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Cowbell - Not Quite Ready for Prime Time

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vinojoe Jul 26, 2007 02:14 PM

My wife and I decided to try Cowbell last night. While the place showed hints of promise, it was disappointing. It was packed and the two waiters and a counter-person had trouble keeping up. We started at the Bar with a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino from Fanti (expensive at $55) from a fairly limited wine list. We moved to a table and ordered an appetizer and our mains. 45 minutes later, the mains showed up, but no appetizer. After convincing the waiters that we had ordered an appetizer, the waiter who had taken our order re-appeared and told us that the appetizer appeared on his order slip, but not on the one in the kitchen. He apologized and asked if we still wanted it; we declined.

By 7:30 they were out of the chicken ballontine, which I had wanted so I had the beef pot pie. It had good flavour and pastry, but was under-salted. My wife had the veal blade steak, farm raised in Paisley, Ontario. It was very tender and had good flavour. To make up for the appetizer snafu, the waiter offered us free champagne, but we had finished the bottle of wine and didn't want any more alcohol. We split a complimentary dessert - Clafouti that was simply awful -a few sweet and sour cherries on a spongy cake that tasted more like an omelet,

The restaurant had some nice touches (the floor and the bathroom), ok seating and an ugly ceiling. The dinner took two hours from the time that we arrived (some of that was waiting for out table). The menu has only a few choices and by the time we left, they were substituting for most menu items.

We live relatively close, so I might go back in a few months, just to see if they have gotten it together, but then again, I might not - too many other good places.

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  1. thenurse RE: vinojoe Jul 27, 2007 06:32 AM

    Where is this place? Never heard of it.......

    1 Reply
    1. re: thenurse
      Recyclor RE: thenurse Jul 27, 2007 07:36 AM

      1564 Queen West - 416 849 1095 - cowbellrestaurant.ca

    2. p
      phisherking RE: vinojoe Jul 27, 2007 07:24 AM

      While your experience does sound rather frustrating, I would have to say that it sounds like they are suffering from the opening blues. How long have they been open? Not that I've tried his food but he does seem to be a guy who wants to serve good, honest cooking. I don't live in the area but if I did I would surely give them another chance to redeem themselves, but wait a few months.

      1 Reply
      1. re: phisherking
        SherylKirby RE: phisherking Jul 27, 2007 02:48 PM

        They've been open 1 week today. Still too early to unfairly damn them, imo.

      2. Recyclor RE: vinojoe Jul 27, 2007 07:35 AM

        My boss ate there about a week ago, he thought it was alright, no problems like you described...but I was surprised to hear the menu was pretty standard, properly done food of course but pork wasn't berkshire, no really interesting cuts of beef and I not exactly head-to-tail type items, which is what I have heard it was to be featuring...anyway, he enjoyed it as did his party, just nothing really to bring them back...Bear in mind this is a second hand account and I plan to visit myself, though it sounds like waiting a month or so might be wise...

        1. m
          Mushka RE: vinojoe Jul 27, 2007 08:32 AM

          I ate there last night and had a totally different experience. It was a birthday treat and I took myself and three kids out. The menu is somewhat limited as they use fresh ingredients. It changes daily and is posted on a blackboard. I should mention that when we requested tap water there was no snooty attitude and in fact they brought a bottle of it in an old glass milk bottle. The server even refilled our glasses as if it were wine. Bravo! I started with bresaola and polenta fries which was very tasty. The two boys ordered the steak frites which they both enjoyed. However, they could have been cooked a little bit more. They were underdone from what was requested. They were very accomodating of my vegetarian daughter. When she mentioned she did not like mushrooms they prepared her vegetarian pasta without it. I had the rainbow trout a lovely filet with crispy skin and crunchy fava beans. Desserts are also limited. The two boys had the apple pie, chunks of apple between flaky pastry. Daughter had the chocolate pot au feu, creamy and decadent. I had two light crepes wrapped around chunks of plum and rhubarb. Fabulous. The cappuccinos were also great. We could start an entire thread on proper cappuccinos. Because of the chains people think they should have a glob of froth on top. Cowbell's was perfect, with the milk mixed in, making it rich and creamy (although I would have preferred mine hotter). Service was professional and attentive without being obtrusive. Our bill for four (but with only one app and one glass of wine) with tax and tip was $193. Great value and outstanding food. Welcome to the neighbourhood, Cowbell. If anyone is in the area, I'd suggest you give them a try.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Mushka
            SherylKirby RE: Mushka Jul 27, 2007 02:50 PM

            Ah, nice to hear that they accommodated the vegetarian in your group. We wandered past on the weekend and peered in at the menu and were disappointed there were no vegetarian mains listed on the board.

