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sgfrank

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About sgfrank

  1. Susur Lee Heading to New York

    Having been to Susur a number of times in the past, and for the most part having been blown away by the experience, I was rather disappointed to read the news that chef Lee was decamping to New York. A true loss for Toronto, I thought at the time. A couple nights ago I paid my final visit to the restaurant, and was blown away in a completely different fashion: without a doubt it was the worst fine-dining experience I have had in many years. The night started off poorly, with an extended wait in the tiny bar for our table. Nothing new, as tables never seem to be ready on time, but at least in the past beverages have been offered to quench one's thirst - this time, we were left to our own devices as the staff ran about the restaurant in a vain attempt to rush the early seating out. Regardless, hopes were still high to taste Chef's "favourite" dishes from over the years. Hopes continued to be high 1 1/2 hours into the reservation, at which time we still had not received the amuse. The oyster dish (an unimpressive duo of gazpacho and bland bivalve) finally did arrive, at which time we were left to languish for another half hour - this is two hours into our reservation now - until the first course came, at least in part. Three of the members of our five-top were served, while the other two sat politely, awaiting something from the kitchen. After far too many moments, and with no waiter nor food in sight, I ambled over to the bar to have a chat with the maitre d’, who was nowhere to be found; I was instead left to chat with the bartender: “Is the manager around?” “I’m afraid not at the moment. Is there anything I can do for you?” "Well, to be frank, the service is really unbelievable tonight" "Unbelievably good?" he unbelievably asked. In the end, he said he would talk to the team and see what they could do about the thus far languid pace of our dinner. Eventually, the remainder of the main did arrive, and it was nothing but classic Susur. Big, ambitious flavours and textbook meat - top form from the kitchen. The next course or two trickled out at the same leaden tempo. An absolutely bland foie offering was a shock; the subsequent white asparagus with mushroom course was pleasant, though nothing more. Adding insult to injury, as he flung my glass of wine onto the table, the waiter informed me that the powers that be had decided that the Sauternes would go better with the asparagus, while the Chianti would be served with the foie, in contrast to what the printed menu said. After tasting both pairings I must say I disagree, and am left to wonder whether this was just a lazy cover-up for a mix-up at the bar. With the sorbet (a far too spicy strawberry number on a gimmicky bed of dry ice), a new waiter appeared at our table. Evidently word had gotten through that things were not going well, and a pinch hitter had been called in. He was certainly a smooth operator (the next best thing to Kelly Kwan, who apparently jumped ship about 8 months ago), but unfortunately at this point things were beyond salvage. Salvageable or not, with the new team, things were kicked into high gear. Courses poured out of the kitchen as quickly as the previous ones could be snatched away from us. In the flurry of activity, we realized that they had jumped right to the shellfish course (scallop sashimi, which was tender but truly unexciting), bypassing the promised fish course. When we pointed this out to our waiter, he informed us that Chef was switching the order of those two courses this evening (apparently Chef was not switching the order for other tables, which seemed to receive their courses in the advertised order). Now, to be honest, with the reverse tasting I am so confused that I really did not care which order these courses came in. But when Susur goes on at such length about the courses "diminishing in both size and weight," you kind of at least expect him to stick to his story and send the courses out in order. Anyway, it would have been no great loss if they had omitted the fish course altogether. The woefully dry halibut was a true challenge to the salivary system, while the black cod made one reach for the water glass (empty, of course, as it had been most of the evening) to dilute the overpowering saltiness. Finally, with eyes barely propped open, dessert arrived. It was a true triumph, and if Susur is still making his own desserts, then I am thoroughly impressed. The various 'dim sum' were near flawless, and my only wish is that I had had enough room to finish them all. Overall, however, if this dinner was indicative of Susur's current performance, then in fact Toronto has lost nothing more than a once-great chef, now resting far too heavily on his laurels.
  2. Tapas Recommendations

    Senor Antonio (attached to Chiado)? Had a great dinner here the one time I went. Similar food to Chiado (i.e., excellent) but in a more modern environment. JK Wine Bar? I generally enjoy most of the plates I get here on any one visit, and the remainder are certainly fine, just not exceptional. I find it a bit noisy sometimes, though. Cava? (Haven't been, have heard some mixed opinions) Simon
  3. I would suggest Canoe. It would be a cab ride, or it you're interested, an easy subway ride. It features Canadian ingredients, prepared well in a pleasant setting. The view is great too. Unless you are set on Susur, I am afraid that I have to voice a vote against it. The last time I was there the service was very poor. When reading reviews I generally dismiss the notes about service, since I am 'just going for the food' anyway. Granted, the food last time was great, but the service experience truly brought home how mediocre service really can bring down an otherwise great evening. Just something to keep in mind. Simon
  4. New restaurant

    Another update: According to the architect's website, it will be a 160-seat restaurant. Seems to be pushing the upper limit for fine dining, but perhaps my sense of numbers is off. Pictures look great though. http://www.taylorsmyth.com/ Simon
  5. New restaurant

    Update from the national post: The restaurant will indeed be on the bridge: It will sit "atop the unused south portion of the CP rail bridge and use the space next to the majestic clock tower as its entranceway." And perhaps more interestingly, it will be helmed by none other than Susur Lee. A 3rd restaurant? Is he completely dropping the role of chef and moving over to 'chef as brand'? Is a Vegas restaurant next? I have to admit these comments are coloured by a rather disappointing experience at Susur a couple weeks ago. The food was in top form, and Susur was indeed there, though who knows how much cooking he was doing as he flitted from dining room to dining room; but I suppose that is immaterial, since the kitchen was putting out great food. My beef was with the service, which was a joke. Kelly Kwan, our captain, was superb as always, but the rest of the team seemed to be on their training shift. Allergies were disregarded as plates were delivered, the waiters would call out tableside to find out who had requested 'no foie', as though we were at Milestones. Plates were forgotten, the descriptions of the courses were unintelligible and at times erroneous... the list goes on. I was very much embarassed for the vetran members of the team, as I think there was just too much new blood for the service team to function smoothly as a unit. Simon
  6. NY Sous Vide Lockdown

