Wilfrid sur Laurier, the makeover of the landmark La Petite Ardoise in Mile End from chef Michel Ross and manager Zach Suhl, was greeted with near-universal cheer when it hit the scene at the end of October. With multiple raves in the past for the duo's work at the likes of Brunoise and Mas Cuisine, Lesley Chesterman enters her inaugural (behind the paywall) review of 2015 with lofty expectations. The critic's initial optimism is downgraded by the room.
Before going any further, a word about the decor. It's plain. Too plain, actually. The former locale's blackboards and knick-knacks have been stripped, and the room now features a large bar, exposed brick walls, some insignificant paintings and bistro style tables. I'm not one for orgiastic restaurant designs, but this space epitomizes the expression bare bones. It's cold, and in this weather, I want cozy.
Ross's food is ultimately what matters, however, and it all starts off on a good note, thanks to sublime potato, onion and aged cheddar croquettes and some stellar cocktails. Unfortunately, Chesterman rates the rest of her experience at Wilfrid sur Laurier as uneven. Service is competent and professional but the restaurant's wine list "doesn't cut it." And starters disenchant.
A plate of buckwheat pancakes topped with pear slices, Brussels sprouts, shiitake mushrooms and smoked duck breast lacked any kind of oomph. Another dish with scallops and a kale pesto with pesto chips and a squash coulis also fell flat because the scallops were gritty and the bitterness of kale pesto obliterated the surrounding flavours.
It picks up from here with a bavette the critic describes as "glorious" that she is "reluctant to share." But the recovery proves short-lived.
The other two dishes were less impressive. Ross excels at sweetbreads, but the ones served here with Jerusalem artichoke chips, yellow beets and parsnips — the whole doused with a white beer foam — were too mushy. As for those earthy vegetable accompaniments, again, where's the spark?
Alas, desserts fail to improve the mood. Wilfrid sur Laurier is still new and deserves a chance to get in the groove, admits Chesterman, but for the moment the restaurant "seems hesitant and unfinished." Verdict: 2.5 stars on 4. Still respectable but not quite as ebullient as another critic's recent assessment.