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Le Petit Castor - WTF?!?!?!

Okay, you guys know me - I'm not a ranter. But I'm sorry, I just have to write about what happened last night.

So Le Petit Castor has opened where Thai Magic used to be on Yonge Street, next to Patachou. Renovation looks quite lovely - cozy banquettes, nice paint job outside, revamped entrance, etc. I believe they're going for the "gastropub" vibe, though it looks more bistro. Either way, all good.

We walk in yesterday evening at 2 minutes past 6. There are a few people at the bar, the rest of the restaurant is empty. We've not taken 3 steps into the entranceway when young server-chick stops us in our tracks. "Uh, do you have a reservation?", she says. We don't. She says they have no tables before 9:30. Really? You just opened a week ago - that's amazing. Still smiling, we tell her that we're on a tight timeframe and we need to be out by 7:15 - we wonder if all tables are going to be seated by then - in other words, can we get in and out before all your reservations? Without batting an eye, she simply says "6:30" - as if to say, that's when the entire restaurant of reservations will arrive. Not quite ready to walk out the door, given our short window and our lingering desire to try this place, we ask if we can eat at the bar. She seems doubtful but trots off to ask the bartender. You remember that seen in Seinfeld when Jerry and Elaine are working on the car reservation and the woman goes to talk to the manager but they surmise she's having a fake conversation? It was just like that. Sure enough, 15 seconds later, we're told that this option isn't possible either. Nobody seemed friendly, nothing like "hope you can try us another time", nada. It was all quite curious.

So given our tight timeframe, we went into Lakes. Haven't been there in at least 10 years and you know what? It wasn't bad at all. Really good salads (romaine with lardons and aged parmesan, mixed greens with caramelized fig and parsnip chips, a very credible steak frites, so-so liver). Partway through the meal, it dawned on me that we would have the opportunity to walk by Le Petit Castor as we left to see if the restaurant was indeed full up. At 7:10, we walked past Le Petit Castor and you know what? There were twice as many people at the bar but NOT ONE SINGLE TABLE WAS FULL.

WTF?!?!?!?!

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  1. It appears as if their strategy is working then....keep the restaurant empty!

    1. Agree with Sadistick.

      ...So sad to hear when a restaurant owner/manager/whatever just doesn't understand the importance of customer service. And I'm not referring to bending over backward to accommodate an extremely finicky individual. What you described, peppermint_pate, is definitely unacceptable. Even if the food is somehow highly-rated, they won't get many return visits if your experience is the norm.

      I know this is only my opinion, but for me service is a big factor in determining the value of a restaurant.

      Let's hope one of the higher-ups at the restaurant is a Chow-reader...

      1 Reply
      1. re: homebaker

        It's a one of the great business axioms, "Never turn down business??"

        Seat PP and deal with a person being delayed at the table later. Should it ever arise.

        WTF is right

        DT

      2. Well that is really horrid. With that kind of service they are on a crash and burn. Funnily enough I am looking for a bistro type place, nice decor, good food and thought would go to LPC tomorrow night. Well guess what ...NOT. I am not unreasonable but that kind of service leaves me cold. It is too bad because the place looks great. Anyone got another suggestion...

        3 Replies
        1. re: Flycracker11

          I don't know how mobile you are, but if you can get out to Weezie's, it seems to fit your description quite well. I haven't been yet myself but am itching for the opportunity.

          It's well reviewed here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/563398

          Good luck and let us know if you decide to try it!

          1. re: Flycracker11

            I guess it hasn't dawned upon the staff that the country is heading into a recession and every table will count. There are too many good restaurants in Toronto for diners to put up with that kind of crap.

            1. re: Flycracker11

              check out Quince on Yonge, s. of Eg by about two or three blcoks. Had a great lunch there the other day, just great!

