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Winterlicious/Summerlicious experiences?

I tend to avoid whole Winterlicious/Summerlicious. I've heard so many negatives, I tend to only go to fine restaurant about once every two weeks, maybe three times a month if I am lucky. I've heard so many negatives from both foodies, and those in the kitchen of restaurants, that it's not worth it.

"You get what you pay for," said a friend who works at North. "How do you expect a $30 fixed menu to be as good as a $30 appetizer...it just isn't."

But there are so many restaurants that I want to try, and it seems unless I am willing to spend a few thousand, this is the only way. Is Winterlicious/Summerlicious worth it? Or is it like how my friend said? You won't get the whole experience, and you won't know how it is really like because you're paying for a sub-standard meal at these restaurants?

What's your opinions?

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  1. The previous 340+ conversations regarding Winterlicious alone available via the Search function:


    6 Replies
    1. re: BodyByCheese

      I don't know about you but weeding through 340+ conversations is a daunting task that many of us don't have time for. We all know the search function is available but sometimes it just makes sense to ask again. Stonedtoronto has asked a legitimate question and I really hope someone is able to shed some light on Winterlicious/Summerlicious since I don't have any first hand experience.

      Toronto hounds have lead me to places that I never would have found on my own and for that I am very grateful. They also have a weath of knowledge they love to share. So let's let them share.

      1. re: jillybean38

        My point is that people have taken the time to make recommendations regarding Winterlicious at enormous length already. Should they be cast aside, when the answer to an inquiry is surely easily found within?

        The poster is looking for general experiences. Every single post on Winterlicious is an experience, so he/she woudn't have a hard time finding quality advice. If he/she were looking for something specific, like finding a needle in a haystack, then I would agree that using the Search isn't a good idea. But when you just want to read about other people's experiences, I stand by my suggestion.

        1. re: BodyByCheese

          I did try searching for it, but came up with nothing substantial. But your link is very helpful, thank you.

          But yes, I was looking for general experiences. I just joined CH, so I am still quite "green", so you'll have to excuse my newbie-like question. But thank you nonetheless for the search link.

            1. re: stonedtoronto

              hey stonedtoronto, don't get scared off! We need fresh blood, I mean, um, fresh perspectives on this board.

        2. re: BodyByCheese

          I find many of the responses to previous threads are old i.e. I went to restaurant "A" two years ago for winterlicious and had a horrible meal.. many first time winterlicious restaurants get overwhelmed by the crowds and cant cope but by the second time the get things working right.. also there are new places added every year and ones taken off. The best question would be what was the "Summerlicious 2008 highlights" as they would be the best indication of good winterlicious experiences..

        3. If you are a regular patron at those restaurants and try their licious menu, you are bound to be disappointed. But if you only go to those places at these events, then it is worthwhile because you are trying something new, but you still won't really be trying out that restaurant, esp. the high end ones, since it's a special "cheap" menu.

          I tried a couple without much expectation and all have been pleasant.

          1. I think the 'licious concept is designed for those that rarely if ever eat out. It's hell on wheels to those who are used to the dining experience...and I'm speaking of patrons and kitchen staff alike. There's a reason Mark McEwan refers to it as winter/summer-vicious.

            1. Sometimes it's worth it, but mostly not-so-much.

              Generally speaking I think your friend is right - a 'licious meal can't match the regular experience.... food budgets have been slashed, tables turn fast, and servers can get surly. But there are hidden gems, and the best way to find them is to start digging through that archive to which you've been directed by BBC.

              PS - we did OK at Tutti Matti.

              1. If you go to a fine dining restaurant ever two weeks how have you not been to every nice place in the city yet anyway? That's over a 25 per year.

