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31 Trinity St.
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Café Brussel is reinvented here with a decided emphasis on classic French fare.
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Review: Brussels sprouts up in The Beach

 
By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on August 22, 2013

There are a few things you're guaranteed when heading out to The Beach on a gorgeous sunny day: no parking, monster strollers on the boardwalk, sexy volleyball players frolicking in the sand, and lousy food. Why this coveted, well-heeled residential neighbourhood has...

There are a few things you're guaranteed when heading out to The Beach on a gorgeous sunny day: no parking, monster strollers on the boardwalk, sexy volleyball players frolicking in the sand, and lousy food. Why this coveted, well-heeled residential neighbourhood has never been a destination for fine dining is truly a headscratcher. Once you sail east past Leslieville, and okay Queen Margherita Pizza, you get caught up in a wave after wave of pedestrian pub fare.

But the recent opening of Brussels Bistro may help change that perception and start attracting other finer food establishments, insha’Allah. The cutesy, cottage-like house has been home to everything from short-lived restaurants to florists. But something tells me that this Cape Cod-style bistro, a stone's throw from the beach, is here to stay. It's never easy to balance charm with elegance, but this homey nook of an eatery, with its sunny yellow interior, exudes warmth from every angle, all the while maintaining sophistication sans stuffiness. It might look a bit cramped, but it feels super comfy-cosy.

The small open kitchen is manned by none other than chef/owner Roger Wils who for more the 20 years tended to the tastes of his faithful Riverdalian patrons at Cafe Brussel. Now, after a seven year hiatus, and a failed foray into making sauces and stocks for big companies like Whole Foods, he's back in a bachelor apartment-sized kitchen with nary a sous chef in sight. Whether searing or plating, he does it with a blasé kind of calm and confident character. Wils has returned to do what he does best: robust yet simple French classics.

The first example of this new kitchen's output is a lobster bisque ($12). While a bit thinner and less velvety than one is accustomed to, it's a seafood soup you won't soon forget--I can't believe how much flesh is floating in this tiny bowl. For flavour intensity this sea deep, which can only be obtained by grinding the shells into a fine paste, I'll gladly forsake the expected creaminess. Now I have my eye on a traditional French onion soup ($10). Mmmmmmagnifique.

A paté maison ($8) ensues shortly after. And what I expected here was the rustic chunky kind, not a slab of pink matter resembling Spam. But it's divine just the same, with truly sophisticated, developed flavours and a perfect pepperiness that cuts right through the spread's creamy smooth richness. Served with some mighty fine French bread, a vibrant mustard and wild blueberry reduction, this is, vraiment, the essence of fine French cuisine. As is an Alsatian-style choucroute ($8): a thin veil of vinegar adds the requisite acidity to a lovely combo of cabbage, smoked bacon, apples and white wine. What makes it even more spectacular, however, and totally, wonderfully unnecessary, is a topping of a two ounce slab of beautiful bacon. It's as if we got a free order of pork belly thrown in because the chef was being generous.

But what Wils was truly known for at Cafe Brussel was his 28 different broths on his menu of mussels--and that was long before trendy places like BierMarkt were even conceived. Even in this teensy tiny kitchen chef manages to still offer 10, which I may add, is eight more than most other restaurants ever bother. Moules frites ($19) here come in the form of a vin blanc to biere blonde to something intriguing like diable. But this time around it's the Pastis: two generous pounds are steamed in wine, Pernod, garlic, cream, butter, celery, carrots, fresh herbs and peppercorns. Not only can this broth double as a soup all on its own, but the mollusks themselves are grit-free and lordy, lordy - each and every one has a bivalve present in each shell. I've never tasted anything quite so velvety and luxurious. I can tell you these are the mussels that most restaurants know about but will never serve because they're probably too darn expensive.  

