Bacchanal, a French "neo bistro" that aims to offer an updated take on traditional dishes, occupies what was once the short-lived Recess Diner and Fountain on Sudbury Street, just south of West Queen West and north of Liberty Village.
This beautifully designed space seats 100, including seating along a sleek, brass-accented bar. Various areas flow into one another, from a semi-private dining space with a big window displaying the pastry chefs at work to the main dining area with a view of the quasi-open main kitchen.
General manager/sommelier Lachlan Dennis (Le Select Bistro) has come up with an international wine list (with a heavy dose of France, of course) that focuses on pairing well with the food, and an entire page of the menu is devoted to wines available by the glass.
A French-inspired cocktail menu was created by bar manager Jason Griffin (Maison Boulud and Hotel William Gray in Montreal), and, in keeping with the spirit of the restaurant's name, there's an off-menu absinthe program as well (just ask for the "green fairy").
Dalí ($13) is a visually pleasing drink that tips its hat to the surrealist artist. Containing gin, crème de violette, herbes de Provence, lemon and butterfly pea flower, this floral and not-too-sweet sour uses aquafaba (a vegan chickpea liquid) instead of egg whites to create its foam.
Le Bon Vivant ($13), a buttery smooth stirred cocktail with gin, sassafras-infused French vermouth, Amontillado sherry and green strawberry bitters, goes down dangerously easily.
Le Landemer ($14) is Griffin's French take on a tiki concoction. It's named after a famous beach-side hotel in Normandy, and is a tropical mix of Calvados, agrikol rum, star anise-infused Lillet, house-made orgeat, celery bitters, fresh pineapple juice and lime.
As for the food, owner/executive chef Luke Donato (Campagnolo) is plating approachable and contemporary bistro fare that's suitable for eating at the bar just as apps with drinks (there's also a raw bar), or for a full-fledged dinner.
He even offers the option of a carte blanche, trust-the-chef, large format dinner ($150/head) served family-style for two or more people.
Perfect for snacking at the bar are a bunch of hors d'oeuvres: pâté de grand-mère ($9), galantine de volaille ($12), champignons à la Grecque ($7), leeks vinaigrette ($7) and oeufs Pépin ($7). A bit of this and that, the flavours all work well together in combination with one another.
As a proper starter, we try the oeufs en meurette ($15), a classic from Burgundy. It's kind of like a classy (and super delicious) breakfast for dinner, with an egg poached in a red wine sauce, bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions on brioche.
Equally satisfying is the agnolotti ($16), with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and garlicky snails in a spinach and watercress sauce.
No French bistro, new wave or not, is complete without steak frites ($24), and Bacchanal's 8 oz. flatiron version comes topped with a Café de Paris sauce.
Truite de Fjords ($29) pairs a crisp-skinned piece of Norwegian ocean trout in a sauce l'oseille (sorrel sauce) with refreshing steamed cucumbers.
Another classic, magret de canard ($31), is a real delight. The flavourful, perfectly cooked duck breast comes accompanied by a tasty trio of poached plums, sweet parsnips and a foie gras espuma.
Pastry chef Cori Murphy (Alo) is behind the desserts here (she also makes the bread in-house daily).
One option is the Paris-Brest ($15), a beautiful donut-shaped choux pastry sandwiching a divine hazelnut praline crémeux with just a touch of salt for contrast. The booze-soaked baba au rhum ($15) is another winner.
One final tip: be sure to check out the wallpaper; animation artist Ray Xu designed the Toronto-themed one in the main dining area while illustrator Elyse Saunders offers a NSFW interpretation of the restaurant's name in the bathrooms.