CLOSED: A La Carte at the Gardiner (Toronto)

A La Carte at the Gardiner has been opened for almost two years, occupying the space from the former Jamie Kennedy restaurant. However, they’re not new to the block; they’ve been involved with catering at the Gardiner Museum, so if you’ve attended an event there you’ve likely tried their creations.  

Situated on the third floor, the space is wonderful with high ceilings and soaring windows overlooking University. Having reconfigured the dining room’s layout, the space is much larger with a bright airy feeling to it. With beautiful wooden floors, a baby grand piano and sculptures by the entrance, it’s comfortable, contemporary and elegant.

Their prices are surprisingly reasonable for their prime location. The charcuterie board arrives with cured ham, Calabrese salami, prosciutto, chicken terrine and plenty of accompaniments for only $14. So, even if you’re not in the mood for a meal, it’d be a great option for resting, a small bite and drinks after checking out the Museum’s exhibits (or any of the other tourist destinations in the area). With glasses of wine for $10 and cocktails at $12 it’s an affordable option.

The meat on the charcuterie was decent but what I enjoyed most was the house-made julienned pickled vegetables served with it. They’re vinegary and crunchy, a great way to start the meal. Along with cornichons (small French pickles), olives and toasted crostini this was a full and satisfying platter.

Despite the above, we couldn’t help but dig into the complimentary bread as well. It was accompanied with a great za'atar spice mixture which had a chili, citrusy and savoury essence to it.

I have a love-hate relationship with paella – love the Westernized versions but still acquiring the taste for those I’ve tried in Barcelona. At a la Carte, if you’re ordering this expecting paella ($16), you may be disappointed. Unfortunately, it lacked the saffron essence, fluffy rice and caramelized crust quality that really makes the dish become paella.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t a bad dish. It had great flavours and plenty of ingredients (chicken, bay scallops, chorizo, a tiger shrimp and mussel). For me, the dish would be more aptly described as a seafood jambalaya risotto. With the abundance of the holy trinity, chorizo (that is so similar to andouille) and spicy kick, it made me reminiscent of New Orleans. The creamy Arborio rice and saucier finish is where it deviates from a jambalaya, hence the addition of ‘risotto’ required in the description.

My husband was more than satisfied with the catch of the week ($17) – in this case a lobster mac ‘n’ cheese. It arrived bubbling giving off such a fragrant aroma of butter, cheese and lobster. Thankfully, for my stomach’s sake, it wasn’t overly creamy. But, it’s not exactly healthy either as there was still plenty of butter and cheese mixed into the pasta.

I enjoyed the hint of lemon added to the dish, which helped to brighten it up. In the end, it reminded me of a cross between mac ‘n’ cheese and scampi shrimp. The frisee salad had a delicious unexpected dressing on it: vinegary and savoury but also a hint of spice - perhaps curry and/or tamarind?

What I liked enjoyed most about a la Carte was their hushed and elegant but not stuffy environment. It’s a great place to visit where you can actually carry a conversation with fellow dinner guests. Dinner is only served Fridays as events and weddings fill the space the rest of the time. Generally, they are opened for lunch and brunch service. And I’d imagine the daytime view, when you can see everything, would be even better.

Check out my return visit to the restaurant to try their summer menu.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary but the thoughts are still my honest opinion. 

How To Find Them

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 111 Queens Park (3rd floor of the Gardiner Museum)

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!