T.O.’s non-greasy spoons

Jen Agg’s new diner is a per­fect foil to Aloette

Annex Post - - FOOD - by Jes­sica Wei

GO FOR GOULD The first Fran’s Restau­rant at St. Clair West was a daily haunt of mas­ter pi­anist Glenn Gould. HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY BURGER El­ton John re­cently pro­claimed the Sen­a­tor’s “The best burger in the world.”

In our city of neigh­bour­hoods, ev­ery neigh­bour­hood has a diner –– and most of them have been around from time im­memo­rial, beloved by the com­mu­ni­ties they cater to. But two new restau­rants have el­e­vated the con­cept, of­fer­ing pedi­greed cooking and ex­pertly crafted cock­tails with a side of Formica co­zi­ness. Le Swan, the new project by Jen Agg, is a ver­i­ta­ble culi­nary time ma­chine, de­signed to send din­ers back to 1960s Paris, the epit­ome of cool. Mean­while, Aloette, chef Pa­trick Kriss’s down-toearth an­swer to the world-renowned Alo two floors up, per­fects greasy spoon of­fer­ings with a re­fined per­spec­tive. Both have been able to avoid the pit­falls of pas­tiche when it comes to re­vamp­ing the diner con­cept while stay­ing true to tra­di­tion.

Sepia-toned so­phis­ti­ca­tion at Le Swan

Un­der the metic­u­lous su­per­vi­sion of a post–Black Hoof Jen Agg, the peren­nial Trin­ity Bell­woods han­gout Swan Restau­rant has been rein­car­nated.

Less the retro-’50s greasy spoon of its for­mer life, Le Swan is ’50s new wave bistro-cool.

Gone is the “Have a Coke” sign, and in its place is a vin­tage AixLes-Bains poster from the absinthe era. The space feels some­how nat­u­rally sepia toned upon en­try.

Soft vin­tage light­ing, gleam­ing white tiles, bur­gundy-hued booths and a playlist that is Charles Az­navour–in­fused (RIP) trans­form all pa­trons into char­ac­ters from a Go­dard film, not a chignon out of place (and the re­turn of turtle­neck sea­son cer­tainly as­sists the vibe). At Le Swan, any­one hold­ing a smart­phone seems like an anachro­nism.

The menu pairs French bistro com­fort fare with diner sta­ples: on of­fer are the gravy­drenched hot chicken sand­wich and also its so­phis­ti­cated cousin, a whole Parisianstyle ro­tis­serie chicken, quar­tered and served as rus­tic as they come: au jus with a hand­ful of roasted veg and pota­toes, along­side a bas­ket of crusty bread ends.

Sim­i­larly, a re­fined diner may opt for the smoked trout ril­lette, whereas the com­fort crav­ing cus­tomer can or­der a per­fect, pil­lowy tuna melt, all creamy­cen­tred good­ness with crispy, cheesy edges, and douse it them­selves with ac­com­pa­ny­ing Tabasco sauce.

892 Queen St. W., 416-536-4440

Din­ing car chic at Aloette

The first-floor, pedes­trian-friendly Aloette may bill it­self as an Amer­i­can diner, but one step in­side its nar­row, wooden in­te­rior in­di­cates an el­e­vated ex­pe­ri­ence.

In­deed, Aloette prom­ises a menu that is stocked with French and Amer­i­can bistro clas­sics, but a few am­bi­tious gourmet touches are thrown in.

The ice­berg wedge salad, for ex­am­ple, is not the cher­ished wedge of yore. For one thing, it’s not even a wedge.

It’s a hemi­sphere, topped with creamy av­o­cado, Parme­san, crunchy pepi­tas, shaved radish, evenly distributed chive cream and wild rice.

The finely en­gi­neered burger is a bet­ter burger: juiced up with aged beef fat, cooked medium rare by de­fault and topped with a thick slab of Beau­fort, and a wispy mound of let­tuce and pick­led onions. The messy marvel is served along­side hand-cut frites.

The in­te­rior of Aloette es­chews all the pre­ten­sion of its up­stairs fore­run­ner.

Closer to a diner of the train car va­ri­ety, it’s all smooth, rounded edges; arched ceil­ing; booths steeped in nat­u­ral light; and a long, nar­row aisle sep­a­rat­ing bar pa­trons and booth table­tops. And un­like Alo, there’s no months-long wait­ing list –– in fact, with its walk-ins-only pol­icy, there’s no wait­ing list at all.

163 Spad­ina Ave., 416-260-3444

Clock­wise from left: Aloette’s classy counter, restau­ra­teur Jen Agg, the tuna melt at Le Swan

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