Winterlicious - Tundra (pleasant surprise)
I HATE Winter/Summerlicious! Gave up over a year ago after several attempts over several years and NEVER having had a meal worth returning for. I even have the list of participating restos saved so I can avoid them (I won't even go to my regular places if they're in Winterlicious). And I haven't read a single thread on the topic this year.
So last night when we suddenly decided to go out we headed for the York St Keg - Sundays are always quiet - only to find a 45-minute wait (I guess lots of other people were avoiding Winterlicious too). Now, that location is pretty good and excellent value, but certainly NOT worth a 45-minute wait, so we scrambled to find an alternative on a Sunday evening downtown.
We ended up dropping by Tundra - in my consciousness I expected 'safe' Canadian food, whcih sounded OK but obviously had never been a destination for me.
Only upon being seated (as 'walk-ins') did we discover they had a Winterlicious menu!
And it looked pretty good - with some interesting variations on the pedestrian Winterlicious offerings I recalled from previous years.
Yes, the ubiquitous 'salmon' was there - but accompanied by 'crab mashed' potatoes; an interesting twist. And a choice of 3 other mains: Cornish hen "au vin"; Lobster mac 'n' cheese; and a vegetarian Pumpkin/Goat Cheese Risotto.
For our starters we had a roasted cauliflower soup (with a 'green oil' drizzle - that's how the server described it) and a salad (mainly apple based, with a roasted apple vinaigrette and apple sticks, rather than the roasted beets on the published menu).
Both were very tasty and well prepared with fresh ingredients. We ordered a wine from the 'special Winterlicious list' - a choice of four with much lower than normal mark-ups ($32) and which were all available by the glass as well.
For the mains we had the Lobster mac 'n' cheese and the Cornish hen "au vin". The mac 'n' cheese was certainly comfort food but creditably presented and cooked. The pasta was al dente and there was certainly a good (but not large) amount of lobster. the cheese was gratinated - good texture but the sea of white/off-white colour was pretty boring. But tasty. Not sure I'd order it again, but every 6 months might be around right.
Loved the chicken though. It was a twist on the classic dish - all the same basic ingredients but prepared separately, rather than all being in one pot. So the veggies were crisp, rather than braised to softness. The sauce had been reduced so was much thicker than a typical 'au vin' - and the cornish hen was perfectly cooked and presented (not overcooked as happens in many coq au vins).
Two desserts followed; An apple cheesecake and a Spiced Carrot Cake (sort of a carrot-cake muffin). Both were fresh and excellent.
Coffee was awful!
So two full meals and a bottle of wine for under $120 (before gratuity). And good attentive service (topped up our wine several times).
The meal was worth far more than the price - so we tipped above 15% - and encourage others to do the same. Just because the meal is cheaper than normal is no reason to be cheap with a server who serves you as well as someone who pays 'regular' prices. And don't tip at all if you don't get service! (another Winterlicious rule from the past).
I'd go back here to try the other two mains! (But I'm still not ready to embrace Winterlicious in general - but I'm wavering).
Of all the Winterlicious/Summerlicious meals I have ever been to over the years (about 12 a year), the hotel dining rooms are the ones that give the greatest value for ambience, serivce (unionized staff of lifers), and more than acceptable meals and costing. The kitchens are larger, and they are used to handling large crowds, especially at sudden notice. They are usually open Sundays and Mondays too. They are also not "desperate" for business as some restos can be, the ones that will be closing within six months, etc...
It also helps to only do the licious meals -- whether at a resto or hotel -- Monday through Thursday, lunches preferred.
Winterlicious/Summerlicious is a minefield. The best meals I have had have been at Batifole, Bistro 990, Thuet and be;ieve it or not, The Sultan's Tent/Cafe Maroc on Yonge Street. The other restaurants I have tried over the years created a "menu" that was long on cheap and mediocre and short on any kind of "wow factor". I thought the idea originally was to sample the cuisines at restaurants with a menu that used some of their typical "everyday" dishes as opposed to a "cut the corners invention". Having looked over this year's winterlicious, I have not found many menus that tweak my interest. I'm happy to hear that Tundra is delivering the goods with mainstays that are part of their regular menu. I agree that it is a good close place to dine when going to either the ballet or the opera as other than it there is nothing around that is comparable. Not even Monsoon.
and for opera goers, it's been said in another thread that Tundra provides a special pre-opera menu of three courses, reasonably priced, good food and always punctual. I've been keeping that in mind for the next time I'm at at the Four Seasons Centre.
145 Richmond Street West, Toronto, ON M5H 2L2, CA
Because of the snow (and Estufarian's good words), my wife and I had the pre-theatre menu at Tundra last night before the ballet. $36 (although it says $34 on the website).
Very favorably impressed. Excellent service. Pleasant decor. Quiet room.
Huge salads to start (Caesar for my wife, walnut, greens, apple, dried cranberry for me). Both excellent. Three good breads served with a caramelized onion/butter spread. Nice.
Mains were very generous in size as well. I had the lobster mac and cheese which could have used some chopped tarragon to brighten the flavour and add some colour, but it was very enjoyable. My wife chose the vegetarian risotto - squash, mushrooms, etc. - a bit soupier than I like it, but full of rich tastes.
Dessert is only called "Mignardises" so we didn't expect much but it was still a slight disappointment. One very miniature pastry each and three or four berries. Good coffee, however.
If you're a ballet subscriber, show your card. 10% off the check. My wife had a martini, i had a 750ml bottle of Perrier. Total bill (after discount, but with taxes): $99. Felt it was definitely worth it. Recommend it to anyone going to the opera or ballet.
Thanks for the excellent review. You've piqued my curiousity about Tundra again. I went there many years ago and was thoroughly disappointed. I see they haven't changed their cooking concept (CDN Food) since inception. However, it's always possible they have improved or I just went on a "bad" day.
You and I are of like minds when it comes to the "licious" series and I too will be going back to a "licious" restaurant on Saturday after many years off (friend made the reservation). Question did Tundra offer their daily menu as well or just the licious offerings? I've heard that many restos participating don't even offer their daily menu anymore.