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TORONTO LIFE 2007 - DO YOU TAKE THE RATINGS SERIOUSLY?

icey Jan 9, 2007 09:01 PM

Ok, I love Toronto Life, I love their reviews and I especially love the annual eating and drinking edition. For economic reasons, I have not been able to try some of Toronto's great restos like canoe, perigee, susur, splendido,etc., so I end up believing the reviews even though I haven't try these places.
However, on special occasions or when my parents are treating, I have been to what I thought were good restaurants. Some of my favourite experiences of the last 6 months have been Romagna Mia and Hillebrand Estates Winery in Niagara on the Lake. However, I was shocked to find that Toronto Life had given them horrible ratings! I mean Romagna Mia went down 1/2 a star from last year and resides at 2 stars. I thought that I remembered Hillebrand at being close to 4 stars, yet this year it was at 1 1/2 stars.
Is my palate really that off? Do I have terrible taste!?!?! I adore food, and yes, I do enjoy the occasional Big Mac and Montanas dinner, but I thought that I had GREAT meals at the above restos. Can someone please explain?!?!?

  1. Googs Jan 9, 2007 09:30 PM

    They finally decided to update their ratings for a change. Good thing. Some of those reviews were years old. Holy deja vu.

    No, I don't think they have a clue what they're doing. They're a reasonable guide for out-of-towners, but not for those of us that live here. Besides, if you like a place why shouldn't you just go right on enjoying it?

    The main thrust is to promote Toronto. For that I'm grateful since we could use all the help we can get.

    To be completely up front, they took a favourite place of mine (which shall not be named) off the list. I'm more than a little ticked. That resto could use the tourist biz. Oh well, those of us in the hood still frequent it so nyah!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Googs
      Cereal Killer Jan 9, 2007 09:40 PM

      Googs: If you think the resto in your 'hood is worthy, why would you not want to name it?

      CK

      1. re: Cereal Killer
        Googs Jan 10, 2007 03:13 PM

        I would rather not hand Toronto Life the axe with which they may grind the resto. I quite like the people that work there so I'd rather not have my beefs end up costing them. It's their livelihood.

        I appreciate the sentiment, though, CK.

    2. p
      Peechie Jan 9, 2007 09:40 PM

      I too love the Toronto Life food reviews and I look the restaurant up before trying it. But I don't always take the star system to heart. I think they offer a good idea of what's good out there but taste and preference is so personal. I would really have to try the place out and decide if I agree or not with their opinion. In the past, I've noticed that a place they rate highly, I didn't enjoy that much. So this kind of discrepancy happens. You shouldn't worry about it. =)

      I haven't tried Romagna and Hillebrand Estate Restaurant(I dislike Hillebrand Winery - terrible experience) so I can't comment about their current quality of food and service. But just as how a bad restaurant can get good, a good restaurant can get bad.

      Also bare in mind that the reviewers are professional food critics and look for different things than the regular customer.

      Hope this doesn't discourage you from chowing well =).

      1. e
        embee Jan 10, 2007 03:34 AM

        - Do I enjoy reading Toronto Life: yes
        - Do I find the food writing and reviews interesting: yes (hardly surprising, given that I spend time here)
        - Do I ever try a new place based on a listing: sure
        - Do I take the reviews seriously: Not on your life. I can speak from personal experience that they sometimes seem to "rate" places they haven't been to either at all or in years.
        - Do I trust their star ratings: No, no, no....NO!

        I could say some other really nasty things, but it isn't fair to tar the current staff and management with incidents that happened many years ago (sorry to be obscure here...)

        To be completely fair to everyone:
        - I trust Now's ratings even less, though I find Now a more useful source of new and interesting places to try.
        - I find the reviews in Eye Weekly preposterous
        - Joanne Kates is a good writer and possibly the longest active restaurant critic in North America, but I've never found her taste and mine to coincide. If you ever run into her, ask about her China House review of decades ago and then follow up by mentioning a food writer named Roy Andries deGroot [sic]--enjoy
        - I can't get a handle on Amy Pataki in the Star.

        I feel we haven't had a good restaurant reviewer in Toronto since Jim White in the Star (which was VERY long ago). Unfortunately, there weren't many great places to review in those days, but I could usually tell whether or not I'd like a place by reading Jim's reviews. I had the same experience with Helen Rochester in the sixties Montreal Star. I didn't necessarily agree with these people, but I could relate their comments to my own expectations and experiences.

        For a really different take on restaurant ratings, check out Ruth Reichl's current book, Garlic & Sapphires. She used to review restos for the New York Times (she's now editor of Gourmet). You may decide she is very weird, but would you dine at Le Cirque after reading her review? In comparison, Toronto Life just doesn't cut it.

