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Wharton-Shukster and co-owner Jonathan Poon score at Chantecler.
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Jeremy Dennis works at the antique stove.
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Smoked duck comes in ribbons.
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Lettuce wraps on Sundays are exceptional.
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Chantecler co-owner/bartender Jacob Wharton-Shukster fires up his Toronto Cocktail.
CHANTECLER (1320 Queen West, at Brock, 416-628-3586, restaurantchantecler.ca) Complete dinners for $60 per person, including tax, tip and a cocktail. Average main $22. Open Wednesday 6 to 11 pm, Thursday to Saturday 6 pm to midnight, Sunday and Monday 6 pm to 1 am. Bar nightly till close. Closed Tuesday, some holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
How ironic is it that the most avant-garde kitchen in town cooks everything on its exceptional carte on an antique four-burner Moffat electric stove built in 1935?
But there it is in all its art deco splendour behind the bar at Chantecler, the gorgeous 26-seat room in Parkdale that's been packing them in since March. They come for the romantic vibe - none of the frenzy found at Grand Electric just a few doors down - the attentive service and 26-year-old co-owner/chef Jonathan Poon's unusually innovative plates. That mains rarely nudge $20 is just the proverbial icing on the cake.
Our appetites appropriately whetted by a round of potent Corpse Revivers - equal parts gin, lemon juice, Lillet Blanc and Grand Marnier, plus a splash of absinthe ($11) - we're soon getting our heads around one of the most out-there dishes out there. Try chunks of meaty confit potato wrapped in deliciously slow-braised pork jowl and layered with translucent slices of raw apple, hot jalapeño relish and the mandatory runny-yolked egg ($13), quail this time round.
Flaky olive-oil-poached albacore rides a righteous bed of organic black-eyed peas and beans - kidney, black turtle and blanched yellow and green string beans - dressed with pickled pink shallot, crunchy pan-fried croutons and salty Chinese preserved olive leaf ($13).
Just as complexly plated, cold-smoked ribbons of fatty duck breast could double for bacon when paired with sweet roasted beets, toasted peanuts and frazzled bitter mustard greens ($14) worthy of a Salvador Dali painting. Guess who worked a three-month stage at a certain world-famous restaurant in Copenhagen?
"It was quite a few years ago, but Noma definitely wasn't as big a deal as it is now," says the modest Poon.
Chef cossets pillowy ricotta gnudi ($18) as light as cumulus clouds with lasagna-like lengths of green and yellow zucchini, its garlicky smoked tomato sauce causing us to lick the plate. And who wouldn't do the same for aged blood-rare bavette sided with leafy kale sautéed in absurdly rich bone marrow ($22) or seared wild boar in a syrupy prune sauce laced with coffee ($24)?
Noting our enthusiasm, our server soon returns with a basket of warm Woodlot sourdough. Nice touch. A final parfait ($8) made of blackthorn berries, the Chinese fruit prized for its digestive qualities, ends the evening on a bittersweet note.
Every Sunday and now Monday night, Poon takes it down a couple of notches with a family-style Korean bo ssam supper. And, no, it's nothing like the similar spread served at David Chang's Momofuku Daisho. For starters, Poon's meal deal costs 21 bucks a head versus Chang's $240 for six to 10 people. Poon also offers more variety to his lettuce wraps, augmenting his molten caramelized pork shoulder with braised Chinese beef ribs and optional pork neck ($7) so tender, it virtually dissolves on contact.
But doesn't the Fundae Sundae - a scoop of creamy house-made buckwheat ice cream, a swirl of whipped cream and a banana brûléed by blow torch tossed with miniature Reese's peanut butter cups and a handful of Froot Loops ($10) - come straight out of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook?
"I can see why some might think that," laughs Poon. "But I stole the idea from my buddy Dustin Gallagher of the Riverside Public House. He does a hot fudge sundae with maraschino cherries and Cheerios."