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La Palette

Posted by Tim / Reviewed on March 7, 2007 / review policy

20070524_lapalettesteak.jpgI've never eaten horse although regrettably fed it to my dog when I was a kid. Like the common terrier, horse falls into a category for me of foods that for cultural and perhaps ethical reasons I'm just not inclined to eat. Last Saturday at La Palette I discovered that some of my friends don't have the same issues.

La Palette is a cozy french bistro at the northern tip of Kensington Market (on Augusta between Oxford and College) . It's the kind of place that epitomizes the market's joie de vivre. Small, unpretentious, good atmosphere, great service and an eye toward fresh, local ingredients.

The menu is decidely french. Deep fried camembert, escargot, frog legs, foie gras, steak frites and, yes, horse.

20070524_lapalettemenu.jpgOne of my friend's parents were born in France. She grew up on horse sandwiches and for her, La Palette, is one of the few places in the city she can rely on getting a perfect, medium-rare slab of meat that brings back memories of her youth.

Another friend seldom buys meat nor cooks it at home. When he does he ensures it's local or grass fed and gets it from somewhere like the Healthy Butcher. Yet he too makes special trips to La Palette for the Cheval - horse tenderloin served with roast potatoes, market vegetables and a rosemary veal jus. He claims it's the best tasting meat money can buy.

Needless to say my efforts to talk them out of their entrees for that evening weren't making any headway. So I sucked it up, sampled some French microbrews and soaked in an enjoyable evening of good food with friends that is La Palette.

The menu includes a decent range of appetizers ($6-$10), mains($20-$30) and specials of the day with a few vegetarian options. A limited prix fix menu including dessert can be had for $30.

20070524_lapalettesalmon.jpgAmong the winning dishes that night included the aformentioned horse (not shown), salmon (above) and steak (top photo). The poulet bonne maman (juicy french cut chicken breast with vegetables) received a somewhat less favourable review; and the scallops (at only three per serving) were the only real disappointment.

20070524_lapaletteboull.jpgI opted for the bouillabaisse (above - $24), described as a mediterranean fish stew with mussels, shrimp and a selection of fish. Since I cleaned my plate it must have been pretty good but I would have preferred something a bit more hearty and stewy. What I got was more delicate and brothy.

Desserts were pretty standard and predictable (but not in a bad way) such as cheese, sorbet and creme brulee three ways (below).

20070524_lapalettedessert.jpgOverall it was a fun night with tasty food and service about as friendly that you'd find in Toronto. The staff appeared to be having almost as good a time as we were and didn't seem to mind that it wasn't until 1am that we settled our bill and stumbled home.

La Palette, 256 Augusta Ave (Kensington Market), 416-929-4900



Jerrold / March 7, 2007 at 05:25 pm
Question for all: what's the difference between eating a cow and a horse?
Anita / March 7, 2007 at 05:31 pm
None in my book. If you decide to eat meat you can't start pulling the "well this is more evil" bit.

Tim's a vegetarian so he's allowed.
Tim / March 7, 2007 at 05:39 pm
I think it's a cultural thing. We (meaning most North Americans) deem certain foods appropriate for human consumption. It's the same as asking what's the difference between eating a cow or a dog or cat.
Angie / March 7, 2007 at 05:48 pm
I don't ride a cow, don't dream of galloping full out in the open meadows on a cow. So, I eat cow. And I ride horses.
Jerrold / March 7, 2007 at 06:19 pm
So is it the level of domestication that makes eating cows ok, and eating horses inappropriate?

(FYI: this is coming from a guy that sampled wild dog in Vietnam, ate Chicken sashimi in Japan, and likes Canadian Ostrich)
Jonathan / March 7, 2007 at 06:42 pm
Well for one thing, horse doesn't have a split hoof so it's not kosher. In case anyone was <a href="http://re-xs.ucsm.ac.uk/gcsere/revision/judaism/jud3/page11.html>;curious</a>.

