This is what neighbourhood restaurants are all about: three dozen Mile-Exers cheering on a chef who’s loudly pounding out a slab of raw bison meat. When it’s served, ultra-tender and topped with a sinus-clearing hit of fresh horseradish and nasturtium leaves from the rooftop garden, it certainly deserves a round of applause.
Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly met Molly Superfine-Rivera in New York, where he, an Au Pied de Cochon alum, had opened Fedora and Bar Sardine, and she was managing bar at M. Wells Steakhouse. Their corner bistro is the kind of place where a bearded stranger reading a paperback and snacking on radish stems might listen to you order and then offer you a sip of his low-intervention chenin-sauvignon from Cahors.
Brunet-Benkritly occasionally indulges his fat-on-fat experience as Martin Picard’s former chef de cuisine. A happy-sigh-inducing toast of bone-marrow-roasted whelks is topped with melted two-year cheddar. But most is on the lighter side: a lime-zest-cured Arctic char is a choreography of textures and marine flavours, with dashi gelée and poppy Tobiko roe breakdancing around crispy puffed rice and slivers of toasted nori.
A framed print of an African leopard hangs above Superfine-Rivera’s bar, where her Madame Duquet riffs on an Aviation with lemon-infused grappa. Bubbly somm’ Émilie Courtois disappears into the walk-in wine cellar, a repurposed wooden beer fridge from the dépanneur that long ago abandoned this address. She emerges carrying a bottle of effervescent, skin-fermented spergola from Emilia-Romagna and pours tastes for me and my new wine-geek friend. Plus a splash for herself, because she’s in the neighbourhood.