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Standing the Test of Time

  • j

Having browsed through lotsa posts on this board through the past couple of years, one thing that strikes me again and again is the lack of consistency of many Toronto restaurants. One chowhound loves a place, another hates it just as much. An example: someone on this board raved about a middle eastern joint in east Toronto a while back. So I thought I'd give it a workout. My opinion, even though I tried the dishes he recommended: it's a dud. Now I doubt that that hound was wong. Given many of his postings, he seems to know his stuff. I suspect the trouble was that many places can't deliver the goods day in and day out. They're inconsistent. And when dinner for two, with wine, ranges from $100 to $200 nowadays, we can't afford inconsistency.
So let me ask you all: which places do you nominate as being consistently consistent? By which I mean, which joints have you been to - at least half a dozen times over the last year or so - that delivers an enjoyable experience within its price range in terms of good food, service and atmosphere? It should be a place where you've tried a lot of menu items (not just the same old dishes every time out) and the place invariably delivers, sometimes above all expectations. And even when it doesn't deliver - restaurants being an intensely human endeavor, after all - it only dips a little, and can be counted on to bounce back to a high level next time out. From your nominations, let's leave out two restaurant categories: very high end joints like Susur and/or Splendido. At their prices, they damn well better be consistent. And the major chains: they're consistent, all right, but consistently mediocre - as we expect them to be. No harm there.
I'm referring instead to the vast majority of joints between the very high and very low end. Places that have been around awhile and continue to operate at a consistently high level, despite staff turnover, menu changes, and only occasional light inconsistencies. And I'll start us off with one spot I've found to be consistent since I started going there years ago: Ferro, a mid-echelon Italian joint on St. Clair Ave., west of Christie. I've been up and down the menu and haven't found a flaw. Starters, soups and salads, sandwiches, pizzas and pastas, main dishes, all are tasty and satisfying. The greeting is prompt, the service charming, the decor entertaining, the atmosphere upbeat. I try to get there at least once every couple of months and I'm rarely disappointed. The wine list is modestly priced. Even the house wines - which most joints put the highest markup on - are decently priced and eminently drinkable. It's a winner.
Now, what are your winners?

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  1. I don't think I've ever been disappointed by a meal at Epicure. The food is always well-prepared and tasty, the service is always friendly, and the prices are extremely reasonable. Even the relocation caused little to change in the quality department.

    1. 'Fantasy Eatery' - Finch/Midland. 14 years of the best tasting Chinese ( Cantonese ) cuisine in the GTA. Never miss a beat foodwise. However, service could be a bit spotty, especially during the weekend 7 pm rush. Try gauging your visit to their live BC spotted prawns or BC dungeness crab season specials. Tons of cooking variations at a terrific price. Try also, their stirred fry 'Sliced live conch meat with flowering chives' at around $10 ( compare to the $25+ charged by the likes of Dragon Dynasty, Jade Dunasty, Ambassador, Golden Court etc ). This dish is a steal, with more than expected conch meat and much more delicious than the so called highend restaurants. Also, not to be missed are their eternal favourites, 'Duck and taro casserole in a sublime coconut sauce' and the 'Rose essence top-soy marinated free range chicken'. The latter has a strict limit of 1/2 a chicken per table and frequently sold out by 8 pm!! This alone should tell you something!! Enjoy!

      1 Reply
      1. re: Charles Yu

        Yes, Fantasy Eatery is really the best "Wok Hai" in GTA with very low cost and quite poor service. Last few time I was there, it was like 30 sth people waiting for a table. It is chaotic there.

      2. Beerbistro is my consistent favourite. I've been there many times and eaten most of what's on the menu at least once or been with someone who ate it - lunch, brunch, dinner and bar food. I've had some of the dishes multiple times and know I can count on them to be just like I remembered. I've also enjoyed special occasion menus like New Year's and the Brooklyn Beer dinner. The staff has delivered consistently good food and great service since the day they opened.

        1. Never dispappointing and usually GREAT (service and favorite dishes). Non high-end.

          Shanghai Cowgirl - Burgers especially
          Terroni QW - Funghi Assoluti, Pizza, Panini, Most apps
          Island Foods King/Duff - Boneless Chicken Roti
          Utopia - Chickpea Burrito
          Bitondos - Panzerotti
          Ghandi - Butter Chicken
          Schnitzel House - Schnitzel
          Pantheon - Calamari
          Centre St Deli - Smoked Meat Platter - fries
          Senator - always fresh and exactly the same
          New Sky
          Rol San
          I am sure there are more without getting into higher end like Harbour Sixty etc...