Might as well mention now that <a href="http://www.blogto.com/city/2007/02/neighbourhood_watch_kensington_market_2_of_2/";>Part 2 of 2 of the Neighbourhood Watch on Kensington</a> was updated a little while back -- please pardon both the delay and the technical difficulties with that two-parter in general.

La Palette also serves as the general HQ for <a href="http://StreetsAreForPeople.org";Streets Are For People</a> -- LP ringmaster Shamez and Co. are busiest of course during <a href="http://pskensington.ca";>Pedestrian Sunday</a>.
Tanja / March 7, 2007 at 07:32 pm
Meat is meat... last time I got into this convo is was a pork versus rabbit debate and we found an interesting correlation:

People have all kinda of hangups, usually based (whether they realize it or not) on the cuteness/beauty of the animal.

If an animal is 'cute' (horse, deer, bunny rabbit, etc): "Omg! How could you eat that!" If it's run-of-the-mill plain or ugly (cow, chicken, pig) the off with it's head.

If it's a fish, well, even some vegetarians will eat them.


When I was a vegetarian I ate none of the above. Now that I've been made to eat meat again, I don't discriminate... as long as it's fresh...but, that said, i grew up on fine horse meat.
tik / March 7, 2007 at 08:04 pm
you ever meet the owner?
Teena in Toronto / March 7, 2007 at 09:48 pm
I've had drinks there but not food.
Andrea / March 7, 2007 at 11:06 pm
I think the difference in attitude towards meat often stems from food processing. Here in North America, we buy chicken as skinless chicken breast. We rarely see the whole bird (head, beak and all) hanging at Loblaws. I think this detaches us from the reality that meat comes from animals. So once we hear of people eating "weird" meats like horse or rabbit, we get uncomfortable because we can only think of them on a farm or stable, not as a consumable product.

Of course, some other cultures are different. I grew up in an Asian family where whole chickens (with heads, beaks) and entire fish (with skin, eyeballs, bones) were displayed proudly on the table. I cannot imagine eating dog or cat, but the idea of horse or rabbit intrigues me. I think this is because I've "befriended" dogs and cats, but I never really had a relationship with a horse or rabbit...
sookie / March 7, 2007 at 11:45 pm
That's enough to make me not want to check out La Palette, although I'd been considering it. Turtle is another one I have a hard time swallowing, but i do have one myself. As far as the whole eating meat debate goes I'm of the mindset that if you can't kill it yourself you don't deserve to eat it.
Japhet Bower / March 8, 2007 at 01:50 am
"As far as the whole eating meat debate goes I'm of the mindset that if you can't kill it yourself you don't deserve to eat it."

That's hardly practical for urban dwellers. We don't live in a society where you have to create everything you use and you wouldn't want to either.

If people don't want to kill their food, they shouldn't have to. They SHOULD be aware of where it comes from and make informed, intelligent choices.
Gloria / March 8, 2007 at 05:04 am
I tend to agree with Andrea (and Tanja's point about "evil"; totally on). It always intrigues me when I see teenagers stopping at the windows of Chinese deli shops and pointing and wondering loudly.

Her point might also relate in a way to many people's squeamishness about eating other parts of an animal ... ears, feet, eyes, and even the blood of even the common farmyard animals like cows and pigs. Perhaps all these things remind people too much that what they eat was once a living, functional animal, instead of always having existed as a delicious, seared steak.

I have no pets, so I have no qualms about eating dog or cat; I would understand if a pet owner did have hesitations, but I honestly don't understand any other omnivore's hangups. I'd chow down on horse any day, and I find horses very beautiful.

The only meat I might refuse to eat are rodents and insects -- related mostly to an idea of cleanliness.
Jerrold / March 8, 2007 at 07:31 am
The dishes, especially the bouillabaisse, look delicious.
megan / March 8, 2007 at 09:30 am
I think people think that the horse that people eat is someone's former pet or something. I think they don't realise that there are horse farms where horses are farmed for meat, just like cattle. In fact, Canada is the biggest Horse-meat export country, most of the horse people in France eat comes from here.

