Le Select Bistro
432 Wellington Street West
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $60
I haven’t been to Le Select since they moved to the Wellington Street West location some three years ago. Once a landmark on Queen West, the restaurant there was tiny and narrow. This new space is easily double the size indoors, plus there’s a gorgeous terrace out front (well, it’s probably gorgeous in the summer) and a large garden patio in the back. Slightly off the beaten path for those of us who travel on foot or by TTC, their website reiterates the close proximity to lots of parking, which isn’t actually endearing to me, but apparently is to everyone else who can’t live without their gas-guzzler, because on a recent Sunday morning, Le Select is packed and the parking lot across the street is nearly full, despite the ongoing rain.
The space is definitely airier and brighter than the Queen West location which had a tendency to feel dark and almost dour – in an elegant French way, of course. Long banquettes and tiled walls make the room feel like a cross between a French bistro and a retro diner – the rush of servers and clinking of plates and glasses makes for a comfortable atmosphere with an exotic energy.
We can’t pass up the chance for the classic coffee ($2.95) and croissant ($1.50) to start, although the husband opts for a Quebec beer ($5.50) and I also order a freshly-squeezed orange juice ($4.50). We’re in the middle of the gorgeous buttery (and warm) pastries when more warm bread, this time in the form of complimentary rolls, arrives. Hurrah for carbs!
The brunch menu is extensive with a variety of eggs and sandwiches, salads, and standard brunch dishes such as French toast, as well as other French classics like duck confit. But I’m all about the escalope de fois gras aux lardons et aux figues ($19.95), a thin grilled French toast with bacon, pears sauteed in brandy, fig compote and topped with a piece of seared foie gras. Plus port maple syrup and an egg en cocotte. It is as decadent as it sounds and is a really well-executed balance of sweet and meat, the fig jam and maple syrup bringing out the sweetness in the foie gras. Our only complaint – the liver is occasionally veiny, probably from a rushed job of cleaning and prepping it, making it a bit difficult to eat politely.
Another classic, the oeufs Forestiere ($13.95) – two poached eggs atop a fricassee of mixed mushrooms and served with polenta atop tomato jam and roasted root vegetables – is a perfect hearty winter breakfast. I adore the combination of eggs and mushrooms, the sweetness of the oozing poached yolks melding with the earthiness of the fungi. And the tomato jam rocks the platter.
We have no plans to include dessert (and it’s not included in the total at the top), but when our server mentions floating island ($10.95), I figure I can make room. A bowl of creamy, vanilla flecked custard topped with a mound of meringue and sprinkled with praline is a light, refreshing way to end the meal. After the baked goods and heavy mains it’s almost too much, but it’s also too good not to eat the whole thing.
Service is friendly and polite but slightly aloof, probably because the place is packed, with a line out the door at one point, and everyone is hoofing it to keep up. The vibe of the room, at brunch at least, while not in the least unfriendly, is not one of lingering. Not because we couldn’t spend the whole day with coffee and croissants, but because with such a rush of people wanting a table, it would be impolite to dally with a paper for hours. A trip to the basement washroom takes me past the pass where the kitchen is not quite in the weeds but is definitely not getting a break any time soon.
We barely crack the list of brunch options at Le Select, but the place impresses nonetheless. I’d love to say it’s a hidden gem, but by the full house and line-up, it would seem I’m the last person in town to know about it.