Joanne Kates goes ‘banane’ f or Bran­don Olsen’s new French restau­rant

Chef Bran­don Olsen hits the spot with his ode to French fare

North York Post - - Contents - JOANNE KATES 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.

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

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