CAFE LA GAFFE (24 Baldwin, at McCaul, 416-596-2397) Complete meals for $30 per person ($20 at lunch/brunch), including all taxes, tip and a pint. Average main $13. Open Sunday to Thursday 11:45 am to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday until 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11:45 am to 4 pm. Licensed. Access: three steps at door, two and a half to washrooms. Rating: NN Rating: NN
For nearly 10 years, Cafe La Gaffe was my gang's birthday restaurant. Every May, six of us would gather for an extended evening of wine, dinner and raucous revelry. The food was consistently excellent, the waiters charming and patient. Perhaps sentimentality taints my view, but while the food and service are still competent, La Gaffe's special alchemy has been altered. The place is packed on a Sunday afternoon, but they manage to squeeze us in along a narrow corridor beside the kitchen. The grilled calamari ($7.50) arrives on a huge bed of salad, which interferes. The squid is the tiniest bit overcooked, and the salsa too bitterly seasoned with hickory-smoked peppers.
The steak and eggs ($10.45) proves to be the best brunch option. Two sizable strips of filet mignon are well seasoned and rare, but the poached eggs are haphazardly buried in yet another oversized portion of greens.
Curiosity gets the better of me and I try the goat cheese and tomato pesto pizza with leeks and Madras curry ($13.85). Featuring more of a flatbread than a traditional pizza crust, it's covered with great gobs of chèvre sprinkled with curry powder. The dusting of untempered curry clashes with the pesto, and the cheese overwhelms. A small tomato wedge on each of four slices must be mashed to provide some moisture.
The grilled chicken sandwich ($9.50) is done well, the chicken sliced into manageable pieces, the baguette fresh, but it also lacks the little extra touches we used to find here - sautéed onions, perhaps, or a more flavourful mayo.
La Gaffe retains its charm - the colourful Indian cotton tablecloths and large, bright paintings - but it needs to improve its menu and service for those of us who remember it so fondly.