As it was sitting at the top of my 'To Visit' list for some time, I decided it was finally the moment to visit La Palette. For ten years a Kensington Market staple (the owner was instrumental in the creation of Pedestrian Sundays), the much-loved French resto recently moved its menu over to 492 Queen St. West, where it has a new permanent home. I found the new digs very cozy, full of warm reds and creamy yellows. The tables are tiny, or maybe I should say intimate? Maybe moreso for dinner. Since we went for lunch there was a very friendly and open feel to the place. It will be wonderful in the summertime! I was going to describe the decoration and vibe as dressed down but stereotypical French, but my guest, Myra, has actually been to France and said it's nothing similar. Interesting how stereotype can differ from the real deal.
Though I've written the individual prices of items, Myra and I both opted for the 20$ prix fixe, which comes with two items. There's also a 25$ prix fixe for three items, but we weren't that hungry!
I know I've mentioned in the past that I'm chronically early. This actually provides a lovely opportunity to taste and savour pre-food coffee. At La Palette they have brewed coffee, but it's nothing to write home about. For two dollars your get a very petite mug. Maybe the refills are free, but I was happy with the smaller amount this time and didn't ask- normally I can go through gallons of java, even when it's not too remarkable. The presentation was adorable, with a little silver jug of cream, and a mason jar of brown sugar cubes.
If I were to pick one highlight of our visit (a feature I should start including regularly here at D&D!), this would be my choice. There is so much going right in this fromage fondant. A large wedge of creamy camembert was encrusted with a shell of bread crumbs. The thick crust protected the cheese from the heat of the frier, and needed to be cracked open with a fearless fork, after which the cheese would not stop gushing from the wound! How extraordinary and indulgent. The sides were maple-glazed pumpkin seeds and spiced cranberry compote, which could be nudged onto the crust as though onto a cracker. I was especially impressed with the pumpkin seeds, which were actually in a brittle. It was sweet and crunchy. This could have been dessert!
I went to La Palette knowing that there were two things that, no matter what, I would be trying. Escargots! For those not up on your French, and missing the hint in my little illustration, that's snails. I know I've had these before, but it was more than ten years ago at a Kingston restaurant famed for not doing anything wrong. I wanted to test them on an adult palate. My first surprise came in the presentation. Even though I read the description of the snails, I still expected them to arrive on a little round dish, each one nestled into its own buttery pot. Begone, stereotypes! I have a lot to learn about French cuisine. These were served blanketted with warm baby spinach leaves and succulent grilled chanterelle mushrooms. That was my second draw to this dish. The only other time I've had chanterelles I deeply suspect they were false chanterelles. This is supposed to be one of the worlds most delicious mushrooms, and I wanted to give it a second chance. The mushrooms were what I had hoped: citrusy and buttery. That's how they're supposed to be! The rest of the dish was also quite buttery and full of onions. Though I could taste the natural smoke and saltiness of the escargots when eaten by themselves, as soon as they were combined with anything else they were completely overwhelmed.
Our mains came with a selection of sides! We were each asked to choose two. Both of us chose the winter salad and the warm slaw, but somehow I wound up with fries instead of salad. This was the only slip-up in otherwise pleasant service. I didn't mention it because if the universe gives me fries, I will eat them. The winter salad was made up of cashews, rapini, red and golden beets, and brussel sprouts in a bit of olive oil. The warm slaw is something we eat in my family a lot: hot red cabbage with just a bit of butter, salt and vinegar. There was a nice surprise in this version since I swear I could taste anise, a recent flavour obsession I have! The french fries were not a let down, and I was glad I wound up with them. They had an earthy taste left from the intact peels, and with a hint of herbs I was left with a countryside impression.
Myra ordered the fish, which was fresh caught white fish (but what kind of white fish? I should have asked). It was a very small piece, so I would suggest ordering this if you aren't starving. The skin was crisped, and the belly was light and flaky. It had a delicate mildness of flavour, without any overpowering sauce or spice. Enjoyable, but not too memorable, sadly.
This was the other thing I HAD to try! Maybe some people will be scandalized by my willingness to sample horse. It's certainly been the source of some controversy for La Palette, whose front lawn has been the site of more than one protest. For me, it's just another meat, an interesting food that I haven't tried yet. In this case the extra drive to try horse came from its interesting presentation, as part of a benedict breakfast. The toasts were slender home made coins of bread with a hard, herbed crusted that let the milky yolks pool inside. I found that the yolk and hollondaise were too watery and cool, and would have liked the dish to be a bit hotter, less soggy. Still, for taste it was very unique, and I enjoyed myself. The horse steak was served in medium-rare strips underneath the poached egg. It's comparable to beef, but I found it to be a bit more sour tasting, and more crumbly in texture. It was succulent, cooked perfectly for my tastes. I also enjoyed the mayo served on the side, which had a great kick of horseradish to it.
Of the two of us, I think I'm a little bit more adventurous for food! But hey, I'll eat anything.