the cassoulet. It’s huge, meat heavy and rich—everything a cold winter’s evening calls for. And, for dessert, a slightly acidic but oh-so-sweet lemon tart fits the bill. I make a note to come back in warmer weather and try the patio.

Tanjo Family Farm

Carrying on my quest for simple and wholesome, I find my way to the St. Lawrence Market. I’m looking to re-create a long sidelined family recipe for slow roasted pork butt in red wine with garlic and herbs. Perhaps it went missing during the appalling low-fat interregnum. No matter.

A jostling crowd surrounds the Tanjo Family Farm butchers stall in the temporary south-west building. Women in Mennonite caps and aprons shuttle back and forth. John Gerber, an unflappable man with, as I discover later, an understated wry humour is overseeing matters. His business card has no email address It’s a bit too soon, he confides, to decide if email fits into his traditional lifestyle. His naturally raised, top-quality meat keeps regulars coming back. John sells around 500 lb of beef and a similar amount of pork, lamb and poultry each Saturday. In the fall/early winter season he also has guinea fowl. They may not look pretty but are, he claims, exceptionally flavourful.

John fishes out a large, well-marbled pork butt for me. Perfect. “Try the bacon,” he suggests. “It’s cold- not hot-smoked for better flavour.” As I later discover, when lightly cooked, John’s bacon has a wonderfully creamy and rich mouth feel.

No wonder there’s a line up until closing time.

Jaswant’s Kitchen

Poking around in the rest of the market I come across Jaswant Kular behind a table displaying packets of her Indian seasoning mixes. A nutritionist by training, she is on a mission to preserve and pass on her food heritage in a way that is accessible and easy for everyone.

The key to good Indian food is getting the right mix of the freshest spices to produce well-balanced yet complementary flavours. Jaswant’s sealed packets of exotic seasoning mixes come with family recipes that are easy to prepare with readily at-hand ingredients. Her aloo gobi has 17 different spices, while the daal has 20.

I pick up packets of the chicken curry and daal. The resulting dishes, later that evening, are a splendid balance of savoury and spiciness with a little zest from the herbs. Wonderful stuff.

Stiegl-Radler Grapefruit

But what to drink with the chicken curry and daal? My thoughts go back to an Anglo-Indian standby—lager with lime cordial. A modern-day variation on a popular brew, which I’ve just been introduced to, turns out to be just the ticket.

The Stiegl-Radler Grapefruit owes its origins to a German innkeeper who was besieged by a team of thirsty cyclists one summer’s day. The story says that he didn’t have enough beer so he cut his lager 50/50 with grapefruit juice. The refreshed cyclists pedalled off with barely a wobble and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the Stieglitz brewery in Salzburg, Austria, turns out this wonderfully refreshing cloudy lager according to strict German purity laws and adds 50 per cent fruit soda from grapefruits, lemons and oranges. Nothing else.

A sip of Stiegl-Radler Grapefruit starts with a distinct yet delicate citrus aroma, followed by a complex set of flavours ranging from slightly sweet to slightly acidic. Interestingly, it never loses its underlying hint of lager. With just 2.5 per cent alcohol, it’s a thirst-quenching quaffer for an Indian meal or a balmy summer afternoon.

Georgian Bay Spirit Co.

Georgian Bay Spirit Co. had just one goal: To capture “the spirit of the bay” using the finest local and international ingredients.

One sip into any of the company’s suggested cocktails—I’m starting with a Salty Dog—and I’m transported to the cottage, wind in my hair, chilled drink in hand. Georgian Bay’s gin is perfectly balanced, maybe even a little lighter than usual, which is great for gin and tonics with a dash of grapefruit bitters. Its award-winning vodka is wonderfully crisp and notably sweet, most likely an attribute from the sweet Ontario corn and crisp spring water used for distilling.

For those less inclined to break out their shakers and strainers, Georgian Bay Spirit Co. also offers a premixed “Gin Smash.” Noticeably less sweet than its competition, I would be hard-pressed not to call this “the drink of the summer.” Blending lemon, lime and mint, it has a stronger flavour profile than your typical mixer. As refreshing as it is delicious!

Hats off to Georgian Bay Spirit Co. for winning Double Gold and Best Vodka at San Francisco’s 2016 World Spirit Competition, an impressive feat for brewers and long-time friends Denzil Wadds and Tim Keenleyside. Georgian Bay Spirit Co. also took home silver for its gin.

Amadeus Patisserie

Let them eat cake is definitely the modus operandi at this tony patisserie café. Crafting perfect custom gateaux, petite cakes and slices, colourful macaroons in hat style boxes and savoury croissants is a daily occupation for the Aronovichs 

Lior Aronovich, the oldest son, is a master chef who tells us he heads  back to pastry school in Paris to fine-tune his techniques and recipes on a regular basis. His made-from scratch sweet treats feature Belgium chocolate, fresh fruit, real whipped cream and especially imported butter. They are, according to some, the best in the city. 

The layers of soft hazelnut meringue, whipped cream and milk chocolate in Loir’s signature Amadeus cake, promise to melt in your mouth. Others, lined up like temptresses in the stunning pastry showcase that was brought directly from France, offer crunch, a favourite flavour or a choco feast for two with coffee. Rumour has it the family is looking for a second, more central location—thank goodness!