          The one resto I wish was more consistent is Camp 31 given how far away it is and how hit and miss it can be.

          1. The comments posted so far validate your point. Inconsistency seems to be one of the few consistencies of dining in Toronto. I've had both very good and very poor meals at Epicure, Pantheon, and quite a few other places mentioned here.

            Centre St Deli is fairly consistent. For that matter, Katz's Deli is extremely consistent. But this means some things are consistently good and some are consistently not.

            I've never had a meal at Batifole that wasn't good, but I know others who haven't been so lucky.

            I eagerly await more responses to your post.

            1. My stand-by list:

              Avli and Mezes on Danforth
              Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant (Queen/Leslie)
              Mildred Pierce (though only for a month longer, unfortunately)
              Paul's Spaghetti (Cosburn, west of Danforth)
              Olympic Pizza (Gloucester)
              Julie's Cuban (Dovercourt south of Dundas)
              Salad King (Gould)
              Island Foods (King and Dufferin or Don Mills, south of York Mills)

              1. In no particular order, here are the places I keep finding myself:

                Le Select
                Pho Hung
                C'est What
                Queen Mother
                New York Deli
                Orwell's (a pub at Yonge and Islington where the Rabbit-sister and I often meet)

                We were at one of our faves (Le Select) on Saturday night, and had a great time (as always). But on the way home we spent some time speculating why we're so into this place? The food is good, but not life altering, and we suspect that we can even glimpse why some CH'ers don't like this spot. But it just feels right to us. Why knows by which strange alchemy some people just connect with some places??

                3 Replies
                1. re: Rabbit

                  So is C'est What worth eating at again? I have to say that I'm surprised to see this place mentioned in a thread about consistent quality, because I had a number of bad experiences over the years that caused C'est What to drop from one of my favourite pubs in the city to a place I rarely venture to now, even though I live nearby. Cold food, lukewarm food, horribly oversalted food, indifferent service, rude service -- I experienced all of these things numerous times before giving up. This all coincided with around about the time that they dramatically expanded in size.

                  But to be fair, it's been a good six months since I had a beer there, and a good year since I braved the food. Have they found their feet again? I would love for the answer to be "yes", I love the decor and the beer selection.

                  1. re: Gary

                    I go to C'est What for the terrific beer selection, but haven't eaten there in years, for the same reasons as Gary. I too am curious.

                    1. re: hungry_pangolin

                      You know, I'm not sure that I'm prepared to say that C'est What is actually "good." I also go for the beer, and consistently eat the same thing (veggie burger and sweet potato fries), which I do find consistent and satisfying. But is it good? I probably forget to even ask myself that question anymore. Hmmm.

                2. Juno - your posting about Ferro shamed me. I lived in that 'hood years ago, loved Ferro, but haven't been back in ages. It is what it is, and good at it. My 'old reliables', all over the map geographically, stylistically, and in price point: Chiado, Avli, JKWB, Le Paradis (people complain about snarly service, but never my experience), newer but I enjoy it consistently, Pastis, Salad King for a quick bite downtown (God and Vorpal forgive me!), Torito, La Palette, Barberian's, Ethiopia House, Sarah's in the Annex for beef shawarma (where else can $6 buy such happiness?)....

                  1. The places I have found to be relatively consistent (and hence my consistent business at these establishments) include:

