Mussels at La Societé are creamy and herb-tastic. Photo by Nawaz Pirani.
LA SOCIETE (131 Bloor West, at Avenue Road, 416-551-9929, lasociete.ca) Complete mussel meals for $35 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of apple cider. Average main $19. Open for lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, dinner Sunday to Thursday 5 to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN
Other than big-ticket oysters, is there any nosh more erotic than mussels? From pulling the steaming flesh from the shell to soaking up every last drop of addictive liquor, sharing a bowl brimming with bivalves is a true labour of love.
Mussels pop up on menus all over town, mostly at restos of the French persuasion. They're cheap to source, quick to prepare and très populaire with the punters, just the kind of thing they'd never attempt to make at home. Great on a date and sustainable, too. But who does them best?
And so to Charles Khabouth and company's La Société in what remains of the Colonnade, alongside the weight-loss clinics and plastic surgeons. Saturday noon and the chic brasserie's main room's packed, cheek-to-Botoxed-cheek with those who think nothing of dropping 900 bucks on a pair of Prada sling-backs followed by a little bite to eat. But here at the white marble-topped bar, I've got the elegant New York-style saloon to myself, all but the chap at the wet bar assembling Société's $149 Grand Tower of seafood.
We've come for moules frites ($19), a great white crock heaped with meaty PEI mussels steamed in creamy white wine, scented with saffron and sweetened with caramelized shallots and a final chiffonade of tarragon, parsley and chives.
Paired with a basket of perfectly executed skinny frites and lemony garlic aioli, another of whipped butter and Thuet's chewy baguette plus a $6 glass of apple cider, they're the next best thing to a day trip to Paris.
The count: 39 mussels
I'se The B'y by Bay
We first ran into chef Sonia Potichnyj at Lemon Meringue in the late 90s, back when the Bloor West Village equated fine dining with schnitzel and perogy. She's since resurfaced at Rodney's by Bay (56 Temperance, at Bay, 416-703-5111, rodneysbybay.com NNN), and her attention to detail is as focused as ever.
See it in her moules frites ($15), another mess o' PEI mollusks steamed in Chardonnay and spiked with shallots, hickory-smoked bacon and slivers of licorice-like fennel. First-rate fries are regulation Yukon Gold, Ace Bakery's responsible for the appropriately absorbent baguette, and a certain Mr. Heinz provides the ketchup. But don't show up without a reservation - this b'y is usually booked solid.
The count: 24 mussels.
There's no question that Beer Bistro (18 King East, at Yonge, 416-861-9872, beerbistro.com NN) has one of the most impressive lineups of suds around. Sadly, their mussel bowls (all $18) aren't steamed so much as steamrollered. How else to explain the six broken shells in our Fancy Shmancy version, upgraded for an additional $8.50 with a shredded lobster, odd crunchy leeks and a splash of Belgian blond ale? That $26.50 doesn't include frites, but does get you a flaky sourdough bun. No butter, though.
The count: 37 mussels.
The moules the merrier
People sure love themselves some Winterlicious if the nearly full house at Pure Spirits (55 Mill, at Trinity, 416-361-5859, purespirits.ca NNN) in the Distillery District is any indication. And they all seem to be starting with the $20 prix fixe lunch's dainty first course of steamed mussels.
We've opted, instead for the house's all-you-can-eat special ($15 all-day Monday only), a large tureen of PEI specimens steamed in a Malaysian laksa broth laced with coconut milk, long strands of aromatic Vietnamese basil and wild kefir lime leaves. They don't come with frites - no loss judging by the chunky sports-bar-level fries that accompany our turkey burger ($15 à la carte) - but the spongy ciabatta rolls still warm from the oven more than make up the slack.
The count: theoretically unlimited, but we only manage 40 mussels.