        4 Replies
        1. re: embee
          v
          Vinnie Vidimangi Jan 10, 2007 10:38 AM

          Joanne Kates can't write, can't think for herself, and to say that her taste is in her mouth is to flatter. I remember a few doozies in the late 80's, one a diatribe about the portions being too large, another in which she dumped at length on residents of Mississauga as tatsteless boors by definition, another in which she wrote that Provencal cooking was second rate because cream is not used and there are no local good wines. Thereafter I stopped reading JK unless I was in the toilet and had nothing better to do with the paper.

          If I wrote some of the stuff that JK has written, not only would I wear a big hat, I would get a sex change operation.

          VVM

          1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi
            j
            julesrules Jan 10, 2007 03:31 PM

            What amuses me about JK lately is that she is forever going to lounge-type, trendy places then being upset and confused about the bad service, and well, the lounge aspect (restaurant-to-club and all that). I guess she has to review these places if they are purporting to be serious about food as well as partying, but it just strikes me as funny. Get someone in the target market who also knows food to review those places and let her stick to stuffy, more traditional places with her occasional foray somewhere ethnic...

            1. re: julesrules
              e
              embee Jan 10, 2007 06:23 PM

              I suspect she either chooses, or is asked to review, places where her target readership might aspire to go, or about which they may be curious or envious. JK doesn't simply review restaurants. She writes in a style often called "gastro porn", popularized by NY reviewer Gail Greene. But Greene seemed to review things with some diligence (if not always with total candour) and also (by reputation, anyway) lived a rather exciting life. Kates certainly doesn't, and it shows, but she tries to emulate Greene's sensual style. We may feel that she fails, but her editors obviously disagree. Remember, many people are more concerned with where they eat than with what they are eating.

              Some reputable restaurant reviewers operate on the principle that it's only worth writing about places that are worth patronizing. My point of view is different. I don't want to hear about a mediocre neighbourhood resto -- that's just a waste of scarce publication space. But I do want to hear that a much hyped and/or highly reputed place sucks. I don't think JK's writing is based on either of these philosophies. I reiterate my recommendation of Ruth Reichl's new book.

              Which gets me thinking about Chatto in Toronto Life. He contends that anonymity isn't necessary and wrote a recent article purporting to prove this. That's BS. Read that Reichl book and decide whether Chatto can possibly write an unsullied review.

            2. re: Vinnie Vidimangi
              e
              embee Jan 10, 2007 05:26 PM

              I do disagree with you about her ability to write. What she writes ABOUT is something else entirely. She contradicts herself regularly, always has, and has no shame at all about it. Since she does not display a consistent sense of taste, and never has, her reviews (honesty issues aside) are not useful. But her work is obviously valued. I don't think any North American restaurant reviewer has lasted anywhere as long, and she now gets several months off each year to run the summer camp she inherited.

              On a few occasions, JK has come close to admitting to being a groupie for certain chefs. But that really doesn't matter. Actually, I contend that she really does think for herself. After all, she writes what she feels like writing rather than accurately describing her dining experiences. "The spicy Szechwan flavours are wonderful" (today); No, "the spicy Szechwan flavours offend my aging taste buds" (tomorrow). You can learn quite a bit about her personality by reading the writings of her apparently rebellious daughter (sometimes presented point-counterpoint with her own musings).

              And I will NEVER forget that aforementioned China House review. It was early in her tenure, and she should have been fired on the spot.

          2. spades Jan 10, 2007 05:00 AM

            Years ago Toronto Life and Now were pretty much the only publications that I would go to when determining if a restaurant was worthy of my time and attention. But much too often I came away very disappointed. Hemispheres, the Fifth, North 44, Terra - all four star establishments at one point in time - I found not nearly as praise-worthy as other restos that sometimes would score as low as two stars. That's why I'm so glad that blogs like this one about the Toronto dining scene have been mushrooming. It's nice to get second and third opinions.

            Besides, I think a true Chowhound approach would be to find the one outstanding dish at a two star restaurant that outshines the half-dozen good-but-not-great efforts at a four star. That's the meal that I'm after.

            1. icey Jan 10, 2007 05:45 PM

              thanks guys for the replies. i feel a little better about my choice of restaurants. but can someone please clue me into this China House review? what happened?

              12 Replies
              1. re: icey
                e
                embee Jan 10, 2007 06:45 PM

                A GREAT resto is extremely consistent, whether it is aiming to be Susur or Thuet or is selling deli or burgers and fries. Toronto hasn't had many great restaurants (my last personal experience of same was "Three Small Rooms" at the seventies Windsor Arms). Consistency is an issue almost everywhere and at every price level.

