Wednesday, September 03, 2008

restaurant reviews

on friday night i went to dinner with my mum, my mum's friends visiting from HK, their son (who is starting at ryerson this year) and my bro. we went to table 17 in leslieville. i had heard mixed reviews about their service but overall good reviews about their food, so i figured we'd give it a go.

the room is actually two, bifurcated by a wall with a spacious doorway opening between them. the first room holds only a small handful of tables and contains the bar and the second room has more tables and a big, rugged, rough-hewn wooden table that serves as an open bussers-station, where they can slice bread for tables, etc.

nice dim lighting, comfortable bench seating (almost too comfortable...the pillows on the seat are so plush it leads to some awkward maneuvering on the way out), doesn't get too noisy. the service was a little on the under-attentive side but the food is quite good and the prices are solid.

we ordered a few apps to share to start.

we got 2 orders of the diver scallops, which were seared and served with a thick spear of guanciale, thick bearnaise, and sweet peas. this dish was pretty damn delicious... the elements are all a no-brainer. it could have gone out to the table a little hotter and the bearnaise could have been a touch looser (probably seized up a bit as it cooled down).

the charcuterie platter was fairly generous though slightly uneventful and boring. the best thing on the board was the head cheese...otherwise the other elements were a little standard, though still tasty. it came with some sliced bread that was a little too thick to match the ultra-thin slices and a little too soft. i prefer toasted bread or something sturdier with my charcuterie plates.

then we got 2 each of their "hot balls" appetizer. there are three different kinds: aranicini with gorgonzola and a marinara dipping sauce, goat cheese croquettes with honey, and bachalau balls with potato and a basil dipping sauce. the goat cheese was probably my favorite...the bachalau was heavy on the potato, light on the salt cod, the arancini were serviceable.

we also shared the signature chili beef ribs, which the owners carried onto the menu (apparently by popular demand) from their previous venture, izakaya. they're not worth writing home about...i mean, **i** wouldn't have kept them on the menu. especially when they come to the table slightly dried out around the edges and barely lukewarm, with nary a chili flavour to be found in the sweet sauce coating the meat-thin beef ribs. there's some spice in the loose kimchi accompaniment but overall the dish was ho-hum.

for my main i got a braised rabbit with house made pappardelle (not pictured) olives and lemons. the rabbit leg was pretty tender, a touch dry, and overly salty but the pasta had a nice chew. tone down the heavy handed with the brine/salt elements and you'd have a comforting dish.

my bro had the steak frites...the frites there are just the way i like them...slender and crisp. my mom had the black cod which had a crispy skin and was sitting in a light broth with some shitake mushrooms and green stuff. she said she liked it (i didn't try it).

we shared three desserts. we got the chai spiced pudding. the texture of the pudding was nice, thick and creamy with only faint chai flavours (more ginger and spices and less tea). it was covered with a some kind of indeterminate cookie dust which added an unpleasant pastiness and was unnecessary, especially considering it had no discernible flavour. we all would have liked the pudding sans dust.

the chocolate veloute (pudding again, to you or i) was thick and bittersweet but again marred by an incongruous topping of conventional blueberries.

the lemon tart was meh. the crust was thick and a little leaden...lemon curd was standard but couldn't hold its' own against the crust.

overall, it's a decent neighbourhood joint with very gentle prices (5 apps, 6 mains, 3 desserts, flat and sparkling water, no booze = $260 pre tip) and worth a revisit. it still needs to iron out some kinks in the kitchen, but the steady stream of slavering leslievillians i watched in and out the door seems to suggest that the audience is there even if they don't tighten up the screws.

on sunday, we had dinner with the same crew at via allegro, which gets consistently high marks for italian food in the city from word-on-the-street AND published sources. it was pretty meh. definitely NOT worth the drive to the farthest reaches of etobicoke, NOT worth the exorbitant prices, NOT worth the half-assed service, and NOT worth the laughable, disney-fied decor.

i mean, i guess this is "italian" food in the late 80s, southern california sense, but nothing anywhere near like my understanding of italian food. huge chops, giant plates, creme brulee's stuck in a bad hotel time warp. the prices are redonkulous and the food is only decent.

we shared a fried calamari appetizer that was pretty good.

we got the "three kings" platter. you pay a set price for person. the "three kings" are supposed to represent the three signposts of italian (tuscan?) cuisine. so for the princely sum of almost $30/person, you get 2 paper-thin slices of proscuitto each, a pillow of arugala, a couple of fat shards of parmesan, and a drizzle of balsamic, with a puck of pear puree. the pear was probably the best part of it. the rest of the components were okay, but certainly did not live up to the hype.

another app that was a huge disappointment was the pizza from the wood-burning oven. how a wood-burning oven managed to produce such an anemic, flabby, insipid excuse for a pizza is beyond me. it's appalling.

then we got a foie appetizer which was ho-hum. seared foie, brioche, a sweet element...came to the table cool and was therefore pretty unappetizing.

for my main, i got the duet of lamb. a crusted lamb rack with a pot pie of shank with some broccoli rabe scattered with goat's cheese. again, decently prepared, but done to death.

the dotytron got one of their signature meat cuts, a 16oz veal chop. it wasn't as tender as veal chops should be and was sided with a tired galette and some kind of spinach flan with a requisite pool of hotel-issue demi.

one of our table mates ordered the "award winning" risotto with duck confit, foie, and 25 year old balsamic (this dish cost $50!!!!). the risotto was cooked correctly but the flavour of the dish was a hot mess. sweet, tasted like a mound of runny unagi rice (that's how saccharine it was!).

we finished the meal with ho-hum, exorbitantly priced and unimaginative desserts (creme brule, tiramisu, etc). i mean, i like that stuff as much as the next person...but i don't go about creating a temple of italian cuisine that looks like it was ripped out of "the bonfire of the vanities"-era cooking.

i was kind of embarrassed. my mum's friends had requested italian and i had gone with what people had said about the place and what toronto life had given as a review. I HATE YOU, JAMES CHATTO. i should have just stuck with my guns and picked l'unita or lil' baci. it was really pricey too and so not worth it. the closest example i can come up with is that it's like a yorkville style italian place. you know what i mean.



tonight for dinner i grilled some steaks and finished them with a gloss of roasted garlic butter. crisped up some diced pancetta and sauteed sweet corn kernals in the pork fat and served sauteed peppers and onions on the side.


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