    Though in general I feel that such a broad ban is somewhat heavy handed, and I would generally trust these top chefs to employ safe food handling practices, I must disagree with this comment. Imagine if the FDA approved all drugs submitted by drug companies THEN investigated the drug to determine if it was safe! Simon
  7. TOLife's top restaurants

    Where do you generally enjoy eating? To what standard are you comparing Toronto restaurants? Do you feel Toronto Life is overly-generous across the board - in which case it seems to be a valid enough resource regardless, since the comparitive ratings of different restaurants are often what are most useful. Or, rather, do you feel that Toronto Life has certain 'favourites' that seem to be placed up in the stratosphere again and again irrespective of quality? Simon
  8. TOLife's top restaurants

    1 eigensinn farm 2 susur 3 splendido 4 senses 5 scaramouche 6 bistro bakery thuet 7 via allegro 8 rain 9 chiado 10 north 44 11 canoe 12 rundles 13 perigee 14 sushi kaji 15 jamie kennedy wine bar 16 lai wah heen 17 didier 18 george 19 il mulino 20 amuse bouche Personally I asm somehwat surprised that Scaramouche got into the top five. Even though it seems to have enjoyed a resurgence of late, I still feel there are many other Toronto spots I would put ahead of it. Also, I would have liked to see Mildred Pierce and Pangaea in the top 20. Though I love JK wine bar dearly, and I have had an enjoyable meal at george, I would rank my two aforementioned picks above these two - JK wine bar can sometimes lack punch in its dishes, and I found george to be trying a bit too hard on the fusion/pomo front. Any other thoughs? Simon
  9. Yam / Sweet Potato Fries

    Thanks for all the replies. I do enjoy the fries baked, but was just looking for something new. One problem I have with baking is that the fries often stick to the pan a bit, so when a toss them around partway through their bake, and when I take them off at the end, I always end up losing some of that nice crispy 'skin'. Anyone tried baking them on a silpat? Would that help? Like the idea for cinnamon and nutmeg, will for sure give that a try next time I make them. Traditionally I have leaned more toward the savoury spices on my yam fries - cayenne, cumin, etc. Thanks again, Simon
  10. New restaurant

    In today's national post: "A dramatic new gourmet restaurant to be announced this week will hover above Yonge Street on the abandoned CP Rail bridge near Summerhill, the developer said yesterday." It "will have a 'world-renowned' chef" say the developers. Anyone have any details? Who is the mystery chef? How can you build a restaurant on a bridge in the middle of a street??? Crazy! Simon
  11. Yam / Sweet Potato Fries

    Hello, I am a big fan of yam fries in general, and usually do them tossed in oil then baked in the oven, perhaps lightly spiced. However, I am looking for a new way to prepare these, ie deep fried. Can I treat them the same as normal fries? How do deep fried yam fries turn out? Is a two stage fry preferable, as with regular fries? Anyone tried this before? Thanks, Simon
  12. Toronto Chocolaterie Tour

    I'm jealous! What a delicious way to spend a weekend. I too am a big fan of JSbonbons, I think she has very good control of the technical aspects of the chocolates, and she also brings very exciting flavours to play. I particularly like her ginger cardamom caramel. Other than Soma, which I must get out to try some time, any other artisanal cholateries that you would recommend? Thanks for posting about your tour! Simon
  13. Radish consomme

    Hi, I am trying to make a radish consomme, to be served hot as a palate cleanser. I haven't been able to find any suggestions as to method, so my current plan is just to simmer some sliced radish in water, perhaps with some green onion for added kick. Does anyone have any ideas/suggestions as to how I might produce a consomme with the maximum punch, and clean raddish flavour? Spice ideas to complement the radish? Anything? Thanks, Simon
  14. Avalon closing March 18

    For those interested, there is also an article in the Toronto section of the Globe discussing the closing of Avalon. The general impression I got was one of a disgruntled, over the hill prima donna who blammed the audience for no longer appreciating his work rather than accepting the fact that maybe the fault is in the performance. Jabs were made at Susur Lee for opening eponymous restaurants (Susur AND Lee! Twice the egotism!) and for having a light wall at Susur; Thuet was attacked for cultivating a bad boy status; and legions of chefs across the city were slammed for - gasp - having open kitchens. Jamie Kennedy was also singled out for resting on a "reputation that is all about something that happened in his career 20 years ago." Susur is singled out again later in the article: "The difference between this [Avalon] and Susur's in a way is Susur's is named after him, but I don't think it's a reflection of something that he feels is the way dining's supposed to be. It's more a reflection of what he thinks is a good business." Say what you will about the cuisine, service, decor, but I would argue fairly vigorously against the claim that Susur is lacking in vision, and is simply pumping out plates to appease the masses. There is nothing worse than eating somewhere where the chef's heart isn't into it, and Avalon certainly must have been such a place of late: "I'm sick and tired of plating food with tweezers," and "I won't be doing this again." Yikes. Simon
  15. habitat

    First off, welcome to eGullet, Aldous. Thanks for the great review, I look forward to hearing more as you eat your way across Toronto. Do you feel that a chef of Woods' caliber will be content cooking somewhere where the focus isn't necessarily on the food? He certainly has a strong pedigree of food-centric restaurants; I wonder how long before he gets the itch to reach for the upper echelons, which you certainly seem to feel he is capable of, something which just might not be possible at Habitat. Simon
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