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JK Wine Bar - meh

Ok, that does it. I have eaten Jamie Kennedy's food in various places several times. Each time, I have been underwhelmed. So I was extremely curious and really wanted to give it one last shot. I hadn't eaten at JK Wine Bar per se, so decided to go there on the other evening with a few friends.

First of all, yes, it's an attractive space. The service is attentive and we were seated quickly. We wanted a table and got it (we were there early). I will admit that, as a group, we were perhaps a bit uncooperative in the sense that we didn't sit, awed and quiet and, instead, ordered our own series of wines and dishes. The wines were all outstanding - so no complaints there. And as far as the food goes it, too, was mostly delicious. But at least a couple of us are pretty competent cooks and we both felt that there was absolutely nothing there that we couldn't have easily done ourselves. Kennedy is a brilliant sourcer of ingredients - agreed. And this is, perhaps, his strength. But what he does with these ingredients is dead simple and not particularly exciting. The black cod with braised pork belly was good, but didn't blow me away like I had hoped. The beef with wild pine mushrooms was nicely prepared, a good use of the ingredients, but not at all exciting. The charcuterie plate was fine, the beef and cheddar sandwich was good (but again, this was about the cheese!) and the fries were, of course, addictive. (I have had better grilled Portuguesd sardines at almost any churrascuiera, though.) Desserts were ok - I liked the creme brulee and the cheese platter was nice.

I'm not complaining about this really, but I have finally come to the conclusion that the strength of Jamie Kennedy's cooking is in the ingredients. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate this, but for anyone who does have access to fresh, seasonal ingredients and is willing to search for interesting cheeses and good produce, it is not a mind-blowing culinary experience. Would I go there again? Probably not, to be honest. It was expensive for what we ate, and I was (personally) a little irritated by our server who made us feel like slightly misbehaved children for confusing our wine glasses. I don't need that kind of pressure when I go out to eat.

Anyway, that's it. I have done it and now I know. I can make creme brulee just as good as his and I know where the pine mushrooms grow.

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  1. I was underwhelmed by JKWB, too. I found everything I ordered to be well-executed but boring.

    1. My thoughts exactly. I would go there again if appropriate circumstances arise, but it has never blown me away. Everything has always tasted good, but there was never anything I couldn't make myself - and that includes those fries.

      The service at JKWB has always been friendly, but never very organized. I'd think they would do better at sequencing and coordinating dishes with a star chef in charge.

      I find this pattern goes all the way back to Palmerston. Fairly conservative food that sounds less conservative than it is, conservatively prepared, with good but not exciting flavours.

      The hype goes back to Scaramouche a generation ago. Kennedy's restraint paired with Stadtlander's (recklessness??) brought some very good cooking. Kennedy seems to know how to run restaurants successfully. I believe has promoted both organics and eating with environmental consciousness in mind. He's good, but I don't think he deserves all the hype. He never seems to thrill.

      1 Reply
      1. re: embee

        I guess Kennedy is what passes for a celebrity chef in Toronto. And, for that, I think he does a good job - he represents food philosophy that I can believe in. His demand for sustainable fisheries, his popularization of organic foods and his preference for local products are all admirable and give a public face to an important cause. So I do appreciate him for that. Unfortunately, you're right - the food in his restaurant doesn't really live up to the hype around his person. It's fine, I guess, but next time I want to spend serious money on a meal I'll go elsewhere. To be frank, however, I'll probably end up in something more ethic and moderate and get more blown away by the kind of cooking that I wouldn't necessarily be able to do myself.

      2. We went to Jamie Kennedy Restaurant adjacent to the Wine Bar for a celebratory dinner last night. The service was impeccable; the food, however, was amateurish. Our dishes were devoid of any balancing of flavours, textures and colours. One would also think that in a restaurant of this calibre, the alcohol in the wine sauce would have been totally cooked off before the dish was served; pretty basic stuff.

        1. sure - I cook an entrecote of beef with creamy polenta at home all the time- and the quail is all stocked up in the fridge! You people are crrrrraaaaaaaazy. Seriously- JK wine bar is great food. And for that price, honestly- you are acting like you paid to go to Susur.

          5 Replies
          1. re: nummanumma

            Good grief. No one is suggesting that everyone cooks that stuff all the time, but some of us are pretty excellent cooks. I feel my comments are far from crrrrraaaaazy and, in fact, I do think that the cult of celebrity can cloud our assessment of how much of our dining out is entertainment and how much is culinary accomplishment. For that price? Take it easy - I'm not a street person, but I don't think it's dirt cheap.

            1. re: nummanumma

              JK Wine Bar has nice food. I agree. JK is also one of our relatively few star chefs. He has done good things for the food community in Toronto. If JK was NOT a star chef, my expectations would be lower. But with acclaim, and hype, come high expectations.

