Review - Boehmer

Service and classic French food in a new way makes Boehmer one of top restaurants in Toronto

First Published: Inside Toronto, November 24, 2015

Paul Boehmer could also be known as Paul Bunyan. Both are very tall, handsome men and I know Paul Boehmer is the salt of the earth and one of the finest men I know.

Like almost every chef I come across, including myself, we all found ourselves in the kitchen at a young age watching and helping. Paul remembers some of his earliest memories were roasting chickens and I must say – to this day – he is still a master of crispy skin and moist juicy meat.

Paul’s upbringing was a diverse one that included many countries and much travelling. His grandfather ran a sugar plantation in Indonesia and Paul’s dad grew up there and subsequently found a love and passion for curries, noodles and grilled meats and fish. While the rest of the Toronto kids were eating KD and SpagettiO’s Paul’s dad was whipping up a storm of heat and spice.

Paul’s mom was also a great cook. As a teen, Paul’s mom moved them to Spain and a huge love of all things Spanish still exists.

Back in Toronto, Paul’s family loved to entertain and Paul loved to cook. They had a chef come to the house to cook a tempura lunch. Paul was fascinated. He watched, mesmerized, as the chef reincarnated vegetables and fish into crispy delights.

The next time Paul’s parents entertained, he convinced them to let him give it a whirl. Miraculously, as Paul puts it, it turned out. His father asked him if he had ever considered becoming a chef? Paul’s response was; “I do this for fun." But as he considered his options, he did start to realize this really was his calling.

When your name is on a sign, it becomes a very personal experience. Paul regards everyone who graces his door as guests to his home. He has learned the art of not only the kitchen, but the art of service and the table. Paul is not a “superstar” chef on TV, but he is a superstar chef.

His food is both classic and creative. His sauces have an insane depth that only comes from mastering French classics and then using these classics in a fresh new way. Paul is a locavore and passionate about Ontario and Canada as a whole, but he is also a realist and embraces great product from elsewhere.

I have been going to Boehmer for quite some time and I send many people there. The room is massive, but in a wonderful way. Tables are well spaced so you can comfortably chat. Sit at the bar; the chairs are super comfortable, which is a very welcome change. There are wonderfully creative concoctions from very professional bartenders as well as a creative extensive wine list. Servers are friendly, but know when to leave, they also know their chef, his menu and nightly specials verbatim; you are in very good hands.

Dirty Martini with Sable and Rosenfeld Blue Cheese Olives.

The menu is seasonal so when you decide to go things may have changed, but I will give you a meal I had with two in tow not long ago.

We started with a gorgeous Harvest Platter. I like to test chefs on their pates and terrines as they take a very skilled hand to make well. They can be dry, mushy and flavourless. This was not the case with Boehmer’s terrine of pig’s head, pork shoulder, charred green onions and prunes all wrapped in bacon. The house made rilette was smooth and fatty as it should be. Both were served with a stunning sour cherry vermouth glaze and an array of house-made pickles. A quick aside, as a canning queen, I take pickles and jams very seriously and these crispy veggies were perfectly seasoned and not too vinegary.

The Harvest Platter Charcuterie Board with Rilettes, Pork Terrine en Croute, Pickled Seasonal Veg, and Smoked Sturgeon.

We requested a bit of Acadian smoked sturgeon with pickled red onions that was also delightful. My small note is the crispy crackers, although delicious, were a bit salty and did not need the addition of herbs as it took away from the flavours on the board. We also requested some of the house-made bread and whipped butter, which was wonderful to mop up the remaining bits.

House made Bread and whipped Herb Butter.

One of us was feeling like a classic Ontario heirloom tomato and Buffalo mozzarella salad; again there was a special touch with a crazy cool smoked tomato vinaigrette.

Heirloom Tomato Tower with Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette.

The next test was chicken, a meat I find as a whole insipid and uninspired. I was delightfully surprised at Café Boulud  and once again a master in the kitchen made me dance with joy. A pan-roasted Chantecler Rouge Mennonite bird was fricasseed with wild mushrooms, thyme demi glace and a touch of cream. Unlike the scary vegetable medley one usually gets at mediocre restaurants, Boehmer embraces the seasons and served up wilted kale, tiny carrots, Brussel sprouts and cherry tomatoes.

Chantecler Heirloom Roast Chicken with Wild Mushrooms and Seasonal Sautéed Greens.

I was curious so I chose the pan-seared Fogo Island cod with butter poached king crab legs, fingerling potatoes, haricot verte and a velvety parsley beurre blanc with nicoise olives and capers. Now, I thought to myself, am I going to have to pick through the crab? How is this dish going to work? Well it worked because these perfect little shell-off crab legs were draped on top of the perfectly cooked cod. This is French eating at its best.

Seared Seabass with perfectly poached King Crab Legs in a rich herb butter sauce.

The meat eater had to have his meat and Boehmer’s grilled flat iron steak with proper Belgian thick-cut double cooked fries was beyond. Now get ready for this, a Chorizo green onion jus that was like syrup glazed the plate.

Perfectly grilled Ontario RibEye with Chorizo Demi Glacé and Belgian Fries.

I have a sweet tooth and make no bones about it. We have come to terms with each other and embrace the love. Paul embraces the love as well. Boehmer’s makes only a few desserts, but they execute them perfectly and seasonally. We ate them all.

A lemon tart with a buttery sugar crust and tart lemon, a few scattered Ontario berries for a hit of colour and a fresh bite. In a tiny cast iron pot emerged a bubbling mess of warm apple cobbler with a bourbon maple crème anglaise. Now I know crème anglaise is a thin sauce, but I think I would have enjoyed this a bit more if it would have been thicker. This would have allowed me to taste and enjoy the two components instead of the sauce disappearing into the cobbler.

Now for a quick secret, not-so-secret: on Tuesday nights, Boehmer offers $20 steamed lobsters with drawn butter, half price bottles and buck a shuck. What does this mean? Well with a side of fries and one dessert, you can eat at one of the best Toronto has to offer for a great price.

One more quick note about my friend Paul. Paul has Type 2 diabetes and it is under control because Paul has started to exercise and eat well. Paul was also concerned about the other chefs in his kitchen so twice a week they are under a trainer for one hour. They are all going to bed earlier, losing weight and having more healthy energy. In a business full of late nights, drug and alcohol abuse, this is one fabulous step in the right direction.

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