Thanks, Grandma Grace!
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Thanks, Grandma Grace!

Photo courtesy of Grace Restaurant.
Forget Hollywood. Lesle Gibson says she wants to attract “the neighbourhood.”
“I just want people who like our food,” the restauranteur says with a smile, as she takes a quick break before the dinner crowd arrives.
The Torontonian, who has worked in L.A. for the past three years, and has entertained an impressive array of Hollywood A-Listers, has just opened Grace Restaurant on College Street. It takes the place of former hipster chi-chi hangout Xacutti.
Named after her grandmother, Grace Restaurant is where Gibson says she wants to “bring simplicity back to food, where you can taste what you’re eating.”

Gibson says it’s important to her that “people feel welcome, as if they are invited to your house for dinner. It’s almost like having a dinner party atmosphere.” While she doesn’t refuse the film and fashionista crowd—“they were my clientele”—her approach, along with chef Dustin Gallagher, is homey, friendly, and most of all, farmhouse-influenced.
The menu reflects that. Items like corn soup with crab fritter ($9), chicken pot pie ($18), and homemade gnocchi ($16) are fabulous comfort food, albeit with an urban, haute twist. “Dustin created a menu with the kitchen and presented it to me,“ recalls Gibson, “I fell in love with everything—I was really lucky. It was his baby, it was all in his head—and it works.”
“Thankfully she let me do what I do best,” says Gallagher eagerly, “I let her do what she does best… of course any input is good, but so far, so good. I think we’re one and the same.” Gallagher, who worked with super-chef Susur Lee for over six years, never attended a formal chef’s school, but “everything is a learning experience…I just cook to eat and (for) love.”
Gibson credits her chef with giving her an education in the importance and logic of local sourcing. After insisting Grace use only French cheese, she was presented with some Canadian artisanal selections, and as a result, Gibson says “my kitchen made me see the light.” Grace Restaurant features a lovely variety of raw and pasteurized cow and goat cheeses, mainly from Quebec, as well as some yummy dessert touches like milk and cookies (homemade, of course, $6) apple pie ($8) and philly cheesecake ($8).
Photo courtesy of Grace Restaurant.
What with the local-consumption and slow food movements in the headlines lately, it’s no wonder Grace adheres by using, for instance, Harmony Organic dairy and fruit preserves made in-house. But bring up the issue of whether local-sourcing is a merely a politically-correct, passing trend to Dustin Gallagher and you’ll get a straight answer. “Is it a bandwagon?,” asks Gallagher passionately, “You have great local produce, it’s up to you not to use it. Why would you pay more for less?” Gibson backs up her chef, noting that “People are definitely more conscientious. They want to be able to enjoy their food, not guess what it is.”
After managing Sotto Voce and getting her sommelier status before opening Teatro, Gibson moved to la-la-land, but her love of College Street and indeed, Canada, made the move home too tempting to resist. “I basically wanted to become available again,” she says, “my family is here, and close friends, and I thought, I miss them so much, it’s time to come home, “ she says, “I fit in before, so I am hoping that we’re going to be a nice addition to the street.”
Nice, not to mention delicious.