Foodie: Well this was a good idea! It’s been so long since we’ve been out to dinner.
You can say that again: It’s been so long time since we’ve been out for dinner.
I’ve had a list of new places to visit catalogued in the back of my head but you know what restaurant we decided on? An oldie but a goodie: La Palette. The original location, in Kensington Market, is a gem of a restaurant. (It’s also where the Beast first ate meat after being a vegetarian for years.) But tonight, we decided to check out their second outpost that just opened up on Queen Street West.
Foodie: It’s nice here. I love the table clothes. Your mom would love these table cloths–they’re so “French”.
Beast: Yes she would. It doesn’t feel the same here though. It feels like they’re trying too hard to look “authentic”.
Foodie: I see what you mean (looking around at bistro-style chairs hanging from the walls and French-themed posters.) It doesn’t feel like that at the Kensington La Palette.
What was consistent with the new location was good service: Our server read out the specials like he was telling us a story. Plus he was familiar with the wine list, and got our drinks to us in a jiffy. All we had to do was decide on what to eat.
Beast: I’m having the horse.
Foodie: I think I’ll get the steak frites. No wait. You know what I’m doing? I’m going to get the prix fixe because I want the escargots too, and then we can share the dessert!
Beast: What’s duck confit?
Foodie: I think it’s the duck leg. No, I think it’s the thigh. Maybe it’s the leg and the thigh. I think you’d like it.
Beast: I’ve changed my mind: I’m having the horse tenderloin with the duck confit.
Foodie: Why don’t you start with the charcouterie thing and we can share that along with the escargot?
After ordering, warm bread was promptly dropped off at our table.
I really want to start branching out a bit with my home cooking. It feels like I’m always making the same things.
Beast: That sounds great.
Foodie: And I made a list of things I want to start making. (trying to find list in my bag) Just wait, I know it’s in here somewhere. Oh and along with these new meals, we’re going to start having smaller portions too. We are going to get healthy.
Beast: What are you talking about?
Foodie: (still looking for the list in my bag) I mean we’re going to start eating better, spending less money on food, which means less meat in our diets, and our portions are going to be smaller. It’s going to be great!
Beast: This sounds like a terrible idea. I hate everything you’re saying.
Foodie: I can’t find my fucking list of new foods. I’m going to have to go from memory: I want to make spanish rice and we can have burritos. We can fill them with fresh vegetables and the rice and maybe some cheese.
Beast (Looking at me like I’m crazy.)
Foodie: And I want to have homemade pesto on hand, in the freezer, at all times. That’s a nice, easy meal to make–some pasta with pesto, when paired with a salad. Also, shrimp–
Beast: NO FUCKING WAY.
Foodie: What’s wrong with shrimp?
Beast: Are you talking about that shrimp that’s been in the freezer for a year?
Foodie: No! Relax man. I’m talking about the new bag of President’s Choice frozen shrimp I just bought. I am going to grill them and we will have shrimp tacos, served with a lime and cilantro-dressed coleslaw.
Just then our appetizers arrived.
Foodie: Well this isn’t exactly what I expected. I thought they’d be drenched in melted butter.
Beast: You didn’t read the menu very carefully then.
Foodie: But that’s how they’re served at the other location.
Beast: How is it?
Foodie: Lovely actually. Really lovely! There’s some chanterelles, leeks and croutons in here. Want to try?
Beast: Yes please. I have a feeling you won’t like some of this stuff on my platter.
Foodie: I’ll eat anything that once possessed hooves, but I don’t want the duck stuff.
Beast: You’ve got to try the duck stuff! It’s so good. Please?
The Beast puts a big spoonful on his fork and I removed most of it, leaving just a smidgeon of duck stuff for me to taste.
Foodie: That’s delicious actually. It’s amazing–is there some clove, or nutmeg in there? It reminds me of the corned beef I had at Union which I still think about to this day.
Beast: Have some more.
Foodie: Nope, that’s fine.
In anticipation of our main courses, I ordered a glass of cabernet and the Beast decided on a second pint of beer.
