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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?

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