            2. Now let me put another spin on it.. what if they had a bunch of reservation at 7:00 & 7:30.. sure they let you sit down and it is past 6 and you told them that you had to leave by 7:15 but what if you dont, you run late decide your having such a good time you will stay... then the other reservation show up.. the one at 7 roll in 7:20 the ones for 7:30 show up early they place is a nightmare staff can't take orders fast enough kitchen is backed up you cant get your bill. the people whose table you took are pissed.. welcome to a restaurant nightmare.. how many complaints have you read here that people made a reservation for 8:00 and they did not get seated til 8:45.. maybe they know their limits and were trying to keep the most people happy that they could...

              3 Replies
              1. re: OnDaGo

                That's valid, OnDaGo. You've made a good point and backed it up with a reasonable explanation.

                To be fair to peppermint_pate's experience, I'm sure it would have been nice if they had declined her request a little more cordially.

                1. re: OnDaGo

                  If your staff knows what they're doing they should have no problem graciously reminding the couple that they need to vacate the table. If the couple is having such a good time, I'm sure they won't mind moving to the bar for dessert and a nightcap. As far as tables arriving early for a reservation, all you have to do is ask them to wait at the bar until their table is ready.

                  If said restaurant knows their limits, they are obviously professional enough to handle a situation as simple as this. It doesn't require anything more than being up front with your guests and gracious when time's up.

                  1. re: OnDaGo

                    I hear what you're saying but I'm not buying it. Firstly, I was specifically told that their entire crowd was showing up at 6:30. Well, either 15 different tables were coincidentally running late or I wasn't being told the truth because I repeat, at 7:10, there wasn't one single table with people at it.

                    When it comes to this stuff, or just about anything for that matter, I'm as friendly and easygoing as they come. If they had kindly offered me an explanation like the one you suggest, I'd have no problem with it. In fact, we go out for an early dinner like this on average once a week. We typically don't make a reservation as one can usually get in and out at 5:45 or 6. In two cases - L'Unita and Mengrai Thai - they politely told us they were concerned that we or they'd be too rushed since they had tables coming in around 7:15. But in this case, we were literally stopped in our tracks as we walked in the entranceway. Not even a "come on in and see the place, sorry we're so busy, really hope you can try us another time".

                    This is a new restaurant in a neighbourhood that's hungry for a great spot. I was excited to try it. They've been open no more than a week or two. No reviews yet. If management is absent or puts staff like that at the front of house, it speaks volumes to the kind of place they're trying to run. They couldn't have been less welcoming.

                  2. Restaurants accept reservations for tables...not bar stools. So even if we accept the excuse that they were fully booked...and that they were expecting to be slammed and in the weeds within an hour...to not let this small group sit at the bar is just beyond the pale. Pretty safe to say the owner wasn't in the room as this is the type of lazy behavior that tends to materialize when supervision is absent.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: finelydiced

                      Read this, finelydiced, and see if you think he was absent.
                      http://www.torontolife.com/features/t...

                      I thought being judged by your appearance before being let in was strictly the domain of tourist district nightclubs. I will NEVER dine there despite having some pretty foxey GF's. I hope they aren't planning on being reviewed by any of this city's food critics. I suspect they wouldn't be let in the door.

                      1. re: Googs

                        Good to know, Googs.Hadn't realized McCann was behind this place. Thanks for posting the link. Won't be dining at this place, either.

                        Will any Chowhounds admit if they have eaten at Le Petit Castor?

                        1. re: Googs

                          That's a great link, thanks Googs. It does explain a lot of the attitude and is probably founded in their training!

                          I have passed by a few times and was curious, but not any more!

                      2. I was driving by last week and saw people seated so parked and (attempted to) enter.
                        Turned out it was 'closed' - seemed to be a meeting of friends/associates/business partners/in-crowd.
                        So we ate at Avant Gout instead.
                        After our meal we walked past again - still having their meeting.
                        Would love to see their business model!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: estufarian

                          You'll get a good laugh out of this article......
                          http://www.financialpost.com/related/...

                          Seems like this place caters lots of small "parties".