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            pirade RE: vinojoe Jul 29, 2007 02:11 PM

            Ugly ceilings?!! Good grief, Vinojoe, give them a break. I've lived in Parkdale for 20 years and am thrilled a neighbourhood bistro like this has opened. I loved the comfy banquettes, the unpretentious atmosphere, the great service and outstanding food. I would also agree with Thetartgirl that it would be good to have some more reasonably priced mains. Everything seemed to be about $25 and up. For us working people who don't make six figure incomes it makes going there a once in awhile treat rather than the regular event we would like it to be. Maybe more pasta or vegetarian choices? Anyhow, congratulations. Cowbell, River and Domani are now my favourites in the nabe.

            9 Replies
            1. re: pirade
              e
              erly RE: pirade Aug 2, 2007 09:34 AM

              Sadly, I must say that I don't expect Cowbell to survive.
              Sad, because if Cowbell succeeds then we could expect other similar restaurants to open in Parkdale.
              I wanted success, as I work in the "hood.
              Small chicken breast, sparse plate $25.00
              1/4 of a trout again sparse plate $25.00 (at least serve half a trout for that price).
              Food not bad, but not really good.
              We were three people, and the only happy camper was our friend who ordered the hamburger.
              Menu changes daily, blackboard only.
              So each day is a challenge to the cook staff, but do I really want to pay for food that didn't quite make it?
              Squash blossoms stuffed with macaroni?
              How about some mash with the tiny fish portion, rather than thin slivers of undercooked eggplant.
              Increase portion size, or decrease price.
              Stop trying to be fancy and natural at the same time.

              1. re: erly
                j
                jamesm RE: erly Aug 2, 2007 01:21 PM

                I think it might be a little premature to sound the death knell for Cowbell considering it is full every night, people are excited about the prosepct of a good restaurant in the neighbourhood and there have been many positive reviews.

                1. re: jamesm
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                  erly RE: jamesm Aug 2, 2007 01:30 PM

                  James, as I said above, I do hope it works.
                  It is full because so many of us are anxious to try it.
                  Will you pay $25. for a quarter of a grilled trout???

                  1. re: erly
                    robgm RE: erly Aug 2, 2007 05:16 PM

                    I found the pricing problem the same when he was at Silver Spoon. I'd rather go next door to Boho for better pricing, serving and often flavour. Globe has really hit its stride since he left....but I hope he reads these comments (or bring our concerns to his attention when we are there). I want it to succeed....

                    1. re: robgm
                      c
                      childofthestorm RE: robgm Aug 24, 2007 10:02 AM

                      I ate there last night, and while it was very very good, I too found it overly expensive. Two of us shared three apps, one main, a bottle of wine and a beer, and for dessert a cheese plate and a piece of cake, $180 with tax and tip.

                      To start we had a "composed lamb plate" which had delicious things like cheeks and kidneys, plus a smoked trout and heirloom tomatoes, and a pastry shell with beef (I forget what part). All were delicious, ranging in the $10-$12 range. Main was the angus beef pot pie, really satisfying but $20 for ground beef and a pie crust is a bit rich for my blood. Also, there was a dearth of wines under $50.

                      I'd go back, but only if I was on an expense account. Considering that a few nights ago I had two pastas, split a main and a bottle of wine at Gio's for $60 tax and tip...no way Cowbell was worth three times the cost of that small but satisfying meal. If I want to drop close to $200 for two, there are several other places I'd choose.

                      1. re: childofthestorm
                        e
                        erly RE: childofthestorm Aug 24, 2007 12:52 PM

                        It is good to hear that the food, at least has improved, and there are mains under $25.
                        Possibly he has been reading the comments.
                        Have portion sizes increased?
                        I still can't get over the 1/4 of a small grilled trout, with undercooked, thin bitter slices of eggplant, and nothing more, for $25.
                        Not as big as an app. portion.

                        1. re: erly
                          c
                          childofthestorm RE: erly Aug 24, 2007 01:08 PM

                          The pot pie was really big, very filling. I didn't have any problems with portion sizes. I just thought that almost everything I ordered should have been two or three dollars cheaper, and that the wine list needed more value on there.

                          1. re: childofthestorm
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                            phoenikia RE: childofthestorm Aug 25, 2007 11:20 AM

                            I ordered the steak frites last night, and the portion sizes were generous. I thought it was reasonably priced at $30. The steak frites was the most expensive item on the menu. My glass of red was $6.

                            I wish Cowbell the best of luck. I'll definitely be back.

                            1. re: phoenikia
                              p
                              prairie_dog RE: phoenikia Oct 19, 2007 09:36 PM

                              Three of us had dinner tonight at Cowbell, encouraged by the very positive reviews by Amy Pataki in the Star and another in Now. We were sadly disappointed and definitely will not be back. The food was never even as good as mediocre. Note to chef: ordinary french fries are not frites. The service was not at all professional. The waiter left us sitting there wanting to order, when he wasn't all that busy, and then when he did take our order he forgot to put in to the ktichen. The restaurant was inexplicably full, and the noise level never fell below a dull roar. Ugh!

