At Harbord Street and Manning Avenue, this is what a threat smells like: home-baked baguette, beef bourguignon with orange carrot purée and wild mushrooms, and B52 crème brûlée with sweet pizza, paired with an appropriate wine.
That is, a threat according to the nose of local councillor Joe Pantalone, who fears a licensed, 22-seat bistro on this lower-Annex corner will set the area on a path to public disorder.
Alarm bells sounded last spring when neighbours heard of an application for a liquor licence on the site, across from a high school and a few gritty blocks west of Harbord Street's popular dining strip. They feared a shady operator was looking to sell booze to minors, as they've seen nearby in the past.
Those fears have since melted away like butter on a hot croissant as residents have come to know the owners of the bistro, Ici, where esteemed French chef Jean-Pierre Challet and two partners plan to serve up cuisine nouveau classique and select vintages from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly, plus brunch on weekends.
Still, even as neighbours stepped back from their objections before, during and after a liquor board hearing last week, Mr. Pantalone maintained his increasingly lonely stand against the licence, to the bafflement of some of his constituents.
"Leadership means that you stick your neck out even though a strong segment of your community thinks otherwise, if you think that what is being suggested is ultimately for the detriment of the community," Mr. Pantalone said.
Asked how an upscale restaurant run by a proven chef would detract from the area, long considered commercially stagnant and prone to petty crime, the councillor said that's not the point.
"A lot of people in the community are being distracted by the fact that the applicants are nice people," Mr. Pantalone said. "It's not the particular individuals involved" that concern him, he said, but the precedent their licence might set for any business that might replace the bistro in the future, and for less-savoury would-be bars in the area.
John Bowker, who lives near the bistro and signed a 285-name petition supporting its liquor bid, doesn't buy the councillor's logic.
"It's as if you want to take your driver's exam and they fail you before you even walk in the door because the last guy who took the test backed over a mailbox," Mr. Bowker said. "It makes no sense."
Worse, he said, is the apparent misapprehension on which Mr. Pantalone's objections are based. A liquor licence for Ici would not necessarily stay behind with the building if the bistro moved out, nor would it automatically make it easier for other area businesses to become licensed, he said.
Lisa Murray, a spokeswoman for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which will rule on Ici's licence application in the coming weeks, confirmed this.
"This isn't like some jurisdictions where when you buy the restaurant you buy the licence," Ms. Murray said, adding that the AGCO recently shifted to a "risk-based" licensing system, which includes thorough background checks of all licence holders. When a business changes hands, "the new applicant has to go through the same rigorous vetting" she said.
Mr. Pantalone, who recently brought in a moratorium on nightclub development along Ossington Avenue, had only derision for the liquor board.
"If you listen to the AGCO, there's never any problem with licensed establishments in this city," he said. "So why are there all sorts of problems with licensed establishments in Toronto if they're that good at monitoring and enforcing the situation?"
Mr. Pantalone also took the provincial agency to task for holding the Ici hearing last Wednesday when he could not attend due to council business, and at its north Toronto offices rather than in the neighbourhood.
"I don't think that's being community-friendly," said the councillor, who sent an assistant to speak for him.
Mr. Bowker, among the strong majority of attendees who supported Ici, dismissed these complaints.
"That's rich coming from the councillor who snuck this motion without notice into city council," he said, referring to Mr. Pantalone's surprise motion at City Hall on Aug. 6, where council approved the use of city lawyers to fight Ici's application.
The AGCO's decision to hold the hearing despite Mr. Pantalone's request to reschedule, Mr. Bowker guessed, "has to do with the very low opinion the AGCO had of the merits of the councillor's opposition."
Back at the bistro, where the three chefs continue to cook for catering clients pending the liquor board's decision, the aroma of fresh baking carries the extra scent of hope.
"It was a knee-jerk reaction based on a terrible history," said chef and partner Jennifer Decorte, adding that Ici's aim is to provide enjoyment, and nothing more, to its neighbours.
"Life is too short, and the irony is that we have to fight for happiness," she said. "How absurd, to fight to be happy?"