                I've had several wonderful meals at Romagna Mia and have never been disappointed there, but friends have been sorely disappointed, getting blah food and either pompous or bad service. I once had a great meal at Hillebrand (in the mid nineties), but never had another decent one again and gave up following about four expensive but very poor dinners. Perigee and Susur can be wonderful, but (in my eyes) never lived up to their hype.

                Since I don't want my post killed, I'm going to tread carefully around that China House review. It was a wonderful article describing a Chinese banquet (way back when they were, reputedly, the best Chinese place in town). Simply stated, she need not have eaten there before writing the review. Methinks I just might, possibly, have seen it before.

                1. re: embee
                  f
                  FlavoursGal Jan 12, 2007 02:29 AM

                  I've been living in Toronto for 10 years now, a few blocks from China House and, like icey, I MUST know NOW what transpired with Ms. Kates's review of China House.

                  Would someone PLEASE stop the suspense and clue us in?

                  1. re: FlavoursGal
                    e
                    embee Jan 12, 2007 03:26 AM

                    If I'm the only person who ever noticed this, no wonder she got away with it. I gave you the answer. Roy Andries De Groot. Chinese Banquet. Great column. Esquire Magazine. Long, long ago. Joanne Kates. China House. "Research". Great column. A bit less long, long ago. Nothing happened. Something should have happened. She should have been fired on the spot. [Then maybe it could have been me reviewing restaurants in Toronto all these years instead of her ;-)]

                    [As an aside, I haven't been to, or heard anything about, China House for decades. In the early seventies, it was, by appearances, a stereotypical Jewish Canadian Chinese restaurant, possibly a bit nicer than most. On Sunday nights, it was all Jewish families eating the kosher BBQ pork, kosher pork spareribs, and kosher shrimp with lobster sauce ;-) They parenthesized wontons as "kreplach". But appearances were deceiving. On Saturday afternoons, Chinese families invaded Bathurst & Eg to eat Dim Sum. And they had a deep, dark secret. There was a secret menu, a huge compilation of Chinese dishes unseen elsewhere in Toronto. Much of the food was Northern. I had to beg for this menu. They denied having it. (And, it turned out, there was no English translation.) I pulled out a scrap of paper with some of my favourite dishes written out in Chinese characters. I asked whether they had these dishes. The waiter went ashen. I tried to order these dishes. The waiter got another waiter. Do you have these dishes, I asked again. "You not like these dishes" said the second waiter. "Only Chinese people like these dishes. Have chow mein. Have chicken balls. You like them.". When I insisted, he got another man who, I presume, was the owner. "Do you really want to eat these things", he asked. I said yes. "If I serve you these things, will you promise not to complain and refuse to pay", he asked. I promised. The food was fabulous. They all watched us eat. The owner began to smile and brought us chopsticks. I got them to describe a few things on each future visit. We became regulars. Then De Groot (uh, sorry) Kates wrote (or was it "researched") that column. The secret was out. They soon translated the secret menu into English. And they changed the food so that us outsiders would presumably like it. So I didn't like it anymore. And we stopped going some time in the seventies. Then came Paul's Deep Sea Shantung, and it didn't matter anymore.)

                    1. re: embee
                      jayt90 Jan 12, 2007 02:23 PM

                      Wihout going to Esquire's archives, I can surmise that de Groot visited China House and quickly discovered the secret menu. Although blind, he was able to pick up every nuance and write exquisitely in detailed, fine prose.
                      Is it possible JK saw the review, visited China House, and reported on the great new secret menu? I can only guess. But if so, it would be a learning point in her career, and she has managed to come a long way , from "crashing into Noodles with my friends for desserts and cigarettes" (loosely paraphrased from memory).

                      I also found the articles by and about her daughter revealing and disconcerting.

                      If I am guessing correctly, the China House review would not be directly plagiarized line for line, and JK would certainly have visited the restaurant in her old neighborhood.
                      In those days writers referred to the habit of getting material from another publication as 'lifting', and it was fairly common, and hard to trace.

                      I recall a headlined story in the Telegram by Peter G...... about Jim Morrison exposing himself and peeing in a Florida concert. I had read the exact same story, word for word, in the Village Voice two days earlier. I wrote to the Tely's entertainment editor, complaining, with no response.

                      1. re: jayt90
                        e
                        embee Jan 12, 2007 04:37 PM

                        I doubt that DeGroot ever visited China House. He did, however, write a beautifully detailed description of Chinese banqueting.

                        Yes, JKs review of China House was "lifted" (I referred to it as "research") pretty much line by line from De Groot. Hard to trace? It so screamed out at me that I've never forgotten it. It was neither adapted, nor attributed, nor finessed. There were ways in which she could have used this material honestly, but she didn't bother to even try. Obviously nobody cared, but it set a tone for me - a tone that continues to this day.