            2. p
              phoenikia RE: vinojoe Aug 24, 2007 02:24 PM

              Clafouti is supposed to be an eggy dessert that would be more similar to an omelette than a cake.
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clafoutis
              Did you think it's possible that you just don't like clafouti?

              4 Replies
              1. re: vinojoe
                j
                jamesm RE: vinojoe Aug 27, 2007 09:05 AM

                We had a dinner for 8 there recently and everyone was really pleased with the service and food, including the portions. I had a pine nut and pork sausage baked into a brioche to start and a chicken ballotine with confit and both were fantastic. More moderately priced wines would be welcomed, but otherwise the prices seemed reasonable. I'm really pleased to have it in the neighbourhood.

                1. re: redleaf55
                  Non Doctor RE: redleaf55 Sep 5, 2007 05:37 AM

                  I had dinner there last week with a group of friends and found the entire experience very satisfying indeed.

                  From the ambience to the service, the appetizers to the cheese platter (and everything inbetween), the background music to the superb company, and the Chef's obvious passion and amazing hospitality.

                  I have been raving about Cowbell to all and sundry since my visit last week... and the friends who have ventured down there since have all enjoyed a similar experience.

                  1. re: Non Doctor
                    Non Doctor RE: Non Doctor Sep 16, 2007 01:27 PM

                    A few friends and myself went there last night... I really wanted to check the place out again...

                    I thought it was bloody excellent.

                    The Pig Trotter app simply delicious.

                    The lamb 4 ways was stunning.

                    All my dining companions had a great time also.

                    A bit of a steep mark up on the (rather great) Norm Hardie County Pinot... that was way out of line with everything else on the list markup wise.

                    My new favourite restaurant.

                    1. re: Non Doctor
                      r
                      rsvp7777 RE: Non Doctor Oct 22, 2007 09:23 AM

                      I think Cowbell is proving to be very erratic when I review these posts.
                      Three of us showed up at 9:15 on Saturday - not our favorite time to go to a restaurant , but circumstances dictated.
                      We got a table right away but service was a bit long in coming. Our waiter tried to be constantly charming, but kept forgetting water, drinks, etc.
                      The big shocker was that the steak frites were sold out. I know how they butcher their meat etc, but - aside from the the burger - it was the only beef available and it was gone. And we were craving it.
                      I had the pork belly and sausage. Bland. My wife had the Veal Pot Pie. Ok.
                      My daughter the Burger. Really first rate meat, but not great fries.
                      The wine list struck us as pretty idiosyncratic and heavily marked up. Only three French reds on a place to devoted to wine? (and the medium priced one was sold out).
                      As dinner concluded, it became obvious that buddies of Mark were buzzing in and out of the kitchen, wine was being drunk and the restaurant was being allowed to wind down to a close. Someone who wasn't even our waiter finally saw my pleas and handled our check.,
                      We really wanted to like the place but found just too many rough ends after all this time of operation. Okay, they brought us one free dessert, but I don't think that makes up for the entrees and the wine you all wanted not being available.......

              2. b
                bluedekerf RE: vinojoe Oct 25, 2007 08:03 AM

                Chef Mark Cutrara has received great reviews from Globe bistro as well as Cowbell but my experience was not good as well.
                I ordered the pork belly app and found it very small and very tough and chewy. When properly barised it should melt in your mouth.
                Also order the chicken breast with "Confit Leg". Breast was OK, a little over done but the "Confit Leg" turned out to be half a chicken wing. Serously the wing part or the wing/drumette...not even a whole wing. Was tasty but a tease as it was gone in 1/4 of a second.
                My wife ordered the Steak Frites and was told it was fillet. It came and was so tough (even at rare) that it took 2 minutes to chew each piece. Returning from the bathroom I saw their "86" chalkborad and noticed a number of unique steak cuts selling out...so still not sure what cut we received.Fries were amazing though.
                Service was very friendly and accomodating.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bluedekerf
                  m
                  Marfil RE: bluedekerf Oct 26, 2007 09:38 AM

                  I ordered the steak frites and had the same experience. It was the toughest cut of meat I've ever eaten at a restaurant. The cut was either tri-tip or sirloin, it was almost inedible. Overall, I think the place is overrated, food critics get all all excited about chef's who source local products for their menu's- it's the in thing right now.

                2. m
                  martinc RE: vinojoe Nov 19, 2007 05:16 PM

                  My wife and I visited Nov. 10 and were disappointed. She ordered the beef appetizer, I the prepared meats. Overhearing the wait staff, hers should have had olive oil, not just the cheese. Mine was beautifully presented, but oh so small.
                  We both had the lamb shanks. They were dry! How do you make dry lamb shanks?
                  Very disappointing and over-priced. The wines start at $40+. We will not return.

