I'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.
One 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.
Among 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.
I 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).
Overall 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