French Moroccan fare, you say? By the same team that brought Toronto the gem that is Chabrol? With Chef Doug Penfold’s exquisite fare and a lengthy wine list accompanied by smashing cocktails and carefully selected beer and sherry?
Say hello to one of the city’s best, most exciting restaurants of 2017 – Atlas Restaurant.
People have very strong preconceptions about Moroccan fare, but Chef Doug Penfold wants to introduce you to how diverse the country is, how varied it is regionally and expose you to the “different, smaller areas.” The country, for example, is home to a ton of fish, including lake-type fish such as trout.
He’s not here to “teach” you, however. “These are just my interpretations of the food.” But Penfold’s “very excited to keep exploring through the food.”
Inspired by recent travels, Penfold has created an enticing menu filled with sophisticated, exotic, yet approachable dishes including Jben (Moroccan fresh cheese); Harira (Lamb broth with marrow and tedouira, a kind of sourdough starter); and La kama, featuring spiced leg of chicken with apricots, pine nuts and creamed spinach. Portions are plentiful too.
Penfold who has been at the stove for the last 28 years (His first job was working under Martin Kouprie at Jump, which led to opening Canoe), lives by the adage: “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
He’s just getting started.
GM Chloe Lord is also in charge of wine. With help from Christopher Madej, Sommelier of Chabrol, she had the difficult task of pairing selections with new flavours that “excite the senses.”
Lord hunted down “interesting, dynamic” varietals to pair with the “beautiful and delicate” fare (gls $13-$24, btls $50-$150). Choosing a lot of light to medium reds with big acidity, so “they don’t get lost beside the food and refresh the palate,” there’s also an array of tip-top white wines. Focusing mainly on France and Spain, other European countries including Austria and Germany round out the list.
A small selection of bewitching signature cocktails ($12-$16), beers with many from Quebec ($8-$13), a cider and of course sherry ($10-$45) are also available.
Fixtures and Fittings
A lot of folks force the idea of a restaurant into a space. Penfold and his team do the exact opposite. “We look for a space that fits the concept.”
The team knew as soon as they laid eyes on the place – a former film production school – that it would fit their “Moroccan project.”
Designing it themselves, they kept things simple. The exposed brick and tall ceiling was the perfect backdrop for their streamlined fixtures. A sleek walnut bar, long tapestries and intricate lattice panels, sweeping wine rack and minimalist seating by way of leather banquettes and bistro chairs creates a warm, cozy, sexy space that still feels modern and open.
Downstairs, a “monstrously long” kitchen featuring a huge walk-in fridge allows the kitchen staff to prep in an expansive space before taking it upstairs to the teeny set-up behind the bar (think Chabrol, only slightly bigger), where everything is cooked and finished for guests.
The restaurant is nestled in a residential neighbourhood close to two churches, so it’s not only the food that transports you.
Off the Menu
Market Spritz ($12) Veredejo (3 oz.), grapefruit and star anise cordial, and soda creates a lightly sweet, floral, warm-weather refresher.
Pistachio Mauresque ($16) Milky, creamy pistachio orgeat mixed in with the fennel and soft licorice from Pernod (1.5 oz) makes for an evocative, I’ll-have-another-before-finishing-this-one dinner companion.
Marrakesh-Style Olives ($6) It’s so simple, but oh-so good. Toothsome Picholine olives mixed in with olive oil, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and a bit of garlic is a fascinating experience, soon to become your next addiction.
Roasted Beets with Cinnamon & Preserved Lemon ($10) Everyone it seems has beets on their menu, but this side of red beetroots is like no other. The combination of the firm earthy veg doused with cinnamon and preserved lemon is such a surprise on the palate. The addition of lively toppings – baton of chives and chiffonade of celery leaves – with creamy base of hung yogurt (“Hanging the yogurt overnight allows for much of the liquid to release, providing a firmer texture and more concentrated flavour”) makes this a must-try and savour dish.
Grilled Red Pepper with Za'atar & Olive Oil($10) Silky, seductive red peppers served cool, get an invigorating boost from za’atar and table-thumpingly good olive oil.
Vadouvan Trout ($29) with Escarole & Jerusalem Artichoke Purée Chef Penfold has a way with fish and seafood – delicate so it always remains moist and bursting with sea flavour, but also ensuring a crisp skin so that it’s perfectly balanced. Here the trout is heavily spiced, yet never overwhelming the meat. Bitter, crunchy escarole and plump, soft puree of Jerusalem artichoke combine to make an exquisitely refined dish that you’ll no doubt order time and again.
Tagine of Roasted Goat ($45) with Okra, Chickpeas & Squash Cooked for four to four-and-a-half hours in a large clay pot and then transferred to a colourful Staub tagine to be presented at the table, thick chunks of fall-off-the-bone goat get huddled in with sturdy okra, cubed squash and chickpeas, creating an intoxicating, deep, comforting dish big enough for two.
The intimate room seats 24 dinner guests, with a few seats at the bar.
At the Stove: Executive Chef Doug Penfold, Chef de Cuisine Daniel Lynn
Head Honchos: Niall McCotter and Doug Penfold
FOH: GM Chloe Lord
Map It: 18 Dupont St. (at Avenue Rd.)
Visiting Hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays – 5-10:30 pm
Phone it in: 416-546-9050
How Cool is This?! The whole damn thing, so get there already.
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