                1. stonedtoronto,

                  To be honest, I used to love the summerlicious/winterlicious events when they first started a number of years back (I have lost count). I stumbled onto them by accident the first year, and have been pleasantly surprised for a couple of years after that. However, recently I have found the quality to be very lacking. As well, the prices are creeping higher and higher. Now they approach $35 + tax + mandatory 18% gratuity tacked on top (Celestin comes to mind). I don't mind paying that much for tip at all, just the idea of 'mandatory' irks me a bit (and yes, I know that even though they tack it on, doesn't mean you have to pay it because it's a 'tip', but it's an awkward experience nonetheless so of course I do. The service at Celestin is still very good during the licious times, so I have no complaints there). So all in all, you add in drinks, and BAM you have a $130~$150 dinner for two. At those prices, I can find a number of restaurants I know I will have a wonderful time dining in during regular times when the food is spot on, the menu selection more diverse, the pace less rushed, the service more inviting, etc.

                  That's not to say you won't find some gems. I discovered a number of restaurants through the winterlicious/summerlicious events (Bymark, Canoe, Celestin, JW Steakhouse - now closed, EDO by DFFERENT - now closed, among others) and have gone back regularly during their normal hours. However, I have noted that a number of those have gone a bit downhill since (a year or so back, everyone was serving chicken or salmon, and I think that is just ridiculous). The menus have been dumbed-down, and I don't like being ushered out after 1.5hrs. Plus, the ambiance is completely different from the 'regulars' dining scene. Last year, I tried EDO for the first time, and their 'licious' menu is completely different from their regular menu, but in a good way. THAT is worth trying IMO. It is much more adventurous (I guess the DFFERENT resto didn't work out, so he's playing with the licious menu instead) and well worth $25 (the price that this event started at). And oh my, I just checked the website and the dinners have creeped up to $45 a head at some places.

                  So in conclusion, I say you should study the menus. See what intrigues you. Try some restos you could not normally 'afford' perhaps and just have a good time. Treat it like you would a normal night out and not a severely discounted evening, and you'll choose wisely. Would you be willing to pay normal price for the menu? If not, move on. I personally would want to save up my money and go somewhere special instead of being herded. The original intention of the festival was to introduce gems to customers and help out the food industry. It was a win-win situation for all those involved. But lately, some restos have been getting a touch greedy. I know I won't be waiting on the phone for 2hrs to try and secure reservations anymore at Bymark or Canoe. My last meal at Canoe was solid/safe, but it wasn't at all 'worth it' IMO, because you aren't really getting a sense of what they can really do on a regular day. It's like day and night when you compare their licious menu to their regular menu. The tastes are completely different.

                  So if you head in with expectations kept in check that you're getting basically what you pay for (trimmed down menus/ingredients/preparations), willing to pay $140 for two (which IMO is a lot like regular price at some great restos around town), then by all means. I think I'll just make a fancy meal for my SO and myself during those two weeks, and head out once the dust has subsided.

                  I'll take a browse of the menus once they're posted, and report back if I find anything noteworthy. I am sure many other CHers will also report back.

                  Hope this helps
                  Cheers and Happy Eating!

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: BokChoi

                    If you normally eat at the restaurants, most of the time you won't be blown away by their Winter/Summerlicious menus. We've had some really awful meals that weren't even worth the $20-35, we've had some meals worth the money, and we've had some meals that were probably a really good deal.

                    I tend to go to the same places each year, because the ones I've gone to with friends that I had never been to before were usually bad. We went to the following during last year's Winter/Summerlicious:

                    - Truffles: I thought it was mediocre, but everyone else thought it was good.
                    - North 44: It may not be the same as a normal night there, but the food was pretty good. Service was iffy.
                    - Canoe: Food was good, but not the same as a normal night. Service was good.
                    - Mistura: Food was good, service was good. The menu wasn't really that interesting though.
                    - Bymark: For me, definitely the best "deal." My food was great, and the service was good.
                    - Alizé: Incredibly awful in all respects.

