Le Paradis in Toronto’s Annex area fits the bill for a relaxed, welcoming neighbourhood bistro with solid French dishes — at extremely reasonable prices.
A favourite of Toronto Chowhounders, the place is packed on a Friday night with what looks like a lot of regulars. To the left of us, a group of 20-something guys scarfing down steak frites, and to our right, two middle-aged couples with one pair looking like they’re on a blind date set up by the other.
Our sweet server brings us pieces of baguette from a basket which we slather with really good butter that’s on the table. I can hear snippets of French conversation, which makes me suspect all the staff are quite fluent, including our Asian waitress.
Ben’s grilled sardines ($7) come on top of tomato concassé. The first fish is great. The second one is mealy and has to be sent back. The server apologizes, offers to make a new one (which Ben declines) and later takes it off our bill.
Scott fares much better with his warm duck confit salad ($7). A garlic dressing brings together the duck, new potatoes, and frisée lettuce.
The main plates are all excellent. My rabbit ($17), braised with fennel, tomato, basil, garlic, white wine and pastis, transports me back to eating lapin for the first time in a French high-school cafeteria during a student exchange years ago. I can’t scoop up the mashed potatoes fast enough.
Ben’s choucroute garnie ($17) is a lovely — and heavy — cold-weather, stick-to-your-bones version of the Alsatian standby. A huge pork loin sits atop boudin blanc sausage, bacon, and cabbage braised with white wine. (Unfortunately, my photo of it is too blurry to post.)
Scott’s pan-fried flatiron steak ($17) was smothered in pepper sauce, alongside frites and green beans in Le Paradis’ version of steak frites. It was delicious and looked like one of the more popular dishes in the restaurant, judging by how many of them went past us while we were there.
The other thing we noticed was the increasing amount of smoke coming from the open kitchen and wafting toward the rest of the restaurant. Nothing was on fire; I think the exhaust system just couldn’t handle everything.
Desserts were fun. Profiteroles ($6) — all puffy and custardy — are a grown-up kid’s delight with ice cream and chocolate sauce. So was Ben’s coconut ice cream with bananas, chocolate sauce and whipped cream ($5).
As much as I wanted to love this place, it didn’t completely wow me. However, the extremely weak exhaust system left us smelling memories of Le Paradis for hours afterward.
Le Paradis, 166 Bedford Rd., Toronto, (416) 921-0995. Open Sunday, Monday 5:30-10 p.m., Tuesday-Friday 6-11 p.m., Saturday 5:30-11 p.m.