                        She has certainly developed a voice and I feel she writes well. But she is also a self centered kvetch whose attempts at sensuality ring false. Since I value eating well, she is useless as a critic. She contradicts herself regularly, and says things that just don't ring true. I can deal with biases, and relate them to my own expectations and experiences, if I know what they are. With JK, I don't. I'm obsessed with food, so I read her. But I can't take her seriously. I do, however, admire her ability to keep her editors happy and keep her job.

                        1. re: embee
                          jayt90 Jan 12, 2007 05:50 PM

                          Well, JK has been outed here and so has Goddard, as long ago plagiarists. I believe she reads Chowhound to find new places.

                          1. re: embee
                            v
                            Vinnie Vidimangi Jan 12, 2007 05:56 PM

                            To elaborate my previous stated criticism of Joanne Kates'
                            work. She goes on and on about herself and it is boring. Sometimes less than half of the column is about the restaurant the purported subject of the review. She uses too much the cutesy jargon of the moment. She seems to follow too closely Gael Greene, and does not recognize that she is mislead because Toronto is calfshit in comparison to NY. She doesn't seem to have a consistent aesthetic, it is as if her opinion is a bit of flotsam moving with the waves of her world. And her world is little judging from the ambit of her Toronto subject matter. To me, she is as reliable as the broken clock which is right twice a day. Quel uber calfshit meister.

                            The tragedy-and it has been a tragedy for some restaurant owners- is that she is supposed to be our leader, our teacher.

                            1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi
                              t
                              to_frankie Jan 15, 2007 09:29 PM

                              could not possibly agree with more. Joanne Kates is a self absorbed bore. few foodies of substance take her and his self indulgent rantings seriously.

                              1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi
                                food face Nov 19, 2007 02:10 PM

                                Vinnie. That was so well written. I couldn't have agreed with you more about Joanne Kates. She really needs to retire and spare us her snotty reviews. I have printed your rant out. Its framed! Well done.

                      2. re: embee
                        foodyDudey Jan 13, 2007 04:41 PM

                        Exactly when did you enjoy eating at the Three Small Rooms? JK was a cook there in 1971. That was her only job as a cook in a restaurant, I suppose that qualified her to be a restaurant critic :-)
                        I personally don't care what she writes and it does not influence any decisions to try a restaurant. Her reviews are for "entertainment value only"

                        She must be at least sixty now, it's time for her to retire or start reviewing the food at retirement homes.

                        1. re: foodyDudey
                          e
                          embee Jan 14, 2007 01:57 AM

                          Yikes, that was so long ago. Probably around 1970. We first tried it after being kept waiting for over an hour after our reservation at Le Provencal across the street. We just walked in and were seated in the Grill. It was a revelation.

                          We could go in jeans (Honest Ed required a jacket and tie in that era), as scruffy kids, and were always treated with respect. The cheaper rooms, the Wine Cellar and the Grill, were every bit as good as the Restaurant. I was especially fond of Trout Lapland (in a dill-cream sauce) but, more importantly, I don't recall getting a bad meal or poor service there year after year. (Note that these comments do NOT apply to the much higher profile Courtyard Cafe upstairs.) The plain green salad vinaigrette was lovely. They would serve a side salad and dessert meal on Saturday at 8:00 without batting an eye. The desserts were wonderful. The ordinary coffee was the best I had ever tasted in a restaurant. In the Restaurant (and in the other rooms when they weren't mobbed), the menu didn't necessarily matter. They were willing to make anything you asked for if they had ingredients to do it. And these improvisations were often fabulous. I didn't work in that kitchen, and for all I know, they could have been microwaving stuff from cans. But everything, whether fancy or simple, seemed to taste good.

                          It couldn't, and didn't, last forever. The owner turned his attention to the Courtyard and Noodles and let the Three Small Rooms languish. I can't remember exactly when we stopped going. But it was the most consistent, and consistently good food, I've had in Toronto while it lasted.

                        2. re: embee
                          b
                          brab Jan 13, 2007 08:07 PM

                          I agree that Toronto restaurant greatness stopped around the time of the demise of the Restaurant in Three Small Rooms but would like to add Auberge Gavroche to the list of defunct Toronto greats.

                      3. estufarian Jan 15, 2007 02:13 PM

                        Wow! I go away for a few days and all hell breaks out back in T.O. (so that's what was keeping the temperature up).
                        As for "what happened in the early 70's" - I have a few mispent adventures in my formative years too. I'm a different person now - and hope I learned from them. Please judge me on todays actions and words.
                        And Jim White was indeed the best thing to happen in Toronto (foodwise) and is sorely missed. But he's still writing (and selling) down in Napa - made his fortune from writing about food and putting his palate where his mouth was (which is pretty easy really) for President's Choice and Cott's (and others).