                    The thing is that you really have to know which are even worth going to. On a Winter/Summerlicious night, a lot of restaurants have less servers on the floor, second-string cooks, assembly-lined menus, etc. It isn't a representation of what the restaurant can do at its best, and it certainly isn't really a night to be going for a normal meal (unless the restaurant does really limited 'licious covers) due to the impact of the event. Even the different options on the menu can at times be night and day. Sometimes the portions are much smaller than those a restaurant would normally serve, sometimes the product is inferior, using inferior ingredients, less time spent on presentation, etc. Desserts are generally not even worth talking about.

                    Take this summer at Bymark as an example. I like Bymark normally, and go regularly. Their Summerlicious menu was fairly strange: appetizers varied from a smaller portion of their delicious gravlax to an incredibly boring salad of mixed greens. Mains were a tiny overcooked piece of salmon, a chicken, and the Bymark burger. I didn't taste any difference between the burger you'd get on a normal night and the one during Summerlicious. Considering the burger is normally something like $35, getting it with an appetizer and a dessert seems like a pretty good deal. Unfortunately, those who ordered the salmon were disappointed, and I would have been too.

                    I'm not really in a huge hurry to attend these events again, but my friends will inevitably want to go, so I will as well.

                    In general, out of the six or so I've gone to this year, I'd say they were mostly a decent value for the money spent, you just have to be careful not only on the places you choose, but also what you order off the menu. The event has really changed in meaning from the first time it was held to the present; it now seems more about making a quick buck than getting people in to wow them and feel that their money should be spent on going out to restaurants. Given the economic situation we're in right now, you'd think that restaurant owners this time around might want to try to draw in customers and give them a reason to return. I don't think this year will be any better though, given the fact that they have boosted the dinner price up to $45 (an amount I don't mind paying in another situation, but not for most of the meals I've had to date at 'licious).

                    Toronto doesn't really have the same prix-fixe culture that somewhere like Paris or Tokyo does, where you can walk into restaurants, spend $20-30 and have a really nice three-course lunch. I don't really think Winter/Summerlicious changes that, but I have had good meals at pretty reasonably prices, so I don't complain about it too much.

                    1. re: tjr

                      Disagree with your statement: "On a Winter/Summerlicious night, a lot of restaurants have less servers on the floor, second-string cooks, assembly-lined menus, etc." in fact many restaurants hire extra staff for winterlicious to handle the crowds which is just as bad as having too few because tehy do not know the food or the systems but are needed to handle the crowd. A friend of mine in the industry would usually do 50-60 people in the winter on a busy evening had 300 during one saturday during winterlicious. As for second string cooks, again it is probably new staff in to handle the volume.

                      And just like any catering gig where everyone is eating the same food it IS assembly line. That does not make it bad if they know what they are doing... you have to have food that you can prep ahead and just finsih quickly before serving, stews, roasts, soups salads are all mass "assembly line" freindly. Dishes that have to be assembled of differing cooked elements are not..

                      1. re: OnDaGo

                        I didn't say "assembly lined" food was bad, but a lot of people on the board have criticized restaurants for doing this, so it's probably something important to say (and, in those cases, I actually defended it as well).

                        I don't know how many restaurants bring in extra staff, but I also have friends in the industry (in front and back of house); serving staff at their restaurants were cut, and they weren't using the cream of the crop in the back. I've also noticed the difference in number of people on the floor at the various restaurants I frequent normally and during their Winter/Summerlicious period.

                        1. re: tjr

                          I know some staff who do not want to work the licious but if the restaurant is serving more customers it would be insane to cut staff. I would not go to these places and of the restaurants I know it is tottaly the opposite.

                          Would you care to name names?

                          1. re: OnDaGo

                            I feel that would be unwise. The restaurants are not ones which go from empty to full as soon as 'licious is on, though.

                          2. re: tjr

                            I agree that there is assembly-line food being offered, because how else can they service an entire restaurant with two or three sittings per evening? You're going to get a lot of stews, or items that can be pre-made and fired up at the last minute (fish, roasted items) for service.

                            There are gems though, just choose wisely.

                            And thanks for the reminder of the Parisian Bistro prix fixe meals... It's quite depressing, the contrast, no? Their cheese plates that are part of a $20 lunch 3 course meal is probably $20 here alone. I can't wait for my next tour of that fine city.