But it's that hang up on the fact that they're pets, and attractive. I know people who can't eat rabbit or lamb for the same reason.

Having said that, I don't think I could eat horse, because I have all the same indoctrination...
Jonathan / March 8, 2007 at 09:48 am
I've tried rabbit and caribou and I did not like that game taste to them. Does the horse have that aspect to it?

My favourite meat is lamb. I just wish it wasn't so expensive!
sookie / March 8, 2007 at 02:58 pm
and i thought our foie gras exporting was bad enough.
Gloria / March 8, 2007 at 05:22 pm
Sookie, you make an unfair comparison. The manufacture of foie gras necessarily involves cruel forcefeeding practises, while it's entirely possible to raise and slaughter a horse ethically and humanely for food. The comparison is not valid.
PK / March 8, 2007 at 08:59 pm
apparently horse meat tastes the same as human meat....

so there is no way I ever want to know what I would taste like.
Jerrold / March 9, 2007 at 02:46 pm
<a href="http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/WeirdNews/2007/03/08/3719223-ap.html";>What have we done</a>?!?!?!
sookie / March 12, 2007 at 01:27 pm
Funny Jerrold.
dvs / March 22, 2007 at 04:44 pm
i've tried the horse and like any other 'game'(?) meat it has it's slight peculiarities, texture and taste but i've enjoyed it @ la pallette before. yumm.

becky / April 6, 2007 at 07:06 am
Horses are beautiful animals, helped us win wars before we had cars or even guns, plowed our fields for us before tractors, and look a little bit like unicorns, so they're a little bit magical as well. If you want to eat them, fine go ahead but you are the scum of the earth if you do.

Also, La Palette owner is the scum of the earth for serving them. I think I just threw up in my mouth...
Swarthypirate / April 30, 2007 at 02:44 pm
I would never make love to a cow, thus I would eat cow.
Colonel Tom / August 2, 2008 at 11:43 am
I consider myself for the most part omnivorous, but as I get older and wiser I've found out a lot more about how food makes it to our plate. There are more humane ways to raise animals before slaughter and there are less humane ways. Factory farming shows no respect at all for the animals that some of us choose to eat. So it always makes sense to me to ask your chef (and yourself) for the origins of their animal meat.
As for eating horse meat, I simply cannot do it. I ride horses and could never sit down to knowingly eat even a morsel. I consider the horse, like the cat and the dog, one of my friends. That is my culture, but it's also borne out of personal experience. Hang out with a horse and you will quickly understand why I write this. They are intensely sympathetic and empathetic (not to mention hard-working) creatures.
If you want to find out more about the slaughter of them check out some of the websites that seek to protect them from ending up as your dinner.
Oh yeah, Coca on Queen Street is a great restaurant as well, but it serves horse and I ain't eatin' there anytime soon either.
laurel / August 5, 2008 at 11:53 am
i don't see what's wrong with eating horses over other animals. i'm a vegetarian, so made the decision to not eat any animals, no matter how ugly or unintelligent they may be (and that includes fish, unlike some 'vegetarians'.

i find it sort of hypocritical when people gasp over eating cute animals, but not pigs or cows. cows can be just as loyal to a loving owner as any other pet, and horses aren't even overly intelligent animals, as opposed to the very smart pigs that people eat all the time.

i dunno, i just don't see it as a reason to avoid a restaurant which represents a cultural cuisine that may be different from our own.
Leo replying to a comment from Jerrold / August 18, 2009 at 12:30 am
a cow is much better...
Stjohnsmythe / November 10, 2009 at 08:09 pm
So... is anyone going to talk about whether they like the restaurant?
mccool / December 14, 2009 at 02:59 pm
i absolutely love this restaurant. i live in the market and have never had a bad time here. the horse, ox and ostrich are my favourites. the pate is also great. the staff are attentive and even joined in on a linguistic debate my boyfriend and i were having.

