For many, the perception of what can be considered Canadian cuisine occupies an area including fries, gravy, cheese and occasionally beer.
For those seeking something more authentic than the local chip stand's poutine, dining at Le Papillon has always been a reliable choice that exuded rustic charm and traditional Québec fare. Now, Sandra Kane, one of the restaurant's original owners, has opened Le Papillon On Front, moving locations to 69 Front Street East with a combination that wil
l undoubtedly appeal to modern palates and contemporary aesthetics.
The former restaurant was renowned for the dark, almost cave like, space at the bottom of Church Street. There, getting a seat by the fireplace was considered to be one of the best in the house. Presently, at the new Front location, the airy - yet contemporary - interior makes it difficult to discern where the best seat may be; the patio overlooking the flatiron building, the window seats or the deep interior.
"This is definitely fancier than what our old patrons may be used to. But the location is better to attract more people who may not have come in before to try what we have to offer," shared Floor Manager, Tiffany Jamison-Horne.
The décor, to be exact, is simple; brick walls lined with Fleur-de-Lys adorned sconces provide offset lighting for patrons dining at neatly rowed deuces. A magnificent bar divides the dining room in two: the front, alight by rays of natural light streaming through the tall windows, and the back, homely with gentle reflecting light, courtesy of the large sanctimonious mirror fixed high at the end of the dining room.
While reminiscent of rural French tradition, the setting is current and suited for a casual dining experience.
The menu has changed little between the former Le Papillon and the new, Le Papillon on Front. "The menu was in development since 1974, so we made very little changes to it," revealed General Manager, Didier Deplanque, "We made small changes, like to the TourtiÃ¨re recipe and we made sure to find the best produce we can while keeping the prices reasonable."
While the prices are low, there is a meticulous attention to the sourcing of their produce. The close proximity of the restaurant to St. Lawrence Market provides a wealth of fresh seafood, meat and produce, while specialty items such as cheese and duck are brought in from Québec.
The onset of the meal was defined by the arrival of Escargots de Bourgogne ($8.50) and Fricassé Sauvage ($9.00). Both starters would appeal to universal palates by enhancing the natural textures and flavours of the main ingredients. Escargot are plump and meaty in a garlic/butter sauce that is neither pungent nor offensive while Fricassé Sauvage is thinly sliced, sautéed mushrooms on crisp portions of baguette surrounding a bed of greens.
Traditionally, French Canadian cuisine was a crossing of cultures.
Settlers brought recipes from their homeland only to modify them through interaction with First Nations and available ingredients. Hearty meat pies such as TourtiÃ¨re ($16.00) were traditionally served around the holidays however these days, the mixture of potatoes, veal, pork and beef, spiced with fragrant cloves and cinnamon, are available year round. The seasonings in Le Papillon's version still augment the aroma of the meats and define the quintessential Canadian comfort food. While heavily spiced, it is a great interpretation of the original dish and a wonderful way to continue the momentum of the meal.
Sampling the Magret de Canard ($21.00) is a must. Grilled, boneless breast of Québec raised duck, prepared to a medium doneness, maintained a crisp skin and succulent interior - minus a fatty layer. Grand Marnier sauce imparts a delicate orange taste and makes the experience all the more enjoyable.
Finally, it is imperative that I sample a crêpe. Historically, Le Papillon was not only a brasserie it was one of the original sources of some of the best crêpes in the city. Sampling the Crêpe Maritime ($15.50) confirms that they still have the chops to produce a great crêpe. A golden crisp crêpe shell delicately folded over a mixed medley of seafood in a white wine cream sauce.
Closing the meal was the dessert, opting for the Tarte au Sucre - another traditional Québécois classic, it remained a surprise which brand of Tarte au Sucre I would enjoy. Some are made with maple syrup as homage to the cabanes au sucre, and some are simply made with a combination of cream, butter and brown sugar. Upon first taste, the pie confirmed it was the latter - smooth and creamy - I did miss the maple syrup, however it was impossible to deny the delectable nature of this version. A dense filling independently holds its form in the soft and flaky pie shell that is not overly rich or sweet but pairs ideally with a good cup of coffee and two forks - one to share!
In the end, Le Papillon on Front provides a contemporary setting to enjoy a modern revision of traditional fare. Busy executives surrender to their meals as opposed to their Blackberries, while courting couples and families revel in the tastes, savours and aromas that continue to be the food that founded a nation. Le Papillon on Front is Toronto's gastronomic jewel celebrating modern style and traditional Québécois fare.