Joanne Kates goes ‘banane’ f or Brandon Olsen’s new French restaurant
Chef Brandon Olsen hits the spot with his ode to French fare
Take a restaurant dream team, add a pinch of hipster, a soupçon of cream and a healthy dollop of impeccable seafood, season it à la française, and what have you got? The dishiest new resto to hit Toronto in a year!
La Banane is the marriage of the King Street Food Company (three Bucas, Jacobs and Co.) and chef Brandon Olsen (ex-chef at Bar Isabel and The Black Hoof ). Add the fact that chef Olsen created the resto in the image of his own personal food passions, and you have a recipe for enchantment.
It’s where The Saint used to be, and the room, while renovated, feels very like its predecessor, which was wonderful. The space is still warm and welcoming, attractive without shouting its glamour,
Immediately upon entering you see the new marble raw bar, a long display of incredibly fresh seafood with several pretty cute shuckers at work. Très français. I like the front dining room, done in a suite of dark greens, but there’s something to be said for the insouciance of sitting at the raw bar, or the cosiness of the back dining room.
As for the taste of things, I was in New York last week, eating at Esca, the famous Mario Batali’s Italian seafood resto. I love it, but my raw marinated scallops at Esca were neither as sweet nor as sensitively sauced as La Banane’s freshly shucked raw scallops marinated with garlic-tinged buttermilk. Score for the home team! Similarly fab are the barely cooked marinated mussels with a touch of heat from espelette pepper vinaigrette.
Then cometh the magnificent: A European sea bass is presented tableside wrapped in a latticework of pastry. They take it back to the kitchen, remove the latticework on top and debone the fish, presenting its pristine white flesh with a pour of yuzu-scented beurre blanc. The fish is perfectly cooked, the sauce a francophile’s dream. Also impeccably French are the sweetbreads with hedgehog mushrooms. The sweetbreads are superbly tender with a hint of smoke, the mushrooms fresh and almost tangy, and as for sitting this confection on a pool of blanquette — white sauce built on veal stock — this is the kind of layered complex cooking that only the French understand.
Chef Olsen makes only two miscalculations: His pommes Aligot are mashed potatoes with so much comte cheese that it’s gone gummy. And his signature dessert, Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg (made at Olsen’s College Street chocolate shop) costs $50! — an ego trip and not worth it. A giant chocolate egg painted with many colours sits on the plate, to be cracked open. Inside are very good chocolate truffles, with chili-tinged coffee-scented dried apricots on the inside of the chocolate egg. Very good truffles, but $50?
Otherwise dinner at La Banane is utterly enthralling. On the small table at the entrance, you notice, as you leave, a hardcover copy of
Larousse Gastronomique, the grand bible of French cuisine. Larousse tells cooks precisely how to cook every precious and wonderful item in the classic French lexicon. Chef Olsen has chosen his calling card well — for he is clearly an adept lover of la grande cuisine.
Clockwise from left: La Banane’s handsome interior, scallops marinated in garlic buttermilk sauce, roasted ananas with tofu pudding