It's not often that both great French food and affordable land in the same sentence, but Chef and Proprietor Paul Biggs wants to make his food accessible to everyone.
"All things considered, it's reasonable," he says.
Most entrees are about $20 - $24 and there is a 3-course pre fixe dinner for $29.95. Brunch and lunch options are also affordable.
Paul, who grew up in Don Mills, has almost 30 years in the profession. He did his apprenticeship at a hotel in Calgary and then from 1985 to
2003, he cooked at Le Select Bistro, another famous French restaurant in the city. He took ownership of Bodega in 2003.
He says that most of chef training is rooted in French cooking and that "most chefs would agree it's the form of the best cuisine."
Paul describes the food at French regional or bistro/country-style food.
He tells me with a smile, "I don't do high end. This represents me a little bit better."
And the food is just as unpretentious, though quite modern in ingredients and presentation. The rooms are more country-esque, with butter yellow walls and antique furniture. There is even deep blue carpeting to give the feel like you're at a country inn. And in case it's not quite patio weather yet, you can sit next to the fire place.
It is a great place to have a cocktail party or sit down dinner. The rooms can accommodate up to 50 people, so you can rent out the whole place for meetings, anniversary parties or even weddings (Bodega has hosted many weddings, from which there are thank you cards lining the walls on the way to the bathrooms). And there is off-site catering, which Paul says he enjoys, being able to cook in people's homes and backyards.
At Bodega, you can choose from all of the French standards: escargot, foie gras, seafood bouillabaisse, lamb, rabbit, duck and quiche for both brunch and lunch.
I start with the Grilled Calamari ($9.95) that comes with Israeli couscous and a lemon basil and pinenut dressing that Paul is famous for, and has brought to every restaurant that he has worked.
The calamari is chewy and flavourful, just the way you want it to be. And the couscous is almost the same texture, making for a wonderfully balanced dish. The dressing is so perfect, I try to extract the ingredients from Paul.
The Grilled Boneless Quail ($12.95) is accompanied by warm Belgian endive, asparagus and radicchio, dressed in a walnut and rosemary dressing. The quail is crisp and juicy and the grilled radicchio adds a little bitterness that paired with the vibrant, fresh asparagus, is a wonderful ode to spring.
For entrees, I try the Grilled Alaskan Black Cod Filet ($26.95) with a roasted garlic, red pepper and basil relish; Seared Hudson Valley Duck Breast and Crispy Duck Confit ($27.95) with a wild mushroom bread pudding and preserved blueberry jus; and Braised Lamb Shank ($23.95) with roasted shallots, prunes and cranberries.
I know that sounds like a lot, and it is, but the great thing about Paul's cooking it that it is incredibly light. This is not the French food of the 90s - there is not a mound of butter and cream on every plate.
The Cod is buttery and done to perfection, the Duck lifted by the hearty wild mushroom bread pudding and delicate blueberry jus. And the Lamb just falls way from the bone and melts in your mouth, just the way you hoped it would.
I don't have room for the cheesecake done in filo pastry. But there is a lot to come back for- I am dying for a good French brunch, Paul makes homemade mac and cheese and there is always the standard Steak Frites to try. And if the weather cooperates, the patio will be open.
Brunch, lunch and/or dinner al fresco.
It doesn't get much better than that.