I arrived early to lunch with the Human Engineer and the Wisen Scientist and spent five minutes reading under the coloured glass decorating the ceiling of La Société. A lovely aesthetic of polished wood and suited waitstaff hinted at elegance, competence, and high class. These illusions were quickly shattered over the meal.
For a restaurant whose lunch menu averages around $20 per plate or drink, they did a bang up job of making all three of us regret our choices. The Engineer’s Stella was flat: four-fifths of the beer was returned (remained in bill). My sunken barrel manhattan ($18) had somehow buried any taste of cherry or sweetness in heavy ice. The Wisen Scientist wrinkled her nose at her French onion soup after a bite.
“They burnt their onions.” Her brows frowned as she inspected the edges of the bowl. “Look, you can see where the spots where the onion burnt onto the sides.”
My beef tartare was late to the table (we arrived at noon and mine was the last of two tartares in the kitchen; what high class restaurant goes into service with an app on edge of being 86ed?) and charged as a large instead of the small size two ounces smaller that was paced on the table (the top layering of cracklin on top of the fine-minced, marbled beef was a nice touch).
The Human Engineer had been looking forward to La Société’s bouillabaisse, third-best in the city he’d read. Our waiter, a blustery fellow with a wry smile and thick Italian accent, had never heard of a bouillabaisse on the menu in the last year he’d worked at the restaurant. Disappointed, the Engineer asked for mussels instead.
Our mains hit the table, and the manager appeared at the Engineer’s elbow. while all the waitstaff wore clean white or black formalwear, he sported a bright blue jacket and white shirt with the top three buttons undone. I was immediately reminder of a used car salesman impersonating an Italian wino. No one should be showing off that much chest hair at lunch, let alone the base of his lacking cleavage.
“We serve the bouillabaisse at night,” the manager explained with a cocky smile. ”You’ll have to come back for dinner.” He was trying to make a joke, but his punchline hit our table’s stony silence and flopped around with a limp smile until the manager nodded and departed. For the rest of our meal, ether the manager or our Italian waiter jumped to clear every utensil or plate emptied with exceptional speed, such that my manhattan was almost whisked away with a quarter still left in the glass.
The Human Engineer’s mussel’s had little flavour, the mound of cracked shells sitting in a thin broth of overpowering fennel. The Wisen Scientoist said little over her Niçoise salad. I had no complaints with my mushroom pappardelle;the creamy citrusy of the sauce was light and sweet as a surprise kiss of the cheek. The truffles adorning the swirls of wide pasta were, as always in my experience, an utter waste: the pungent, earthy flavour and blight-struck appearance of the expensive fungus was crushed under the sauce’s tarragon and creme.
We didn’t stick around for dessert. Nearly two hours after we’d sat down to give an idea of serving time, the majority of tables were full of suited business men and woman, with the occasional table of affluent elders. The entire restaurant looked propped up on smoke and mirror as we’d left. I much prefer my illusions to surprise me with a smile than a resentful grimace.
131 Bloor St W, Second Floor, Toronto, ON M5S 1R1