                  1. JamieK RE: vinojoe Nov 19, 2007 05:22 PM

                    +

                    -----
                    Cowbell
                    1564 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6R1A6, CA

                    1. d
                      dombort RE: vinojoe Dec 9, 2007 12:34 PM

                      Myself and three others went to Cowbell Dec 7, 2007 and were very impressed with the quality of our dishes.

                      Croquettes of elk and beef along with a small radiccio bundle were great.
                      Charcutterie plate was fine, although on the small side.

                      Elk Pot pie was fabulous - meaty, hearty, great puff pastry

                      Venison sous vide was excellent - deliciously rare, well singed on the edges, although a bit small in the portion size.

                      Pickerel was very good - perfectly cooked, the lentils were a bit dry and granular would be my complaint.

                      Apple crumble with caramel and popcorm ice cream was nice.

                      I'm quickly becoming a fan of restaurants that serve intelligent portions. I HATE leaving restaurants with the awful feeling that you crammed back everything they put on your plate (which I do unconsciously since I just paid good money for it). I left Cowbell perfectly satisfied.

                      Service was a bit slow, but friendly - I think they need a front of house attendant to take care of coats and seating rather than asking the waiters to do double duty.

                      Wine was on the high side for markup, but not terrible.

                      It seemed ready for prime time on Friday night.

                      1. pantryraider RE: vinojoe Feb 5, 2008 11:25 AM

                        I'm really sorry that people have had such poor times at Cowbell! I took by SO for his birthday and we both had a wonderful time. We were seated right away and the server was very frinedly and fast. We arrived fairly early (7) so everything on the menu was still avaialble. We each had an appetizer and I had the steak frites (very soft and yummy done to medium rare) and he had the pork filet, which he thought was delicious. I agree that the portions aren't huge, but I didn't find them far too small for the price and was happy that I wasn't rolling out of the place. With dessert and wine we paid $150 plus tip, which I didn't find outrageous. My SO and I would definitely go back again.

                        1. g
                          greyham RE: vinojoe Feb 19, 2008 05:31 AM

                          On the contrary, our recent dinner (Feb'08) was simply dreadful. Cowbell has been erroneously over-rated. If you are about to take in all the past press hype this "establishment" has got and decide to go...please brace yourself for huge disappointment as inexperienced amateurs are in charge. The $30 steak frites turned out to be the toughest piece of inedible gristle imaginable....upon discussion with the ploddingly slow and inexperienced yet tryingly stuffy wait staff, they recommended and brought out a sharper knife and explained that we were not the only "patrons" who thought that their "meat" was "a little bit too chewy" - Good grief, not going back again soon......I hazard that unless their approach changes significantly the good press spin will surely evaporate (as I believe it now has) and the lights will go out within the year. Ps. the wine list both expensive and lifeless and deserts are dated….amateurs hard at work.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: greyham
                            andreas RE: greyham Feb 28, 2008 05:19 PM

                            My wife and I dropped in this evening and we too were disappointed.

                            Things started out well with a good dark ale and a comfortable atmosphere. Just what the doctor ordered on a cold winter night.

                            I ordered the lentil and smoked pork soup, followed by the Angus beef pie; my wife ordered the venison burger. Staff was friendly and knowledgeable.

                            The soup when it arrives was less than hot and underseasoned to the point of being bland. I rarely ask for salt in restaurants, this time was the exception. The texture of the soup was excellent, the pork very good but the soup itself was just plain boring. A shame.

                            My wife's burger was good. It's not easy to keep venison juicy, in this the kitchen succeeded. But again, the home made mayonnaise was underseasoned to the point of being bland.

                            My pot pie looked fantastic, a nice flaky crust topped with a few winter green leaves. Unfortunately the pie itself was boring again, no flavour, no depth, just blandness. I had been expecting some sweetness from root vegetables, maybe a beer braise, maybe the sweetness of a dish slow cooked in beef stock. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

                            When the waiter asked how everything was I told the truth and he graciously offered to replace the dish with something else. I ordered a burger, but by the time it arrived my wife had finished eating and the evening had been more or less ruined.

                            Cowbell has a lot of growing up to do.

                            1. re: greyham
                              l
                              lemoo RE: greyham Mar 30, 2008 11:39 PM

                              Been four times now. My favourites were the elk and venison. And I've heard good reports from others on those items. The wine list is very good for a new place. Nice selection of half bottles. And the staff has a number of familiar faces known to seasoned diners as first rate servers. Maybe you should try again. Every place has a bad night now and then.

                            2. troublebunny RE: vinojoe Apr 27, 2008 08:59 PM

                              Cowbell was okay...nothing to write home about. For $300 the 4 of us had an appetizer, 2 drinks, a dessert to split for 2, and a coffee for 2 of us. We also enjoyed other diners coming and standing behind us to read the menu on the wall...and the customers staring at us at the door waiting for their table... You pay for the locally grown / raised food - nothing else. Servers dress poorly. Desserts arrive at different times... Whatever. It is what it is.