                        Kates is about the only restaurant reviewer in Toronto I don't know by sight - so she tries to keep the first rule (of anonymity). And full credit for that. And I find her reviews do concentrate more (usually) on ambience rather than food. But she's still a must read for me, even if she now seems to be reminiscing a whole lot more than she used to.
                        But able to 'kill' a restaurant? No way! There may be a few groupies that move from 'Kates Recco' to 'Kates Recco' but any place will stand or fall on its regulars (or impressionable out-of-town visitors). Did Kates kill Sassafraz with withering criticism? It just carried on serving ordinary food by supercilious servers as it had done for 20 years.
                        And neither are any of 'we Chowhounders' able to influence the life or death of a restaurant - although we might prolong it a little. Do you REALLY think we constitute anything approaching 5% of a restaurant's patrons (any restaurant?). This is a forum for sharing experiences with like-minded strangers (mostly). Over time we, as individuals, get a lot from this site. More than the restaurants get.
                        So let's concentrate on what we do best - finding the places that we would send friends to; and warning each other about the places to avoid - and even more importantly, those places which have declined and need to be carefully watched e.g Romagna Mia, which I used to recommend; La Palette - now in serious decline; Rosebud - really downhill, and the most missed, Jing Peking, which was part of my original top 10 in the first post on the Toronto board, but after 20 years changed owners (not for the first time), nosedived and is now closed.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: estufarian
                          f
                          fleisch Jan 15, 2007 06:46 PM

                          Kates can be dogmatic about hiding her identity but...a few months ago I happened to have my TV on Bravo one morning and they were showing a Gzowski show which must have been 20 years ago. It was a full-length interview with her, mostly her walking Pete around Arowhon.
                          (A little short, not fat but not skinny either, brown curlyish hair down to her shoulders...)
                          I know others who have seen her at the gym etc.
                          It's hard to imagine that, having done a TV interview (even that long ago) local restarateurs don't know what she looks like...but it's an old school thing and she's sticking to it so, good for her, I guess.

                          fleisch

                          1. re: fleisch
                            AmandaEd Jan 17, 2007 05:51 PM

                            Last spring we went to Cava the night Joanne Kates was in reviewing it. Our table wasn't yet ready when we arrived, so we were ushered over to the bar for a glass of wine to keep us busy. The manager later came by our table to apologize and explain that Kates was in reviewing the place. I asked her how she recognized Joanne Kates, and the manager pooh-poohed the idea of anonymity. She said that anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry for a years would be able to spot the woman across a room.

                            1. re: AmandaEd
                              f
                              FlavoursGal Jan 17, 2007 07:20 PM

                              If Ms. Kates really wanted to keep her anonymity, she would not have located her camp's new office (emblazened with the camp's name, and with a camp-cabin-like wood siding) in its new location on a busy street, across from what is probably the busiest and most lucrative Shoppers Drug Mart in the city.

                              1. re: FlavoursGal
                                AmandaEd Jan 18, 2007 05:46 PM

                                Very true, FlavoursGal! It is a bit of a farce, isn't it?

                          2. re: estufarian
                            jayt90 Jan 16, 2007 01:07 AM

                            We all have to live with our guilt over our misspent youth, but the two writers who were outed here for their misdeeds, J. Kates and P. Goddard, were working for two of the top newspapers in the country, and continued on to this day. (One of these two had to re-establish himself in the Star). In those days, I knew writers who would desparately put together a column minutes before deadline, and who were well aware of the practice of lifting. What I have concluded is that editing may have soft on 'lifting', because the readers would rarely find out. Here we have two apparent plagiarists, from the early 70's and late 60's, who got away with it then; but why would they learn from a mistake unknown to others?
                            I learned a few lessons in my misspent youth, but usually when I got caught. Too much time has passed to judge these writers current views based on past mistakes, however their prose is in the public record, for all of us to look at.

                            1. re: estufarian
                              v
                              Vinnie Vidimangi Jan 16, 2007 02:29 PM

                              The reviewers put a restuarant into "play". I know from my own experience that the reviewers can make or break some restaurants. In any event , favourable reviews will keep a place going for perhaps six months. Something good may happen in the interim that leads to long term success. Bad reviews can push a struggling restaurant under water and hold it there until it dies.

                              In Toronto the quality of the food plays a minimal part in success or`failure of a restaurant. In these circumstances publicity can be all important.
                              To deny the power of the reviewers is to deny the validity of advertising

                            2. a
                              antifoodie Jan 17, 2007 03:21 PM

                              Although my history of T.O. restaurants might not go back as far as some people posting here, I have an overwhelming desire to defend Ms. Kates. She's a restaurant critic, and she seems to give her honest opinion free of any weird biases, and she does so consistently. She obviously knows a great deal about food, having been doing her job for decades. As far as I know she has trained as a chef. So who are you guys to question that? If you don't like her, don't read the articles. But obviously you all do, voraciously, which explains why she is still doing it after all these years. My guess is half the posts are from restaurateurs or chefs Kates has been critical of in the past, which is more than a bit sad, but again shows why she is so effective.

