348 Adelaide St. W. $90 Dinner for two I am trying to figure out how Parcae might survive past the next 10 minutes. How could anyone with a soupçon of business sense open a restaurant with an unpronounceable name, in an eentsy hotel nobody’s heard of in a dismal stretch of Adelaide Street West, down badly lit stairs in a dark basement? It’s a joke, right? Or a cautionary tale of how not to open a restaurant.
The conundrum here is that I love the food at Parcae, the service is charming, and it deserves to survive. What, says the waiter, you don’t like the risotto? I’ll take it off your bill. Okay, now we know who we’re dealing with. These people are beyond nice.
The food is supposed to be Québécois, which in itself is pretty interesting given the paucity of cultural influences from our nextdoor neighbours. Both the chefs are from Montreal and worked at the estimable Cabane à Sucre there. But most of the food is more Italian than Québécois, but nonetheless delicious.
One of my all-time fave foods, usually only enjoyed in Rome, is carciofi alla giudia. This is a deepfried whole artichoke, named for my people because it originated in the Roman ghetto. And what could be better than this crispy artichoke scented with lemon, its flavour deepened with bottarga (salted cured red mullet roe)? Or big fat ravioli of nutmeg-tinged duck with brulee’d mascarpone, toasted hazenuts and tomato sauce like a cloud you inhale? This is Québécois the duck with nutmeg channeling tourtiere. Or perfectly steamed clams in a deep strong tomato bath with white beans and little batons of crispy guanciale (cured pork cheek)?
I’m not too sure how Québécois Hong Kong chicken or fried quails are, but both meet Toronto’s apparently infinite desire for things deep-fried. The deep fried chicken foot (!!) comes with crispy chicken skin and sweet-spiced chicken sausage on butternut squash puree. Super-crispy deep fried quail riffs nicely on southern fried chicken with BBQ sauce, though I fail to see the point of house-made Wonderbread. Maybe some honey butter might have changed my mind.
Dinner finishes with a grand Québécois flourish, reminiscent of the mason jar oeuvre of Au Pied de Cochon. Hot from the oven bread pudding, rich and fabulously gooey, sits under melting vanilla ice cream, a molten river of cream now, and over maple syrup, Almost erotic.
Will Parcae survive? Turn up the lights on the stairs, put some signs in the hotel lobby so people can find it, and maybe these lovely cooks and servers will get the attention they deserve. JOANNE KATES