                          1. re: sylvrgirl

                            It's interesting on how a story on a restaurant deals superficially with the food (Mac and Cheese and roast beef sandwiches) - only one paragraph out of eight. However it is telling that it is in a gossip column...

                        2. This location started off as an Export A convenience store, run by a nice old couple named Farr, also specializing in greeting cards. Subsequent to that, it was converted into a restaurant space, and opened as the short-lived Patisserie Kever, the first in a long list of short-lived attempts at trendiness It's last makeover was as a chic bar run by a socialite which became the first place in town to try and sell beer for over 5$ a bottle. Lasted six months. Apart from Thai Magic, which will be missed, this location has been the kiss of death for egocentric wannabes. Pucker up, baby.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Snarf

                            Am I losing my mind in my advancing age or wasn't the same location where the Westside Grill used to be back in the mid to late 80"s??

                            1. re: Paul Jacobelli

                              Well done! That was the name I was trying to think of.

                          2. I went to meet some friends at 1am and the place was PACKED! Standing room only and was told it was like that since the dinner rush started. All the staff seemed very green, perhaps they are having trouble with the volume of reservations and are trying to limit it in the wrong way.

                            1. I'm with homebaker, service is crucial. We want it to be about the food, but we know it's all about service and ambience. Food is third or even fourth down the list!

                              1. Interesting to hear everyone's feedback as well as the pedigree of the management. It did feel like a bit of a Studio 54 moment, or as I would have imagined it - not so much that we weren't cool or beautiful enough (they stopped us in our tracks before they could even see us) but certainly like we weren't part of the inner circle of people allowed in. It was all so weird. And had the bartender not acted the exact same way as the waitress, I may have put it down to one very bad employee, albeit the person who is offering people their first impression of this new restaurant (and therefore still a poor reflection of management).

                                I've heard that they're staying open till 2am so I'm sure they'll atttract a certain crowd if for no other reason than that.

                                Snarf - that's quite the memory you have since Thai Magic has been there for at least 15 years, if I recall correctly - wow!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: peppermint pate

                                  Well, it was quite the firestorm you whipped up here, no? :)

                                  Who knows, they may even get increased traffic due to all the "commotion"!

                                2. Happened to me once at Academy of Spherical Arts.. They said they had a party happening in 2 hours.. The place was completely empty, and we weren't welcome.. I told them we'd be gone in less than an hour anyways, but no go.. They wanted 2 hours of nothing apparently, too busy to pour us a few beers and let us use their empty tables.

                                  Makes you wonder.

                                  Or the time we weren't allowed in to Harbor Sixty because I had running shoes on.. My hundred millionaire friend went absolutely apeshit on them.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: SocksManly

                                    A dress code is a dress code. I don't care how many hundreds of millions someone has. (Unless they politely bribe me)

                                  2. My guess is it was about kitchen problems, specifically with a chef who left.

                                    I went a while ago. The menu was good in conception, but the execution wasn't there yet. Room was terrific to sit in - there's an effing Charles Pachter hanging on the wall! - and I had green, but really friendly, service from my waitress, with terrific support from the manager who worked the room really, really well.

                                    Risotto was terrific. But my brisket main was not very good. There was a schnitzel that someone else ordered that was missing some acid bring it together - a really basic mistake, I thought- on a plate that was less that well composed. Apparently their chef has left and they are getting someone new.

                                    I really like Brad Denton's style and I'm going to go back and give it another try or dinner when they've gotten some of the kinks out. As far as a place to drink post dinner hour, it's terrific though. Warm and really inviting, but bustling and fun. In that way, I think it's going to do well, as a lot of restaurants like this are using the space for drinking after (especially later in the week). Tati does it, Harbord Room, Teatro still, all of those places. It's never going to be fine or even finer dining, but on the other hand mains were all under $25 except for one big steak.

