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The Citizen

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DowntownJoe Sep 12, 2007 07:33 AM

I have to say upfront....I really wanted to like the Citizen. I really, really, really wanted to like the Citizen. In fact, after my first visit there, I kept on my rose coloured glasses, thinking that this restaurant will get things ship shape in no time resulting in a great place to roll in for a great meal every week or so. Alas, disappointment reigns.

To start, the decor is ok. The booths are comfortable enough, the stain glass..well, not so great. The cake displays that are empty and sticking out like a sore thumb.....no idea what those are for. The place definitely reeks of Restaurant Makeover quick fix and slap dash. That's fine, considering this location has been turned over more often than underwear on a two week canoe trip. I'd make sure it would be a going concern before glamming it up myself. And if you look about that block, the glammers aren't going to be rushing to Queen/Broadview. Don't get me wrong, I love my grunge, in fact, too much gentrification makes me want to move, but I digress.

Visit 1. OK...it was hot outside. Inside was hot too. No A/C? Guess not, though the fans whipping air within 12 inches of my face did help to keep the sweat down. Unfortunately, it also made my eyes water. Get some A/C willya. The menu seemed interesting enough, I picked the sardine appie and the risotto. Now, I love sardines, they're pretty fabulous done right. I was expecting them to be fresh... nope. They were however, incredibly salty. Yes, I know, they're sardines!!! But these puppies were incredible. That salt burn in my mouth was pretty intense. I'd recommend lightening them up, just a thought. The salsa and bread that came with it were just fine, thank you kindly. I then moved on to the risotto. At first, I thought I was suffering the after effects from the sardines, but no. It was very salty. The texture was great, everything else was great....but can I remember what was in it? Nope....just salt. I did alert the manager, who mentioned that the "pasta water" hasn't been perfected yet. Ummm....ok.....get on that buddy. As I was simply starving, I did finish about two thirds of it. What can I say, I wasn't about to stick around for another 30 minutes inconveniencing my guest as something else was prepared. He did take it off my bill without my asking. At this point I didn't bother with dessert, it was time to go get some water. The wine list is pretty good, we stuck with a nicely chilled white wine.....can't recall what, but it was pretty good. Just what was needed on a hot, hot night in a hot, hot restaurant.

Visit 2. This time, it was me, my girl and another couple. The weather was quite pleasant and comfortable, so we strolled on over the bridge and hit the Citizen for my second try. Again, the place was pretty warm......not quite sure why, but it was just on the warm side of comfortable. It was also pretty empty, and we were there at 8pm or so, it never did pick up. We settled in and ordered our wine. Unfortunately, when it arrived, it was much like the restaurant, on the warm side. THE WARM SIDE!!!! Our waitress suggested putting it in the fridge.......I nodded rather eagerly at that suggestion, and knowing our boozehound tendencies, told her to throw another one in as well. OK...so here we go.

My guests..well two of them had the risotto. See Visit 1 above. Salty, salty, salty. And this time around, cold, cold, cold. The presentation was crap as well, it looked like it was just slopped in, risotto running up and over the sides. Great, the wine is hot, the food is cold and looks like gruel. My girl, being the forthright person she is, called later to say how disappointing the experience was. Umm...he mentioned the pasta water again. Dude, fix it, STAT!!!! He did offer a drink or appie the next time we went. Well, I know I won't be going again. My other guest had the sardines. Yes, I did warn him, but he went for it. He couldn't get through them. He then had the pasta with green beans.....which was like the risotto, cold. It too, was just slopped in....no presentation whatsoever. Crikey! I was starting to feel like an eejit for recommending this place.

What did I have? Well I can't remember the appetizer. Why you ask? Well, I ordered the duck confit as my main. This is one of my favourite dishes. Done well, nothing makes DowntownJoe feel more contented. When my main arrived....I was shocked. Total, complete, goggle-eyed shocked! This wasn't duck confit, it was sparrow confit. On my plate was one...yes...ONE!!! miniscule, overdone, stringy duck leg. I just couldn't believe it. So...appetizer, sides...whatever.....this is the straw that broke the camel's back. I just couldn't wait to get out of this place.

