ATELIER THUET (171 East Liberty, unit 153, 416-603-2777) Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and an Asian-spiced iced tea. Average main $11. Open Tuesday to Friday 8 am to 8 pm, Saturday 8 am to 6 pm. Brunch Sunday 9 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
Marc Thuet's eponymous bistro on King may have one of the highest profiles of any French resto in town, but good luck finding his newly launched Atelier Thuet in East Liberty Village.
Unlike the orderly streets of West Liberty Village, the east side is currently a dust bowl of condo construction. After a couple of futile attempts, I eventually locate his offshoot café/take-away down a laneway next to a warehouse conversion opposite the 24-hour Dominion. Talk about obscure!
But once found, Atelier Thuet (pronounced "too-it") won't be forgotten. Fronted by a small umbrella-covered patio and lit by sculptural twig chandeliers, this relaxing room is lined with oversized shelving stocked with house-made confitures, salad dressings and chutneys as well as refrigerated display cases laden with prepared salads and precooked entrees - and stacks of Thuet's renowned artisanal breads, of course.
A chalkboard menu advertises a few daily eat-in sandwich specials (all $11), like steak haché - a cheeseburger with a twist - on gorgeous Gruyère 'n' sun-dried focaccia. Layered with creamy chèvre, raw red onion and ripe Roma tomato, this imposing combo comes optionally sided with house greens in a honeyed agave vinaigrette or fabulously skinny frites showered with salty shaved Parmesan.
Sipping a thirst-quenching glass of Asian-accented iced tea laced with anise, bay leaf and sliced fresh lime ($3.50), I get the brilliant idea of sourcing a Canada Day picnic entirely from Atelier's larder. Let's start with a half-pound of sesame-tossed cucumber salad in sweet dressing balanced with ribbons of crunchy wakame ($8.99/lb) and another salad of baby new potatoes, cornichons and hard-boiled quail eggs in German mayo ($9.99/lb).
At nearly $6 each, napoleons of buffalo mozzarella and organic heirloom tomato topped with unpitted black olives and grilled rosemary are no bargain ($18.99/lb). But meaty braised beef short ribs in sweet soy glaze, if a bit fatty, are a steal at only $8.99 a pound, especially when the same amount of trendy Berkshire pork ribs in a similar sauce goes for $25.99.
And what's a backyard bash without hot dogs? There may be none per se on offer, but the menu mentions that long-time Thuet associate Daniel Duckett will barbecue any of Atelier's preservative-free meat on its "celebrated Thunder Grill" by weight.
Starting with a six-pack of Thuet's remarkable sausage ($10.99/lb) - two each of Toulouse (pork), Alsace (veal) and spicy pink merguez (lamb) - I plan to cleverly sandwich them into buttery house-baked croissants ($2) spread with Atelier's maple mustard ($9/250 ml). At approximately five bucks a pop, I doubt there's a more deluxe dog in town.
I also note that at brunch, Duckett (rhymes with bucket) grills Ontario peaches on the barbie and then sides them with Berkshire prosciutto and something called grison ($19). My Google search reveals that grison is a Spanish ferret, but the kitchen later informs me the term refers to a Swiss type of air-dried beef. That's a relief.
Another surprise is Atelier's accommodating staff, not the snooty bunch you'd expect to encounter in such chichi surrounds.
Thuet and partner Biana Zorich should also be applauded for their use of environmentally friendly packaging, but you do pay a price. By the time we get our chai-infused cherries ($20/lb) over to the west lawn of nearby Fort York - the site of our DIY spread - the biodegradable tub containing our dessert has dissolved.