Unbeknownst to me, The Wine Bar shut down for gold-medal Sunday. So, wandering around the corner brought us to Lucien‘s doorstep instead. With its cred, I don’t hear about this restaurant very often. Actually, to the point where this wasn’t even on my radar.
Despite eyebrow-raising prices on the menu outside, the dishes seemed interesting enough. So we rolled the dice and ventured in on this quiet night.
The long room is an updated version of an upscale bistro framed with deep red curtains and laser-cut black metal screens. Ambient red and blue lighting and a quirky wine-bottle chandelier dresses things down a bit. The giant mirror above the bar opens the narrow space up.
While we wait to be seated, I notice the two-top right by the door separated by a low wall. It’s an interesting way to squeeze in an extra table, though I’d imagine you’d still have people hovering over you on a busy night. But we push decorations and traffic flow aside, take our seats, and hurry to place our order. Though it’s late and the kitchens are set to close, it’s good to know that no one is snoozing back there.
With quotes included on the menu, the “French Onion Soup” consists of duck confit, slow roast onion, aged gouda, croutons. The chicken-based broth had such a good and intense flavour. There were chunks of foie gras and thinly sliced duck. Really quite a lovely melding of flavours.
Wild Mushroom And Sunchoke Flan with organic spinach, black truffle and hazelnut pesto. While the sunchoke flan was reminiscent of a slightly more gelatinous tofu (albeit a really nice piece of tofu), it made for a really good vehicle to showcase the very tasty chanterelles and assorted mushrooms. A generous slice of black truffle sat on top (sadly, not very fragrant).
Couldn’t resist getting the Ontario Harvest Beef Bourguignon. With wild mushrooms, cippolini onion, heirloom roots, baby chard. I didn’t catch everything that was described, but the typical Bourguignon elements were actually individual puddings at the bottom of the plate. I quite enjoyed the carrot – really smooth and subtle. Lots of tender and well-flavoured beef chunks stewed in wine – a well-executed dish.
Having never tried this particular game meat, I ordered the Ontario Red Deer with puréed celeriac, wild rice puffs, granola foam and tuille. With the first bite, I was surprised at how delicate the taste of the deer was and I really enjoyed the tenderness and taste of the meat. The wild rice puffs, which I had thought extraneous at first, went really well with the dish. And the cranberry reduction around the plate added a traditional tang to it all. The celeriac purée, creamy and slightly sweet, made a nice substitute for the standard starch. Overall, I was really happy with this dish. Something new, lots of textures, and good flavours.
For dessert, I chose the chocolate complex, described as “a chocolate selection from around the globe”. From left to right: Madagascar (Cluizel), Italy (I couldn’t recognize the pattern), Dominican (traditional old-school chocolate-making process, SOMA), Ghana (?), Papua New Guinea (?). I love my dark chocolate and while interesting in presentation, I’d eaten at least two on the plate. So this was less discovery than I had hoped for.
For everyone else, it’s a nice way to taste a variety of dark chocolates. As a note, some bars cost $6-$7, and trying five kinds on your own makes the $18 price tag a little more reasonable. I wished that they’d had more information for me to read about on the different chocolates – things like cocoa percentages, bean origin, maker, and the like.
What made this chocolate flight more fun were the accompaniments: rose pudding, cedar jelly, pink sea salt and balsamic vinegar & oil. Most interesting taste with the chocolate was the olive oil. Tastiest on its own was the rose pudding. The cedar was too subtle, and the sea salt too coarse and strong. Minor quibbles given it’s the chocolate you’re tasting.
I sort of wished that I had tried another dessert though, as their mains were quite interesting and the chocolate taster didn’t showcase that creativity as much.
It’s been a while since I had such well-composed dishes. While the hand of molecular gastronomy was apparent, it didn’t feel like they were trying too hard. Though I really enjoyed my meal, the price point is high enough that it removes Lucien from the random drop-by list (despite how we ended up there). And oh, the lacklustre service! There’s a lot of care put into these dishes and it would elevate their game so much if the service was on par with the food – in spite of a slow Sunday. And maybe then Lucien wouldn’t be such a stranger.