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With its high ceilings and draped interior, Paramour reminds one of a Paris brasserie plucked from the 1950’s and set well in the modern era. The long bar which includes a show stopper 1960’s brass coffee machine is juxtaposed against walls adorned with large oversize color photographs of pretty young things with tousled hair and pouty lips, so à la Bardot they scream at you. The look is so “Mad Men” that you almost expect Don Draper to walk in at any given moment and order a Bellini. Self described as a sexy, intimate spot that is both dark and feminine, Paramour evokes a look that combines romance with a hint of delectable scandal; making it a cross between Alice in Wonderland meets Madame Pompadour. Everything about this latest Ossington addition so reminds one of the City of Lights that it is hard to imagine it is actually located in Toronto.
I was amazed by how quickly I fell in love with Paramour. Whether it was the charm and unbeatable service lavished by Manager Adly Gawad (who has earned a stellar reputation from his days at Splendido) or the genteel camaraderie and vivacious smile of Co-owner Amber Honor Elson, Paramour packs together a dining experience that must not be missed.
[cover] Dark Chocolate Terrine
The secret behind its success rests with the Canadian inspired fare brought together by Chef Laura Malin (her experience in Jamie Kennedy’s kitchen definitely shines through!). In speaking with Amber and Laura, I learned the two had met by chance through a common friend. “We still talk about our meeting as one of the best blind dates anyone ever had,” Laura joked lightly. “It was really amazing because you had these two creative entities, Amber and I, that collided together so perfectly and the entire concept behind the restaurant just made complete sense to the both of us.” Laura, who is soft-spoken, thoughtful and well aware of what it takes to create a tour-de-force kitchen, described Amber as the true romantic and creative visionary behind the look and feel of the place. As they spoke about the passion and inspiration that went into planning Paramour, I noticed a synergy between the two women that was well balanced and matched.
With Amber’s restaurant and design experience (she is the creative genius responsible for the look of Levack Block located further down the street) and Laura’s Canadian inspired menu, Paramour is sure to entice urban eaters with a menu that is both thoughtfully planned and conscientiously prepared.
With Chef Laura Malin leading the way, I checked out Paramour’s kitchen in order to discover the secrets behind the restaurant’s success. “When I thought about the menu, I collaborated with Amber and we discussed what in our opinion would make the ‘perfect cloth', said Chef Malin.
"We thought about the demographics of the area and really tried to incorporate this into the menu without changing the cooking style. In terms of my style, I believe in honest, unpretentious food that fits the vibe of the street. I try as best as I can to incorporate organic food but really prefer elegance over pretension. Any ideas I have about the menu are always corroborated with Amber, which definitely makes this an amazing working relationship because we are so intertwined,” continues Chef Malin. “With regards to the menu, we decided on a Daily Crudo Plate (raw fish plate done Mediterranean style as opposed to sashimi), which started with Batali in New York City but as of yet, not many in Toronto are doing it. We recognized that people were interested in these dishes and asking for them, and this drove us to think about other ways to set our menu apart from the rest.”
I ask Chef Malin about the growing urban movement among Toronto chefs with regards to harboring a social consciousness towards organic food that promotes local versus global growers and was impressed with her response. “I’m definitely aware of what is happening behind the scenes and have a deep appreciation for what people like David Chrystian, a close friend and colleague, are trying to do. At Paramour I try to infuse the menu with a local flavor in as much as I can, but in terms of the entire social consciousness debate it’s really about making the best choices and recognizing that supply and demand has to factor in as a consideration. "
"Everything we make here is made on the premise and my philosophy is that if it isn’t made in the house, we won’t put it on the plate and serve it. "
"We can’t be everything to everyone, and although we do try to be as organic as possible, we don’t confine ourselves either. For example we take great pride in having created a menu that is well balanced and that truly stands out, especially when you consider some of our vegetarian dishes. We poured a lot of time and attention into our vegetarian dishes and thought about how to create a fine dining experience should a diner not choose to opt for meat. I was a vegetarian for years and always make room for consideration of vegetables when devising my menu. I won’t restrict myself to local fare if I feel it’s just not available, but I will do my best to ensure a daily vegetable dish is on the menu because I am sympathetic to the ethos of vegans as well as people’s dietary considerations. Working with Jamie (Kennedy) was amazing because he taught me about pickling and preserving fruit and vegetables and most of this is done right here in our kitchen. As we progress I plan to focus on more preserving and stocking the kitchen to make it more sustainable.”
Glancing around the kitchen my eye scans jars of freshly preserved and poached Ontario raspberries and peaches, which I later learn were incorporated as part of my dessert tasting dish.
Sitting down for the tasting at Paramour was an experience in itself. The grace and hospitality of Manager Adly Gawad was indescribable, and if ever there was a gentleman who could recognize a lady's wine coupling aura, he was it. Adly handed me a muscat flavored glass of Shiraz and had me waiting in eager anticipation for Chef
Malin’s starter, house-made Sesame and Honey Foccacia served with a garlic flavoured eggplant dip. This was followed by a sampling of the Chevre and Rainbow Beet Salad, which showcased warmly roasted Ontario beets with apple cider reduction and baguette crouton that melted on the palette almost immediately.
Next came the Tarragon Chicken Pot Pie. This free-range Ontario chicken was cooked in a white wine sauce and served with braised red cabbage. The flavor of the chicken stock was clearly noticeable, and I enjoyed the combination of hues created by the musky taste of chicken infused with the light citrus hint in the cabbage.
Chef Malin then brought out the much sought after Braised Ontario Lamb Shank served with parmesan polenta, lightly boiled Swiss chard sauté and crispy sage leaves. This generous portion of Ontario lamb shank was the highlight of the night and was cooked with such precision that the lamb almost melted off the bone. The roasted polenta with undertones of parmesan provided a buttery backdrop to the pleasant bitterness of Swiss chard partnered with sage.
As if the evening could not get any better, and sensing that I needed a sugary finale to finish off my evening of delight, Adly insisted I enjoy a simmery espresso while he brought out the finishing touches in the form of a Dark Chocolate Terrine and Raspberry Parfait served with poached Ontario peaches featuring a baco noir flavour.
The hospitality and joie de vivre experienced at Paramour cannot be expressed in simple words, and DSM advises urban foodies and lovers of all things gastronomically sinful to check it out as soon as possible. No reason to wait to fall in love with what is arguably one of Ossington’s best additions – Paramour, a restaurant that is sure to capture the heart as well as it does the palette!
Paramour restaurant is located at :
94 Ossington Avenue
Chevre and Rainbow Beet Salad
Braised Ontario Lamb Shank