Let’s raise a glass to the power of love for giving Toronto the best new French restaurant of the year. Zach Kolomeir and Carmelina Imola, chef and front-of-house/beverage manager, met and fell for each other at Liverpool House (part of the Joe Beef family) in Montreal. But when Carmelina got into graduate school at U of T, Zach agreed to pull up stakes and open his own place in Harbord Village.
The telltale signs of its Joe Beef DNA are all there. It’s in the packed, intimate room; the handsome marble-with-walnut-inlay bar and sage-green walls (designed by the team that outfitted the Four Seasons Hotel Montreal’s Marcus restaurant); the edited selection of natural, small-producer wines; the vintage china sourced from that friend in Kamouraska, Quebec, with the 14-year-old son who raises sheep; the seamless parade of robust, vibrant small plates; and the low roar of diners riding a food-and-drink high.
The name Dreyfus (of l’affaire infamy) alludes to the chef’s Jewish background. Subtle references are found in dishes like the Montreal-sourced karnatzel sausages (to be eaten with slices of bread and yellow mustard) and the decor: A framed cover of a 19th-century issue of Le Petit Journal depicts the notorious cause célèbre. On our table, pommes dauphine take croquettes to the next level with a deep-fried mix of pâte à choux and potato, stuffed with trout caviar then sprinkled with salty, dehydrated caper powder. Generously marbled slices of shoulder ham are rolled around spears of celery root and fennel, dressed in a creamy mustard-and-herb-spiked remoulade.
The telltale signs of its Joe Beef DNA are all there: the tightly edited selection of natural, small‑producer wines; the vintage china sourced from that friend with the 14‑year‑old son who raises sheep; and the low roar of diners riding a food‑and‑drink high.
Carmelina guides us through the always-changing by-the-glass wine selection. We score tonight with a citrus- and pear-nosed Celler Credo Miranius from Spain and a stone-fruit-and-funk-tinged Dinavolino skin-contact white from Emilia-Romagna. As we polish off skate wing barigoule in a perfumed broth of summer vegetables, white wine and shallots, followed by a vanilla jelly-roll cake topped with sliced strawberries, we silently thank U of T for its future alumna gift to us all.