                      2. re: BokChoi

                        Another thought - Maybe they've seen the prior years' complaints and stepped up their game by charging a bit more? (I highly doubt this option, but I would love to be proven incorrect).

                      3. Went to quite a few during the last Summerlicious. Bymark offered great food and gracious service. Despite the many rave reviews I've read, I had a horrible experience at Celestin with regards to service. Trevor Kitchen and Bar was mediocre - decent food, disinterested and standoffish service.

                        I have done both Liciouses a few times and yes, there are more misses than hits, but it is a good opportunity to try restaurants that you otherwise would not make it to.

                        1. The first thing I always do is look at the actual menus. Since the restaurants offer such a limited number of options (no more than three apps, mains, desserts), it is important to know what those options are before making a reservation. I tend to start with those restaurants I think of as "tried and true", like North 44, Bymark, Truffles, Auberge du Pommier, etc., (Since you already have an idea of restaurants you want to try, then start with those...)

                          I had an amazing Winterlicious meal at North 44 a couple of years ago, a very good one at Lai Toh Heen, a dismal one at Truffles, and satisfactory meals at Bymark, Jump, and Celestin. It's hard to generalize from one person's experience, though, and it's definitely a mixed bag.

                          1. Some good advice here, and also in the historic string. Many have frustrations getting reservations at the traditional high end joints like Canoe and North44. It's better to seek out the gems that are taking it seriously, making the effort, and giving value. Many places treat it like a high volume rush, and dumb down the menus while small-sizing the plates. In the trade, apparently winterlicious is referred to as 905 season.

                            Last year, I found Thuet was phoning it in, Monsoon uninspiring, and Spice Room and Chutney Bar made a really big effort with no appreciable change in size, definitely good value.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Snarf

                              Yeah I'm with you... Seems like lots of people in this thread alone are mentioning the absolute crust of restaurants in the city, where you can easily drop hundreds of dollars on any meal. Perhaps shooting for the stars on beer money isn't the best way to go about these festivals. I bet it's a great way to try some restaurants you're iffy about. If you hate it, at least you didn't go whole-horse on the night.

                              And surely the up and coming restaurants who are trying to attract a regular clientele base will be happier to have you and the rest of the rush, VS the pro restauranteurs who already have a full place every night.

                              1. re: SocksManly

                                I agree with both of you. One of the big problems I've seen on various "licious threads is that expectations can be really unrealistic. If you choose an 'expense account" resto with a 'licious menu, you'll get basically a rudhed sample of what's going on there with expense account drink prices.

                                We almost always go to a couple of 'licious meals and use it as an opportunity to try some not super famous places we were on the fence with checking out. The results have ranged from pretty good to amazing..never had a bad experience. Also we avoid 'licious on a Friday or Saturday night and usually have a more relaxed meal because it's not as busy. With realistic expectations and smart menu and resto choices 'licious meals can be a good deal.

                                Crush Wine Bar stands out as a place that became a "go to" place for us after a great 'licious meal.

                            2. Licious always has been and always will be horrible.

                              Your net price will be the same or more as on a regular night, but with inferior product and service. For people that don't go to restaurants much, it seems like a great deal, and they get the same results as a shoe sale - "err, I hate them, but they were ON SALE!!!"

                              Since I go out a fair bit (single downtowner with far too much work to do), I never get dessert and rarely get appetizers (you get to eat more real food that way, and need fewer hours in the gym or days of endless salad)- $30 for an entree gets you pretty much everywhere. Then there are the games that are played with the wine lists (have to goose profits somewhere, and irregular customers won't notice) and the psychology of splurging after saving (look at how people end up eating more calories from "lite" snacks than full versions) so people tend to go for a higher end glass or bottle.

                              Go out to restaurants you want on a regular night. You'll be able to eat when you want, you'll get the full experience, the staff will provide much better service, and you won't be pushed out after 60-90 minutes. You'll probably save money and will have a much better time. Leave 'licious to 905 and the ignorant.

