Address 468 College St.
Hours: Lunch: Tues – Fri: Noon -2:30 p.m., Dinner: Mon – Wed: 6 p.m. – 10 p.m., Thurs – Sat:
6 p.m. -11 p.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $80
**** (out of five)
The College Street restaurant strip has suffered quite a bit of churn lately, and the victims are legion: El Bodegon, Xacutti and Cucina are gone, lost to high rents and perhaps even the decaying half-life of hype, not to mention an overabundance of eateries. Jean-Pierre Centeno has every reason to celebrate, though — his snug, straightforward bistro, Gamelle, has just celebrated its first decade on the edge of the strip, and has every reason to believe it can dodge the harsh winds buffeting the street further west.
Born in France to a family of restaurateurs, Centeno came to Canada to work at Auberge Gavroche, the Avenue Road eatery that was once a pillar of French dining in the city. He did a stint as a waiter at the venerable Fenton’s, and managed a string of dining rooms from the Amsterdam Brewery and La Fenice to Centro, before a spell at Expo 86 and a gig designing the menus for the Indigo bookstore cafes. It was only after he opened Gamelle that he found himself drawn back into the kitchen, where he serves a subtly updated take on bistro fare tailored to the compelling realities of local geography.
“Food in France is pricey, lunch or dinner,” he says. “It’s a lot heavier in creams and butters and sauces, so you have to really adapt to the clientele here. Doing a French bistro, fine, but I don’t think I would be able to do the volume to sell the plate of seafood that they do over there, or the cote des boeufs for two — there’s more vegetarians here, more concern about health, the meat is different here.”
Sitting at a table next to the tiny kitchen, you can’t help but be impressed by the clockwork with which Centeno and his staff of two — sous chef and waiter — keep everything running on a weekend night, calling out orders and running the pass, all in French.
Conspicuous in its absence in the tiny kitchen, however, is a crucial piece of bistro equipment — a deep fryer, whose fumes would make the cosy dining room a bit less happy. And with no deep fryer, no frites.
“People ask for it, but I can’t, and that already changes things, because in a bistro everything is served with frites, which brings the prices down. Me, I do fresh vegetables, and I like to do vegetables. Basically what I’ve tried to do, rather than a bistro, is to be a Toronto modern neighbourhood restaurant.”