736 St. Clair Ave W, Toronto
Last summer a friend of mine revealed to a few of us the wonder that is the pain perdu at (where else?) Pain Perdu. Ever since, my pal Robyn and I have been off-and-on talking about making the trek up to St. Clair W. to taste this ooey-gooey french toast-astrophe.
Recently we finally committed, and met at Christie Station to take the (pretty infrequent) Christie bus northward. A short block west of Christie & St. Clair, on the north side of the street, we found the restaurant-bakery. The cheerful blue and cream exterior was nearly as inviting as the delicious buttery aroma that hit us the minute we opened the door. It was so amazing, my already grumbling stomach could hardly take it!
Pain Perdu is NOT a French bakery, and this is clearly demarcated by a big Basque flag hanging near the cash register. I do believe I would be safe in assuming, however, that the origins of the bakery are in Northern Basque Country, which occupies three French provinces. French is clearly the first language of this bakery, with employees conversing with local francophones who stop in for baguettes and croissants, and most of the signage written en français.
I immediately order a café au lait ($3.50), as I'm jonseing for my daily caffeine fix and must get that off my brain while I decide on what other delectables to consume.
Robyn goes straight for the pain perdu ($7.95), as she has been dreaming about it for months. I ponder awhile more, and decide I'm looking for something a bit more savoury. The selection of yummy looking quiches seems appealing, and the duck confit plate also has its allure. But I decide to go with their made-to-order casse-croûtes (i.e. snacks). I choose the brie ($8.95) - because I'm a sucker for all things creamy - with a salad ($3.50).
The café au lait arrives and it is truly french in style, with the smokiness of the roast predominant even through the frothy milk. I tend to enjoy bitter coffees, but I'm not sure I could handle this one without the di-lait-tion (ha ha ha, I am so funny!).
Next to arrive is the pain perdu. It is better than we imagined and it is beautiful! Look:
It is a custardy slab of french toast, covered in crème anglaise, fresh fruit (at this point in time it is pineapple -- but rumour has it they serve whatever is seasonally appropriate) and a berry (raspberry, we think) coulis. Clearly I can't let Robyn suffer through this alone, so I help her out a bit. This is definitely the star of the restaurant, and I ended up being incredibly jealous...so I will obviously have to return for my own at some point in time.
My brie casse-croûte and salad arrive and it looks fresh and appealing. The salad is a bright green bib covered with house-made vinaigrette and the plate comes with petits cornichons and cherry tomatoes. Voilà!
As health was not my goal, I decided to spoil the feeling by purchasing some take-home treats. I was interested to find an assortment of prepared-in-store vinaigrette and jellies available to purchase, as well as a sign revealing $42 orders of foie gras were being taken.
As Pain Perdu has been 3-times voted Best Croissant by the Toronto Star, I decided that I NEEDED one (as did Robyn, who needed more than one! yum!). I also picked up another of their specialities, a gateau Basque (available in single to 8 person serving sizes). I also got to sample a pretty blue meringue at the counter, which reminded me of cotton candy at summer fairs.
The single-serving gateau Basque ($4.10 ea) I took to class with me and split with a friend. It was tasty (also deliciously buttery) with a nicely balanced cream filling. It didn't send me to the moon (perhaps I'd just had too many carbs at that point), but it would be a good item to serve with a strong cup of black tea.