Clementine takes a classic Parisian bistro, transports it to the Prairies and shifts it forward into the craft-cocktail era. Gauzy white curtains and brass screens patterned like fish scales turn a street-level space beneath a west-end condo into a secret hideaway. This cushy 36-seater is run by the Volstead Act, a trio known for their cocktail pop-ups who finally have a pad to call their own.
The Verte, delivered by a man in a royal-blue apron, is expert stuff. One perfect parallelogram of lemon peel floats atop Japanese whisky, matcha, Suze and lemongrass. Presented in a ceramic teacup, it’s cool and tart from first sip to last. But Clementine isn’t all bow ties and absinthe spoons. Under an art nouveau hardcover, the menu could be a Gallic phrasebook: fried Port Salut cheese, chard-stuffed Aveyron pancakes, sea bream tartare with piment d’Espelette.
Chef Roger Létourneau looks like he was beamed up from a Left Bank café circa 1965. His cooking has an avant-garde sensibility. A stage at Belgium’s In De Wulf resonates in my favourite dish of the night: Crisped leeks, dried out in the oven, create a crackling bed for sliced mallard breast that’s been shocked in a hot pan and topped with a semi-set duck egg cooked in fermented shishito-jang broth.
While Dave Brubeck swings in 5/4 time, Létourneau’s slightly chaotic bistro dishes keep diners just off-step. A rye tartine, topped with paper-thin apple slices and Hungarian-amaro-soaked plums, explodes with haunting funkiness from a house-cultured Roquefort butter. And before a second cocktail and a stack of honey-drizzled sourdough pancakes layered with Swiss chard and jambon de Paris, feel free to take five.