                    Le Paradis - Well-priced, generous portions of classic bistro fare
                    Trimurti - Great tandoori dishes, good renditions of other Indian fare, friendly service, reasonable prices
                    The Roxton - Great comfort food, laid-back atmosphere
                    Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Italian Restaurant - Perfect place to pass an evening with friends in a lively atmosphere and with decent food and reasonable prices
                    Ginger and Onion - Where else can 4 people walk out stuffed for $35 including taxes and tips, after having decent renditions of Cantonese favourites (I particularly like the hot pot casseroles)?
                    Utopia Cafe - Good, well-priced casual pub fare, with ample choices to satisfy both carnivores and herbivores.
                    Dessert Trends - There hasn't been a dessert I haven't liked from this place. Oh, and the brunch and lunch menu are great. Dinner is also enjoyable.
                    Jumbo Empanadas - I've enjoyed everything I've had here, from the empanadas, to the salads, to the corn pie.
                    Cataplana - Very tasty cataplana options, good fresh fish options (grilled, pan fried, whole, and fillet), fresh salads, competent service
                    Boulevard Cafe - Love the corn bread they serve with the meal, good grilled meats and seafood options, fresh salads, lots of daily specials, awesome key lime pie and alfajores. Friendly service.
                    Terroni and Pizza Rustica - good pizza and decent pastas. Terroni edges out Rustica for their salad selections and execution.
                    Beer Bistro - how can you not love the fries here?? Mussels are always plump and fresh, steaks are well seasoned and cooked to order, decent salads, lively atmosphere, good service.
                    Zaffron - Tasty kebabs, good pilavs, decent dips. Have never tried anything on their Italian menu, mind you, but the Persian menu is quite good.
                    Le Gourmand - fresh sandwiches and soups, yummy pastries, good coffee and gelato.
                    A La Turque - Never skimpy with the meat or garnishes, one of the better donair/shawarma places in the downtown core. Surprisingly fresh desserts. Friendly service.
                    Pizza Pide - good pide and lahmacun, never skimpy with the fillings, always fresh. Friendly, talkative owner.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Juniper

                      I guess that true consistency is rare indeed, and probably impossible.
                      Need to give a little and accept that every establishment has its' off days.
                      We were at Ferro on Sunday evening.
                      My granddaughters gnocci stuffed with mushrooms,in a spinach and cream sauce was divine.
                      My grilled whole snapper was excellent. The rapini was dried out and bitter.
                      My hubbies veal was tough and chewy.
                      My youngest granddaughters pasta was fine.
                      Would still return.
                      Saturday evening the four of us dined at Pantheon, and every dish was really good, especially the calamari, and chicken soup, and dips with hot pita bread.
                      You can ask for the lamb any way you want it cooked, but you will still get it medium well ,no matter what you ask for.
                      That is part of the charm of this place.
                      The best part of this restaurant is the friendly service.
                      Family run, and a great comfort level.
                      Have I had less enjoyable meals there?
                      And without mentioning names, there are restaurants listed above that I can only say "I don't get it".

                      1. re: erly

                        Actually, erly, mention names. This is a discussion board, after all, and I don't think any one resto or chef is beyond reproach. Dig in! Have at! If it makes you feel better, in a different board I slagged Susur Lee. He's brilliant, but the resto is pretentious, over-priced, and to my mind, not truly houndish. Oh, for the days of Lotus! There - uttered blasphemy again.

                        1. re: hungry_pangolin

                          I din't pan the other restaurants, because they are not terrible, just overhyped, like terroni.
                          I agree with you 100% about Lee, but we have had this discussion here before.
                          I believe thre are far to many "cheap" fillers on his tasting menu, and have had one disappointing meal too many to ever return.
                          I remember Lotus fondly, but sadly, in my opinion, for the price, Susur has snob appeal, and nothing more.

                          1. re: erly

                            I agree Terroni is overhyped... I don't think the pizza is necessarily "out of this world" as some have implied. But the OP was asking for restaurants that were consistent. My interpretation of that was any restaurant that I go to more than 6-8 times per year, where I have gotten what I went there for without disappointment. So, in the case of Terroni and Pizza Rustica, we go to these places when we're in the mood for decent pizza in a restaurant setting, which is probably about 8-10 times per year. And every time we've gone, we have gotten what we expected, which is what I interpret as being "consistent", which is different from being "the best of _____".

                        2. re: erly

                          I guess I just don't get the Ferro appeal. I was there last week on a weeknight, and the place was insanely noisy even though not that packed. The food was awful--my calamari was incredibly rubbery and inedible. The gnocchi was tasty, yes, because it was covered in cream. Too bad they weren't cooked all of the way through and were chewy. My companion's Caprese was big slices of supermarket mealy tomato with tiny slices of that rubbery mozza. The table beside us had to send the risotto and pizza back because it was incredibly oily--I could see it from where I was sitting. Our server was good, and after a while the experience just became something to laugh about, but I will never go back.

                          Edited to add: I should have added my consistents instead of just my opinion on Ferro (although I've been wanting to get that one off my chest, so thank you for that).

                          Bistro Tournesol--good neighbourhood bistro, nothing life changing but consistently solid and excellent value (although the service can be sketchy if you're not recognized as a regular), love the frisee salad and the duck
                          Scarmouche Pasta Bar and Grill--not as stuffy as the main dining room, lovely service at the bar, always something tasty
                          Real Thailand-- (I know, I know, not authentic, but it tastes good to me)
                          Ones others have mentioned, like JKWB, Ghandi, George, Batifole.