              I have eaten at JKWB several times. I didn't like everything, but the things I didn't like were primarily about my taste. Nothing was bad. But nothing was thrilling. Servers were friendly and wine suggestions were generally good. However, food was continually delivered in an illogical (and sometimes stupid) sequence and with very poor timing. There has been nothing I couldn't make myself if I want to. Entrecote with creamy polenta (the entrecote from Cumbraes, seared on a Woodflame grill; the creamy polenta laced with gorgonzola and home roasted peppers)? That's a 20 minute weekday meal should I want it. Quail is available at most supermarkets and any Greek restaurant and is also a no brainer to cook (though easy to overcook). In short, JK creates good flavours, but not life experiences.

              I've also been to Barrio and Relish several times each. Very similar style to JK, but both unpretentious, without hype, and without a star chef. My expectations are, therefore, much lower. But JK's food has NOT been better. Relish times and sequences dishes pathetically, but Barrio does it better than JK. And the best dishes at both places has tasted better than the best dishes at JKWB.

              I have had restaurant meals that thrilled. I've had dishes that I could make but wouldn't bother to because of their complexity. I've had simple dishes made of extraordinary ingerdients that I can't source myself. And I've tasted flavours that wowed me, some of which I couldn't identify. JK doesn't do this. His ingredients are good, but I believe I get my meat from the same place. His flavours are good, but Barrio and Relish have done better on occasion and so, frequently, have I.

              1. re: embee

                Well put. Could not have said it better myself.

                1. re: embee

                  Why oh why do restaurants do the small plates thing if they can't figure out the timing?

              2. That comment was uncalled for. Just because some of us can and do cook, and some of us may even be culinary professionals, does not mean that we should be lambasted for telling it like it is. Whether our meal cost us $15 or $150, the point of the matter is that we feel we deserve decent food, especially when it's at a restaurant that gets a 3 1/2-star rating in Toronto Life.

                Our meal at JK Restaurant last night was pitiful and totally uninspired. From an awful amuse bouche onwards, nothing was prepared with any of the brilliance that I was expecting; and the execution, as mentioned in a previous post, was almost amateurish.

                A few examples:

                My Mushrooms on Toast appetizer should have been delicious - a selection of locally foraged mushrooms in red wine sauce served over toasts. The wine sauce had an acrid taste, and it didn't help that the alcohol had not been sufficiently cooked off. Massacred mushrooms, anyone?

                My husband's order of caribou (the caribou itself prepared properly, but accompanied by a wishy-washy blueberry and juniper sauce) came with a side of "savoy cabbage bundle"; a variation, in essence, of a cabbage roll. What was presented on the plate was a somewhat sloppy looking package filled with unappealing bland rice and WHOLE torpedo onions (slightly larger than pearl onions) which were cold and barely cooked. Appealing?

                For dessert, the Beignets du Jour beckoned. We should have ignored them. The daily special was apple beignets. What we got were two huge thick slices of hard matsu apples surrounded by doughnut batter. Does anyone out there really want to bite into a doughnut filled with an uncooked apple slice? As I mentioned to the waiter when asked how the dessert was, a variety like the simple yet delicous macintosh would have cooked down a bit while the beignet was in the fryer. He said he'd inform the kitchen (as this was the first night using this dessert menu), then proceeded to comp the item. A nice gesture.

                Needless to say, I will not be trying the new Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner anytime soon.

                4 Replies
                1. re: olivergail

                  Absolutely fascinating. It really makes me wonder where the adulation has come from. Thanks all - at least I don't feel like I'm alone.

                  1. re: Nyleve

                    Nyleve, I "chowhounded" Jamie Kennedy Restaurant as soon as we got home last night. Lo and behold, there was your beautifully written post about Jamie Kennedy; what a relief it was to read your piece and validate our own disillusionment.

                    1. re: intheweedss

                      Normally I'd agree with you that one should give a restaurant a second chance. However, not one of the dishes we ate last night was better than mediocre. If we'd had one or even two duds, I'd be more forgiving. But each and every dish?

                      If the restaurant were owned by a novice restaurateur, I'd give it the benefit of the doubt. But, in my books, there's no redeeming an establishment that is owned by a pro who's obviously not spending much time in this kitchen.

                      1. re: olivergail

                        I haven't personally had BAD food at a JK restaurant, but that's exactly my point. Kennedy should NEVER mess up, just as a well rehearsed concert musician seldom hits even one bad note when performing. With the adulation and hype comes the responsibility to deliver the goods. Mistakes happen, but an imperfect dish should not leave a JK-run kitchen.

                2. Jamie Kennedy has managed to sell his product over and over again to Toronto's sophisticated masses with disposable incomes who consider themselves to have "discriminating taste".Probably the same market to which Bymark has been selling their $30 burgers, and Ki has been selling their steaks and sushi.

