One of my favourite movies is Sunset Boulevard, a film about an aging film starlet who refuses to accept that she has faded from the public’s eye. She lives alone in a giant decrepit mansion, holding court with the few who deign to visit her, acting, and believing, that she is still relevant.
The reason that I bring up this film is because as I sat at La Maquette, my dining companion and I the sole diners in the restaurant for the entire course of our meal, I could not help but think of the parallels between the two.
The interior, at first glance, is grand: upholstered seating, white linen, a grand staircase spiraling to the upper floor, and crystal chandeliers. Glancing closer, one sees threadbare seats and chunks of plaster missing from the walls. The waiter tried to put on a good show of cheer, but it felt more like the forced, twisted smile of someone trying to show that it isn’t really as bad as it looks. But, unfortunately, it was.
The menu is a relic from the days when, I imagine, La Maquette was the go-to hotspot in Toronto. Oddly, the appetizers are approximately the same price as the mains. For the appetizers, there are a range of salads plus their specialty “wild mushroom strudel”; the mains are mostly meat with a couple of fish options, plus five different pasta or risotto options. I decided to order the roma tomato salad ($12) for my appetizer, and the salmon roulade ($18) for my main. My dining companion went with the whole wheat linguine ($13.50).
All of the food was brought out quickly, which is not a surprise, given that we were the only diners in the entire restaurant. The salad was quite good, the tomatoes were fresh and flavourful, the avocado was creamy, although they could have been more generous with the tiny dabbles of balsamic vinegar.
But then my main arrived. I felt instant pity for the waiter who had to place this dish in front of me. The salmon had clearly been overcooked, and the herbed roulade looked like moss trying desperately to escape. The braised fennel was almost unrecognizable, looking more like translucent cabbage. Thankfully, the vegetable medley had been steamed. All swam in a thin puddle of oily, beefy broth. I probably should have returned the dish right then and there, but instead, I took the bold step of putting some of it into my mouth. I shouldn’t have. I sorely regret tasting that overly fishy, slightly dry, oddly and overly spiced piece of “food”. I managed only a few bitefuls and relied on the barely steamed vegetables to a) tide me over until I could eat a proper meal and b) to get that taste of fish out of my mouth. I am happy to report, however, that my experience did not extend to my dining companion, as she enjoyed her pasta, finding it nicely spiced and tasty.
This lunch, combined with a recent poor experience at La Maquette during Winterlicious, makes me hope that, rather than taking a page from the book of Norma Desmond, La Maquette willingly fades silently into the backdrop of the Toronto food scene, disappears from our memories and makes room for a new star.
111 King Street East
King Street East and Church Street
The views expressed above are the writer's alone and are not meant to represent a restaurant review or critique – rather, the article documents the writer's experience on a single occasion.