                              You might not agree with everything she says, but dammit you love to read it. She is a type of writer we need more of in this city -- strong opinions, aggressive and talented writing style. From what I've read she is the only game in town, perhaps the country.

                              Think of the city's critics in other fields — Richard Ouzonian in theatre, very boring. Sure, he actually does theatre, on occasion, but his articles are dry and rather reserved. And as such I don't read him, haven't for years. He is not the type of writer that excites readers. At least Kates gets everyone talking about restaurants and food. I mean, this has been the most active discussion on here in a while.

                              My two cents.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: antifoodie
                                spigot Jan 19, 2007 02:48 AM

                                Ooh, antifoodie, be nice. Richard reads these boards :-)

                                1. re: antifoodie
                                  HarryLloyd Jan 19, 2007 02:55 PM

                                  "At least Kates gets everyone talking about restaurants and food"

                                  Where would CH be without Kates?

                                  Chow!
                                  HL.

                                  1. re: HarryLloyd
                                    e
                                    embee Jan 19, 2007 02:57 PM

                                    Wasn't it Bain in the Star who introduced CH to Toronto?

                                    1. re: embee
                                      HarryLloyd Jan 19, 2007 03:16 PM

                                      Embee,

                                      my comments were tongue-in-cheek.

                                      Chow!
                                      HL.

                                      1. re: HarryLloyd
                                        e
                                        embee Jan 19, 2007 04:09 PM

                                        I should have figured that out. Working too hard, I guess.

                                2. c
                                  Canada Eats Jan 19, 2007 12:20 AM

                                  Speaking of the 2007 ratings, I'm curious what people think of the Take Out guide in the February issue. I was pleased to see lots of my favourites, but then a little disgruntled when I remembered the lines that already exist at these places. I guess some of them aren't really a secret anymore (ie. Sandwich Box and Burrito Boyz), but still.

                                  Other thoughts?

                                  - Lea
                                  http://canada-eats.com

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Canada Eats
                                    AmandaEd Jan 19, 2007 01:39 PM

                                    I agree that they picked some fairly predictible places, but I had never been to ARZ Bakery, so was thrilled with that find. Went home with some absolutely killer baklava, Armenian coffee, gorgeous pita, hummous and olives. Will be back this weekend to stock up again!

                                    1. re: AmandaEd
                                      f
                                      FlavoursGal Jan 19, 2007 01:45 PM

                                      Amanda, that whole stretch of Lawrence is terrific. It's great fun to drive in and out of each strip mall checking out the food stores, many of which have really interesting hot and cold take-out items.

                                      1. re: AmandaEd
                                        e
                                        embee Jan 19, 2007 02:42 PM

                                        Arz is a favourite of mine, but explore the area more widely. Patisserie Royale has the best baklava and related pastries I have tasted anywhere. NASR has the best preserved lemons, which are in oil and not overly salty. Nut shops galore - try several and taste.

                                        1. re: embee
                                          AmandaEd Jan 19, 2007 04:30 PM

                                          Will certainly do!

                                          Thanks, FlavoursGal and embee!

                                      2. re: Canada Eats
                                        b
                                        BLM Jan 19, 2007 10:53 PM

                                        I've been checking out their 'Take Out Guide' back & forth the last couple of days. Where is Burrito Boyz mentioned?

                                        1. re: Canada Eats
                                          LovelyAsia Jul 17, 2007 06:55 PM

                                          Personally I have been VERY disappointed in the food I have gotten from places I discovered in the Toronto Life Best Take Out issue.

                                          1. Memphis BBQ & Wicked Wings - Not even in the same ballpark as Phil's Original BBQ on College.

                                          2. Chick'n'joy - I was excited at the thought of authentic southern fried chicken but this place tasted the same as KFC (and in the case of salads and fries - worse). I know because out of curiousity I picked up some KFC to compare.

                                          3. South Street Burger Co. - Better than the awful Hero Burgers that are showing up all over town, but certainly not anywhere close to the burger nirvana that is Golden Star on Yonge Street north of Steeles.

                                          4. If they are going to talk about Hakka Style (Chinese-Indian) food - why mention Ming Room and not Yueh Tung? Their Chili Chicken and Manchurian Chicken are great!

                                          5. To not mention Burrito Boys when talking about the best take out in Toronto is either a huge oversight, or is because they assume everyone knows about them OR is because Burrito Boys was not willing to cough up the dough to the "goodfellas" at St. Joe's.

