Since returning to Toronto from Miami, one of my most anticipated new restaurant openings has been La Banane – it opened in February 2017, at 227 Ossington, just south of Dundas. There has been an explosion of restaurants on this street, I think more than any other in Toronto in the last few years. This spot was previously The Saint.
Brandon Olsen is the owner and chef. Yes, the Brandon Olsen of Bar Isabel, and The Black Hoof, and who also worked in Napa at the French Laundry and Ad Hoc, with Chef Thomas Keller, no less, working with Basilio Pesce of Biffs, Canoe and the Cheese Boutique. Brandon’s partner is Sarah Keenlyside. They have partnered with one of Toronto’s most influential food companies, the King Street Food Company who represents Buca and Jacobs and Co. so at least I knew I would be in capable hands. Suffice it to say, in a few short months it has become Toronto’s “it” restaurant. In fact, the restaurant has been buzzing since the day it opened.
Firstly, it’s a warm and welcoming space. The 80 seat restaurant has three areas. The garden room is up front, and decorated in shades of green, with marble tables and booths. Then there’s the middle section, which I prefer as it’s a great spot for viewing the action of the restaurant. It’s opposite the raw bar and liquor bar, and also has booths, and is decorated in brass finishes. The back room, near the kitchen, is more private and has some original artwork. The place has a relaxed elegance, and they play a funky soundtrack, at an acceptable volume. But, more importantly, it had great food that is French inspired. It also has some of the freshest and most impeccable seafood that I’ve had in Toronto.
We were off to a great start when we were served warm pretzel bread with mustard. There was a huge list of libations from classic cocktails, house cocktails, champagnes, craft beers, draft beers and ciders. Plus there is an extensive wine list that was predominantly French. I highly recommend starting with some seafood. We went with the Grand Plateau, a two-tiered assembly of oysters, mussels, shrimp, lobster, Alaskan king crab, and some wonderful raw marinated scallops in a garlic buttermilk. This set us back $190, but fed four, and really was filling enough to retire with dessert afterwards. However, I needed to investigate some other things for the good of my readers. The menu featured things like foie gras, an omelette with or without caviar, viandes (meat selection), poussin (fish), legumes, cheese and desserts.
I had to try this year’s most photographed dish, the eurobass en croute, with yuzu beurre blanc and zucchini. Let me tell you, it lived up to all the hype. The beautiful presentation of lattice-work pastry was aesthetically pleasing. After seeing the fish, they take it back to the kitchen to debone it and serve it with a lovely, buttery cream sauce. It was pretty sensational. We tried a special that night of turbot also served in a different cream sauce (you know the French!), topped with button mushrooms. It was excellent. Next up the Flatiron Steak, with pommes frites and a side of soubise sauce. The meat was cooked and seasoned perfectly, but the portion was on the small side, maybe 3-4 oz. We also tried a bibb lettuce and the pommel aligot, a mashed potato dish with cheese that was too gooey and pasty for me.
I really wanted to try their famous Ziggy Stardust dessert, but I had no takers at my table, so instead, I provided a picture to show you this “Jackson Pollock” inspired masterpiece. Maybe next time I will get lucky. After all, the chef is also a chocolate master. Instead, we opted for the Gateau a la Banane. It was good, but I prefer this Basque-style cake at Bar Isabel. I didn’t think the banana added much to the cake, except for the namesake of the restaurant. This modernized French gem is open seven days a week for dinner only. They think they might test opening for brunch in the near future. I am so pleased to see that Toronto is finally setting some new standards and becoming more culinary creative. Oh, and, thanks to our waiter, Robert, who took great care of us.