Parquet: The vibe
“Good afternoo — err — evening?” A smiley host greets us when we enter the new Harbord Street bistro. “We’re in this weird part of winter where time has no concept,” he chuckles as he walks us to an inviting corner booth by the wall of street-facing windows. It was, in fact, evening, but it was about to get so much better than good.
Sometimes, newly opened restaurants can look too new; void of character, their charm sandpapered down to overly polished, constructed “vibes” — more like a marketing experiment than a restaurant. Not here. Parquet may have opened its doors late last year, but there is a distinct feeling that it’s been a part of the neighbourhood for years.
Newly opened restaurants can look too new; void of character, their charm sandpapered down to overly polished, constructed “vibes”
The entrance’s orange glow continues throughout the entire space, illuminated by antique brass lights and a jovial energy from the staff that’s as warm as the surrounding interior. Our table, set behind the bar, was the perfect spot for people-watching from all points of the restaurant.
We spied servers carrying hot plates of steak frites and cassoulet bopping around the dining room outfitted with deep, rust-coloured banquettes; cozy dark wood; and, of course, geometric parquet floors (how French). I eavesdropped on conversations between strangers oscillating louder and louder around the marble-countertop bar and copied diners proudly swirling around their glasses of red wine. Cheers to Parquet.
Parquet: The menu
If you Google, ‘Parquet Toronto,’ you’ll probably see the words ‘French bistro’ repeated a lot. Their menu does skew French, but not always.
After stuffing our faces with crunchy sourdough from bread queen Patti Robinson, a plate of green tiger's milk dotted with orange drops of espelette pepper oil and topped with colourful sliced peppers landed on our table. “Digby scallops,” our server said.
It was then that I realized the delicate, raw scallops were hiding under the medley of multi-coloured veg. French? No. Fantastic? Oui. The abstract crudo looked a tad out of place, but who cares when it tastes that fresh? It was zesty, well-executed and a fun, bright start to the meal. We sopped up every last drop of the Peruvian tiger’s milk with our leftover bread.
We enjoyed it so much that the radicchio blanco salad with grapefruit, which came after, fell flat. Perhaps I shouldn’t compare the two dishes (I mean, it's a salad), but it wasn’t nearly as balanced or exciting as the crudo. The bitter radicchio clashed with the overly citrus grapefruit and dressing.
Nothing compared to the mains, though. Chef Jeremy Dennis more than delivered on a cassoulet to rule them all. His version of the iconic French dish is a perfectly crispy yet tender confit duck leg in a rich ramen stock with salty bits of local Linton Pasture pork for added depth and flavour. I was in heaven and it wasn’t even my dish — I had encouraged (forced) my dining partner to share.
I ordered the sablefish with curried brussels sprouts (more aromatic than spiced) and was overwhelmed by all of the components — in the best way. It was complex and kept me guessing with each bite. The fish was silky and flaky from sitting for 24-hours in a miso marinade before getting pan-roasted to a gorgeous caramel brown. Its bed of apricot purée had a subtle sweet taste cut with heat from the chilli oil. Sometimes more just works.
It was complex and kept me guessing with each bite
Parquet: The drinks
Parquet has lots of enticing original cocktail offerings like the vegetal, sweet Paris Syndrome with sake, mezcal, celery bitters and maraschino (wild); and the Mort Suite with absinthe, apricot and champagne (if you’re feeling fancy).
However, we wanted wine that night and came to the right place for it. Manager and sommelier Lexi Wolkowski created a stellar list of bottles and approachable by-the-glass beauties from France and beyond. You can also get French liqueur poured over creamy sorbet for dessert, which feels wrong, but also so right.
Dinner and drinks for two: around $200 before tax and tip
Parquet, 97 Harbord St.; restaurantparquet.com