Modern Farm-to-Table with French Comfort Food Classics
Chef Derek MacGregor – Le Chien Noir Bistro
Dining around the province of Ontario on culinary assignments in 2013, I saw culinary enthusiasts everywhere embracing new and innovative versions of farm-to-table and nose-to-tail as fast as they appeared.
Chef Derek MacGregor has a reputation for referencing both the local terroir and the quintessence of French country fare for inspiration. Farm- to- table chefs, like MacGregor, are the new culinary rock stars. Le Chien Noir is included in my roundup of Ontario`s best farm-to-table dining establishments that are worthwhile checking out.
What draws us back time and again to Le Chien Noir (besides glowing endorsements from Holly Doughty, Innkeeper, Rosemount Inn and Spa) is Chef`s idiosyncratic take on modern farm- to-table regionalism, accompanied by friendly intelligent staff and a stellar wine list with a good representation of VQA , several sourced from nearby Prince Edward County.
Chef and his culinary brigade offer updated French comfort food classics innovatively presented: onion soup, upmarket poutine (frites, shredded duck confit with Quebec triple cream brie and peppercorn-cognac jus), impeccably cooked flat iron steak with fresh addictive frites, crispy duck confit with Chinoise accompaniments and P.E.I. steamed mussels with yellow curry, cauliflower, chick peas and coriander.
Located steps from the Kingston's historic Market Square (established in 1801) and just a few blocks from the waterfront, the restaurant is situated on the Brock Street Common. Lower Brock Street has been an established commercial area since the 1820's. Le Chien Noir recently celebrated 13 years of being a culinary destination on Kingston's thriving restaurant scene.
The restaurant is situated in a smartly refurbished and renovated Victorian premises designed to preserve and enhance the historical features of the building. A diverse and discerning clientele frequents the vibrant, engaging, comfortable restaurant with faux tin ceiling, retro art deco lighting fixtures, exposed brick walls, wood surfaces and mirrored accents. The well-appointed, long and spacious zinc bar at the entrance is a welcoming focal point with its elegant crystal chandeliers.
Chef's cooking philosophy is clever and straightforward - simple, quality- fresh ingredients, well- prepared. Chef is committed to sourcing ingredients locally and regionally as much as possible. There is an enviable representation of seafood on offer. Fresh oysters always seem to be available ("Green Gables" P.E.I. and "St. Simon" New Brunswick), line-caught B.C. halibut with spicy squid and vegetable stew, fingerling potatoes, black olive tapenade are patriotic riffs.
On different occasions our attentive and knowledgeable servers tell us that chef's signature dishes are rarely comprised of more than 6-7 ingredients.
The duck for confit served with lap cheong, shanghai noodles, sautéed mushrooms, baby bok choy, water chestnuts, house plum sauce; and the shredded duck in the poutine both originate in la belle province. Hand cut beef tartare with fleur de sel, oyster mayo and crostini makes us forget that the foie gras has gone AWOL on the current menu.
At this time of year, the lamb we are told is Washington State, last time we visited it was New Zealand Spring. On the current menu there is Elk Osso Bucco with herb spätzle, spinach, mushrooms and red wine jus.
For starters, there is an interesting array of small plates which include: Perth pork cheek confit with chili-apple purée and fingerling potato chips; Monforte Dairy Toscano cheese (a pronounced sheep’s-milk cheese with cooked, pressed curd and a natural, brushed rind. It is based largely on Italian Pecorinos), baby arugula, orange evoo; and braised local lamb croquettes, bone marrow, shaved fennel and saffron aioli.
Past favourites include: "Winter Salad" with Verlinden farm (Norfolk County) endive, radicchio, crumbled Glengarry County Celtic Blue, candied pecans, crispy pig's ears and port vinaigrette. A grilled cheese appetizer is reminiscent of croque monsieur, served with seed to sausage sopressata, sourdough bread and creamy mornay sauce of le tomme de demoiselles (made from raw whole milk supplied from a single herd of Canadian cows whose feed comes entirely from the Magdalen Islands region). That appetizer was accompanied by a cup of roasted tomato soup which was deliciously bisque-like.
A blackboard appetizer special of seared slices of rare duck breast, jumped-up curried sweet potato fricassee and green apple calvados sauce is also memorable. Last year, I had my heart set on one of the evening specials: Pork and Boar Duo with Trillium Meadows (Vankleek Hill) wild boar chop, local Berkshire pork tenderloin, parsnip puree, sweet potato-brown butter pudding, caramelized Brussels sprouts and maple-bourbon jus. We had an 8 o'clock reservation on a busy night, by the time we languished over the wine list, finally choosing a Norman Hardie 2010 Riesling, the duo was sold out. Instead, I opted for the pot-au-feu, a crispy and moist confit of duck leg; mouth-watering house-made duck heart sausage, al dente vegetables and broth. There was and still is also a house-made and locally sourced charcuterie and Canadian-sourced artisan cheese plate.
Crème brulée with Madagascar vanilla is a classic. Other desserts are playful and nostalgic with ingredients that seem to contradict one another. Deep fried apple cheesecake, caramel and barely blue ice cream is a juxtaposition of disparate flavours as are poached pears, Chambord, chocolate and chipotle.
Originally from Summerstown, Ontario; chef’s culinary oeuvre includes the National Arts Council in Ottawa; followed by a stint at the French Embassy. While in Ottawa, MacGregor cooked at both Parliament Hill and 24 Sussex Dr.
There is a large selection of European draughts, 10 beers on tap, local micro-brews and highbrow cocktails (try the apropos - a bittersweet concoction of Victoria gin, Aperol, Chartreuse, lime and orange) on offer along with an extensive, ever-changing wine list, with 20 wines available by the glass.
In season, there is a private heated outdoor courtyard terrace with umbrellaed tables and a small fountain. There are an additional sixteen seats street side. The staff which I have encountered is food knowledgeable and informative, and knows the difference between service and hospitality.
69 Brock Street, Kingston, ON.