                  I'm guessing that most of the clientele at JKWB would not choose to try a new restaurant before they have had a chance to read a published restaurant review.Not that there's anything wrong with that.

                  I wouldn't choose to eat at JKWB again, because I like to try restaurants that serve things that I consider to be innovative and/or interesting to my palate. But some people in Toronto find haute poutine, entrecote, etc. to be interesting, innovative or even sophisticated- and maybe it is, relative to what they are eating at home.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: spaetzle

                    He's managed to sell his product, but anyone with any sophistication and discriminating taste would not bite more than once.

                  2. I'll venture to be the lone voice of dissension here. I love JKWB (never been to JK Restaurant) and often recommend it. While I do agree with many of you in that the food usually doesn't blow me away, I always leave satisfied. Here are the things I love about it:

                    1. Great wine list. Plus I love that I can get a 3 oz. pour, for the same relative price as a 6 oz. pour. It lets me try different wines without having to commit to a full glass.

                    2. The atmosphere. It's sophisticated and lively without being pretentious or overly casual. I've always had good service there, whether at the bar or at a table. And while it's been done to death in this city by now, I still really enjoy the small plates concept. I find it a really enjoyable way to share a meal with a partner or friends.

                    3. Reliably good food. I've never had a bad dish there. Some have been better than others, but none have been bad. And yes, I could prepare many of the dishes myself. But I usually don't want to and appreciate having someone else do it for me. And his attention to locally-sourced, organic ingredients appeals to me greatly (as others have also mentioned).

                    4. The price point is reasonable for a night out, I think.

                    5. And god yes, I'm a sucker for his poutine. I think it's the demi-glace that usually gets me... I usually want to lick the bowl.

                    I guess the bottom line for me is that JKWB is a reliably good place for a nice, but slightly casual dinner for when I'm in the mood for a "Canadian" meal. I have my favourite "ethnic" spots, both low and high end. I have Perigee and Splendido for the splurges/celebrations, etc. But JKWB is still on my rotation and fills one of my many different dining niches.

                    Just my $.02. Given what I've read here, I will definitely try out Barrio.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: TorontoJo

                      once again Toronto jo- we appear to be the same person- except I put my foot it in and you thoughtfully explained yourself- well done!

                    2. You pretty much nailed it on the head for the most part. JK can source better than anyone in the city PERIOD (add exclamation if desired). That is his strength and the reason I'm there every week. Its simply not possible for me to buy (especially produce) of that calibre on a consistant basis, and to me that is reason enough to frequent the restaurant every week.

                      I've never encountered attitude with any of the servers in the wine bar and they probably have some of the most passionate foodie servers in town (Alex/Richie/Jamie D). In fact, the only person that gives me attitude in that place is JK because he can't take constructive critisism (he is so used to all the women fawning all over him).

                      Best casual restaurant in Toronto. Nothing fancy, when you have the best ingredients you don't want it to be, and that is why his actual restaurant is a horrible failure. JK isn't a chef, he is a great ingredient sourcer than can cook simply. He won't admit that, but that is the secret to his success.

                      If you want someone that is a top chef and a top sourcer, look no farther than Stadtlander. Best restaurant in Canada, hands down.

                      1. I frequently head to JKWB when didning solo-so I can only speak for my experience sitting at the bar-I have always found the food and service at the bar great-the per glass prices can be steep but thats not a major issue.

                        1. Remember, you can't please everyone.

                          You know the pricing at JKWB by-the-glass pricing is extremely reasonable, especially when you consider most restaurants in Toronto offer lesser wines at much higher markups. I don't know of a place in Montreal with food (simple, generally high quality) that compares with similarly priced by-the-glass selections. When you consider what else is offered in Toronto, I find JKWB particularily compelling value overall.

                          If MT can highlight a few places in Montreal that they think have comparable/better seasonal food and better wine prices/selection, I would be more than happy to buy you a drink at one of those places the next time I'm in town.

                          1. Joe Beef in Montreal - IMO better than JKWB but perhaps in a different category....

                            1. Different category completely.

                              JKWB is small plates vs. Joe Beef where even the appetizers are larger than the mains at most places. Joe Beef also doesn't have the same calibre of by-the-glass wine (if they even offer by-the-glass at all).

                              If you are talking strictly ingredient quality, JKWB has better produce but Joe Beef is better in most other respects.

                              1. umm I did say "can" be steep-and also said "is not a major issue" I frequent JKWB on every visit would agree the JKWB has a more unique selection by the glass than most in the city...
                                A good comparible choice in Montreal, Food and Wine by the Glass-very reasonable and great food(perhaps a little simpler in terms of ingrediants)
                                BU on Blvd St.Laurent

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: montreal traveller

                                  i posted here before and was censored...but anyway..i thought jk is generally good but don't always rely on toronto life ratings..some are pure fluff!!