                              1. f
                                fussychow RE: vinojoe Apr 28, 2008 05:50 AM

                                We had dinner there on Friday night - 4 of us - 3 appetizers, 4 mains, 2 bottles of wine + 2 glasses, 1 coffee ($380 w tip). It was priced fine, but the whole experience was just terribly underwhelming. Reservation was at 8:30 and they were out of at least 3 of the items by then (I know you buy small amounts to keep it fresh, but 8:30 is pretty early to be out of 1/3 of the menu). Wait staff showed up 15 min later to get drink order and acted surprised that we were there, but other than that service was decent, nothing to complain about, quite friendly. Food was merely adequate. The trout was good, the Hot Pot was small and fairly unsatisfying, the pork was tender but bland, the burger was decent (it's hard to keep an elk/venison burger moist and they did - so kudos to them) but unremarkable. I hate to sound like my grandmother, but the pecan pie had BASIL in it - didn't seem to go together very well. All in all the experience was just adequate. It wasn't terrible, but for that money I wouldn't go back or recommend it to friends. I know of many many small places in Toronto where I could spend that money and have a much better meal.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: fussychow
                                  foodyDudey RE: fussychow Apr 28, 2008 06:15 AM

                                  I haven't eaten at CB but there appear to be quite a few so-so reviews of Cowbell both on this site, and on MartiniBoys. Almost all of the ones there are negative! http://www.martiniboys.com/Toronto/Co...

                                2. aser RE: vinojoe Jun 2, 2008 05:46 PM

                                  The pricing baffles me to no end. I don't understand how a $25-$40 mains menu fits in w/ the neighbourhood. Keep in mind I haven't been to Cowbell, so this is just my impression based on reading the menu + media coverage + chowhound feedback.

                                  Comparatively speaking, JKWB/Gardiner offers a similar approach in food (local), with pricing that is similar if not even cheaper. They're located in substantially higher rent areas. It seems Cowbell is charging "downtown" pricing in an area that is on the cusp of gentrification.

                                  I'm not saying JK is better, it's just an example to illustrate a point. I can't make that judgement call until I eat there. I hope to one day soon.

                                  1. b
                                    bluebetsy RE: vinojoe Jun 4, 2008 07:12 AM

                                    Six of us went to Cowbell the other night, it was a Wednesday, for a friend's birthday. The reservation process was alright however when we called on the day of our 7pm reservation to add one more (from five to six) we were told that we had to be finished by 9pm as there was another reservation after us. This did not seem to be an issue when we first called, why now? We would have already needed three of their two top tables so what's up with that. Anyway, when we got there there were only three or four other tables but by 7:15 the place was full. Now you would think that if they were trying to flip a table the server would be sure to get to the table but alas, no. Once our order was finally taken the food came out at a good pace, not too fast not too slow. I had the antipasto (house made sausage was out of this world!) and the duck. The food itself was sublime, the preparation allowed to quality of the food to be that star and I found the portions to be just right. After our mains were finished we sat with empty plates on the table for a good 15 minutes. This is irritating because the servers (all two of them) walked by our table numerous times with empty hands and without picking up the plates on the way by. I am a server and it is just as easy to walk to the back with full hands and with empty ones. So inefficient. As our deserts came out (which were also delish) It was well past the 9pm time limit and no other large tables had come in, perhaps they had cancelled their reservation, but the gentleman on the phone had made such a big deal about us being finished by 9 that I just found it strange.

                                    The food at Cowbell is fantastic, the space is cosy and warm, if a little loud from all the hard surfaces in the place. What I think will hold Cowbell back is the quality of the service. Yes it was the middle of the week but the place was fully booked, how can you meet the needs of your patrons with two waiters and a bartander? There was no manager to pick up the slack or take the door, nor was there a food runner or bus person to help out. I work in a diner where the average bill is $25, there is always someone there who is not a waiter to help out to ensure that every need is meet, why is this not happening here? The waiters have to spend a lot of time at the table explaining the menu, the result is many of the other tables were trying to get the attention of a server on the night we were there. Due to the fact that we always had to pour our own wine our server was unaware that we had finished our wine just as we had received our mains, I guess in his rushing about he missed the six empty wine glasses on the table. We would have ordered another bottle, adding another $70 to the bill, but were unable to get the attention of our server. I think people will tolerate low quality service in a less expensive joint but when you are paying $25-40 an entrée lack luster service become a little harder to swallow.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bluebetsy
                                      m
                                      millygirl RE: bluebetsy Jun 4, 2008 07:22 AM

                                      I hear you bluebetsy. Crap like that spoils what could have been a perfect evening. And at those prices, it's a real drag. That is one of the reasons it's becoming harder for Mr. Millygirl and I to justify trying new restaurants instead of our reliable go to's.

