Plus Chantecler 2.0 shines in some places — but needs work in others
Joanne Kates gets her Motor City munchies on as she reviews the Detroit-style deep-dish on offer at Descendant Pizza
DESCENDANT 1168 Queen St. E. $60 Dinner for two
Had you told me that I would fall head over heels in love with a form of pizza that has as much crust as topping, I’d have told you to go get your head read: Because I’m such a fan of the increasingly thin cracker-like pizza crust that’s cooked for 90 seconds at blistering heat — so that it crackles dryly in the mouth.
This new (to us) form of pizza is called Detroit-style and is on offer in an unassuming 22-seat hole-in-the-wall in Leslieville. They take res, but the place is popular, so go early or late. The small room has quite lovely paintings on the walls, sometimes big colourful hearts and flowers.
Now all it needs is some more assertive rock ’n’ roll to while away the time waiting for your pie, because this one ain’t quick — especially when Descendant Pizza is slammed with both takeout and eat-in orders. Which is usually.
After rolling out the dough, they put it on a deep steel pizza pan, with a mixture of grated brick and mozzarella on top. The sauce goes on after it comes out of the oven. The result is that when the pizza bakes — which is relatively lengthy — the cheeses, with their luscious fat, caramelize and get all golden brown and crunchy and greasy. This is the kiss of heaven for cooked dough.
I could just eat the crust and be happy. All four tall crunchy sides, ’cause these pizzas are rectangular! More corners, more crunch!
The toppings are as much fun as the crust. House favourite Truff-Ghi is ooey gooey cheeses, garlic that’s been roasted long and slow for sweetness, onion marmalade, cremini mushrooms and smoky bacon.
And the fun just keeps on coming: The Good Old Days, with marinated roasted red peppers, house-made fennel sausage, red sauce, basil aïoli, parsley and grana padano.
Their terrific house-made ranch dressing appears with ricotta salata and a pile of toasted peanuts and grapes both red and green to turn salad into an event. A very fun event. Almost as much fun as their house desserts, which change weekly.
Pray for lemon thyme posset, a small Mason jar holding super-creamy lemon mousse topped with crumbled ginger snaps. The most indulgent possible ending to a carnival of carbs.
CHANTECLER 1320 Queen St. W. $80 Dinner for two
This is how I’m feeling about the new Chantecler. And it shouldn’t have been like that, given my long-term relationship with old school French cooking. I even still adore quiche! And French onion soup! I never met a butterfat I didn’t love, and in my own kitchen if someone dares challenge the conventions of French cooking, there’s hell to pay.
So I was near to ecstasy when the ultra hipster Parkdale boîte Chantecler announced that its new chef, Jesse Mutch, was doing old school French, with nary a sign of foams or toasted rice toppings. Chantecler’s owner, Jacob Wharton-Shukster, made reference to Montreal’s L’Express, which I always loved for its trad bistro cuisine. He had struggled with the restaurant’s future, closing weekdays for a while after the departure of his partner, chef Jonathan Poon, who opened Bar Fancy in 2014.
Chantecler 2.0 has nothing to do with the Asian fusion lettucy thingies of chef Poon, but the room is unchanged — still a small and incredibly sweet bistro with thick wooden tables, some hightop, some regulation height, white tile floors a la française and a cheerful atmosphere with friendly service.
Dinner starts off scrumptious with classic French cheese puffs — gougères. They’re tender and warm and melt-in-the-mouth. Fines herbes butter gilds the lily nicely. Then cometh a small soufflé dish of French onion soup. Too small to accommodate sufficient broth under its very good cheesy roof. A similar malfunction befalls the snails in puff pastry. There’s a reason why trad French chefs always had to apprentice for years and practice techniques over and over and over again. It’s an extremely technical cuisine, even at the bistro level. So snails in puff pastry with mushroom sherry cream sauce sounds fab, but if the pastry is tough and the cream sauce underseasoned.…
The duck and crepes main course is better, featuring perfectly pink ’n’ tender duck breast with leg and thigh blessed with crisp skin (hurrah!) and tender flesh. We love that, but why are the little chive crepes fridge-cold? And the so-called plum preserve doesn’t taste plummy. Better is the B.C. snapper with mussels. Despite the snapper being slightly overcooked it’s a fine dish thanks to perfectly cooked mussels and Pernod-scented tomato cream sauce.
Sides of frites with mayo and green beans with hollandaise and almond crumble are two of the best things on the menu. Way better than the lemon parfait dessert, whose lemon cream is denser than the citric cloud we expected. We’re counting on chef Mutch to do better soon. Much better.
Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine.
Clockwise from top left: The lively interior at Descendant; their Good Old Days pizza; the bistro look of Chantecler; and their steak tartare