This place has been receiving a great deal of hype lately. Lots of pretty decent reviews from more learned folks than I. All I can say is, that was then, this is now. The Citizen is a definite no return for me. The mistakes they're making are beyond basic. I would have expected the service and food to be improving with time. The exact opposite is the case. Save your dosh and go somewhere that knows what they're doing. What am I saying, save your dosh and go somewhere that will at least give you hot food and a decent amount of it. If you go to the Citizen, why not just stay home, order in some KFC and flush the leftover $150 down the toilet. You and your stomach will feel better about it.

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    millygirl RE: DowntownJoe Sep 12, 2007 08:46 AM

    LOL, the underwear on a canoe trip....I gotta remember that one Joe!!! We had considered checking this place out a number of times, thankfully we always ended up someplace else. Anyhoo, this pretty much settles it for me....I don't think I will bother to go. There are soooo many other new places to try, or even better, old favorites to revisit.

    1. s
      smithandjones RE: DowntownJoe Sep 12, 2007 08:52 AM

      I found the food at the Rosebud to be too salty as well. I think the chef smokes, which might explain it.

      1. m
        merlot143 RE: DowntownJoe Sep 12, 2007 10:25 AM

        It's too bad you had a lousy experience. I went last night and actually had a very good meal, as did my friend. The decor seems thrown together, I agree, but I prefer that to something overly stylized (whatever goes on the walls, you'll end up paying for in the bill).
        I had the steak tartare, which was excellent, Very nicely seasoned with interesting condiments like grilled peppers and sweet jelly. The toast points were also tasty. I started off with a Tuscan melon and lettuces salad, which was delicious. The lettuces were slightly bitter and the dressing a bit salty, so the whole thing reminded of prosciutto and melon.
        The service was friendly and courteous. It wasn't hot out, so we didn't need AC. I would go again.

        2 Replies
        1. re: merlot143
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          DowntownJoe RE: merlot143 Sep 12, 2007 11:52 AM

          Merlot143

          Very wise choices indeed. Obviously sticking to uncooked/raw food is the way to go at the Citizen. I may have to keep that in mind if they're still open next summer and I'm craving cold food.

          1. re: DowntownJoe
            m
            merlot143 RE: DowntownJoe Sep 13, 2007 08:07 PM

            I wanted to add that my friend's side of green beans with chick peas was almost inedible. We barely touched it, but that was an odd aberration compared to the rest of the meal. My friend has the braised short ribs (meat and potato special), and she really enjoyed it. Obviously something funky is going on in the kitchen when things are so hit and miss.

        2. c
          cybergod RE: DowntownJoe Sep 12, 2007 03:12 PM

          My problem with the Citizen has been consistency: one item is so fantastic you want to eat ten of them, the next is mediocre. I've had the nearly inedible, oversalted anchovies too (and yes, I know they're supposed to be salty, but these were like eating pure fishy rock salt). One week the Panzanella was amazing, full of big chunks of beautiful heirloom tomatoes, hunks of a nice rustic bread that were loaded with olive oil and tomato juices, and arugula; the next week it was a gloppy mess of bread and tomato mush, with wilted greens.

          On the other hand, the service has always been really friendly though... And, I had a really nice heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad there recently, with an ok (if simple) beet risotto. The funny part of the meal though was I asked for some bread to mop up the last bits of the salad, and got a couple of slices of white sandwich bread on a plate (think Wonderbread!) =:-|

          They do have to fix the AC problem. The lack of AC (or more accurately, the poor performance of the AC system) on a hot day does make eating inside at The Citizen pretty much unbearable. We did it once back in August when it was 30+ degrees out and some in our group were literally drenched by the time they'd finished their main courses.

          1 Reply
          1. re: cybergod
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            chiuchiu RE: cybergod Sep 13, 2007 04:00 PM

            from what i heard they are trying to address the problem...it might be from changing vent systems during reno...but they say that should only be done by "furnace professionals" for that specific reason...a jack of all trades is not supposed to mess with that stuff....oh well....hopefully it won't be freezing in winter......

