Thanks to owner Kathleen Finlay and owner/chef David Kokai’s specific cooking instructions, it’s hard to go wrong with Loïc.
LOÏC GOURMET TO GO (722 Queen East, at Broadview, 416-850-8835) Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes and tip. Average main $13. Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 8 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Delivery. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNN
Since most restaurants fail in their first year, opening one is risky at the best of times, even more so when the economy's in the toilet. But that didn't stop chef David Kokai (ex-Mercer Street Grill, Sauvignon, Sequel and Bistro Tournesol) and photographer wife Kathleen Finlay from launching Loïc Gourmet To Go late last fall.
At first glance, the small east-side storefront doesn't look much different from the many upscale gastro-boutiques lining this stretch of Queen. But like other straight-out-of-the-box resto success stories of late - Brad Moore's School in Liberty Village (childhood comfort food in a classroom setting) and Smoke's Poutinerie (late-night fries 'n' gravy for drunks) come to mind - Loïc has a gimmick, and it's a winner.
Yes, there are already lots of places where you can buy high-end restaurant-quality grub to go. Canoe will do takeout if you've got the bucks. But even pan-seared La Ferme foie gras is going to be a soggy overcooked mess by the time it gets chez vous after a half-hour in a styrofoam box.
Loïc does things differently. Not only does the French-inspired fare cost less than half what it would in a chi-chi bistro, but almost everything comes partially cooked. And if you're lucky enough to live east of Parliament, west of Woodbine and south of the Danforth, your dinner will be delivered for free (minimum $30 order). Then you finish to perfection whatever needs to be finished to perfection. Why, they'll even sell you candles.
Not everything requires the kitchen skills of Gordon Ramsay. A staggeringly rich cream of cauliflower soup laced with truffle oil and lemony crème fraîche ($5) becomes transcendent after a quick nuke in the microwave.
And as salads come pre-dressed - al dente string beans almandine in a fabulously nutty sour cream, baby spuds with slivered radishes and horseradish, roasted sweet beets and shaved fennel in white balsamic and anise (anyone else have fond memories of Harvard beets?) - they're good to go right outta their biodegradable packaging ($4 small/$8 large).
Shrink-wrapped terrines, among them rabbit with green olives and prosciutto, and venison with brandy-soaked cranberries (all $6.50 and sided with cornichons), need little more than a pair of scissors to get them ready for table. And after only four minutes under the broiler, Loïc's Croque Monsieur with Black Forest ham, Emmental and creamy béchamel ($7.50) becomes the grilled cheese sandwich of dreams.
A rotisseried 3-pound naturally raised Cumbrae chicken ($19.50/$11 half/$6.50 quarter) comes pre-brined and doused with a mild Asian-inspired barbecue sauce, the equal of birds sold at any local churrasqueira after 25 minutes in a 400F oven and enough pre-fab fowl to feed four. A 1-pound rack of baby back ribs sided with roasted red potatoes ($17.50) gets the same treatment, their ginger- and fresh-rosemary-fortified sauce so potent it should be bottled and sold separately.
Even a squash and apple risotto with baby spinach and sage ($13.50) is perfect after five minutes of manic stirring on the Test Kitchen's dilapidated stovetop, no mean feat that.
Sides also take little effort to achieve nirvana. Nutmeg-scented scalloped potatoes dauphinois ooze gorgeously gooey Gruyère ($6.50 for two), caramelized red cabbage gets braised in lager and tossed with caraway seeds and Parmesan, while a sensaysh mix of apples and parsnips have been roasted in "winter spices and herbs" (all $3), whatever that might be. I'm guessing salt.
Dessert can be as simple as quickly reheating an upside-down wedge of apple Tarte Tatin ($4.75) or as complicated as baking a bread pudding thick with coconut, banana and chocolate ($6.50 for two) for 15 minutes before dolloping it with an extra-lovin' spoonful of crème anglaise.
And for those who wouldn't know a pot au feu from a pothole, Loïc provides idiot-proof instructions. So, if dinner turns out badly, it's your own (as chef Ramsay might say) fuckin' fault.