Cafe du Lac

We wanted to celebrate our engagement/anniversary by going out for a nice meal, but Jersey (aka the boyfriend aka the fiancé – figured if we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together and I keep blogging, I should give him a name) said he would surprise me by picking the place. Not one to turn down a gastronomic surprise, I was curious and excited to see where we were going to end up. No pressure on him or the place of course, but it better be special and awesome because it was going to be etched in my memory forever. My great-grandchildren were going to hear about how their great-grandfather took me to such-and-such a place after he proposed, and I really don’t want to crush my fictional great-grandchildren’s views of romance by saying that it was a horrible restaurant. But again, no pressure on my soon-to-be-betrothed or the unsuspecting establishment; you know, just the mental stability and view of love by our future lineage. No biggie.

Anyhoo, knowing my love for foie gras – no, I don’t want to think about how it’s made and how bad it is for me, because it’s delicious and I love it – he took me to Cafe du Lac, a restaurant that specializes in Quebec-style French food. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t know the difference between Quebec and France style food, but I think it has to do with the addition of poutines and the use of maple syrup in Quebec? Someone correct me if I’m wrong?

Cafe du Lac is on the Lake Shore, tucked in a row of numerous other shops and whatnot, with a small patio outside its front door. It doesn’t look fancy-fancy, but I don’t know if I’d walk in there in shorts and tank top. The restaurant itself is long and narrow and seats about 40, with a long bench along one side of the wall with pretty cushions for extra comfort and pizzazz. Tables are situated fairly close to each other, and it could get pretty loud if there were a lot of people. It slightly deterred from the romance of a quiet, intimate place.

There was one server on the night we went, and she also happened to be the owner. Extremely helpful for us because I always have lots of questions about the menu, and she was able to let us know of dishes that were available but not on the menu. She also told us the ingredients were sourced fresh and they never froze their meat. Throughout the night, she made sure to talk to every table as though we were all her friends, and you could really tell she was passionate about her business. That in itself makes for good service in my opinion.

The menu is simple and changes with the seasons, and written in both French and English. This is not a place to go if you are meticulous about counting calories, FYI. This is a place to go if you want to splurge on creams, cheeses, foie gras and decadence.

As we waited for our food, we munched on fresh bread, baked in-house and served with a creamy, soft herb butter (one of my biggest pet peeves in the world is hard butter that mutilates the bread). Crispy on the outside with a soft, doughy inside, we were off to a good start. It was so good in fact, we asked for seconds. And by “we” I mean me. I love bread. Don’t judge my carb intake.
To start, we shared the “all-dressed” poutine: cream sauce, pulled beef short-ribs, cheese curds and foie gras on top of a bed of fresh-cut fries ($20). This is not your average poutine. The cream sauce and the cheese and the fattiness of the foie gras makes it very rich, and I definitely recommend it as a sharing plate because I’m pretty sure although we shared it, we ate enough calories to feed a large third-world country for about a week and a half. The fries were fresh, but not as crispy as I would have liked – keeping in mind that I have a very high crunch-quota that needs to be filled. The sauce although creamy, had very little other flavour to it, but it was aided by the flavours of the other ingredients. There were surprisingly few cheese curds and I wish there were more because the saltiness would have cut the creaminess of the sauce a bit. The beef was delicious and plentiful, sweet from some sort of flavour I couldn’t quite place, maybe maple syrup? Lastly, the foie gras was perfect. A petite portion perched precariously (how’s that for alliteration?) on top of the mountain of fries, it was seared on the outside and soft and rich on the inside. I love foie gras, and this poutine delivered it well.
Jersey opted for the Wild Boar Tenderloin ($27) which came with a sweet potato mash, veggies and crispy radish chips on top. The mash and veggies were ok; not overcooked and mushy but nothing overly special either. The meat was perfectly pink in the centre and tender – not tough as I was expecting game meat to be. The seasoning was subtle but really brought out the flavour of the meat itself. It was juicy and the crispy radish chips – which I have never seen before – were a great addition with the different texture to the dish.
One of the specialties at Cafe du Lac is the Duck in a Jar ($36), normally only available on weekends unless ordered ahead. I was lucky that night and they had a few already made so I decided it was a sign that I should have one too. It sounds too interesting to not try, “foie gras stuffed duck magret immersed in a port reduction with savoy cabbage, leeks and Berkshire pork double smoked bacon served on a bed of rustic mashed potatoes.” Damn you, foie gras, and your delicious temptation. So, although it was a going to be a long wait (upwards of 30 minutes) I just had to have it, or else risking the rest of my life thinking of what could have been.
Why no, I am not melodramatic, why do you ask?

So back to the duck in a’s actually pretty neat, and I could smell it before I could see it. And. It. Smells. Amazing. Words cannot describe how awesome this dish smells, but know that as I type this sentence, I am drooling like one of Pavlov’s dogs thinking about it. The dish actually comes to the table with the jar still on the plate, and the server unveils the deliciousness with a flurry of panache and a quick lift of the jar to keep the meat-tower intact underneath. After the jar is lifted away, the smell literally fills the whole restaurant (plus as the dish is being unveiled, the restaurant stops to stare at the wondrous concoction, so be prepared to have everyone looking your way with envy in their eyes). There is a thick layer of fat on one side – do not be alarmed, because it helps to add such wonderful flavour and moisture to the meat. The duck itself was a little tough and a bit rarer than I was initially prepared for, but the flavour was intense. The foie gras in the middle was plentiful and added a subtle creaminess with every bite. I am sad to say that I wasn’t able to distinguish any bacon, but the onion and cabbage mix was soft without being mushy and soaked up the juices perfectly. The potatoes, though simple, were actually the best choice for a side dish because it really let the juice of the duck shine through. Overall, it was a fantastic dish that I would not hesitate to order again.
Upon hearing that we were celebrating our engagement/anniversary, Kathryn, the owner, did the following:

1) Took our picture
2) Tweeted about us
3) Congratulated us and all-around made a big fuss over us so that I felt super-duper special
4) Asked the kitchen to whip up a gigantic dessert platter for us

Like the bread, all the desserts are made in-house by the talented team in the kitchen, using fresh and seasonal ingredients. We were treated to an intensely rich, chocolate cake that tasted like it was pure cocoa. Very chocolate-y with the slight bitterness of pure chocolate, you could taste the quality of the ingredients that went into making it. The maple pie was Jersey’s favourite, and it was delicious. A maple filling on a thin, melt-in-your-mouth crust...we probably could have eaten a whole pie for dinner itself. Finally, the crème brulee trio was creamy with just the right amount of crunch from the burnt sugar on the top. All the desserts were fantastic – I just wish we weren’t so full from our dinners so we could have finished the whole thing.
So did he do well in choosing a place to celebrate a monumental step in our lives? Did he ever! It was a fabulous experience, the meal was delicious and I made a new Twitter friend. Cafe du Lac is not the place to go if you are in a hurry; our dinner took over two hours on a fairly non-busy weeknight. That being said, it’s not really a meal you would want to rush because you want to take the time to savour the different flavours and textures of each dish. If you’re looking to try it, and don’t want to spend quite so much money, I believe they have a number of different budget-friendly options such as a Prix Fixe menu and are a part of the Summer/Winterlicious promotions. Go. Enjoy. Just don’t count your calories that night.

Cafe Du Lac on Urbanspoon
Cafe du Lac
2350 Lakeshore Blvd W., Toronto


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