Thuet (609 King West, at Portland, 416-603-2777) Complete meals for $85 per person ($45 brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $35/$20. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5:30 pm till close. Brunch Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Bakery open Tuesday to Friday 8:30 am to 3 pm, Saturday 9 am to 3 pm, Sunday 9 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday. Licensed. Access: 11 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Marc Thuet's bad boy reputation hangs over his spiky blond do like the cloud of Gauloise smoke that perpetually seems to shroud the allegedly difficult Alsatian chef's head. So much so that when I mention to another resto biz insider that I plan to visit his and partner Biana Zorich's revamped bistro for the first time, the response surprises even me.
"Did you see them on Opening Soon?" he asks incredulously, referring to the Food Network reality show that recently featured the couple. "Aren't you scared?"
Climbing the stairs to Thuet's re-branded King West boîte, I'm met by the great man himself.
Seated at the bar with what appears to be coffee, he gives me a bleary-eyed "Hey" before returning to his morning paper. Some enfant terrible! Perhaps, like The Apprentice's Omarosa, he's only edited to look evil.
Launched last year to go mano-a-mano with Susur Lee next door, Thuet's eponymous eatery made an initial splash with local high rollers. But since then resto reality has intervened, and Thuet and Zorich responded with a more approachable card (read less expensive) to attract the hoi polloi.
The couple have also installed an in-house bakery where you can buy their artisanal loaves (our favourite: Le Saint Tropez sourdough, studded with black olives and whole cloves of roasted garlic, $6.50) as well as sensational sandwiches like thinly sliced duck carpaccio, creamy chèvre and strawberry confiture on a buttery, sea-salted croissant ($7). Why, the new accessible Thuet even does brunch.
That's where you find us Sunday. Reservations in hand, we three are quickly seated at a table more suited to six near the cavernous space's bright street-fronting windows. Soon full, the room buzzes with anticipation as formally attired servers efficiently take orders. Before long, a linen-lined basket of baked goods arrive - a commendable croissant, one pain au chocolat and a slice of bundt-style Kuhelhopf - to tide us over till the starters arrive.
First up, Thuet's onion soup gratiné Les Halles ($9) is so gorgeously gooey, it's as if a grilled cheese sandwich has been liquefied in a bowl. Thin, mandolin-cut rounds of roasted organic red and yellow beets topped with a swoonsome disc of melting Quebec goat cheese and a frazzle of frissée get dressed with a hazelnut vinaigrette ($13). Chef pulls out the stops with his Strasbourgeois charcuterie platter ($15), tissue-thin slices of house-cured ham, pistachio-laced sausage and more of that terrific fatty duck, coupled with cornichons and pickled onion, all served on a wooden plank.
Quiche Lorraine ($13) sees a delicate cookbook-correct wedge of eggy custard sided with house greens, while a hockey puck of tangy steak tartare ($18 small/$28 large) gets additional kick from freshly grated horseradish. Best of the bunch, a pair of perfectly poached eggs ride a delicious dice of house-smoked bacon and arrive plated over crisp potato rosti and links of dense boudin noir (blood sausage) and andouille sausage ($16).
I'm back again the following Sunday with a different crew. Since we've reserved weeks in advance, we're not expecting any difficulty securing a table, but as the house has rescinded its reservation policy - news to us - we're told there'll be a wait. When we insist otherwise, we're reluctantly shown to a table squeezed off to the side.
My guests are starving. I point to the baskets of croissants on every table and reassure them that ours will show up shortly. It never does. Instead, we eventually begin with a shared first course of organic salmon tartare ($16) that has the unfortunate look of something a seal would puke up. And without the baguette toast that accompanies the steak tartare, how are we supposed to eat the stuff, which amounts to all of three spoonfuls?
As everyone else appears to be tucking into massive brunch dishes like Thuet's nine-grain waffles piled with fruit ($17), we're left drumming our thumbs waiting for ours a half-hour later. Maybe the delay's due to the kitchen cooking our otherwise exemplary slow-roasted breast of capon coupled with spaetzle ($22) from scratch? That might also explain why the house steak frites ($30 brunch/$33 dinner) slathered with parsley butter and plopped with another poached egg approaches room temperature.
When I finally flag a passing server and point out that we've yet to receive any bread - how else does one experience every delightful drop of the sauce choron that comes pooled under Thuet's superb Kobe steak haché (a $25 bunless cheeseburger and fries)? - I'm informed rather haughtily that it's not served with brunch. If we'd wanted some, we should have ordered the pannier sampler ($12). Then again, we could have bought an entire loaf in Thuet's bakery for half that. I guess we should count ourselves lucky that those few crusts served the previous weekend were apparently on the house.
When you're spending this kind of dough for brunch (about $50 per head, sans alcohol), is it too much to expect a complimentary slice of bread?