Beast: How’s your wine?
Foodie: It’s okay. Actually, it’s fairly mediocre. I don’t get it.
Foodie: I don’t think there’s any excuse for serving mediocre wines by the glass at a place like this. I reckon their mark-up here is very reasonable, roughly 50 per cent. Did you know some restaurants mark their wines up by 100 per cent? So this glass of cabernet sells for nine dollars. There are five glasses of wine in a bottle. That’s means they’re getting 45 dollars for every five glasses they sell. What did they pay for the bottle? I bet about seventeen to twenty bucks. Here’s my thing: there are plenty of great wines available in that price range. And restaurants don’t have to buy exclusively from the LCBO outlets–they can purchase cases from wine agencies who have stock that don’t hit the LCBO shelves. There’s no excuse for a mediocre nine dollar glass of wine. There might be an excuse for a six dollar glass of wine, or cheaper. But maybe this wine is just mediocre to me. It’s only nine dollars, which is cheap by many standards. No, I don’t think it’s just me. This wine is definitely dull. It’s a one-note wonder. And it’s too warm.
Just as the Beast was about to fall asleep, our main courses arrived.
Foodie: That looks amazing. What’s that stuff underneath the meat?
Beast: Oat risotto or something. How’s yours?
Foodie: Mine is like a baby steak frites! I think it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. How perfect too, considering I’m eating smaller portions now.
Beast: Why is it so small?
Foodie: When you order steak frites as part of the prix fixe, it’s a bit smaller.
Beast: (Helping himself for the second time to my french fries). These fries are good.
Foodie: Please stop doing that. I’m not eating your oatmeal so please stop eating my fries.
Beast: Help yourself to the oatmeal. It tastes like shit though.
Foodie: What’s wrong with it?
Beast: It’s so profoundly cereal-tasting that it takes away from the flavour of the horse, which is absolutely perfect. Look at it!
Foodie: Wow. That’s rare. I don’t think I like blue cheese on top of steak. Maybe it’s a fad right now or something. Remember when we had steak topped with blue cheese at the Harbord Room?
Beast: Yes I do. I know I don’t like it.
Foodie: I like the way they serve it at the other location, remember? The steak is topped with just a pat of sun-dried tomato butter. It’s divine. I think it’s the best steak frites in the city. This version is just too much with this cheese and then this balsamic reduction of some sort. It’s too much.
Beast: It’s like piercing a nipple: why destroy a perfect thing?
Followed by gaping mouth.
Followed by more silence.
Foodie: Did you really just say that?
Beast: Was that too much?
Foodie: Not even close. I’m just a bit…I’m just a little shocked is all.
We finished our meal with a discussion on horse meat and the taboos surrounding its consumption. The tenderloin that the Beast enjoyed came from, according to La Palette’s charismatic (and dashing) owner, a horse who lived to a ripe, old age, never had a saddle on its back or a bit put in its mouth, and who ate grass and roamed fields freely. It was delicious, but almost too lean for my liking.
The evening ended with a flawless piece of lemon tart (the Beast said the crust was a little undercooked. I disagree.) He had a calvados (an apple brandy) and we each had an espresso.
I think I prefer the La Palette in Kensington, if not for the more intimate and “honest” setting, than for their simpler version of steak frites.
(Outside in front of the restaurant, unlocking my bike.)
Foodie: Want me to wait with you for the street car to come?
Beast: No, you go ahead. I’ve got my book and headphones so I’ll be fine.
Just then, two young punks walked past us. One had a mohawk and big things in his ears and tattoos everywhere and he looked filthy. He started hacking up a lung. He even threw up a bit, almost right in front of us. His friend looked embarrassed. It made me sad.
Foodie: Maybe I should stay to protect you. Is it just me or is this part of Queen Street even worse than what it used to be like?
Beast: No, I think it’s always been like this. Maybe you’re just more observant than usual tonight.
Could be. Or maybe I’m just losing my “edge” in my old age: a few years ago, I wouldn’t have even batted an eyelash over talk of nipples.