Neighbourhood: River Heights
Address: 1433 Corydon Ave
The crackle and aroma of smouldering oak, evoking campfire coziness greets patrons as they drop into an eatery that’s been setting appetites ablaze for 12 years. This is Bonfire Bistro, owned by Duncan Grant of Cafe Carlo and Burrito Del Rio.
Bistros are about refined simplicity, rustic food and wine served in an understated environment. Grant’s restaurant upholds this standard. The walls are lined with photos of villas and cottages along the Mediterranean coast. Though the dining rooms are open concept, with tables nestled closely, dangling pendant lamps project a sense of personal space.
The chatter of families and couples, both young and old, emanate everywhere, yet intimate conversation isn’t drowned out.
The main likeness to other bistro menus here is in chef Randy Khounnoraj’s use of fresh ingredients, which he deems essential for great cuisine. What sets it apart is the oak-fired oven, searing flavour in each dish, and the nuance injected into food typically regarded for boldness.
These principles are apparent in the restaurant’s mainstay pizzas, built on freshness and purposeful pairings with charred undertones. Portobello, porcini, and oyster mushrooms cap the wild mushroom pizza. Because creamy blue cheese draws its colour and flavour from fungi during the ripening process, it pairs perfectly with these mushrooms. Heaps of sundried tomatoes, green onions, and fresh basil clutter the spicy prawn pizza. Its cool chunks of goat cheese contrasts with Sriracha sauce.
The gem of the menu is the paella, served in a cast iron skillet hot from the bonfire. The effect is a rich flavour imbued with smokiness. With one bite briny clams and mussels contrast with sweet prawns and scallops, the next, chorizo sausage adds a fiery bite.
Mussels are a signature of bistro dining, and this eatery sticks to the time-tested, silky pernod cream sauce and herbs. Most appetizers are served with grilled Portuguese water bread, deliciously charred in the oak oven and ideal for sponging soupy leftovers.
Dependability, consistently and Mediterranean mainstays singed with oak keep this neighbourhood haunt smouldering, and patrons flocking back for more.