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Sunday, November 21, 2010

La Palette: Bidding a fond Adieu to a Kensington Friend

A recent article at torontoist.com, and then another in the Globe and Mail (not yet available online), alerted us to the fact that one of our favourite restaurants in town, La Palette in Kensington Market, would be closing its doors in late November. Seems (in an all too common twist of fate) that they have become the victim of their own success, by at first kick-starting and then anchoring the renaissance in Kensington since their opening in 2001.

The  current allure of the bobo neighbourhood  now means that landlords can raise rents beyond the levels that the original tenants are willing or able to pay, in the process threatening to kill the atmosphere that is the very essence of their good fortune. Thankfully for local lovers of French bistro fare, La Palette has recently opened  an additional outpost on Queen Street West. While we haven't yet visited, being somewhat stubbornly attached to the original, we hear from multiple sources that the fare is just as good. We will now have to transfer our allegiance.
photo above courtesy of jamie drummond's musings at gingerz.wordpress.com
La Palette is owned by the unstoppable Shamez Amlani (right in photo) and his wife Maria Litwin. (Shamez has become the defacto "mayor" of Kensington, the major force behind the neighbourhood's monthly Pedestrian Sundays during the summer.) The stoves are manned by ever-boyish Brook Kavanagh (centre) and team. He has steadily steered the menu towards more rigorous Ontario-based sourcing. While it remains decidedly French in approach, the goods are as local and sustainable as possible, including a decent range of Ontario wines.
We were introduced to La Palette by friends, probably a couple of years after it had opened. It was love at first sight, and sealed at first bite! The room is tiny, sometimes a problem with dining in this town, but somehow its diminutive scale fit the personality of the place. It was all set off by the towering presence of M.Amlani, who greeted and seated each customer, offered the wine list, explained the specials and sometimes even took the orders. And speaking of the wine list, he was there to guide you through the selection process, usually offering up some unlisted treasures from his cellar after he had a good idea of your tastes and budget. On more than one occasion we sat while a flight of reds was poured for us to sample. He would do the same for beers, having a substantial listing of Quebec, French and Belgian brews. He was the first restaurateur to talk us through choosing a beer the way a sommelier would a wine.
The dishes were always classically French bistro fare. A standout was the brilliantly executed Steak Frites, barely a half inch thick in that quintessential Gaullic way, cooked to the perfect "a point". The frites were addictively thin and crisp, screaming out for a big pot of dijon mustard (always readily available). Other favourites were the chicken "Bonne Maman", bouillabaisse, and more recently a selection of "local" game. Loin of elk, anyone? We haven't yet had the inclination to try the cheval- yes, horse- but since we've heard it's still featured on the menu at the new location we promise to give it a go. Though North Americans remain squeamish about it, it's a classically European offering  and the online reviews give it raves. (Shown below at the new Queen Street location in a photo from the Toronto Star)

 above, a corner in the Kensington dining room

We paid a final visit last weekend. As usual there was a loud and boisterous group present, the room was hot and noisy, and the atmosphere comforting. We missed the presence of  Le Patron, but we dined with the usual gusto, and left ready to move on the next chapter, happy to have had the chance to say farewell. 

We'll leave the last word to Shamez Amlani himself, quoted here from a November 6th, 2010 article by Tabassum Siddiqui in the Globe and Mail:

"When the doors close here after ten years, people will carry it with them in their memories. The new place is a new place and it's a different thing entirely. This place can go on and be the stuff of legend and memory. That's not something anyone can take away"

photo below of the new Queen Street W home from the National Post

La Palette is Dead! Long Live La Palette!

La Palette
492 Queen Street West
416 929- 4900

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