A STRETCH OF Yonge Street north of Lawrence, which has been dominated for the past decade by all things Italian, has been invaded by the French. Local diners are delighted to welcome them to the neighbourhood.
The term “bistro” has been distorted beyond all recognition, but Steak Frites is here to reeducate us. A quick glance at the menu, which lists onion soup, pâté de campagne, escargots and calf ’s liver and we know that these folks are aiming for authenticity.
Decor matches perfectly. Since the owner has run the remarkably successful Merlot on the Kingsway for 10 years, this comes as no surprise.
The hostess is intuitive; she seats us at a table near the back door and sees the disappointment in my eyes. Two minutes later she returns, suggesting that a fiveminute wait will result in a table by the window. Smart woman.
We use the time to dissect the menu. I inquire about the fish soup and am warned that it is not bouillabaisse, so I move on. I am a sucker for grilled calamari and persist in seeking elusive perfection. I do not find it tonight.
Despite my specific questions regarding true grill, the large portion arrives cold, fish-belly white and soft ($10.95).
A far better bet is the moules marinières (mussels) that brings a classic presentation of plump bivalves steamed in white wine. This dish is created with slurping and sopping in mind ($8.95).
One of us has to have the classic steak & frites. The plate is full with just enough room for the wonderful assortment of parboiled vegetables; the frites are thin, crispy and lightly salted. The New York strip loin, despite being cooked beyond the medium rare requested, is good ($19.95).
I am an unapologetic lover of duck. The waiter’s eyes glisten as he recommends it, but I neglect to ask a critical question: is the skin crispy?
Undoubtedly, this duck confit has been marinated and then cooked in its own fat, and, once I remove the flabby skin, the meat is earthy and succulent. Instead of the sautéed garlic potatoes that are offered, I also have the frites, and the same vegetables appear on my plate. A brief chat with the waiter as he removes my plate informs me that all I had to do is ask for crispy skin. That would have made it perfect ($18.50).
A lovely feature for couples who dine and then drive is that several wines are offered by the half litre, which is perfect for most evenings.
The dessert list is lovely and each treat is made in-house. Chocolate mousse is a classic, and to our taste buds it seems that there are layers to the depths of chocolate in this goblet ($7.95).
The kitchen at Steak Frites clearly has a special touch with pastry, and I taste it with the tarte du jour, which on this evening is the humble pear. The fruit is not overcooked and is fanned out over a sweet crust highlighted by crème anglaise, whipped cream and mixed berries.Too good ($8.95).
Steak Frites is still a bit rough around the corners, but the service is smooth, prices are reasonable, and it offers a welcome alternative in the neighbourhood.