Food not as glo­ri­ous as decor

The restau­rant’s in­te­rior is all fin de siè­cle Parisian won­der­land

Village Post - - Food | Restaurant Reviews - JOANNE KATES

It was with some­thing bor­der­ing porno­graphic lust that I crossed the thresh­old of Café Can­can, son of Pi­ano Pi­ano, Vic­tor Barry’s divine down­scale Ital­ian pasta ’n’ pizza par­lour. Even the door is a good omen. Turquoise, my late mother’s favourite colour.

But that’s not why I was ex­cited. My life­long feel­ings about French food bor­der on wor­ship­ful. I know peo­ple who don’t like but­ter, I have friends who cringe at the thought of foie

gras, and my beloved part­ner, be­ing a bet­ter per­son than me, ab­hors cream sauces. I wish I were one of those peo­ple. Think of the calo­ries I wouldn’t have to con­sume! Imag­ine the bat­tles I wouldn’t have to fight. The bulge would be some­body else’s prob­lem.

But I never met a form of but­ter or meat fat that I didn’t crave. Cream is like silk to me. Hence French food and I, a love cou­ple.

En­ter­ing Café Can­can, a small bistro in what used to be the Har­bord Room, is like fall­ing down the rab­bit hole into f in de

siè­cle Parisian won­der­land. It’s a pink room wall­pa­pered with big blousy pink pe­onies. You can al­most imag­ine Edith Piaf toss­ing back Pernod at the bar. The tiny din­ing room is charm­ing, but my heart be­longs to the back ter­race: Mar­ble ta­bles, white wooden ban­quettes and a roof of Edison lights against the dark sky.

Would that the food were as glo­ri­ous as the decor. Tak­ing on a clas­sic like French onion soup is re­ally throw­ing down the gaunt­let. The stock is too sub­tle, there’s an ex­cess of bread cubes and not enough of the sweet savour of long caramelized onions. We love the creamy ril­lettes of smoked stur­geon on roasted flat­bread with dill, pars­ley and pick­led shal­lots, but few glo­ries fol­low it.

The duck con­fit is greasy even for me. And I find it weird to be served pretty much the same gar­nish with our two mains: raw green ap­ple, raw en­dive, pick­led cauliflower and halved raw grapes. With the skate wing the cauliflower is browned, and with the duck there are slightly burnt hazel­nuts. Rather like the over­cooked frites, which only came af­ter a re­minder.

They do sev­eral dif­fer­ent eclairs for dessert, so gotta do it. Here we meet the nadir of French cui­sine: An eclair filled right be­fore serv­ing is crispy crunchy choux pas­try with creamy fill­ing. Fill­ing it in ad­vance? Recipe for dis­as­ter. De­spite my love for Canada’s two key food groups — peanut but­ter and choco­late — I am dis­ap­pointed by the sadly soggy peanut but­ter choco­late eclair.

How is it that Mr. Barry can suc­ceed so delectably with down­scale Ital­iana at Pi­ano Pi­ano, and not with a ca­sual French bistro? Maybe be­cause that’s just the na­ture of Ital­ian ver­sus French cui­sine, the for­mer be­ing full of brio and ease, the lat­ter be­ing a labour of tech­nique lay­ered un­der the love. More tech­nique please.

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: Café Can­can’s fan­ci­ful in­te­rior, the Ceci et Cela plat­ter and steak tartare

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