Sometimes I get hung up on words. Absolute Restaurant describes itself as "Fresh and healthy from-scratch cooking. Our chefs bring a cosmopolitan touch to classic bistro fare." I am not sure what constitutes cosmopolitan (looking at the magazine, it would suggest sass and sex and lists) other than using wraps and slightly elevated and elegant presentations. Strictly speaking, I would guess it means some comfort with different cultures. This would suggest bringing Toronto's diversity into home cooking. A Bistro is the tradition of family run comfort food in France where there is a lack of restaurant stuffiness and an earthiness and easiness of a talented home cook.
I find this definition confusing because this restaurant does not present itself in that way. Originally, there were two restaurants, one in the Beach and the other at Yonge and St. Clair. I have eaten at both and found the one on the Beach more fitting of the bistro name. Now there is only the Yonge and St. Clair location.
The seats are not the coziness of home and the uniforms of the servers are professional. This is not a bistro but rather a restaurant reaching to describe its food. Dishes are classic flavours from various French and French influenced cuisines. Lamb is curried and served in a wrap with basmati, golden raisin, spinach and mint showing off an eastern influence. Barbequed duck sits with dates, leeks, spinach and yams. The salads have the same type of panache. Arugula, apple and walnut break, a classic flavour, is broken up with fig-pomegranate dressing.
None of these combinations will seem too out of place for people familiar with classic cooking. This might contribute to the success of the menu. Give people something that is quite familiar with only the smallest of twists. Maybe they were too wary of that F word - fusion, that has become a very dirty word in restaurants.
More likely, the success of the place is that the lunch menu's most expensive item is the steak frites, though they don't call it that, at fifteen dollars. It is a salty, meaty piece of steak that tastes vaguely of liver meaning that the steak is probably as described, a flat-iron steak. The frites are the saltiest thing on the menu but you can't make them without going to the edge. Fries are supposed to be that way.
All the lunch items are about the right size for a noon day meal and arrive in time so that you can leave the restaurant within a 45 minute lunch period. I even suggested that we host our staff Christmas luncheon there. This was the first time that service was a little less than adequate. There are still some rough edges on service after being open for a long enough time to know better. Rather than accept the reservations for the same time, maybe suggesting to the clients to stagger their times would have worked better.
I can't leave this review without discussing the soups. They are all good and seasoned just to the point of tasting the salt. Quite a deft hand with the seasoning. The quinoa salad which sounds as if there is too much going on with yams, arugula, edamame, almonds and spiced yoghurt turns out to be an interesting eat without being overwhelming or confusing. My favourites are the wraps. Good, filling not perfectly executed but worth the money in an area where sitdown lunches are either wrapped in wax paper and still cost as much or served in restaurants where the food is more classical and the prices match.
If the office were closer and I were a sit down for lunch every day kind of guy, I would be here more often. Instead, once every three months, I will convince a coworker to head to the restaurant for a relaxing and competent lunch that won't break the bank. Every area needs a lunch joint like this.