                                    2. t
                                      TOFoodFan RE: vinojoe Jun 27, 2008 10:12 AM

                                      After having Cowbell on our 'must try' list for months, my GF and I finally made it there last night to have dinner with friends from out of town. Underwhelming and overpriced are the two words I'd use to summarize our experience. And as others have pointed out here, service, while not terrible, is clearly not a priority.

                                      We decided to start by sharing a few apps (all $11-13 each): grilled asparagus with a soft-boiled egg, a medley of mushrooms on crostini with some microgreens, and duck confit and liver sausages with Israeli couscous. One would think that apps priced at $13 and consisting mostly of vegetables would at least be large enough to adequately share between four people. Apparently, this law doesn't apply at Cowbell; the asparagus plate consisted of no more than 7 thin-sized asparagus spears, along with one tiny soft-boiled egg. The mushroom crostini plate was just that - a small scoop of sauteed mushrooms with just one slice of baguette crostini (try successfully splitting that even two ways), and the sausage appetizer was two links scarcely thicker or longer than my index finger, atop a relatively healthy portion of couscous. And if there was indeed duck confit in the sausage mixture, I'm not sure where it was hiding. While the flavours were all fine and the food cooked properly, it was certainly nothing to signal the beginning of an excellent meal.

                                      Still, I held out hope that mains would make up for the sluggish start. None of us could decide, so we asked our server what the star dishes were that night. He proceeded to list off recommendations for five of the eight listed mains, which he followed with "everything here is good!" A positive statement in a review maybe, but not that helpful from a server.

                                      Both the GF and I decided on the whey-fed pork loin with pork belly. While the server informed us the whey made for a richer and fattier product, he really should have emphasized how much fattier. While I do enjoy a marble of fat in my meat, I found the content in the loin a bit too much (GF found it nearly inedible). The belly was nicely fatty and nicely cooked, but the skin left on top had been crisped beyond the point where it could be chewed and swallowed. And the portion sizes, even at $27 a plate, were near insulting.

                                      One friend had the venison sausages with sauerkraut, which he deemed good but not exciting. Another friend decided on the 3 cuts of beef (loin, short rib and another I don't recall). When her dish came out, I noticed the marbling, which again seemed excessive. After cutting and chewing for nearly 30 minutes, she finally gave up, leaving about 1/3 of the $38 meal on the plate. When the waiter came to collect the plates and ask us how the food was, she let him know her serving of beef seemed rather overly fatty. He made no attempt to apologize for the fact she clearly didn't enjoy her meal, simply responding that, "Yes, that's the Cowbell way."

                                      If the Cowbell way is serving fresh but relatively bland dishes, taking advantage of the locavore trend by overcharging for ingredients that logic suggests should be more cost-effective, we won't be back.

                                      To add insult to injury, we noticed our server's demeanour change quite markedly after the beef critique. He dropped off dessert menus without saying a word, then when we decided to cut our losses and politely pass on dessert, he dropped our bill off, again without a word. I hope he noticed that his tip reflected his service.

                                      1. d
                                        duchesse RE: vinojoe Sep 4, 2008 11:53 AM

                                        A year later, I concur. We ere a party of six. The portions were very small , making the prices sky high: $9 for three thinnish slices of heirloom tomato garnished by four cherry tomatoes sliced in half. The elk medallions wee the size of a toonie. $26 for a piece of char the size and thickness of a playing card. The kicker was my friend, who ordered "Beef two ways": tiny filet pieces and a flattish short rib (like Korean ribs) for about $25. Not only no potato or rice, but none on offer. And no vegetable on the plate. We are straight ahead bistro/trattoria eaters (Thuet, Batifole) and like small plate formats, but this felt mingy.
                                        Pleasant service, okay wine list. I have not left a restaurant so simultaneously hungry and broke since the days of Michael Statlander's joints in this city. And no we are not supersized people! Locavore food, sure, but there needs to be a generosity of spirit, on and off the plate.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: duchesse
                                          robgm RE: duchesse Sep 5, 2008 07:23 PM

                                          after 4 visits now, i am somewhat underwhelmed, but it still is miles ahead of the local competition. the prices are fine for me in that i will pay for quality over quantity. that being said the app of tomatoes was very tasty and for an app. elk tenderloins are very delicious but very small as is so from the origin of the meat, elk tenderloin is small as it comes off the animal for use. the other dishes i can't speak to. the wine list is okay bordering on not okay but it is a confusing layout and not very inspired. i still have been more impressed by mc's food at both silver spoon and globe...i will still return so that i can support his venture in the nabe so the choice remains when i want to stay close to home rather than travel.