After such culinary fireworks, mains are somewhat of a letdown. A poulet rôti with a sauce champignons ($24), sided with flawless brussels sprouts, beans, beets, asparagus, could be served on a turkey platter it's so honkin’ big, but the Quebec grain-fed chicken is so dry, it’s fall-apart chalky; ditto for a steak ($32). There's no question about the pedigree of the top notch AAA striploin, but it lacks any charbroiled smokiness whatsoever. Could it be that it was cooked with only residual heat since the grill was turned off before our order went in? That would explain why chef wasn't able to sear and seal in all the juices and fat. But the frites are flawless. Which, let’s be honest, would redeem even a main of cardboard.

Anyone can make a boo boo, and obviously by the time mains are ordered, Wils is at the end of a very busy night filled with old friends and former patrons, but not that tired to care: he is profusely apologetic and offers to make good on the meal. Maybe next time, but that one sweet gesture helped to take the edge off the less than lacklustre entrees, so did a superb, lightly torched creme brulee ($9) which really permits the fragrance of vanilla to really lift.  

In spite of some semi-serious, but easily fixable flaws due to fatigue, in my opinion the meal counts as a major success. I don't think I've ever eaten in this part of town and been so excited to bring back the good news. Slip-ups aside, the food at Brussels Bistro is superior. Wils is a respected and seasoned chef who has built a career on turning out affordable food with a French finesse all his own. Since the rest of the meal was so sublime, I'm pretty willing to chock up the mishaps as the exception, not the rule here. Welcome to the nabe. Now please stay.

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4 Comments for Brussels Bistro

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Kat W does not recommend Brussels Bistro

It started off well with a nice table in the front of the restaurant. Ordered the French onion soup while perusing the wine list. The soup came ... It was EXTREMELY HOT ... So much so that even after blowing on a spoonful of broth it burnt the roof of my mouth as well as my partner. Complained that the soup was waaaayyyy too hot and one female server was apologetic and told the male member of the wait staff. He came over to explain that the soup is put under the broiler to melt the cheese ... Ya think ... It's not like I haven't had French onion soup before ... And have made it before. It was NUCLEAR HOT. The comment kind of put us off. The soup itself when it got down to a reasonable temperature (1/2 hour later) was flavourful. And BTW a gentleman at another table got his soup (one of the specials) and he actually yelled out and everyone in the restaurant turned to look. The wine list ... Very strange. You can order a bottle of wine for $50-$100 (current vintages) or $500 and over. No middle ground For the mains we both ordered the filet and frites with a side of Brussels sprouts. The steak itself was cooked to perfection and tender ... Too bad it didn't taste like anything ... Bland bland bland. The frites were crispy and tasty as were the Brussels sprouts. Kind of makes you wonder??? For dessert we had the chocolate pot de creme. We love chocolate ... Had visions of a silky and super chocolately confection ... Nope ... Mildly chocolately ... As in jello pudding chocolately ... Fail. Too bad ... We were so looking forward to adding a new restaurant to our list of favorites. If you're a good cook do yourself a favour and stay in and cook your own dinner with a fabulous bottle of wine ... Otherwise maybe you'll be impressed. For $200.00 we had much higher expectations.
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Martin Edwards does not recommend Brussels Bistro

While the wait staff was excellent the food was disappointing. The beef stew was very dry, no where near worth the price. Also had the mussels and almost half of them were not even open.
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Melanie Lewis may recommend Brussels Bistro

This attractive restaurant is actually on a sidestreet south of Queen St E. Its address is 1975A Queen (behind Cob Bread). Small, but very cozy and elegant. Very attentive staff from stepping into the restaurant. The first problem we encountered was that they had not orange juice for my husband's drink. Next, they had no Cdn beer on the menu (he only drinks light beer), but they had a decent selection of foreign beers. The french onion soup was so-so and the Brussels salad was good. The mussels were offered in about 8 different broths and 1kg was way too large a serving ($19) The mussels were not cooked enough so half of them were too slimy to eat! And the broth (Provinciale) that I ordered was boring. The mgnt was apologetic! The fries were undercooked. While the atmosphere was lovely and the service excellent, we will wait awhile before returning.
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Anthony Antonelli has not yet visited this restaurant.

What about the beer selection? Most successful Belgian restaurants offer a wide variety of Belgian beer, including things not easily found elsewhere.
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