458 College St, just west of Bathurst
Parking- so far have got away with parking in medical centre lot next door.
Prix fixe $22.95- 3 excellent courses from the a la carte menu, chef's selection. Monday to Thursday, all evening.
A simple but attractive comfy room; no glitz; good patio
Good and friendly but not obtrusive service, very atrractive waitress
Pony has a web site which I don't know how to link.
The typical prix fixe meal in Toronto warns you with its name. The diner can expect to be fed as a second class customer who is barely tolerated, and then on the restaurant's terms. The typical prix fixe meal is chintzy. The diner is left feeling spirtually humiliated and gastronomically dissatisfied. And financially exploited: the meal isn't all that cheap either even without adding in the parking cost, 15% tax plus 15% tip. Then the say 5-7 time back-of- the-bus like time frame which if nothing else inconveniences
By chintzy I mean as follows. To start: a choice between a cheap and easy creamed soup or miserable mesculan.
A main course with some cheap protein cooked and plated simply; even if the plate is nice the portion is paltry. (Secret- fresh salmon fillet is around $4.00 a lb wholesale and I have paid as little as $3.25. There is no explanation except meaness when the place on a slow night is getting $20, plus tip for the waiter who needs money to be kept around, plus may be a glass of wine, plus coffee.) Dessert is cheap and boring and generally what would be good in a lunch box.
Not so at Pony. We were treated like everyone else and had excellent and satisfying meals. The level of the food was Michelin bon repas, allowing for cultural differences and assuming that the food in any place in Toronto can rate above this. And this is without considering the low price, which certainly adds to the satisfaction. And there was no cost for parking! All this made us feel good about going out to dinner rather than evoked a desire to cook at home.
We have had three prix fixe evenings: six meals.
The selection came from the a la carte menu, obviously what the chef wanted to move. But there does not seem to be have been any compromise.
The starter is always mushroom soup or a salad. The mushroom soup is the best I have ever had, skilled and generous in the cooking. We have seen a choice in the salad to include a caesar salad or even any salad. The salads are good, but the mushroom soup is special.
The main course selection is between fish and meat.
So far we have had salmon, lamb shank, scallops with accompanying seafood rissoto, duck confit and veal chop x2. As for quality, here I get into the issue of individual taste and how excited one can get about salmon. Everything was very good, and interesting (within the limits of salmon); some dishes were memorable. The memorably good ones were the scallops with seafood rissoto and the veal chop, the duck confit rated just under.
How the owner could put the veal chop on a prix fixe for $22.95 beats me. The chop itself was the real thing and must have cost him between $9 and $10 alone. The whole plate was so good that I thought we got the meal of the year.
Dessert is either a lemon tart or a tiramisu. Emboldened by having previously seen a choice in desert, we once asked for the lemon tart when the tiramisu only was stated. We were accomdated. I suggest the same request if you find tiramisu a bit of a bore as we do. As for the lemon tart, the Ms., who is a small authority on the subject, admits to having had a better tart in France, but conceded that the tart was very good (hard grader of the old school). It wasn't simply the following of a standard recipe; it showed the chef's hand. At least in selecting the recipe, which is a talent in itself. Admittedly the tart is much better if the crust hasn't picked up humidity and lost its crispness (a it was second time).
As much as it hurt (me, not the Ms.) to pay a la carte prices for what I can have as a prix fixe, we went to Pony last night (Saturday). My rationalization was that the cooking is very good and the prices are low enough, no main over $20. (We had a nice blue cheese salad, ($5.95) fancy seafood soup ($6.95), and a very nice and interesting halibut plate ($17.95). )
The influence in the kitchen (and in the room) is French bourgeois. What this means to me is that every ingredient is good, every component is well executed and delicious. There is balance, harmony but juxtaposition and control throught. The components on the plate and indeed the whole meal sing together as a chorus, and this is where a chef's real skill is shown and whence a diner's pleasure comes. Some of the dishes are typically French. The sauces are French style and excellent. Nothing is too much in flavour or quantity, but in the end you get lots to eat. And you notionally burp in satisfaction.
The goal of the chef at Pony is to create comfort and pleasure; interest within his aesthetic, all in accordance with respected and lasting values. It is not to titilate jaded palates with unusual exotica or weird combinations; nor to ostentatiously show ignoramuses (ignorami?) that the chef is good because he is "with it". Pony is not a be-scene place. It is a place to which I would take anyone knowing that I will not be embarassed, and indeed my guest might well be impressed with the meal.
My wife's wedding anniversary is next week and falls on a prix fixe day (I add this to the blessings I got in marriage). We will be going to Pony to celebrate on a prix fixe. I will not be embarassed that it is a prix fixe and I very much doubt that we will be disappointed.
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