          2. m
            merlot143 RE: DowntownJoe Sep 21, 2007 08:03 PM

            RM alert! Apparently the Citizen was subject to Restaurant Makeover, which is why the decor looks half-finished. The episode will air later this year.

            1. l
              LemonLauren RE: DowntownJoe Sep 22, 2007 10:25 AM

              Joanne Kates has her say in the Globe this weekend...

              3 Replies
              1. re: LemonLauren
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                cybergod RE: LemonLauren Sep 22, 2007 11:17 AM

                When I read the Globe review I felt like I had been plagiarized ;-) Sometimes I don't agree with Joanne Kates, but her review of The Citizen is right on the money... it's just not consistent. Take the heirloom tomato salad that was the primary target of derision in her review: when I had it a couple weeks ago the tomatoes were great, full of flavour and texture.

                1. re: cybergod
                  Googs RE: cybergod Sep 22, 2007 12:37 PM

                  When I was at Zucca I had mentioned we might be back the week of Sept 17th. I was told they wouldn't be serving heirloom tomatoes by then. A shame and yet I was grateful for their consideration of their clients.

                  I think Citizen may be serving those tomatoes beyond season. I've not been to there due to the salty Hound reviews. Kates just sealed the deal. Oh well. There's always Weezie's for comfort food.

                2. re: LemonLauren
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                  plainjane_to RE: LemonLauren Sep 24, 2007 09:40 AM

                  I took my parents on Saturday, not knowing of the review. The owner came out wearing an "I <3 J Kates" shirt and joked with a regular about putting an X through the heart.

                  Our table shared the Caesar salad (great bacon), a side of the braised cabbage (quite nice, my mom loved it), and the chocolate mouse dessert (nice enough, not spectacular, but a good end to the meal). Mains for the table were the rabbit & green pea gnocchi (very nice, despite the two bones found in todays leftovers), the steak & potatoes (it is what it is, nothing noteworthy), the schnitzel (very nice flavours and texture, plus it was fun to have it presented on the bone), and the ribs (a bit too sweet for me, but the person who ordered it really enjoyed them) with cornbread (really good).

                  It might have been them reacting to the poor review, the chef being present, them having a good night, our table ordering the right things, or them getting their act together. Regardless, I'll give them another try when their fall/winter menu comes out.

                3. Tara9000 RE: DowntownJoe Nov 19, 2007 01:05 PM

                  I had dinner at The Citizen last Saturday. It was a group of 5, so I managed to see and taste quite a few dishes. We started by sharing the mushroom and arugula salad with aged balsamic, and the polenta with mozarella and peppers. The mushroom salad was simpy fantastic! Possibly one of the best salads I've ever tasted. The polenta was okay, but didn't stand out.

                  For mains, I ordered the weiner schnitzel, which is topped with a fried egg and capers. It's impressive to see it come out, huge, and bone in - but I thought the breadcrumb coating was overcooked (burnt a bit on the bottom), and it was quite dry. I could see this dish paired with a brown butter/lemon sauce or something similar to pick it up. My husband had the steak tartar, which I tasted and thought was quite good. Needed a few more toast pieces on the plate for the tartar. The meat and potatoes dish of the night was a big beef rib braised in red wine, and roasted herbed potatoes. The meat was well cooked and the flavour good. The other diner has the risotto, which is the only dish I didn't try. For sides we ordered the spaetzle (didn't taste like much), and the rapini, which I thought was very bitter, but I must admit I've never been a rapini fan.

                  For dessert we shared a creme brulee and a layered chocolate/mascarpone dish drizzled with chocolate. The creme brulee was quite ordinary, but the latter dish was very good (if a bit overly sweet). I didn't catch its name as there was no dessert menu - the waitress rambled them off tableside, and due to the noise in the restaurant it was quite hard to hear. I would have preferred something to look at on paper.

                  The total bill for 5 people, with about 5 beers and coffees was $240 before tip. I would go back for select dishes - especially the mushroom salad.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Tara9000
                    pinstripeprincess RE: Tara9000 Nov 19, 2007 01:12 PM

                    terroni has a similar mushroom salad but they fry and encrust their mushrooms.. i would love it just as much as the citizen version if it weren't absolutely drenched in oil.

                    i agree that the tartare is wonderful, the rabbit gnocchi seems to be a little different with each visit i make but a standout dish on the menu no matter what. my first visit was noted to be salty and the second not salty at all but very well seasoned in fact.

                    the dessert is their chocolate (or was it fudge..) napoleon. they claim they change the desserts and that is why they don't have a menu.