                                          What is with the St. Joseph Media icon all over the place on the Toronto Life website??? WTF?

                                          Having said all that, I did forget that they included some of my faves in their Take Out list:

                                          Taro's fish for the best, freshest, and authentic sashimi at great prices.

                                          Penrose Fish and Chips - great for a different kind of fish experience - and wonderful old fashioned home made lemon pie!

                                          El Sol - great mexican - but I would not recommend it for take out - while the service can be slow, everything is made fresh, so why ruin it by taking it out?

                                          After realizing that Chowhound is a much more reliable source of honest and varied reviews - because let's face it, great food is often a matter of personal taste - I have decided to stay away from reviews in Toronto Life, Now, etc. and always do a search on Chowhound before deciding to try a place I have not been before!

                                        2. c
                                          Canada Eats Jan 21, 2007 10:50 PM

                                          Hi BLM, you're right on Burrito Boyz, my mistake. I've seen it in a few places recently, so I must have gotten mixed up. The line-ups there are long enough already without any more mentions.

                                          - Lea
                                          http://canada-eats.com

                                          1. Googs Jan 22, 2007 06:07 PM

                                            I don't need their star system, I need useful info. It would be better if they... Reinstituted the "open Sunday" key on their search page, their "wheelchair accessible" standard was functional enough to include bathrooms, the pull-down list for "cuisine" included Brunch, that when you found a restaurant it stated what neighbourhood it was in just in case you wanted to find others around it, and maybe just maybe just for the hell of it they said who served lunch on weekends. Have I missed anything?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Googs
                                              Olivia Jan 22, 2007 10:12 PM

                                              I would find it very helpful if they actually defined their neighbourhoods. Also, sometimes the neighborhood descriptions aren't accurate... but that's another thread!

                                              1. re: Googs
                                                estufarian Jan 23, 2007 04:44 AM

                                                Agree entirely!
                                                And to improve it further, "Open Monday".

                                              2. Splendid Wine Snob Jan 23, 2007 05:48 AM

                                                Wow, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the contributions to this post. Like others, I generally take the Toronto Life reviews with a huge grain of salt. I think the problem with great reviews/hype is that they can contribute to the demise of a place-restaurants becoming casualties of their own success. I have to admit that I prefer those restos that the majority of people have yet discovered, but remain successful based on devoted, regular clientele. And I am also so tired of the overrated, hyped up places in this city. It seems to me that two camps exist in this industry:

                                                1. The "Celebritization and Commercialization" funeral pyre of the vanities
                                                2. The Foodies

                                                Funny, my food obsessed parents always maintained that the best meal they ever had in TO was also at the Three Small Rooms in the mid-seventies. Thanks Embee, for your bang-on, insightful commentary. Maybe you should give JK a run for her money ;)

                                                1. m
                                                  massimino Mar 24, 2007 11:23 PM

                                                  I think toronto life it's at the 50% right. I say that because once you have such a popular review your main income is based on advertising and this also means advertise restaurant that aren't good! but this also means they have to give them a good rating in exchange of their money.
                                                  Fortunately they're not all bed, but I think the experience or the knowledge of the writers are most of the time very pour, and the worse is that they pretend to know!
                                                  The only way to know food it's cooking it everyday and touching it, this is the only way food can give you the knowledge, but to bed there aren't good chef writers.
                                                  Answering to your question: do you believe in Toronto Life? my answer is: NO.
                                                  I believe and I trust my taste and as for the wine or other, the best are always the one you like it.
                                                  Buon appetito

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: massimino
                                                    h
                                                    hungry_pangolin Apr 14, 2007 01:01 PM

                                                    As a freelancer who was part of TL's herd of resto reviewers, I'd like to make a few comments. (1) There's NO connection between advertising and the substance of our reviews. That's an unfair and ungrounded accusation, implying that we were/are corrupt. That impression might be due to the fact that the magazine doesn't consume space for negative reviews. That's an editorial decision that's open to question. But, nope, no connection.... look for your conspiracy theories in a grassy knoll. (2) The star-rating system is always problematic, and, ultimately arbitrary. Rely on the substance of the review to decide. I've read positive reviews that had a middling star rating and thought, Hmmm.... that doesn't make any sense. (3) When I finally got to meet some of my fellow writers at a function, I was surprised by the variety of backgrounds and experience, but none of the writers was incompetent, by a long shot. (4) As to knowledge, I largely confined myself to cuisines with which I was familiar. I received an assignment for a cuisine with which I was unfamiliar, so bought three cookbooks on that cuisine, studied them, tried them, tried them out on a friend of mine of that ethnicity, and then took him to the restaurant. I think, short of buying the plane ticket, I did my homework for what was a fairly obscure cuisine. For what I got paid for that review, I was making a fraction of minimum wage for the number of hours spent. (4) I also remember - and miss - the Three Small Rooms and Auberge Gavroche (my memory of a potage des escargots at AG still makes me misty) - but I think great dining is still available in the city... just not at the usual, high-flying suspects (Susur, et al.) Obviously, Toronto has a great advantage in ethnic cuisines, but even great traditional French bistro and Italian fare is available, if you know where to go. (BTW, never had a bad experience at Mia Romagna, but it has been a year since I was there last.)