                                          1. re: robgm
                                            e
                                            erly RE: robgm Sep 6, 2008 07:00 AM

                                            robgm
                                            I truly admire your loyalty.
                                            I don't live, but do work in Parkdale, and nobody wanted this restaurant to succeed, other than owners, as much as I did, as this is what Parkdale needs.
                                            I thought that one good restaurant might bring others.
                                            I did give it a second try with the same results that I reported early on.
                                            Save your money, and for the same price, go to Rosebud.
                                            Not in Parkdale, but at least on Queen West.
                                            I wrote a review of my meal at Rosebud this week.
                                            Read it, and compare.

                                        2. b
                                          beetgreens RE: vinojoe Oct 15, 2008 10:32 AM

                                          Since I live in the 'hood, I had high hopes for Cowbell - my husband and I finally made it there last night and were unfortunately disappointed. While the service was excellent, the decor charming, and the gin martinis top notch, the food, alas, was not so great, which in turn makes the prices seem inflated. I started with the greens - nice and fresh, but the dressing was too oily and overpowered the simple freshness of the greens. Husband had the beef carpaccio, as he loves beef, but described it simply as okay. I was sad to see no poultry or fowl on the evening's menu, so I went with the trout with brussel sprouts and mushrooms. The trout was so salty by the end of it I was actually making faces, and ended up drinking glasses of water all night long (reminding me of the salt fish of my youth - but not in a good way); and the "brussel sprouts" were actually 5 leaves peeled from the sprout, undercooked and tough - while I was expecting something lovely and roasted (I actually really like brussel sprouts). Thankfully, my husband enjoyed his pork trio - belly, shoulder and a third cut (loin?)- "Delicious!" he exclaimed. But after our starters and mains and a few slices of the tough bread (but served with lovely butter) we were still hungry (and I'm a light eater) - so we ordered desserts - chocolate torte and molasses cake. Again, okay, but not great; and for $9 each, I'm expecting freshness, richness and flavour. They were more $4-$5 in quality. So all-in-all, very underwhelming. Unfortunately, there is just to much competition out there for me to give this place a second chance.

                                          1. l
                                            lorius RE: vinojoe Nov 17, 2008 07:32 AM

                                            Agreed. My wife and I went to Cowbell for dinner on Friday and to describe the experience as a disappointment would be kind. The menu was dominated by veggie items and fish. The charcuterie was mediocire and the one real "meaty" dish (an elk loin and flank number) was outrageously priced. The duck was nicely done but served with watery lentils and a light sauce that would be better off on the Spring menu. Perhaps trying to be too many things. Nice room, but otherwise not recommended.

                                            APL

                                            1. s
                                              Sweetcakestoo RE: vinojoe Nov 21, 2008 08:37 PM

                                              I agree Cowbell shows promise but nothing special. To be honest I was a bit disappointed in the value. The price was not necessarily cheap; however, I question the area of town. My wife and son were with me and after dinner when we walked out we ran into a few bums drinking and smoking it up. Not a good way to end a pleasant evening. Not the restaurant's fault but hard for me its the overall experience. I dont mind going to certain parts of the city to get a meal but usually I am paying less.

                                              1. Shorttyred RE: vinojoe Nov 26, 2008 04:39 AM

                                                Went to Cowbell last night and was pretty underwhelmed. The food was very interesting but the service... well it seemed rather unhelpful and a tad judgemental. My friend asked about two different wines and was blatantly looking for a recommendation, and the waiter simply stated that neither were particularly good years - then why serve them???

                                                As a lifelong vegetarian and recent meat eater i had several questions about the meats, the names and preparations and ended up getting a lecture on the ethics of their meat and how lots of vegetarians eat there - again, not what we were looking for. I also inquired about the salad - asking to my friend if he wanted to share the "caesary one" (it was a garlic, caper sherry) and was told "Chef doesn't make caesar salad". Chef??? Save me.

                                                As for our order - we spit an app - a pig cheek with a poached egg on nappa with caraway dressing. Very interesting texture, the pork was fatty and crunchy with good salt, couldn't find the caraway.

                                                Mains, my friend had the duck confit, i the venison two ways with spinach, root vegetable and a interesting chocolate sauce. The one venison was done medium rare, sparsely seasoned and excellent. The other was cooked thoroughly - underwater?? (this was a very odd explanation and to avoid the lecture i didn't ask for a clarification) but i did not enjoy the texture or taste. For $40 i was still hungry (note i am very petite). Ended with the cheese plate and port - neither stunning.

                                                For $260 without tip and bizare service i'm not sure i'd be back.

                                                Oh and yes the ceiling was UGLY.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Shorttyred
                                                  t
                                                  Tatai RE: Shorttyred Nov 26, 2008 06:08 AM

                                                  "The other was cooked thoroughly - underwater?? (this was a very odd explanation and to avoid the lecture i didn't ask for a clarification)"

                                                  Shorttyred, the cooking method you're referring to is called sous-vide (literally, "under vacuum"). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sous-vide. Yes, it involves cooking -- very slowly at very low temperatures -- under water, but the meat/vegetable is vacuum-sealed first.

