Restaurant Review: Parquet – This may be an unpopular opinion, but …

Address97 Harbord Street
Dinner for two with wine$250

Bonjour b*tches,

… Parquet was a letdown. Before I get into the specifics, let me share a little bit about my experience at this new French bistro on Harbord Street.

Harbord Street is the definition of Toronto charm, with plenty of inviting restaurants and shops lining the street–Dreyfus, Piano Piano, Rasa and Bicyclette Food & Wine. When I heard Parquet, a refined French bistro, was opening in the former Flock space, to say I was excited was an understatement. In my opinion, there are never too many French bistros in the city, and this one had all the ingredients for a memorable culinary experience.

Parquet’s team includes owners Daniel Bernstein and Matt Cohen. Helming the kitchen is Chef Jeremy Dennis, and he brings a resume full of notable Toronto restaurants that would make any diner blush—Woodlot, Burdock Brewery and Chantecler, to name a few.

The restaurant’s ambiance perfectly conjures up what one would expect of a restaurant named Parquet—the dining room is cozy, inviting and elegant with warm candlelight, plenty of dark wood tones and thoughtful accents. It’s reminiscent of the bistros you’d stumble into in Paris with a fancy modern edge. There’s a sizeable wrap-around bar at the front with high tops nestled up to the wall. Diners also make themselves comfortable in the formal dining area, where several two- and four-tops are placed logically around the room. While the kitchen is concealed at the back, there is definitely an energy that permeates through the thick velvet drapery.

The beverage program includes terroir-driven wines by the bottle and the glass, artisanal cocktails, imported and domestic beers and a couple non-alcoholic options. Not surprisingly, many wines on offer are from France’s Loire Valley. There are a handful of bottles and wines by the glass from Ontario, including a Chardonnay from Pearl Morissette.

With only 20 items (six appetizers, six entrees and a smattering of sides and desserts), the menu is modest and, as one might expect, dishes change according to seasonality, ingredient availability, and the chef’s creativity.

Most of Parquet’s dishes emphasize accessibility over inventiveness—from the Digby scallop cru ($24) to the cassoulet ($42). My eyes zero in on a few items pour partager: Robinson’s sourdough with salted butter ($9), the tartine ($19), and the radicchio blanco salad ($19). I can say with certainty that the sourdough is well worth its modest $9 price tag–bubbly and slightly chewy on the inside with a slight tanginess. With a culinary resume like Dennis’s there is no way the food could be bad. But it is.

For a menu this concise, weak points are commonplace. The tartine resembles a garlic cheese toast and is far too salty to enjoy. One bite confirms that it has been sitting at the pass for far too long. The toasted bread has soaked up the gruyere Mornay sauce, rendering it the kind of soggy mess you don’t want to pay $19 for. The salad, while I give credit to its presentation, is lacking in taste. Crisp leaves of radicchio mingle with zesty grapefruit and sweet brioche. It sounds delightful, but I wouldn’t have wanted more due to its overwhelmingly acidic dressing. There are, however, some redeeming qualities with the entrees.

Steak frites is ubiquitous at any French bistro, and the execution of this entree is the tell-tale sign of its culinary talent. Parquet’s steak frites is ($45) about as by the book as one can get. The 9-ounce bavette, under an armor of flaky salt and fresh herbs, is juicy and tender, even if it’s tepid by the time it arrives at the table. The pommes frites are thin and salty, and have the kind of crunch that isn’t achieved without time and effort. But the accompanying béarnaise proves that Dennis was overzealous on the vinegar and tarragon. The frites beg to be dipped, but the béarnaise is unpalatable.

One dish I hold out hope for—the pan-roasted sablefish with shaved Brussels sprouts in a creamy vadouvan sauce ($39)—is also an unfortunate miss. Underneath the clunky portion of sablefish is a startlingly cold vadouvan sauce. Both the sauce and the fish are flavoured with this French curry-like spice blend, which should technically act as an intensifier, but it loses its appeal after a few one-dimensional bites.

As for the dessert, the buckwheat financier is nothing new, nor is the malted chocolate mousse or the variety of sorbets on offer, but they are satisfying—especially after a series of misses.

While Parquet didn’t strike a chord with me (and I tried really hard), it drew a lively crowd patrons and achieved an ambiance and level of consistent service that any diner would long for. Perhaps it was just an “off” night. The only element that needs improvement is the food—and that’s kind of important, mais oui?

Mme M. xoxo

3/5 étoiles

La rubrique de Madame Marie

1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.