                          1. re: Minnow

                            Ferro is one of those places that I’d really like to enjoy, but the more I try it the more I find it inconsistent. I’ve enjoyed their sandwiches for lunch but the dinners haven’t impressed. The seafood I had last time was huge but bland while my wife complained about her pasta special—rapini paired with something inappropriate IIRC. They do have huge portions and the price is reasonable, but for what? Many friends and acquaintances who are willing to travel from other parts of the city recommend Ferro that I wonder what I keep missing.

                            For consistency especially when it is on the fly, my 2 go tos are Rebel House and Marcellos. Neither is fancy. Marcellos does pizzas well. When I walk in I know exactly what will be on the plate and it will arrive quickly. I know I can bring kids or I can bring adults. Given the menu and the quality of the food--everyone will be happy. I tend to go during the week since on Friday and Saturday dinner time the line can be a little long.

                            Rebel House has some of the best pub food in Toronto. I don’t get there as often as I would like now I don’t live around the corner from it. I like their unauthentic poutine. They have a tasty burger and they have a homemade sausage of the day. The menu is small, but they handle it very well. They also have a good beer list and a nice summer patio. What more can one want?


                            1. re: mikeb

                              I'll second the Rebel House. I had a burger for lunch a couple of weeks ago, and it was delicious. I also like the concept of the 'sausage of the day' As well, a year ago a large group of us from our university days got together, some for dinner, some for later drinks - on the whole, a large and unwieldy group - on a Saturday night, and the staff dealt with it really well. Props to the RH.

                              1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                Sic transit gloria. No sooner do I mention Ferro as my best example of a consistent restaurant than a couple of you take shots at it, most tellingly minnow - who, among other things, didn't care for the caprese salad. And I think minnow is right on. I also had the caprese at Ferro last week, and noticed that they seem to have tweaked the original recipe to no great success. Twice as much bitter arugula as before, half as much cheese, flavorless tomatoes, not enough Bermuda onion. And I seem to recall some grilled mushrooms in the original, now missing in action. Perhaps they're trying to keep the price at $8 when many, crummier joints now charge $11-$13 for a caprese. Still, the only thing to do is mention your disappointment out loud. It now tastes less like a caprese, more like an arugula salad with bits of cheese. Enough complaints and maybe they'll rethink their new recipe. It goes to show: chowhounds must be ever alert to the shifting sands upon which their favorite joints prance and preen. As to minnow's other complaints, I have no comment. I've never had the dishes he/she beefs about. But I never order calamari in a mid-echelon joint like Ferro. At that price level, it's too often screwed up. Simpler to just stay away from it.
                                Someone else mentioned the noise at Ferro. Well, it's a favorite gathering spot for local 20- and 30-somethings intent on a good time, so noise is a given - and the background music doesn't help. My advice: go earlier in the week (Mon,, Tues., Wed.), when things tone down somewhat, and ask for a table in the room at the back, where you can actually hear yourself talk.
                                I'm glad a couple of you mentioned Le Paradis for its consistency. I agree. The place has been a winner for decades. A true bistro - unlike other joints that merely call themselves bistros - delivering tasty, uncomplicated dishes at decent price points. As for those who decry the place for rude, snooty service, well, I've never experienced it. Maybe it's because I'm older and they sense I won't take any crap, but service has always been brisk and professional, which is all I ask in a busy joint like Le Paradis. If any waiter gets snarky with you - in Le Paradis or anywhere else - simply confront them. In as kindly a manner as you can muster, suggest that you recognize waiting on tables is difficult work, but if they find your table annoying to deal with, perhaps they'd care to swap tables with a waiter at another station, and then everyone will be happier. And make a mental note to take that restaurant off your list of perpetually consistent spots to eat out.

                      2. I think I must distinguish between Consistent and Best

                        The Victoria St Terroni has been consistent as long as I can recall
                        Jerusalem never changes
                        Carmen's hasn't changed in gosh, at least 15 years (except for that bit around 2000 when they stopped serving filet mignon)

                        I have eaten up and down the menus of all the above, go to all at least 1 a month and havfe done so for at least 10 years (maybe less for Terroni, I can't remember) So they are winner's in the sense that I am a long time, loyal customer. I think they are also great, for their price points but I know others that don't so can't claim they are outnout winners.