Thursday, January 10, 2013

Restaurant Review: The Artisan Baker

This new place took over from Il Passione just south of St. Clair and Yonge to settle beside another French influenced shop called Panier Rouge which just closed. I was a little skeptical given the location across from the way from Delica who also serves a similar style. The overwrought advertisement that graced the doors during the renovation did not make my skeptical nature subside.

In the ad, there was a lot of talk about the art of baking and references to jewellers or some other stuff without mention of the baker's name. It sounded like marketing speak for an eventual chain. If someone had just told me that the place was going to be some Montreal style boulangerie, it would have made the prose palatable.

Inside, yet more barn board grace the floor. I am beginning to wonder what barns are being built out of nowadays if every small shop is taking good wood and putting it on the floor. I would like to continue to be grouchy about this place but I can't. The decor makes sense with the whole approach of the place and the food is good.

First and foremost, a place with bakery in its name must have good bread. Here the baguette, the grain breads and the croissants are done well. Each layer of the croissant can be flaked and then peeled away and that shows the proper technique of laminating the dough and letting it rest. It is seriously flaky and buttery with the right amount of give. The bread passes.

This place also serves pastries, sandwiches, hot meals and cheese. The first week they were opened some of the sandwiches weren't quite there. The ingredients of ham, asparagus and cheese should have worked but the ham was too meek against an aggressive cheese. The asparagus seemed like an after thought and the whole thing, while tasty, suffered from a little disconnect. Later sandwiches did not suffer the same fate. I guess the early jitters are gone.

Now to explain what I mean about the barn board being right for the place, these guys are really into an idea of place. Most of their goods are from here to just the other side of Ottawa. The cheeses are available for slices with your lunch and they are served at the correct temperature. At home, I have a hard time letting Grey Owl come to the warmth that is needed to properly enjoy it. This is something I rarely see at a lunch place and I am glad.

There is a sort of joie du vivre about some of the servers and especially from the manager and chef. When I grabbed a Croque Monsieur one day, the chef smiled and said, "Ah good. I spent all morning working on it."  They truly want you to enjoy the food that they like. Unfortunately, until they get all the right staff, there are some staff who get it and others who are just serving you lunch. There is something to getting food from someone who would like to have what you are having, and more importantly, are happy for you to try this food. It reminds me of when a family member is cooking for you and handing you something that they think you will like.

There are some of the Gallic touches that have changed or need to be changed to meet the expectations of Toronto clients. The queueing always seems weird in Toronto. There is a fairly standard system setup in this restaurant but like most of Toronto not lining up for buses, the line may not make sense to them. Just down the street there is another place that requires you to understand their queuing system and it does well. It will just be a matter of time before regulars will be there to show people how the lineups work.

I have heard some grumbling about the wait but so far, but I have always received my meal with plenty of time to dine and get back to the office. Most of the grumbles have been from confused people trying to figure where they need to go or deciding what they want.

The lids on the warming/serving trays don't allow for seeing the goods and that is a shame.  The hot meals are good consisting mainly of sauced meats with sides. Braises with  mash and veg. There is always a soup or two and all of them have tasted simple, straightforward and solid. French onion and butternut have already made an appearance. I am interested to see how these change with the seasons.

Signs are often misaligned or missing and adds to the confusion in the customers mentioned above.  Aleady, some French words have been given English translations. I am ambivalent about this. It makes me wish they made pets de soeur (nun's farts).  The religieuse are wonderful choux pastry treats, think of two cream puffs topped with chocolate, that are meant to look like nuns in a habit. They have been renamed nuns.

Some of the context of the place is rooted in French Catholic history and the lusty approach to food. There is a serious attempt to provide you with pleasure in eating. The only problem for me is that it is hard to get out the door without spending 15 dollars, so I will only be able to go once a week without breaking my piggy bank. I guess I could always sneak out and grab a mille feuille or some delicate pastry or grab a loaf of bread for home and maybe just a nibble of cheese...

The Artisan Baker on Urbanspoon


  1. I 100% agree with this review. It has some lovely aspects, but the staff are poorly trained and the quality is inconsistent. Monday's croissant was dry and tasted stale. Today's croissant was moist and orgasmic. No consistency across staff training... the sad thing is the espresso machine. Yonge and St. Clair has almost zero competition for good coffee. A simple investment in a decent espresso machine for a few thousand dollars might create a "dark horse north" phenomena with morning lineups and laptops. The simple offering of wifi might draw out folks to adopt it as their local cafe.

    It seems like the owners were too obsessed with concept and not in tune with what local Torontonians crave. If anything they need to figure out who is good at their job, fire or train the ones that are nice (but incompetent) and hire and train new recruits so that they can actually make a decent espresso, or know that customer service is more than just using French to address your customers.

  2. In response to the staffing issue... in the food blogger world, there is often a quick move to judgement based on only one or two visits. In a new restaurant that hasn't found its footing yet, this means that one poor element can be overemphasized.

    It takes time to teach staff and to learn all about food. I have already seen some gains in some employees and have seen others not be back. So, in terms of service, I will wait for a few more months for the training to get into place and reserve judgement.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Well. It is deadpool. Shortly after I wrote the original review, the head chef was let go. The prices remained the same and I'm not sure it was sustainable in that neighbourhood. For several months, there was a steady lunch time crowd. The confusion on the ordering system never quite worked out. However, there is some relief on the cafe front. Room 2046 and aroma have opened up. There will be a third cafe opening near Summerhill station shortly. So, there's that...