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: preppycuisine

                                I think it's a bit unfair to label everyone who enjoys a good deal with the licious events 'ignorant' and/or from 905. There are some gems from time to time, and unless one has tried every single menu, it's hard to make general/sweeping comments. I know for a fact that it's very competitive to be a new restaurant and join the licious event listing. Grand Chinese restaurant has been trying apparently for a couple of years, and was finally able to join the roster this year. Whether or not their menu will be able to secure new clientele, we'll have to wait for the big unveil. I'm just saying that a lot of smaller restaurants put in a lot of effort during these events to gain exposure. As a result, we sometimes find gems (When JW's steakhouse opened up, the first year with licious they had fresh Maryland crab cakes and an 8 oz NY strip loin with dessert for only $25. The second year they had a 6 oz filet with a seared foie gras for apps. Third time they had a rack of lamb... then they went belly-up. But I digress). Oftentimes, we don't if we stick to the established restos (Truffles is a big disappointment each time, and immediately comes to mind).

                                Sure, I think I'm spoiled/blessed to be able to eat out regularly at some nicer establishments. I don't presume that everyone can splurge on a meal a few times a year. With larger/new family commitments, and large mortgages (I'm talking about the typical 905er, amongst others I'm sure!), sometimes you have to sacrifice some things, such as a fancy night out. Licious is a great opportunity for some of them to get out and enjoy the nightlife that I've been so fortunate to indulge in frequently. And yes, a sale is not a sale if you don't like what you're getting. But for some, it's the incentive they need to treat themselves and not feel guilty about it.

                                Either way, study the menus, do a little research on the restos that interest you, and take a chance. I've been well-rewarded by being a bit adventurous with newer restaurants. Maybe stonedtoronto will be too.


                                1. re: BokChoi

                                  I'm saying that licious is a pure sales tactic and relies on self-delusion to succeed.

                                  You don't save money, you get a horrible experience, and have no idea of the quality of the restaurant - licious rewards the ability to bully customers, invent and create assembly line food, and upsell the unwary. These don't correlate with the abilities one likes to see in the management of nice restaurants, and they are excellent skills to have in certain settings (hotel service, catering, theatre district restaurants...). Some chefs have these skill sets and can run superb restaurants (Mark McEwan, for one), while others can do one or the other.

                                  Informed and contemplative diners should avoid licious for the plague that it is. I mentioned the best ways to try more places on a budget during regular service and demonstrated how licious gets you to a bigger cheque than you would otherwise see. It's sad that some people can't accept that, but what are you going to do.

                                  1. re: preppycuisine

                                    OK, so Liscious is not perfect, sometimes it's not the experience you were counting on, sometimes it's downright awful. I've had all levels of dissatisfaction at
                                    Toronto restaurants on non-Liscious nights, too.

                                    It is true that, with your dining approach (ordering a main only), Liscious wouldn't save you any money. Sorry to say, but for some of us, ordering only a main will simply not be satisfying.

                                    True, the Liscious restaurants need to design dishes that can be put together very quickly before service to keep pace. If you want to call this assembly line, fine. However, there can still be artistry; the plates can still carry inspiring flavour and food combos, at a price that is more accessible to some. I think it is quite a challenge to some of these chefs who are used to people paying premium bucks for lobster, truffle, and foie gras, to take more modest ingredients and make them into something superb.

                                    I have seen it done; I have enjoyed many of my Liscious meals as much as the meals I ate at Toronto's "best" restaurants on non-Liscious nights. I believe it is possible--Yes, you can enjoy a North 44-ish meal at a fraction of the price, and there's a very good chance that your server will be as gracious and charming as on any other night, in my opinion.

                                    1. re: preppycuisine

                                      Call it "uninspired" and "assembly line-like" if you'd like. I think pictures speak for themselves. And I generally like to think I'm an informed and contemplative diner.