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: metalmicky

                                      Maybe they lost another chef last week!
                                      I tried to get in at 6:30 and was intercepted BEFORE I got to the 'final' door (there are two) by a hostess who asked whether I had a reservation (she was lurking inside the entrance). Again, "sorry, we're fully booked". Not a single table was occupied!

                                      1. re: nordicPineapple

                                        This sounds more like a place to entertain the friends/favourites of the owners/investors than a real public restaurant.

                                        1. re: embee

                                          Embee, that's exactly what I was thinking on the weekend. They probably figure that with so many restaurants failing in the first few years, why not just party with our friends till it closes.

                                          1. re: foodyDudey

                                            Then call a spade a spade and put "private club" on the door. Isn't that what David Adjey (I think it was him) or whoever did when he opened up a space for private gatherings? And why post business hours on the front window? Is the sport to perpetually turn us ordinary folk away at the door? Estufarian, your experience is exactly what happened to us - there's probably a line on the floor in that front entrance beyond which the outsiders have been forbidden to walk.

                                            1. re: peppermint pate

                                              Hi folks.

                                              Long time reader, 1st time giving input. As someone who has been involved in the restaurant industry for over fifteen years I'd like to chip in a few things.

                                              1. I've had both good and bad reviews in diffrent restaurants over time on the chowhound board.
                                              2. You guys have always seemed more then fair.
                                              3. In a restaurant, surmising its a competent level of service and food, ITS THE INTANGIABLES THAT COUNT!
                                              4. It takes a couple of months to work the kinks out when your new.

                                              That said I recommend gving them some time, and patience to solidify their policies, menu, and service. I personally have always appreciated constructive criticism from my patrons. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know when your brand new to the industry.

                                              I would also like to say I neither know Luke or any of the staff at Le petite castor in any way other then being some one who has been in once.

                                              1. re: blunderbut

                                                That's a fair point EXCEPT if I'm paying the same price for 'imperfect' service and/or food, then why shouldn't a place be judged on what it delivers? For example, when Globe Bistro opened, all the menu prices were reduced for the first few weeks.
                                                But, of course I'm not qualified to comment on either food or service at le Petit Castor, as I haven't beeen granted entrance.

                                                1. re: blunderbut

                                                  I agree that new restaurants always have kinks that they need to work out: menu items that don't work, how to set up the service areas, how large a waiter's section is etc..

                                                  It seems to me that the complaint wasn't about the level of competence on the floor or the kitchen, since they never got a chance to experience either. The complaint was about the "intangibles". Whether you are a new restaurateur or not, there are certain guiding principles that should be apparent: A restaurant/bar is part of the hospitality industry, so be hospitable.

                                                  That said, judging from other postings above this place appears to be another triumph of style over substance. I'll take friendly service and honest food in a room with diverse people over mediocre food and aloof service in a room full of vapid, "beautiful" people.

                                                  Perhaps a bit harsh, but I'm tired of spending money at places that can barely disguise their contempt for the people that are paying their bills.

                                                  1. re: sloweater

                                                    I recall being treated much better at One the time I showed up on a whim with a friend and no reservation. They stated when their crowd was showing up. I stated we could still relax and be out before that happened. They graciously seated us at a gorgeous table on the patio. We vacated before they needed the table. If a Yorkville resto like One can manage it, why not everyone?

                                                    1. re: Googs

                                                      Because One is managed by one of the best operators in the city in terms of both operations and culinary achievement. They're also more amenable to an irregular core clientele (business travelers, business people with heavy schedules), have decades of experience, and have thrived servicing the most demanding clientele at two locations and with a fairly large catering operation. Plus One was conceived from the beginning as a hotel restaurant, requiring much more flexibility.

                                                      The people behind Castor just don't have that experience, skill, or infrastructure, never mind whatever other problems they may have. It's like judging most new Manhattan restaurants against the level of quality that Shang will have at launch.

