LE PETIT GOURMET (1064 Yonge, at Roxborough, 416-966-3811) Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a Perrier. Average main $9. Unlicensed. Cash only. Open Monday to Friday 7:30 am to 7 pm, Saturday 7:30 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Poking about Le Petit Gourmet, I can't help but overhear a Rosedale regular with a child at her side inform the counter help in a rather stentorian tone that her young friend from the Nickel Belt has decided upon the delightful Gâteau Basque.
Since I've never had the experience, I figure that what's good enough for an eight-year-old from Algoma is good enough for me. And after my first tongue-tingling taste of the rustic, vanilla custard-filled crumbly crusted tart ($1.95) - think sugar cookie meets cream puff - I wonder what took me so long.
"It's the house cake," says Gourmet's co-owner, Linda Boniteau, who with chef and husband Christian took over the very Parisian patisserie and take-away on Yonge near Roxborough in the mid-80s. When it opened in 1971, Le Petit Gourmet was white-bread Toronto's introduction to accessible French cooking.
"We were the first to do quiche," recalls Boniteau fondly.
Despite that dubious achievement, Le Petit Gourmet is very much of its time, the late 60s and early 70s, when Toronto transformed itself from a provincial backwater into the world-class provincial backwater it is today.
Back then, almost every restaurant that wasn't full of stuffed shirts looked like this.
Call the look European bohemian - lots of lacquered wood, fake Tiffany light fixtures and an autographed picture of hockey great Johnny Bower reverently hung on a wall next to a train station clock.
Gourmet's astounding curried chicken salad - shredded chicken breast in alarmingly yellow mayo, studded with ripe strawberry, apple and melon ($5.50 small/$7.95 large) pieces - has been rightly adored since day one. It makes a great lunch coupled with the house croissant ($1), while whole slow-roasted birds dusted with thyme ($12/kilo) will be perfect finger food for a picnic in nearby Ramsden Park once weather permits.
Though most of Le Petit's trade is takeout, especially when it's the butler's night off, there are a few plain tables at the shop's rear where locals loiter for a quick bite before heading back to the manse.
For its lovely coq au vin ($8.95 with two sides), Gourmet sidesteps tradition by stewing boneless chicken breast, diced carrots and button 'shrooms in light white wine rather than red. I pair the fab fowl with green bean salad thick with crisp cauliflower 'n' broccoli florets and chunked avocado in a lemony egg dressing, and scalloped-style potatoes in basic white béchamel sauce that come deliciously blistered from the broiler.
Veal scallopini get stuffed with spinach and silky Swiss cheese, and delicate filets of Atlantic salmon arrive sauced in dilled cream (both $9.50 with two sides). Although I'm an instant convert to Gourmet's al dente cauliflower in buttery béchamel, I have only myself to blame for selecting a sad winter tomato salad in tarragon vinaigrette to accompany it.
Before I leave, I pick up a half-dozen Gâteaux Basque for the kids back in the Test Kitchen.
As I'm giving the display case a last once-over to see if there are any other hidden gems I haven't noticed, I spot a ridiculously retro-looking halved avocado stuffed with potato salad in lemon mayo that's topped with slivered cocktail shrimp and canned black olives ($3.25). Qu'est-ce que c'est exactement, Madame Boniteau?
"We call it Stuffed Avocado," she replies.