You know that there is considerable talent in a restaurant’s kitchen when an octopus dish edges out onion tart and duck confit — both delicious, proven staples of a French bistro menu — for the position of tastiest item in a meal.
Such was the case on a recent visit to Tour de Feast, the small bistro situated in the middle of an industrial block on Mountain Highway just north of Main Street.
Now, to be fair, the onion tart gave the cephalopod preparation a good run for its money, its perfectly seasoned, delectably gooey, golden onion interior supported by flaky pastry and a side salad of micro greens tossed in pungent, truffle oil-rich vinaigrette.
Still, that octopus, served three ways (as thin, nearly translucent carpaccio, braised, and as crunchy, dime-sized crisps) was a revelation of new flavours and textures, a gorgeous study in the fully realized potential of a not-so-common principal ingredient.
The carpaccio component was astoundingly tender, offering just the faintest hint of resistance to the bite. The morsels of braised octopus were more tender still and paired best with the simple accompanying green salad. But it was the octopus crisps that stole the show. Their deep brown colour, light crunchy texture and appropriate saltiness seemed like a new riff on bacon. I couldn’t help but imagine that a bowl full of these crispy little ocean treats paired with a frosty pint would be a perfect snack on game day.
Tour de Feast enjoys a growing reputation for exceptional French cuisine, earned principally for its brunch and lunch service, dinner being a fairly new addition to its meal offerings.
At the helm of its kitchen is an emerging North Shore talent to watch, executive chef and co-owner Dhruv Jhanjee, a man who clearly has a handle on classic French cooking. The restaurant’s front of house is serviced by co-owner Nupur Jhanjee, who possesses a solid understanding of the methods and ingredients that inform her husband’s dishes. Nupur interacts with diners in an approachable and unpretentious manner, fitting for a restaurant that puts its food above all else.
Tour de feast, you see, has adopted a decidedly modest approach to design: its tables are unburdened by linen and are surrounded by colourful, classroom-like plastic chairs. Bread is served in plastic fruit baskets of the sort you might find containing strawberries at the supermarket, and the overhead lighting is hard and bright.
On the evening of my visit I was accompanied by my regular backup palate Gil, who was the first to remark on the apparent incongruity between the restaurant’s plain esthetic and its clear commitment to carefully crafted food.
I have a few theories about this incongruity. The first, which is the simplest, is that the Jhanjees prioritize food above all else, the bells and whistles that sometimes consume other restaurants are seen here as purely incidental.
The second theory, which was partially confirmed by Nupur, is that the restaurant is still in its nascent stages of development. Tour de Feast’s wife-and-husband team opened a food-focused venue with a view to addressing the rest of the dining experience in due course. Indeed, Nupur confirms that they may even explore a new location for the restaurant in the next few years, business volumes permitting.
A final theory draws on the idea that there is great power in the element of surprise. Whether you walk in to Tour de Feast completely unaware of its reputation or you have been persuaded to go by a friend in the know, chances are, it won’t look like you had imagined it.
Against the backdrop of unassuming décor and straightforward lighting, the restaurant’s cuisine seems that much more remarkable, sort of like finding a signed first edition of a Faulkner novel in a used bookstore.
For my main course I selected a hearty cassoulet comprised of slow-cooked white beans, plump and flavourful boudin blanc sausage, grilled artichoke, steamed Swiss chard, and a succulent, fall-off-the-bone leg of confit duck.
Cassoulet is one of my favourite inventions of all time and Tour de Feast’s version was a commendable effort, the addition of chard providing a bright lift to the undeniable heaviness of the meat and bean combination.
Gil ordered bouillabaisse, served here with honey mussels, clams and fish in a fennel, tomato and white wine broth, topped with a traditional rouille, or garlic and saffron mayonnaise.
While the seafood in the dish was cooked perfectly, the broth, despite its fragrant fennel notes, ultimately succumbed to over seasoning, its saltiness simply dominating the other ingredients.
A bottle of Mission Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, a lighter bodied example of the varietal with food-friendly acidity and tart, plummy notes, paired nicely with the concentrated flavours of our meal.
We finished with a plate of brown butter and almond financiers, delicate, spongy, and nutty little confections that provided the perfect closure to a rich dinner.
Tour de Feast is located at 319 Mountain Highway. Phone: 604-980-1811 tourdefeast.com
Chris Dagenais served as a manager for several restaurants downtown and on the North Shore. A self-described wine fanatic, he earned his sommelier diploma in 2001. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.