oh, and for the pussies... i'm glad you won't eat cute animals, i don't want to wait in line at all my favourite restaurants. so, thanks!
chameleon / January 13, 2010 at 04:04 pm
People who base their ethics on asthetics are lame. Bring on the cheval.
PixieBee / May 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm
Horses are pets and companion animals. They are not raised to be food. In addition, the way they are slaughtered is cruel and inhumane.

Here's why you shouldn't eat horse flesh: cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2010/05/17/f-horse-slaughter.html
Vicky / December 2, 2011 at 01:26 pm
Really? Despite the fact the lede and most of this article is about horse meat, you can't even post a picture of the dish? Instead you open with a picture of steak which you write a disclaimer about later on?

Why would review a restaurant where you refuse to eat one of its most celebrated dishes? You should have had one of your friends write this.
footsricki / December 29, 2011 at 01:03 am
best for you with confident with confident
Iz / September 29, 2012 at 01:11 pm
Terrible experience! Made a birthday reservation and was told I wasn't going to be charged for bringing in a cake. Not only were we all charged, but we weren't allowed to cut it ourselves. We were served TINY slices covered in whipped cream and berries (didn't ask for that). When we asked for our cake back they brought it heavily taped up in its box but not before stealing half of it for themselves. SO UNPROFESSIONAL! Never going back
Vijay Prashad / November 14, 2012 at 03:31 am
Comming Soon - Berbician Snack-It will be serving Bison, Venison, Rabbit, Camel in forms of sausages, burgers, ravioli. We will also be doing quail puff pastries (Breakfast) There will be about 15 outlet around the GTA with franchises overseas. First location should be ready by March 2013. Email: membership@berbician.net for more info and stay tune for upcoming news.
Christopher Starr / February 15, 2013 at 07:24 pm
We had a good meal there tonight, but the high bill didn't fit with the casual atmosphere. Now of course some might say that $145 for 2 is not high, but for that price I expect a table cloth and a bread plate! The idea of saving a few bucks but not printing the ever changing menus but rather making me get up to look at the chalk board did not appeal to me either. Laser printers can quickly and cheaply print out a changing menu, that is then presented in a leather folder. So it was all the little details that did not add up to my bill total and therefore the place failed to impress me. The waitress informed me that the owner has another french restaurant, and the idea appeals to me to see if the atmosphere of that place equals the quality of the food we had here. Although when I say quality of food, I am referring to the entree, as my french onion soup did not have the required layer of cheese on top as it must. I really wanted to have escargot but was told they don't serve that. What? So overall, 3 out of 5 stars. Try it if you must, but be on the look out for the other french restaurants if you're looking for more of an experience!
lauren replying to a comment from Christopher Starr / March 12, 2013 at 04:49 pm
what? la palette has both table cloths AND menus?
Vijay Prashad / July 28, 2013 at 08:44 am
Sorry for the delay but we finally have an address for Berbician first retail/take out gourmet store - 5122 Dundas St. W. Opening in September, 2013.

We look forward in seeing you.
Disappointed / March 8, 2014 at 01:40 pm
Disappointed it might be a French bistro but would they have a sexy woman thin waitress flaunting some? nooo
Boring not going back
Robert / June 1, 2014 at 04:03 pm
Pleasant place. We ordered the entrees....calamari, escargot, oysters and was not that fresh. We also ordered the fried Camembert which tasted fine in a frozen type way. The seafood was not that fresh and the cleanliness was an issue. We ordered a $35 Sauvignon Blanc and a bug was in it. I believe he just scooped it out of my glass of wine and gave it back to me. Not worth the money I spent. Steaks looked good too bad I won't be going back to try it.

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