Neighbourhood: St James
Address: 2615 Portage Ave
Once upon a time, French food meant candlelight, starched table linens, and a maître d’ in tails. But times have changed. Now, chefs are looking beyond Paris’ Michelin-starred kitchens and finding inspiration in the rustic flavours hiding beneath the lid of grandmere’s Le Creuset.
Little Goat, which opened its doors in late 2017, is doing just that. This charming spot, where every bite is an ode to la campagne, is a French revelation. Situated on a stretch of west Portage Avenue dominated by take out spots, it has become the hip haunt for St James dwellers and francophile foodies alike. Owners and husband/wife duo chef Alex Svenne and Danielle Carignan-Svenne honed their ability to craft cozy neighbourhood restos in underserved areas of the city ever since opening Bistro 7 ¼ in 2006.
Blond wood, whitewashed brick, chairs upholstered with colourful floral fabric, and cloth napkins adorned with a single navy stripe, all contribute to the welcoming atmosphere. Beginning with the selection of “bouchees,” like pâtés, rilletes, and smoked oysters, dinner has the feeling of a picnic. A pâté of mushrooms arrives neatly packed into a mini mason jar, scented richly of wine and deeply earthy. Luscious pork rillettes are savoury and lightly smoky, hidden under a thick cap of fat.
Offering a balance to the butter and cheese laden staples of French cooking, starters plunder the country’s rural areas for light, bright dishes. The French salad, a melange of arugula, snap peas, radishes, celery and licorice-scented fennel is well dressed in a lemony vinaigrette. Chickpeas and clusters of nutty quinoa give it some body – the sort of hearty touch that unfussy, rustic cooking does so well.
Rustic is the buzzword informing the entrée section of the menu. The line up features large cuts of meat lovingly braised and simmered to exquisite softness, like tender boeuf bourguignon, redolent of red wine. Sausages, a homey preparation originally born out of efficient butchery, here are plump and juicy from a white wine braise and paired with a thick pink slice of smoked pork. A pile of baby potatoes and wedges of sourdough are provided for sopping up the juices, while a tangy sauerkraut and vinegar punched house made pickles deliver hits of acid to cut through the rich dish.
Pommes aligot appears as a side for several dishes, but nearly steals the show. A dish from France’s southern Aveyron region, starchy potatoes are whipped with a nutty soft cheese, butter and cream until they break into an almost stretchy texture. An earthy ratatouille, flecked with thyme, pairs beautifully with herb-studded chevre.
The menu’s appeal is an all-day affair, and Little Goat has become as likely destination for a morning croque madame or noontime tartine as a languid dinner. All good things must come to an end, but the welcoming room is surely bidding au revoir, not adieu – one thing’s for sure, we’ll be back.