                                      $25 gets you a fine dinner at Edo.
                                      This was taken from my summerlicious experience earlier this year:

                                      I agree that your points apply to some restaurants. I just think it's unfair to cast all licious participants in such a vile light.

                                      1. re: BokChoi

                                        Thank you, BokChoi, for sharing. I still haven't gotten up the nerve to take photos in restaurants. That meal looks fab.

                                        1. re: Full tummy

                                          It does, doesn't it? I used to be a bit embarrassed, but due to my terrible memory, this is the only way I can document my meals for future reference. I just returned recently for another fantastic meal there. Exceptionally fresh fish of high quality.

                                          Photoset: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...

                                      2. re: preppycuisine

                                        I consider myself a foodie after your design, often splitting an app with my dining partner and skipping dessert, so am always hunting for places with mains that wow me within my usual price range of $20. a lot of the places i now frequent would not have been added to my repertoire were it not for chowhound or, wait for it, Winter/Summer licious.

                                        Back when it was still around and stunning, I had a phenomenal meal at Sqaure (now the space of Lai Toh Heen). I have eaten well at Lolo (old location), Across the Road, Boiler House, Bodega, and Herbs , and have had stand-out meals at Mildred Pierce (old location),Corner House, Five Doors North, and Quince , the later two now added to my repertoire as usual spots I love.

                                        Yes, they gauge on wine and service can be spotty. But licious opens the door for folks on a budget like me to experiences we might otherwise only have to dream of or save for, or they enable us to have a more complete dining experience somewhere that we might end up holding back on.

                                        I'd like to think that as a 416-er for life and a chowhounder and former food blogger, I am as plugged in to this city's culinary scene as anyone else here, and the intimation that my enjoyment of 'Licious make me ignorant is an affront to my dedicated to-foodie-ism. Licious is just another way to enjoy some of what this city's restos have to offer - ain't nothing wrong with that.

                                    2. re: preppycuisine

                                      People who participate most certainly aren't more ignorant than anyone else apparently.

                                      I participate in 'licious from time to time and echo the sentiment that it is best to try out the small, "less-famous" places. I'd rather save up my money and go all out on a regular night at a higher-end place. For ‘licious, I look for menu options that appeal to me and my party (preferably close variations of their regular menu), and then I check the general reviews of said resto.

                                      In the past I’ve enjoyed Rosebud and Pony (both are no more, so maybe there is a trend here). The Citizen was OK, but rushed (weekend lunch). I don’t think Lai Toh Heen was worth the 35$ for dinner, but the service was top-notch and some of the dishes were quite tasty.

                                      A few tips: weekend lunches are completely rushed and the only time I've experienced a kitchen run out of one of the 'licious items. Weekend dinners can be good if you get one of the later seatings and aren't rushed out the door. My pick is mid-week dinner for the most relaxed experience. Also, if you're not one to generally eat a three-course meal or order anything beyond entrees, then don't do 'licious. You can learn just as much about a restaurant ordering one entree on their regular menu than you will stuffing yourself with three courses, that might not be up to standards. Emphasis on the might.

                                      Bon appétit if you go, and please report back!

                                      1. re: nicopop

                                        I guess I am in the minority in enjoying these events. I do manage my expectations; I do not expect what I would get eating " a la carte" at the restaurant. I agree with the advice to look over the menus. I have had the best experiences at NEW places who look on it as a chance to show off a gain some clientele. Also, the more "basic" places will often give you more for your money than Canoe and North 44... after all, those places don't really need new customers.

                                        1. re: JToronto

                                          This may be true; however, I have found that some of the "top" restaurants have still put on quite a show. As one resto-savvy friend advised me, the more successful restaurants are more easily able to cut their profits or even absorb a loss over 'Licious.

                                          1. re: Full tummy

                                            'licious does not run at a loss. Restaurants WANT to get in.
                                            The basic problem isn't is with 'licious, but rather with the norm: most restaurants in Toronto are a waste of time and too expensive.