                                        2. Has anyone actually seen diners in there?

                                          1. I've got no interest in eating there, but it's interesting to see that there are only negative reviews of this place, and they still keep on packing them in. Why do people flock to a place with bad food?

                                            Here are some reviews I've found:

                                            http://www.thestar.com/living/Restaur...

                                            http://www.eyeweekly.com/food/review/...

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: foodyDudey

                                              Eye gave it three stars. That's not a bad review.

                                              1. re: Dimbulb

                                                Eye and Now magazine both give pretty much all restaurants 3 stars -- they don't seriously review places.

                                                1. re: Dimbulb

                                                  Read the review, words such as "acrid", "disappoint", "over-cooked" and "mediocrity" abound.

                                                  My favourite quote from the Eye review:

                                                  "Other than being a beautifully transformed room (the former site of Thai Magic) or hiring a manager with front-of-the-house finesse with a capital “F,” there are few compelling reasons to hit Rosedale’s newest gastro-pub. So it’s curious that finding a spot among the boîte’s 85 seats is next to impossible."

                                                  I dunno, I tried to go there but I guess I wasn't beautiful enough for them either as our group was turned away before we got to the second door. Oh well, from what I've seen this wasn't my loss...the place was empty BTW...

                                                  1. re: Mike from Hamilton

                                                    Hi Mike,
                                                    Maybe they mistook you for me!
                                                    I have to admit a guilty pleasure now where I walk towards the door every time I pass - then - as the hostess attempts to intercept me I veer away and look at the menu instead. My favourite time (and that's a perverse pleasure) was during this cold spell when I managed to lure the hostess completely outside (uncoated) by feigning several moves towards the entrance.
                                                    I've been offered for a friend's 20+ aged daughters to make a reservation and then have me substitute - but I'm REALLY not interested.

                                                      1. re: estufarian

                                                        I somehow missed this post before estufarian - OMG, too funny.

                                                  2. re: foodyDudey

                                                    Maybe the people flocking to Le Petit Castor are birds of a feather, who eat like birds, rather than like Chowhounds or little French beavers.

                                                    I'd imagine with the right Rolodex, one could do quite well serving average food to people who generally find food and eating to be overrated, but like to socialize/sit/mingle in beautiful spaces:)

                                                  3. Well in ten years time who is still going to be standing? You've just answered it.

                                                    1. I had the same experience at Romagna Mia a few years ago. We went in about 5:45pm when the restaurant was practically empty and was told rather rudely by the maitre di that they were fully booked even though we've been to that restaurant a few times before and it was never full. We ended up nearby at Jamie Kennedy and had a great dinner there and went back to Romagna Mia after at about 7:15pm to take a peek and, as expected, it was not full.

                                                      Needless to say, we've never been back to Romagna Mia since.

                                                            1. re: BIGeater100

                                                              Still open.
                                                              Still packed with Beautiful People.
                                                              Food irrelevant.

                                                              1. re: estufarian

                                                                Damn! Thats what I was afraid of. Thanks everyone.

                                                                1. re: justsayn

                                                                  You have to admire their webpage, whatever you think of the restaurant.

                                                                  1. re: Toucan67

                                                                    Agreed. That's a brilliant website. Makes me want to pay them a visit...

                                                                    ... the menu, on the other hand... wtf? Tacos? wontons? Brisket stew? Rapini? Make up your mind, man!

                                                                2. re: estufarian

                                                                  I managed to move us from the cozy but empty room to Terroni just up the street.

                                                                  I feel badly for the people who get turned off of Terroni by the comments on this board. The food is always good. I have never understood the complaints about the staff.

                                                                  Tonight the food was just awesome and the service could not have been better. Great wine list. I just don't get it. Terroni wins my heart and wallet everytime!

                                                                  1. re: justsayn

                                                                    Not to make this about Terroni, but just try and order something a little different than whats on the menu. Its certainly not a 'the customer is always right' kinda place.

                                                                    1. re: BIGeater100

                                                                      Maybe that's why it always tastes so good?