Updated, March 31, 2014. I committed The inexcusable sin the other night, by arriving late for a reservation which in itself allowed too little time to dine properly before heading off to the York Theatre. In my mind I had thought it would be easy to order a few bowls of moules frîtes before heading off to see the show. But as we sat down it became apparent that our timing was less than ideal for the formal style of service offered here. Kudos, however, to our server and to the staff overall who made every effort to get us on our way in time. Next time I’ll think more carefully before placing those kinds of demands on a Saturday night kitchen.
.Do you ever wonder what it is that draws you into a place? This east-side spot has been on our radar for a while; and we’ve been meaning to get in to check it out. Finally, we were just driving by one night last week when it caught our attention. The candle-lit room was positively glowing in the cool night—the perfect lure for what turned out to be a truly worthwhile discovery …
What are the ingredients that make a restaurant not only appealing but irresistible? Nestled behind exquisite, bevelled glass doors on Commercial Drive between Second and Third Avenues, Carthage Café is a surprisingly detail-driven, charming haunt with no shortage of good French and Tunisian tastes.
At night, the heritage storefront-its bay-window alcoves, just big enough for an intimate table, tucked in either side of the door-glows. It’s easy to be seduced by the newest, the greatest, the latest and the trendiest. But when it comes down to it, what we crave is good food, fair prices and some extra special attention, all of which this unpretentious and cozy room delivers in spades.
Our special Brie and artichoke salad (big enough for two) rewarded with fresh mixed greens tangled with slices of ripe Brie and marinated artichoke, topped with pinenuts and a vibrant raspberry vinaigrette that had us craving more ($13).
Carthage mainstay mussel bowls (all $15) range from the cumin-and harissa-spiced Carthago to proven-çale, blue cheese, and poulette (with chives, shallots and white wine). Our choice of aioli was a showstopper, thanks to plump bivalves swimming in a heady broth, laden with garlic, lemon and olive oil, plus fries on the side.
While there’s no shortage of good French classics here (including bouillabaisse, pepper steak and steak frites), we opted to stay on the Tunisian side of things with a piping hot bowl of chicken couscous, ample for sharing, and packed with tender chicken pieces over carrot and zucchini with a deeply spiced brown sauce with chick peas ($19).
Wines are smartly picked and well priced. Gray Monk 2010 Pinot Noir turned out to be a flexible choice to accommodate such a wide range of flavours.
With its cozy setting and welcoming service, there’s no doubt Carthage will lure us back for more couscous (such as lamb shank or merguez), not to mention onion soup, meschouia salad, lamb shank and much more when the winter rains finally arrive.
(1851 Commercial Dr., 604-2150661; open for dinner nightly and for lunch Tuesday to Saturday.)