Located in a quiet neighbourhood on the corner of Harbord Street and Manning Avenue, Ici is this little French bistro owned by one of Toronto’s most respected chefs, Jean-Pierre Challet, who has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants like The Fifth, Windsor Arms Hotel, and Auberge du Pommier to name a few.
Recommended by our family friend, Uncle Joe, (check out his blog Foodlover360), we decided to spend some quality mother daughter time over shopping and dinner. Unfortunately for us, we came here on one of the hottest days, so we weren’t able to enjoy it as much as we would like, so we recommend you to go on a nice cool day!
Hearing that it is quite impossible to just walk in and be seated, we made reservations. It’s a relatively small bistro, so it actually doesn’t accept more than parties of four, and I can see why. The restaurant is literally made up of seats of 2 with a couple of seats by the window, a pair of seats by the bar, and another pair of seats in front of the open kitchen!
Ici’s menu has a great variety of French-inspired dishes that includes the choice of wine pairings. We especially love how the restaurant offers the choice between appetizer sizes and entrée sizes. Since we are small eaters and wanted to try a few more dishes, we opted for the portion size, which was great for our stomachs and our wallets. =)
Chantal, our waitress, started us off with a smoked salmon and goat cheese appetizer on the house, which was really sweet of them. Surprisingly, this one-bite appetizer was delicious! We are usually hesitant with goat cheese, but somehow the freshness of the smoked salmon masked the usual tart flavour characteristics of goat cheese
For the complimentary bread basket, they provided us 4 kinds of their own freshly made bread. It was so warm and fluffy! Little known fact: they actually supply their croissants to a nearby cafe Sam James Coffee Bar which boasts to have the best cappuccino in Toronto!
So we started off with their recommended Steak Tartare. It was actually very light on the palette and the taste was not overbearing. We even took the initiative to spread it on our flatbread, which helped balance the flavour. Loved how the steak tartare was paired with these golden fried mash potatoes. I think it’s a great take on the Belgian style of steak tartare where they are usually paired with fries. Claude, who’s not a usual fan of fried food or mash potatoes, enjoyed it. Kind of reminds me of a upper class hashbrown. =)
Pan Seared Market Fish (Halibut), Artichoke Purée, Vegetables, Lasagna: It’s no surprise here that we decided to go with their market fish of the day, which was the Halibut, since we love our seafood. Everything on the dish was paired really nicely with each other from textures to colours to flavours.
Scallops & King Crab, Drunken Lobster, Potato Risotto, Sauce Newburg: I think this was our favourite dish of the night. It was definitely a unique presentation with the curly potato risotto. I also enjoyed the lightly fried king crab sandwiched between a scallop. Each piece complimented well with one another. At no point did all the flavours become one. Each one had it’s own distinguished flavour.
We heard their Trio of Lemon, a lemon tart, was a popular choice among the customers; however, our eyes were immediately drawn to the soufflé at the bottom of the dessert menu. You know how we’re on the hunt for the best macarons? Well, I think it’s safe to say we’re also on the hunt for the best soufflé. Rarely seen prepared at restaurants, we ordered 2 without a second’s thought: the Grand Marnier and the Praline Soufflé. As the two desserts made its way over to our table, everyone in the restaurant was mesmerized. If we were to choose which one we enjoyed more, it would have to be the Grand Marnier because we have a soft spot for orange citrus-y flavours. If you plan to order this, it takes about 20 minutes to bake, so if you’re on a tight schedule, I suggest you to order it when your entrées arrive.
Overall, it was such a pleasure to dine here. It was all incredibly well presented. One can tell that Jean-Pierre and his team has put much thought into what paired well with what. To be honest, each individual dish reminded me of an artist’s paint palette: full of colours. In addition, the experience was that much better with the waiters and waitresses being very knowledgeable about each dish and were all very attentive with their customers. The whole atmosphere of the restaurant was classy and intimate in a neighbourhood-friendly way. With their door literally opened, it’s very welcoming and not intimidating at all. Even though the restaurant is small, by not accepting more than parties of four, it does not feel crowded, but homey. I think it’s the perfect place for dates or a small gathering with close friends!
Till next time,