                                                  1. re: Tatai
                                                    e
                                                    embee RE: Tatai Nov 26, 2008 07:25 AM

                                                    There is an old French method that does, indeed, involve suspending a piece of meat directly in stock. That said, you are likely right about sous vide.

                                                    1. re: embee
                                                      aser RE: embee Mar 3, 2009 07:01 PM

                                                      Majority of their meat dishes are cooked sous-vide, then finished w/ a quick sear on a grill or hot pan for caramelization.

                                                      The reason they rely on sous vide so much is because they have to find ways to sell tougher cuts as steaks. They can't really offer ribeyes or tenderloins when there are very few pieces per side of cow.

                                                      Sorry for the late reply, didn't see this till now.

                                                2. m
                                                  mewantfood33 RE: vinojoe Sep 19, 2009 07:28 PM

                                                  Went to Cowbell about a month ago for a very special occasion. We had the worst service ever (the waiter took our butter plate away as I was in mid-dip; I had to dip the bread because we weren't given cutlery; he never smiled).

                                                  I ordered the salad to start and I don't think it had any dressing.

                                                  I then ordered the chicken, which was wrapped in appox. 1 inch of fat. That feature was not mentioned in the description of the meal when I asked about it. While some fat can be tasty, this was overkill - I had to cut chunks off to get to the meat. It was pretty repulsive.

                                                  Actually, I should have saved the adjective repulsive for my dessert. I actually blame myself for ordering something called "chocolate salami."

                                                  My boyfriend, however, had one of the best meals of his life: he had the terrine to start, followed by the beef platter and the apple pie for dessert.

                                                  If the service hadn't been so rude, I would have given this place a second chance.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: mewantfood33
                                                    j
                                                    jamesm RE: mewantfood33 Jan 25, 2010 08:57 AM

                                                    I was taken out to dinner to Cowbell this weekend and while I enjoyed my duck dish, and my girlfriend loved her hamburger we had a really surly waiter. He was a youngish guy with dark hair who was just so abrasive. One of our dining companions asked him about the specials and the waiter replied "Have you been here before?" to which my friend said "Yes, about a year or so ago" the waiter then said "Well, if you had been here before then you'd know we don't have specials." And the attitude continued throughout the meal. It was weird actually. It was like I knew the guy or something and had done something in the past to piss him off.

                                                    1. re: jamesm
                                                      ingloriouseater RE: jamesm Jan 25, 2010 09:36 AM

                                                      I am always underwhelmed by Cowbell. The food is just sort of okay...the service teeters between bad and very good with little middle ground. I always say I'll give it one more chance because I want to support quality within the hood, but my patience is wearing very thin. But, I will give it one more try and then decide.

                                                  2. andreas RE: vinojoe Oct 18, 2010 06:34 PM

                                                    Inconsistent, that's the word that describes Cowbell for me. Food was either excellent or almost inedible.

                                                    On my first visit my wife's venison burger was out of this world - my own beef stew so under-seasoned to be devoid of any taste. I rarely send food back to the kitchen, this was one of those occasions.

                                                    The next time I went with a business associate, everything was great. Home cured sauerkraut, beautiful ham hocks. Awesomeness all round.

                                                    Today we went for brunch, and again my wife's choice - eggs, merguez sausage and home fries - were well executed, the sausage excellent, the duck eggs perfectly poached. My own order, a hash with smoked brisket, was a mixture of blad gristly bits and oil, nothing short of awful. We were in a hurry, and I was hungry, otherwise I would have asked to change my order.

                                                    The Cowbell is a beautiful restaurant, service has always been just the right mixture of relaxed and friendly, but something weird is going on in the kitchen.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: andreas
                                                      l
                                                      LovesToEat RE: andreas Oct 19, 2010 10:01 AM

                                                      I went to Cowbell last week for dinner as my friend said she wanted to try it. I had been once before in July of 2009 and didn't particularly enjoy my meal or the experience. I agreed to go again hoping that it would be better than my first time.

                                                      Our sevice that night wasn't terrible but wasn't great either. Got the eye roll from our server when we said we weren't interested in ordering any alcoholic drinks. We shared the elk carpaccio ($12) to start which was good...very fresh and flavorful. I ordered the pork as my main ($25) and my friend ordered the fish (I think it was pickerel) ($25), My dish came with 3 very small bits of pork cooked medium rare. They were good albeit a very small portion. The pork sat a top a mound of beans which were super salty and the dish came with a hunk of smoked pork belly. My friend's portion of fish was better sized and came atop a mound of risotto. She liked it. I thought my dish was just okay. We passed on dessert.

                                                      The whole experience was just very meh. I didn't hate it but nothing made me want to ever go back. Food was average, experience totally unforgettable.

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