I know how Lucy felt when she climbed through the wardrobe and entered Narnia. Except instead of Narnia it's stepping through a doorway to France—a Parisian bistro to be exact. Everyone has a French accent, the menu is full of French dishes, the decor is innately French, and to avoid feeling like such a foreigner, you'll quickly find yourself saying merci beaucoup and s'il vous plait.
Le Sélect Bistro patio
Just one street parallel to the bustle of the entertainment district, Wellington Street is home to the most French, French bistro in Toronto. A tall burgundy building with a red and white striped canopy stands out so distinctly, I was wondering how I had never noticed the building before. The words 'Bar À Vins et Café' and 'Salons Privés et Jardis' are written on its front, and shrubs encompass the patio, with chairs and round tables to eat at outside.
Upon entering, you'll notice several tables facing a stunning zinc bar with high stools on a tiny square tile floor. Walking further in, you become surrounded by French movie posters, bottles of wine, a stamped metal ceiling, burgundy booths and dark wood tables. Our server with a French accent, bien sûr, smiled warmly as she put to shame our weak attempt at pronouncing hors d'oeuvre as French as an Anglophone can muster. She starts us off with warm crescent-shaped buns, a cube of butter, and ice water.
The menu itself, physically, is beautifully designed. You could easily ask for a copy and hang it up on your wall as a souvenir of when you ate French food in Toronto. As far as selection, led by chef Albert Ponzo, every dish is a mouthful, from bavette d'aloyau aux echalotes to salade de betterave au chevre. For starters, they feature soups and salads: a French onion soup with Emmental swiss cheese ($14.95), or frisée, walnuts, beets, and goat cheese ($12.95), for instance. They also offer an assortment of house-cured meats ($15.95) or Quebec artisan cheeses ($16.95) like Le Douanier with a layer of ash and Riopelle from Ile-aux-Grues, Quebec. Their bone marrow ($15.95) and terrine de foie gras ($18.00) are other unique menu options. I started with the hors d'oeuvre varies ($11.95), which is a cold plate of delicious grilled eggplant, mushroom, strips of celeriac, sliced cherry tomato, asparagus, and a scoop of whipped guacamole. It was good, but I'd go with my gut and choose the cheese and charcuterie next time, because I can never get enough of trying new cheeses.
For mains, I tried the duck confit ($20.95)—the leg of a duck with a crispy shell and juicy insides, seeping juices next to different kinds of potatoes, seasonal fiddleheads, and potatoes au gratin which, at first glance, looked like a triangle of lasagna. The better choice was joue de boeuf bourguignonne ($26.95), a classic French dish of beef cheek braised in red wine, which they served with pork lardons and caramelized button mushrooms or shallots. I could have licked the whipped potato sitting in the juices off the plate. Other mains to make note of are the steak tartare of grass-fed bison with chopped pistachios ($23.95), mussels steamed in Quebec ale with smoked pull pork ($19.95), and their Monday special—boudin noir, blood sausage with potato rosti and caramelized apples ($23.95).
For dessert, I can never say no to a good crème brûlée: an easy dish that so many Toronto restaurants get wrong. Sélect's had a perfectly auburn crisp shell on top, no budging when my spoon cracked into it, and cream-coloured, cool custard inside. It was topped with a raspberry and a blackberry, although they weren't necessary. Next time I'll have to try the mousse au chocolat, which is included in their three-course fixed menu for $35.
To drink, Le Sélect has an intimidatingly long wine list—over 1,000 different labels. Hidden in their basement cellar they have wines ranging from $25 to $2,500, dating back to 1947. Among these, they offer recommendations for their menu items. For example, a glass of sweet Languedoc Domaine Bouletin ($8.50), a French wine, with their Quebec artisan cheeses. Or, a 'vin doux' from Chateau Raymond-Lafon ($15) to go with their fois gras. You are also given the choice of opening a bottle of your own with a corkage fee of $18. Among their many wines and their martini and cocktail list, there is also a plethora of local beers to try. Of note is the St. Ambroise Cream Ale, with a silky head that never goes away.
Le Sélect has over 1000 wine labels
Le Sélect Bistro also does a brunch on weekends, including a special brunch throughout Easter weekend, with some of the mains from their regular menu in addition to an omelette with goat cheese ($14.95), eggs Benedict on a croissant ($16.95), and French toast with apples and cranberries ($13.95), among others. Pair that with a freshly-squeezed orange juice and your day will be off to a great start. They use eggs from local Mennonite farms and organic ingredients wherever possible.
Weekend brunch at Le Sélect
This care for what ingredients they use in their dishes seems to be a common theme throughout the menu. Le Select is a Local Food Plus 'Committed Partner' to local, sustainable, and seasonal farming (as seen in the fiddleheads with my duck confit). They're partnered with Vancouver's Ocean Wise program to source fish and seafood in an ethically sound way, and try to get red meat from grass-fed animals when they can.
Overall, Le Sélect Bistro is a beautiful restaurant that will allow you to, even for just a moment, believe you're in Paris rather than downtown Toronto. The summer, if it ever comes, is sure to be even prettier, witLe Sélect opening its doors to the breeze and setting up a bunch of tables among the shrubbery out front. In the back, Le Sélect has a rear garden with extra seating and infrared heaters so you can eat even when the sun has set. This plays into the Parisian vibe, where you hop from one outdoor patio to the next, eating croissants and café au lait as you go. The prices here are steep, as is expected to go hand in hand with claims of organic and grass-fed ingredients, but you get to enjoy the treat of being in such a transformative setting. There is also complimentary on-site parking as long as you let the server know, which is a treat since finding parking in the entertainment district can be a feat of its own. There's no reason not to check it out. Bon appétit!