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11-9255 Woodbine Ave.
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World-renowned Chef and Restauranteur Daniel Boulud's first Toronto restaurant is located in the Four Seasons Hotel, right in the heart of the chic shopping district of Yorkville, The french menu offers both classic and modern dishes French dishes with global influences throughout. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch are available in a chic, cozy comfortable, elevated setting and various seating areas.

Review: Boulud my mind

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on October 22, 2015

Few restaurants ever get the chance to move from bland to buzzworthy. And if Cafe Boulud hadn't been ensconced in the luxury brand of the Four Seasons, the lion's share of which is owned by Bill Gates and a Saudi prince, it would probably have been shuttered eons ago, and...

Few restaurants ever get the chance to move from bland to buzzworthy. And if Cafe Boulud hadn't been ensconced in the luxury brand of the Four Seasons, the lion's share of which is owned by Bill Gates and a Saudi prince, it would probably have been shuttered eons ago, and deservedly so.

When it first opened, I reported: "The superstar chef's newest temple is too well-lit and replete with textured wall treatments that scream Rainforest Cafe, not Daniel Boulud. Didn't anyone tell designer Rosalie Wise Sharp (wife of Izzy Sharp, founder of the Four Seasons) that even Debbie Travis abandoned sponging."

But what a difference three years makes. Today Café Boulud is as trendy as any hipster hangout on Ossington's restaurant row-minus the manbuns. Thanks to award-winning designer Martin Brudnizki (with a gin cocktail ($14) aptly named after him) the room in muted tones of caramel and turquoise with mid-century modern appointments is not only a total overhaul but a rebirth of the brasserie. In fact, the leather banquettes are so darn comfy they might actually invite lingering longer than management would care to admit. Turning over tables might become a bottom-line issue.

Thankfully, the decor made a complete 180. Not sure what took so long to get it right, but rest assured they did this time. Sorry, Rosalie, the pop-art portraits of your fabulous friends simply had to go. More importantly, the food has also made a U turn, taking what was before just beautifully presented fussy fare, not executed all that well, into a refined, elegant version of the very definition of classic French country cuisine. The menu, created in collaboration by master chef Daniel Boulud and chef de cuisine Sylvain Assié, has gone from quelle disastre to magnifique in both presentation and execution. Even neighbouring diner/jeweller Russell Oliver agrees it's a fine place to part with some his cash. Ohhhh yeaaaah!

Now that Cafe Boulud has become a bona fide brasserie, inspired by family traditions from Boulud's hometown of Lyon, expect re-imagined comfort foods executed with exacting standards without sacrificing the centuries-old charm and accessibility of the French countryside. Imagine a rotisserie for chicken, lamb, lobster, potatoes and even pineapple, all dripping with a flavour that you can only get by cooking on an open flame in the fields of the Rhône-Alpes.

Mais bien sur, bistro classics include requisite items like salad nicoise ($17), escargots persillade ($19), pâté de compagne ($15) and confit de canard ($34). But this feast auspiciously begins with Parisian steak tartare ($19/$29). Seasoned table-side, the hand cut prime Angus meat with a mustard egg dressing underscores one very important rule: you just don't mess around with classics. It is perfect in portion and presentation with a tanginess of exquisite refinement. Parfait!

Though the menu is filled, as expected, with French classics, international influences find their way onto the carte as well, like in a rice noodle bouillon pho ($16). Not the grey water pho you often find on Spadina, either. This boasts a stellar consommé with a bouquet of blended flavours that shouldn't surprise considering the effort that goes into this laborious liquid. Short ribs, marrow bones and veal knuckle are simmered overnight. The liquid then strained and infused with roasted beef before mixing with star anise, kaffir lime, lemongrass, fish sauce, onion and lime juice. Finally, short ribs are diced and mixed with bean sprouts, thai basil, coriander and sliced red chili. All is topped with grilled flat iron steak done to a perfect medium rare. Whew, all this effort for what really is just a soup. And an appetizer size portion of cavatelli ricotta ($19/$28) with a lamb ragu and rapini puree is some of the best Italian available, go figure.

Croquettes de xmorue ($9) may only be six perfectly round cod balls on a plate with aioli. But you just know that behind the scenes someone slaved feverishly over this mini opener. The fried parsley and grilled lemon wedges skewered by a decorative toothpick is a dead giveaway, but that the confit of potatoes takes a back seat to the fish poached in milk with garlic and thyme tells me that this kitchen intuitively knows that fish should reign over spuds, something many restaurants mistakenly overlook. And as far as a frisée Lyonnaise ($19) goes, there really is no better. Firstly, only the pastel yellow part of the leaves tossed in a red wine vinaigrette are even considered, but more importantly chicken livers that melt in your mouth like the finest of foie gras make it divine. So yes, you can win friends with salad.

Surely, Daniel Boulud isn't in the kitchen most of the time, if at all. So credit for this uniform level of excellence goes to chef Assié, whose pedigree includes stints in a palace on the French Riviera not to mention Michelin-rated restaurants. His comfort level at a luxury chain like the Four Seasons comes from working at the hotel's other locations in Provence and Bora Bora. Little surprise that he and his team are responsible for such swoon-worthy dishes that though difficult to prepare are without pretension. That in itself is an art. Much like a blanquette au vert ($29), a veal stew with herbs and green vegetables. A towering cut of tender poached veal shank and belly is the obvious star of this fantastic food show that includes snow peas, green beans, zucchini peel, mushrooms and a peerless sauce, but I shudder to think that the steps taken to complete this winner would make even dear Julia Child's head spin. And then something as simple as poulet a la broche ($63, including two sides) is equally satisfying. After presenting the entire cooked bird stuffed with rosemary and rotisserie potatoes in a copper pot, it's swiftly whisked back to the kitchen for carving. Though the skin could be crispier and a side of swiss chard gratin ($9) could be less dry, these are the juiciest pieces of poultry you will ever taste. And the boudin blanc ($24) is as creamy to cut into as a fish mousse, even if the homemade white sausage with caramelized onions and apples on a bed of mashed potatoes lack a sour counterpoint like sauerkraut to offset some of the richness. But I nitpick.

The meal's stellar moments are too many to count, and that includes servers that are among the most polished and professional in town. Then again service has rarely ever been an issue at a Four Seasons. But this rave can't end without mentioning desserts that if you decide to forego you may as well have never come in the first place. A tarte fine aux pommes ($12) is exactly what you want and expect, caramelized apples on a thin, nicely charred pastry, served with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. But the grapefruit givre ($12) is the only holdover from the original menu, and its easy to see why. Created by pastry chef Ghaya Oliveira from Boulud Sud in NYC, it is perhaps the most screamingly clever dessert ever. If the James Beard Foundation could give out a separate award just for dessert, this would be the one to get it. Composition alone makes it a medalist, but rarely if ever do you see such whimsical form and function coming together in such symbiotic sweetness. Served on a bed of ice with dried rose petals, yarns of sesame halva top a frozen fruit peel like a white toupee, concealing other delights like rose loukoum and a palate cleansing grapefruit sorbet. Le wow.

After I finish pinching myself to make sure this meal is not a dream, all I can say is that chef Daniel Boulud may have lost one of his three Michelin Stars earlier this year, but with his new Cafe Boulud, he gets five stars from me, which is really all that matters.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
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