                                                    Cheers, 'hounds!

                                                    1. re: hungry_pangolin
                                                      q
                                                      quadrature Apr 14, 2007 02:47 PM

                                                      Not that i want to blow flames on the little spark...but...as a freelancer of the "herd of resto reviewers" why would you automatically assume that you are privy to such an exchange...true or not ..as editor or marketing sales rep I certainly would not share that with the casual freelancer! I haven't read TL for a while and do not recall if each restaurant critic is stated per review. If not they should do so and state their credentials..then the public could decide for themselves whether they were incompetant or not. Or maybe we, the grazing public are putting far far far far too much importance on the TL critic. Maybe it's just a TO rag mag? The latter might be more accurate! (excuse all spelling mistakes and grammical errors...i just got back from a business trip and i am exhausted!!)

                                                      1. re: quadrature
                                                        h
                                                        hungry_pangolin Apr 25, 2007 10:31 AM

                                                        To answer sequentially: (1) Before I joined, I had a long conversation with the then food editor, including about the policy regarding the connection between reviews and advertising. I know, as well, since one resto whose review was withdrawn from publication (meaning that it was no longer recommended) continued to advertise. (2) The short reviews are anonymous. As far as I know, if you want to discover the dredentials of a named reviewer, like Ms Kates, that's up to you, or to decide on the basis of the reviews. I think that you might be putting too much weight on what are necessarily *very* brief reviews. (3) I think that TL's nomination for 23 National Magazine Awards, including James Chatto for best column, adequately refutes the gratuitous shot that it's "a TO rag mag."

                                                        1. re: quadrature
                                                          p
                                                          pimentdespelette Apr 25, 2007 03:09 PM

                                                          Looking at the Toronto Life's May issue, I see restaurant ads from Pasquale Bros., Mezes, The Sultan's Tent/Cafe Maroc, Crown & Dragon, Brix, Korean Grill House, Messini Authentic Gyros, Hot House Cafe, Le St. Tropez, The Palace, and Herbs, among others. And funnily enough (though I'm sure quadrature will find a conspiracy here somewhere), not one of those places is recommended by Toronto Life's supposedly corrupt reviewers. Does advertising buy a good review? Sure doesn't look that way, does it? Let the conspiracy theorists read martiniboys.com for their restaurant reviews. Or maybe "Zagats" is "better." I'll take Toronto Life any day.

                                                    2. xianzhong May 19, 2007 08:07 PM

                                                      I think the main thing they have to do is add the date of when the restaurant was reviewed...because of the many of them are many many years old...

                                                      1. j
                                                        jmalcolm Mar 8, 2008 08:17 AM

                                                        Icey, I find Toronto Life to be the opposite for me (for the most part). My wife and I will try the 'top' restaurants as rated by Toronto Life and A LOT OF THE TIME find them sub-par and extremely over-priced. I know there are, of course, issues with consistency, but I can't see there being such a discrepancy... The other thing I find with some of the Toronto Life reviewers is that they are completely subjective. I realize the need to be somewhat subjective to hold the interest of the reader, but when it comes to aspects that many would disagree on, it is unfortunate that these reviews dismiss a restaurant based on them. Things such as decor, plate size etc.
                                                        But I guess NOW does the same (?). The other thing is (I would assume this memo came from the editors to seduce with 'shock value') I find they are incredibly rude, standoff-ish, and quipy in their dismissals, not to mention they write with the same tone and style that spoiled little eighth graders might write on facebook... From my perspective, it seems we live in a city where reviewers are not the most worldy or knowledgeable, coupled with the Canadian tradition of having to find SOMETHING wrong with everything -our communal self-deprication!!!
                                                        If you look at reviews from larger cities across America, Europe etc. you'll find they're a lot more mature, informative, and less 'bull in a china shop'... I find myself shaking my head in disapointment most times I pick up a food review in Toronto. Too bad with so many great restaurants that we don't have a better review reference.

                                                        1. p
                                                          Pincus Mar 10, 2008 01:24 PM

                                                          The problem with Toronto Life to me is that there is no place for a bad rating in their system. I forget what they are, but one star is something like "adequate". If a reviewer comes across an abysmal place, I 1) want to be informed of it as such and 2) expect the experience to be captured accurately in whatever star system you have put in place.

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