Joanna's Take on... Cafe Boulud
My father had a penchant for restaurants that felt like clubs. Places like Cheers where "everybody knows your name” but on a much grander scale. As a child, long before I was a chef at The Old Windsor Arms, I would go with my Dad to the Wine Cellar. This was the smallest and clubbiest of the 3 Small Rooms. Fenton’s front room became a hit and later, Michael Carlevale’s Black and Blue back room, La Fenice at the back and so on. It seemed we hid in the back and off to the side quite a bit on our jaunts, but this was what made it fun. Waiters, Maître D’s, Busboys and chefs all knew my Dad, and he, along with all the other guests that frequented these establishments, became known and subsequently, VIP’s.
Enter the new Café Boulud in The Four Season’s Yorkville. This space has been transformed into a wonderfully clubby atmosphere. It seats, I would gather, approximately 200, but you would never feel it, as it has been brilliantly thought out with nooks and meandering areas. Once you arrive on the 2nd floor there is a warm welcome by one of the many hosts waiting, it seems, just for you to arrive. Your coat is effortlessly whisked away and you are seated. The staff is so on point from start to finish, handling every request without blinking an eye.
My party arrived at 7:45 and our table was waiting for us. I think it may be my favourite table. This and more I will share with you as the story unfolds. Our waiter was Zak and no, he did not come up and say, "hi my name is Zak and I will be your waiter tonight”. I believe his name became known to us leisurely as the evening wore on. I am often asked to order for the table but I do not love that approach. Instead I had each guest pick a tantalizing dish to him or her and I rounded out the order. Don’t hate me, but every dish was quite perfect and you will find this a review with little to no criticism. Let’s get the few small tweaks out of the way shall we? The first being, the menu states that the Parisian Steak Tartare is said to be done tableside and ours was served off to the side. I understand the logistics of the space may not make this possible but then do not advertise it as such. There is nothing more fun than watching a dish is created just for you as you watch the showmanship. The second tweak was as we did order quite a few dishes was that I had requested them to be well spaced and they were hurried. This, however, was quickly remedied and service was back to being on point.
I love that Chef Boulud is bringing back classic French dishes and the way they are being served. I have been missing good French food in Toronto for a great many years and I think he has caught the wave at just the right time. I have to admit I was curious about why open in Toronto instead of many other cities around the world? Do not misunderstand me, I love Toronto and I think it is a great eating town but still look at Scarpetta’s failures and others; Toronto does not work well with out of town chefs. Yes, there is Momofuko, but still this is an exception not a rule. Chef Boulud has been a fan of Toronto for many years. His relationship with our great city dates back to many a Grand Cru Charity Dinner as well as a strong friendship with Guy Rigby, VP of Food and Beverage at The Four Season’s. This among other things is what enticed Chef Boulud to hang his toque here. What I greatly respect is the Boulud Groups respect for Toronto and not to attempt to turn this into an American style restaurant.
Back to eating, as I said one of my party ordered the Steak Tartare, another the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare. The tuna was beautiful and fun with the addition of chickpeas, harissa, argan oil, mint and yogurt. I do have to admit to finding it a little too saucy and I lost the clean taste of the fish. That being said, I did adore having some Moroccan flavours on the plate. We opted for the small Charcuterie Board with Pate de Campagne, Pate en Croute Canadien with foie and cranberries, Timbale de Lapin with an Eggplant confit, saucisson sec and shaved jambon. I think a great meal could be had with one of Drew Walker’s incredible wine picks and the large board.
I am a sucker for frisee salad and Frisee Lyonnaise was a lovely ode to Chef Boulud’s mentor Chef Paul Bocuse. Perfectly cooked, lightly pink chicken livers, lardons, a poached runny egg and sour dough croutes. The last appetizer of the evening was a Beignets de Calamar where the little darlings are lightly beer battered tossed with pickled hot peppers and spicy Kaffir Lime Sauce. This influence comes from Chef Boulud’s time spent in Asia and his love of Asian cuisine. We now moved on to our main course, a half Rotisserie Chicken and a Sea Bass Catalan. The restaurant has installed an incredible rotisserie oven and are throwing everything thing at it from the mentioned chicken to lobster, lamb and more. The Poulet a la Broche comes for 2 or 4 but truly the portion is so generous that a few appetizers, the half chicken and a shared dessert would make you loosen a pant button. The juicy, crispy skinned bird comes with baby potatoes roasted in the drippings and a peppery watercress salad. I would have enjoyed a bit more salad as it felt more like a few strewn leaves.
The Sea Bass Catalan is a lovely filet perfectly cooked with Romesco Sauce, red onions, broccoli rabe, tomatoes, peppers and almonds. I am in love with Romesco and make it a lot. I found Café Boulud’s a bit too refined. The sauce is meant to have texture and this did not but this could be solely my taste and do try it because it was quite delicious.
This was a special night for my guests and me and we went out with a bang, tasting, licking plates of not one but four desserts. Grapefruit Givre was stunning but really different but so perfectly balanced. It may have been my favourite, with feathers of sesame halva, rose loukoum and grapefruit sorbet. This was the ultimate palate cleanser.
A French classic if there ever was one is the Souffle Grand Marnier, which comes piping hot with a sublime orange Crème Anglaise. I think it would be super fun if the soufflés changed flavours with the seasons. I am also; I have to admit, praying that they bring back the savoury soufflé as well. Hint Hint.
Coulant au Chocolat is a chocolate lovers dream with a rich dark molten chocolate individual chocolate cake and Maple-Black Cherry Ice Cream.
We did have one of my most dreamt about desserts, Lemony Madeleine’s that are brought to the table in a lovely basket lined with a crisp white napkin piping hot. Most of these often come home with me for the next day’s breakfast.
Last, but by no means least, was the showstopper, a Baked Alaska for 2, which again is easily for 4. Picture this, a perfectly piped beautiful meringue covering pistachio and vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry sorbet flambéed on your table with Kirsch. Wow, that’s all, simply wow. This is a party dessert if there ever was one.
I have been a few times to the new Café Boulud for dinner but not yet for lunch or brunch. This I promise will happen. I have been to the bar to eat many times and truly always like it. One other time my daughter felt like mussels because she loves them here. For some reason they were not on the menu. A quick ask to our waiter who then went into the kitchen and the mussels were in front of her 15 minutes later. This is not only the sign of a great restaurant but an incredible hotel where the guests come first and foremost. If a desire can be granted it will be.
This place is not cheap but believe it or not you can do special evening on a budget. There are carafes of wine priced at $44. Get a small charcuterie board and share the half chicken, a small dessert and you can be out around $160 with tip and tax. Still a special night but doable. Or just go and enjoy. This is one terrific experience.
Please let me know if you go, ask to be seated at Table 97 and grab Zak as your waiter, he is incredible. Drew is more often than not wandering the floor and perfect to help pick the right wine for the dish or a little eau de vive for a sweet finale.
I hope you make it to Café Boulud, the people watching is worth the trip. If you do go please let me know your thoughts.
60 Yorkville Ave