I have rarely been to a restaurant where the time that it had been open could be properly counted in hours. This opportunity presented itself in the form of the newest gourmet burger joint to join Toronto’s growing stable of self-proclaimed burger kings (pun most certainly intended). Whimsically named TOMA Burger Addiction, this particular establishment on the sensory-overload strip of West Queen West just past Bathurst caught my attention in mid-stride – as a good brown man, the A-frame sign advertising discounted food made me stop in my tracks.
The impetus to actually go in came from the subtle signs that a Frenchman surely was in charge of the place. Fortunately, I was with Cherry, who is also an adept detector of all things Gallic. We noticed the slow-cooked compotes and the decidedly French ingredients. Only a French chef would use gratuitous amounts of truffle oil, fleur de sel and foie gras on what is little more than diner food.
The dining room is an oasis of cleanliness and quasi-Teutonic order in the Queen West sea of skinny-jean-inspired resto-bars with mismatched chairs and a surfeit of dusty mirrors. While the design came off slightly cold at the time, it was late on Sunday night and there were only two other customers in the restaurant when we walked in. A bustling dinner will no doubt give TOMA the soul and atmosphere it needs. The décor also provides yet more hints at French management. The untranslated quote from Auguste Escoffier on the accent wall inspires patrons to discover the source of true happiness in their burgers. The meticulous cursive lettering on the wine list resembles exactly what Cherry and I were made to learn by our French teachers in primary school.
The choice of wines from the Southwest of France was what finally prompted us to ask the (very friendly) waitress whether the owners were French. She confirmed our hunch, and this immediately made us love the place even more than we already did. We were excited to see what a chef more accustomed to magret and Madiran could do with the food of choice of the North American proletariat.
Cherry and I made strategic menu choices so that we could determine whether TOMA could get both fancy and basic burgers right. Cherry went all out with the Fabulous Las Vegas, and I chose the more traditional Old School. The Fabulous Las Vegas was the burger equivalent of a bling-tastic pink Escalade with 23” chrome spinner rims – it was slathered with truffle mayonnaise, truffle olive oil, caramelized mushrooms and brie. At the other end of the bling spectrum, the Old School was essentially a bacon cheeseburger with barbecue sauce and onions.
The presentation of the food mirrored the design of the space. Spotless, simple white plates supported perfectly formed burgers that looked neither 50’s diner-sloppy nor White Castle-esque generic. The real revelation came when we tucked into our food. TOMA proclaimed all over its menu that everything – down to the buns – was homemade and fresh. Our first bites were incontrovertible proof that this was indeed the case. TOMA nailed it. What I had in my mouth was essentially the bacon cheeseburger that every diner in North America aspires to achieve – the perfect harmony of beef, bun and toppings. Each element burst with the right flavour and texture – a testament to the freshness of the ingredients and the skill of the chef cuisto.
Cherry’s burger put her in roughly the same condition as she was at Bar Isabel (Cherry: Whenever I stop talking at the dinner table, he calls it a foodgasm, I call it culinary satisfaction. Tomatoe, Tomatoe.). Here’s what she thought in her own words: Imagine yourself at your most hungry and how relieved and happy you were when your food arrived. Now imagine that your meal exuded a truffle aroma. Would your eyes light up and would you lick your lips and forget you were supposed to be a good dinner companion? Imagine your first bite and the overwhelming joy you felt when you realized that your burger was not only on a brioche bun, but was also topped with brie! Such experiences of pure epicurean joy are much too rare. This meant that Majid did not get to try the oddly-named Fabulous Las Vegas – it was fabulous, but was much more Île-de-France than Nevada dessert.
Cherry and I also shared frites and roasted garlic aioli. Each bite of aioli-laden spud, with its flawless yet simple execution, took us back to our respective French happy places. Escoffier would have been proud. The julienned potatoes were the perfect size, and the hint of oil that deepened the flavour of each fry was pleasantly fresh. The aioli was equally flawless – the texture was silky, yet not as fluid and creamy as the coagulated white paint that passes for mayonnaise on this continent. The chef clearly understood the need to choose the freshest eggs and the right oil. He also understood that aioli is not simply mayonnaise with a fleeting soupçon of garlic – garlic was front and center, and it had a distinctly nutty and toasted flavour.
Our great experience was completed when we met the chef, Thomas Sedille, and his partner, Clémence Gossiaux. Their enthusiasm for food and for Toronto shone through in our brief chat, and this passion goes a long way in explaining why the food was so well executed. Toronto is fortunate to have them, because their restaurant is one of the few places that can offer equal quality on the basic and gourmet ends of the burger scale. TOMA is certainly worth the stop, especially if you appreciate the decidedly French passion for selecting the best ingredients and crafting them into great food with flawless technical execution. I give TOMA a hearty 3.78/5 brown thumbs up, and wish Thomas and Clémence merde for the success of their first restaurant endeavour in Toronto!