> CLAFOUTI (915 Queen West, at Strachan, 416-603-1935) Early every morning, this charmingly petite patisserie fills with the smell of freshly baked-on-the-premises croissants and bâtards. Pure Parisian perfection! Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and an Illy coffee. Open Tuesday to Saturday 8 am to 7 pm, Sunday 9 am to 6 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: three steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Each morning at 3, patissier boris Dosne fires up the ovens of his just-opened Queen West bake shop and begins the day's first batch of croissants. The wondrous results may be the best in town.Unwilling to assume the debt a similar business would involve in his hometown, Dosne moved to Toronto four years ago from Paris - yes, the one in France - to work toward starting a traditional Champs Elysée-style patisserie. He took a catering gig at posh A La Carte in the meantime, all the while scoping the city for the ideal location. He finally settled on a low-key café opposite downtown's popular dog-walking park.
He studied his future compe-tition - Marc Tournayre, François Rahier, Bonjour Brioche's Henri Faissen - and then he upped the croissant stakes. Clafouti's are significantly larger, more beautifully lacquered and far tastier than its rivals'. Sculptural and crisply golden on their perimeters, these buttery yeasted rolls range from honey blond to deep mahogany, shiny from egg wash. They remind me of the Indian-head hood ornament on a 53 Pontiac StratoChief. Only in bread.
Dosne does several different types: plain ($1.25), layered with fresh fig or dusted with cinnamon and brown sugar (both $1.75) and an absolutely stunning chocolate almond number ($1.95) lined with creamy frangipani.
At 8 the cozy café opens. Three stairs lead to a small, narrow room - high tin ceilings, blond wooden floors - where a short brocade banquette offsets three round wrought iron tables and a few black padded folding chairs. Silk lanterns throw light on period posters. A magazine rack holds last Sunday's New York Times. Jazz plays on the radio.
A glass case displays clafouti ($2.75). Traditionally a thick, French country crepe-like fruit dessert, it's transformed by Dosne into a more manageable pâte-brisée-crusted tart of slightly sour raspberries, cherries or lychee with caramel in delicious custardy crème pâtissière spiked with Kirsch.
Opposite, shelves hold shiny ribbon-tied cellophane bags containing positively Proustian lemony madeleines ($3.19) and 12-spice ginger snaps ($2.29) that could crack bicuspids if not dipped into a latte. Wicker baskets brim with bâtards ($1.49) - think dense, compact baguettes - still warm from the oven.
The same rather innocuous-looking loaves form the basis of Clafouti's swellegant sandwiches: superb diced breast of chicken or hard-boiled egg in sweet house-made mayo; quality canned tuna niçoise with haricots verts and unstoned black olives on skewers; tissue-thin slices of aged carpaccio-like beef with Emmenthal; and rustic chicken liver pâté with halved cornichons and daubs of tart sugary red currant jelly (all $4.50). Café Crap, er, Crêpe, take note.
Only one little misstep: Clafouti tries to court non-carnivores with a vegetarian croque monsieur ($3.95) that consists from top to bottom of white bread, melted Swiss, white bread, melted Swiss, weird veggie patty, béchamel and white bread. It could re-convert them to meat. Back at the Test Kitchen, the Troubled Balkan says the mock burger looks like a Rubik's Cube mixed into a bag of instant chicken noodle soup.
Dosne's brother Olivier Jansen-Reynaud - whose resumé includes a stint at Vancouver Island's acclaimed Sooke Harbour House - is in charge of Clafouti's stellar lineup of savoury dishes. Simplicity itself, lasagna ($3.99) sees six layers of al dente De Cecco noodles all of an inch tall seriously sauced with loosely pulped sweet tomato, flecked with ground meat and a melt of Parmesan. The Balkan and I pair the take-away with a fabulous lacerated ball of fresh bocconcini in whey stuffed with alternating pockets of basil leaf and ripe Roma tomato ($2.75) and topped with a grinding of black pepper.
We're gaga over a quarter whole roasted chicken painted with subtly curried sour cream ($5.95) that we match with creamy red-jacketed potato salad ($2.50) accented with crunchy slivered celery, tangy capers and basil chiffonade.
No Kraft Dinner this, toothsome squares of retro macaroni and cheese ($2.25) come doused in cream, melted cheddar and a grinding of fresh black peppercorn and go great with a salad composed of skinny haricots verts and mellow marinated raw red onion drizzled with a fruity balsamic vinaigrette ($1.75).
A solo-portion quiche - Brie with pepper purée ($2.75) - and a Tuscan bean salad ($2.95) of Arborio rice, white navy beans, chickpeas and multicoloured bell pepper chunks in flat-leaf parsley garnish make another winning dinner combo. Swoon-some stuff.
No wonder locals are reeling. First Chippy's, now tiny, perfect Clafouti. Bellwoods will never be the same.