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Avli Review (Long-ish and Not So Good)

Last night, when my sister offered to treat The Boy and myself to dinner on The Danforth, I promptly browded CH to see what had been recommended in the past. Based on the numerous glowing reviews and the fact that it was a short walk away, we picked Avli as our destination.

When we arrived, we were seated quite promptly and handed our menus. Ice water arrived shortly after - so far, so good. Reviewing the menu, I noticed the prices were slightly higher than the Greektown standard, which seems to have risen dramatically in the past few years. A regular souvlaki dinner will set you back around $15, and includes only meat, potatoes and salad - no rice, which is pretty standard anywhere else on the strip.

The saganaki opa, which is usually brought out and set on fire with great fanfare, was flamed BEHIND us. The waiter didn't even bother to see if we were looking or try to catch our attention before flaming the cheese with a perfunctory "opa". Tasty, but for $10.95 and without the pomp and circumstance? Not again. That kind of money buys a hell of a lot of kefalotiri a few doors down at Alex Farms.

My rabbit pie was very flavourful, though a little bit of rice or bread to mop up the more-than-ample amounts of sauce would've been appreciated, as would a slightly less overcooked rabbit (the poor bunny had been cooked until it had disintegrated into shreds) and a more edible temperature rather than the lava-hot interior. The Boy ordered the lamb shank, which he enjoyed quite a bit, and my sister was quite happy with her lamb souvlaki which arrived medium as requested. However, agreement was unanimous on the horrible quality of the sides.

You see, the sides are where Avli really failed us. The roast potatoes were mealy and bland, with an none of the lemon/paprika flavour a good Greek roast potato should have - the only discernable flavours were butter (lots of it) and salt. As for the "mixed vegetables", these clearly came from a pre-packaged frozen mix that was past its prime, as mine came complete with mushy oversalted baby carrot that had a still-cold centre. Ugh. Why this would be acceptable on a strip with fantastic greengrocers on every other block is beyond me.

So considering an underwhelming meal and decent (but not fantastic) service, I'd say it definitely wasn't worth the $100 price tag for group of three with one app, three mains, three beers and no coffees or dessert. There's definitely better on the Greektown strip.

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  1. I have to take issue, but this will probably not convince, as this comes down to chacun son gout. About the saganaki... you don't mention anything about the taste, just floor show and quantity. Yes, it's impressive to see the flame, but that shouldn't be the reason for ordering it, and I don't think that you should have expected one appetiser to serve three people. As to the rabbit pie (my personal fave on the menu), it is, essentially, stew (stifado) under the crust. I wasn't at the table with you, so I won't say that it wasn't over cooked, but "broken down" is not a bad condition, given the boniness of the creature - you really wouldn't want whole joints under crust, I assure you. I offer no excuse for mixed veg... something definitely off there. That hasn't been my experience, but my attitude would have been similar to yours, in that department. Gieven the wines available, you should have ignored beer.

    10 Replies
    1. re: hungry_pangolin

      I know when I am entertaining tourists or young people, the show IS the reason we order saganaki over any of the many other apps available.

      1. re: deelicious

        That's ok - but I don't think every place that serves saganaki is obligated to yell "Opa!" - you just have to take them to the places where you know that they will. Avli is a pretty subdued place so the focus there is on the food/wine rather than the theatre.

        1. re: Ben Reiner

          I agree that Avli is not the place for theatrical show, and I can see them serving saganaki because they "have to" but resenting it. That said, I also agree that the rabbit pie can be overly runny, though the temperature does indicate that it hasn't been sitting around since early morning. I can't comment on the quality of the sides, since we usually order lots of appetizers plus a couple of pies. Avli isn't as thrilling as it once was, but it's better than a lot of the formulaic places on the Danforth. --PR

      2. re: hungry_pangolin

        Taste on the saganaki was good, I'll grant you that, but at the end of the day it's just a hunk of fried cheese - as long as the kefalotiri is good quality, there's no difference between a sananaki at Mr Greek and the one I ate, besides the extra $3.

        So I will have to respectfully disagree and say that when it comes to this app, the difference between good and bad IS the show - otherwise, why not flame it in the kitchen and get it over with?

        1. re: tartiflette

          Although when I go to Mr Greek, the waiter shouting 'Opa!' is Chinese.

          Now THAT'S theatre.

          1. re: piggywiggy

            I think that pretty much sums up Toronto in a nutshell. :)

            (well, that and the fresh pasta at Terroni, lovingly made by Philipino line cooks)

            1. re: tartiflette

              Something wrong with a philipino making pasta, tartiflette???

              1. re: deelicious

                Heck no. It's some of the best pasta around!

                I was making more of a tongue in cheek remark about the wonderful diversity that is Toronto.

          2. re: tartiflette

            I wish they would. For what its worth, when I visited Greece several years back not a single restaurant we went to even knew what Saganaki Opa was. In other words, its another of those horrible touristic kitsches that you are better off never having to experience!

            1. re: tartiflette

              BTW I agree the side vegetables at Avli are the one weak point of the meal. Thats what the terrific selection of dips are there to compensate for :-)

          3. Having been a long time advocate of Avli as being not just the best of the Danforth bunch, but also the most consistent, we had our first really bad dish there on the weekend. It was just one dish of three, but it was REALLY bad.

            The stuffed chicken breast, a long time favourite, was awful. They had changed the recipe, the portion size, and the presentation. What had been a large chicken breast bursting with stuffing in the past was served as a thin cross section slice of stuffing rimmed thinly with chicken meat. It was overcooked and tasteless. I would have sent this back, but my wife, who has never shed the burden of once owning a restaurant, picked at it and left most of it on her plate.

            In brighter news, the Imam Bayildi (sic) and the lamb shank were both fine.

            3 Replies
            1. re: embee

              Embee, I was at Pantheon last night with 4 others and they all loved it. Maybe I'll try AVLI again, I haven't been there as we were not happy on about 4 or 5 visits. Maybe things have changed now. Hopefully they have as it was my favourite restuarant untill about 2004.

              1. re: foodyDudey

                My point was that Avli, for the first time, served us a dish that was really bad. It wasn't a change for the better. If you weren't happy over several visits, it doesn't bode well. Let us know what happens.