MISTO (1088 Bathurst, at Dupont, 416-588-1088) Complete meals for $30 per person ($20 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of house plonk. Average main $15/$9. Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm, for lunch Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Brunch Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: one step, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If, as brit twit Peter Ustinov claimed, Toronto is "New York run by the Swiss," you'd think the clinical cuisine of Switzerland - the country that gave us muesli and the instant soup cube - would be represented locally by more than just two Mövenpicks and the Swiss Chalet chicken chain.
Recently, the Globe's glam gardening guru, Marjorie Harris, introduces me to Misto, a modest bistro near her Annex pad, that advertises itself as a Japanese Swiss restaurant. I'm thinking, sushi fondue.
Some might remember this bare-bones storefront as a cheap Hungarian restaurant called the Hungarian Restaurant, specializing in deep-fried pizza and second-hand smoke. Since then, partners Yoshiko Ashitani and chef Andre Ziswiler have turned it into a spotless, cozy spot that, while certainly not in the same luxe league as Ultra and its glitzy ilk, is a step up from the neighbouring strip's sports bars. Dim lighting helps, too.
A cursory glance at the card fails to reveal the mutant menu I'd expected - sashimi cheese soufflé? It's mostly familiar French fare with a Swiss twist, and a few Japanese dishes for the inevitable herbivore in the party.
But look closer and Misto's seemingly disparate plates display a similar aesthetic of refined simplicity.
We skip past starters of goulash ($6.50), shrimp cocktail ($8) and edamame ($4) and begin with Asian-style spring rolls ($7), six crisp, cigarette-length fritters wrapped in rice paper and restrainedly stuffed with minced chicken and cabbage. They get enthusiastically dunked into a sweet, slightly sour dip of dark soy, hot Chinese mustard and red wine vinegar. Both it and house-cured gravlax ($8) dressed in honey Dijon and fresh dill ride a bed of retro iceberg lettuce garnished with Ontario blackberries.
After solo server Ashitani pours a generous slug of Blue Sapphire straight into the bowl at table, Cream of Tomato Soup with Gin Flavor ($5) becomes as addictive as Campbell's on crack.
Later, I blame the booze-soaked bisque - plus a couple of Stellas ($4.75) and an after-dinner digestif of Unicum Zwack, the 80-proof Hungarian herbal liqueur ($7.50) - for my wicked headache the next day.
Ziswiler's background in haute hotel dining - his most recent gig was at the Westin Prince's Le Continental in Don Mills - explains mainstream mains like Pasta Primavera ($10). So, on Marjorie's recommendation, we make sure to try his grain-fed Chicken Florentin ($15) instead.
Good call. The impressively moist bird comes perfectly cooked à point and sided with a golden-crisp potato rösti (as does most everything on the menu except tiramisu, $5), both carefully plated in a lovely puddle of mushroom sauce artfully strewn with wilted spinach.
Since the kitchen, or rather the solitary Ziswiler, has run out of tilapia, tonight he's substituted mahi mahi, saucing it with a peppery Creole-style tomato cream ($14) and topping it with a julienne of sweet red bell pepper.
Three thick and slightly fatty rosemary-dusted lamb chops in garlicky jus arrive on the inevitable bed of rösti and a handful of carved al dente broccoli, carrot and white turnip.
The only sour note in an otherwise smashing meal?
A second plate of bread and butter costs a buck 50.
Somewhat the worse for wear, I'm back at Misto the following day, where I meet Harris for lunch. I'm tempted by Chef's Special Hangover Buster Rösti Breakfast ($9.99) - "guaranteed to help you recover from even the worst excesses!" bumpfs the menu - but as it's part of the weekend-only brunch lineup, I opt for the house's Japanese-style Veggie Noodle Hot Pot ($9).
With its briny soy-based nori broth, flotilla of firm French green beans, enoki mushrooms and precisely shredded napa cabbage and slippery tangle of underwater udon, this near-medicinal nourishing nosh soon has me back among the living. That and a bottle of Rivella ($1.75), the milky carbonated Swiss energy drink.
Since Harris knows Misto's card inside-out (she warns that European Sausage with Rösti Potato ($9) is exactly that, sausage mit rösti), she steers us to Grilled Cheese Toast ($4), which is as simple as it sounds and simply delicious, its tangy Emmenthal offset with tart raw pear.
Harris is also a fan of the joint's daily lunch specials ($13), today a charming bowl of creamy spinach soup ($3.50 lunch/$4.50 dinner à la carte) followed by a rustic chicken stew topped with vibrant steamed greens. And rösti. Good coffee, too.
And, yes, Misto offers fondue. There's the traditional version with Emmenthal and Gruyère ($34 for two people) - remember that Swiss tradition dictates that whoever loses his or her bread in the pot of boiling wine first pays - as well as cheesy raclette ($76 for four), served on a grill along with potato, veg and cornichons.
Modest Misto doesn't try to be a foodie's flavour of the month. But with a little fine-tuning - first thing to go: the Simon and Garfunkel greatest hits CD - this austere bistro could be the biggest thing to hit the Annex since sushi.