                  2. JamieK RE: DowntownJoe Nov 19, 2007 01:48 PM

                    +

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                    Citizen
                    730 Queen St E, Toronto, ON M4M1H2, CA

                    1. m
                      metalmustache RE: DowntownJoe Dec 31, 2007 01:15 PM

                      I went to check things out about a month ago with my ladyfriend. We both had the steak, which I think was a special, and not a regular menu item. It was maybe one of, if not the best steak I've ever had. My friend agreed.

                      Maybe they're turning things around, or maybe we just lucked out in the inconsistency lottery...

                      1. c
                        cybergod RE: DowntownJoe Jan 1, 2008 10:10 AM

                        I've seen Rodney (the chef-owner) in the kitchen all three times I've been there in the last couple of months, and the food has indeed become much more consistent. The last couple of meals I had there were very good.

                        The Caesar is one of the best renditions of the classic I've had in a long time, with great big slabs of smoked bacon and a poached egg on top and a great home-made caesar dressing (hold some of that the next time, as there was a lot of it on the salad). Very decadent, and very huge (easily a meal in and of itself, or a salad to share as a starter between two or three people). A mushroom risotto was decent and not over-salted. The schnitzel, also enormous, was crisp, juicy and delicious.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: cybergod
                          Full tummy RE: cybergod Jan 1, 2008 10:46 AM

                          Thanks for this update. If Rod can do at Citizen what he did at Rosebud, what a good thing that would be for the East end.

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                          badtaste RE: DowntownJoe Jan 25, 2008 07:15 PM

                          just had my first visit to the citizen. a few items from the regular menu were available, but the primary attraction was the winterlicious menu.

                          in general, the service was relaxed, informal, friendly and attentive. i can understand why some critics have described it as 'flighty', but i like hypercasual. no problems there.

                          my wife is a vegetarian and the menu (especially the prix fixe one) was not veggie friendly but we had friendly assurances from both our server and the proprietor that they would take care of it.

                          i had the caesar, which was the best i've ever had anywhere. perfectly seasoned and dressed. the poached egg was a bit unexpected (to me) but worked perfectly. a total winner. we're off to a good start. my wife had some bread with sage butter and some kind of tapenade, also very tasty.

                          for a main, i had cornish hen. it was very good but not quite excellent. a touch on the salty and dry side for my taste, but not by much. certainly a good effort. the winterlicious pork looked like the winner at other tables.

                          my wife had a special mushroom risotto made from scratch on the spot just for her. at first, it was all creamy, earthy mushroomy goodness, but after two or three bites we both realized how incredibly over salted it was. like saltier than drinking from the ocean salty. like after multiple glasses of water, i got home and needed more water. like, i could feel, in real time, my blood pressure going up.

                          because i'm a wuss, i couldn't complain. i never complain. but man, after that much salt i think my lifespan has been shortened a bit.

                          apple crumble for dessert. i don't normally care for dessert, but this seemed to be a competent effort and went down well.

                          based on my own meal, i definitely look forward to going back and trying out things from the regular menu. the overall atmosphere was great. considering my wife required something off the menu i can just excuse the fact that an otherwise tasty dish was completely ruined by salt. on my next visit i'd be tempted to concoct a high blood pressure condition with the hope that they might ease back a bit on the NaCl.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: badtaste
                            Full tummy RE: badtaste Jan 25, 2008 07:24 PM

                            Well, it might be worth, on a revisit, to ask them to go easy on the salt; I've noticed the same problem there, with a few dishes.

                            1. re: Full tummy
                              pinstripeprincess RE: Full tummy Jan 26, 2008 05:40 AM

                              i was hoping that my last visit had become the standard, but it does seem that they go a bit nuts on the salt with the pasta/rice dishes. otherwise i haven't found anything else there overly salty.

                              hrm.... you've reminded me that i should make another visit.

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