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Melanie's Bistro - Good food at great value!!

Our party of four went to Melanie's Bistro for dinner tonight. Place was quaint and cozy. Even though the restaurant was packed, however, service through out our meal was most friendly and efficient. Three of us ordered the crab cakes with apple slaw and spicy aioli ($10 ) for appertizers. Unlike description by some previous posters, our crab cakes were served piping hot. The cake has almost zero fillers and tasted fresh and delicious. An apple and celery soup of the day ( $5 ) was surprisingly good as well. Our Coq au vin entree ( $18 ) was flavourful but could use a bit more sauce. Star of the evening was the Cornish game hen special ( $20 ) which was served with garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach and a 'to die for' port marinated cranberry meat jus. For dessert ( all $6 each ) we ordered the dark chocolate mousse cake with 'tri-berries' compote as well as a peach crumble cake a la mode. All desserts including the ice cream were home made and yummy. A steal at $6!!
For once I agree with Toronto Life awarding it a 3*. Comparing to another bistro like Batifole ( 2.5* ), I found Melanie's food is tastier, more refined, better presented and better value. The last meal I had at Batifole a few weeks back was pseudo-disaster. Food was sloppily prepared, rough at the edges and not that appealing in both presentation and taste. BTW, IMO, Melanie's food is also better than the 3* Trattoria Zucca, which I find over-rated and somewhat mediocre. For decent Italian, Mistura or Il Mulino are better choices!

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  1. Good to hear, Charles. Sorry about Batifole, though. I'm surprised about your crab cake experience; did you find chunks of crab in them? Mine were like dense sponges that could easily be held in the hand without any trace of crab, aside from the overall flavour.

    I think what I'm learning from your experience and the Toronto Life review is that, for mains, it's best to go for the specials or the meat dishes, rather than the pastas, which I think are more run of the mill and, in my opinion, don't warrant the Toronto Life *** rating.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Full tummy

      Hello Full Tummy,
      The crab cake was indeed prepared a little 'denser' in texture than most. However, we did notice its composition to be shreds of crab meat rather than 'chunks'. The latter version are typically found in the US since they are usually made with lump crab meat. I doubt if Melanie uses imitation crab meat or salt cod as fillers since the taste and texture will no doubt be different.
      With regards to their pasta dishes. According to the table next to us, the 'Spicy seafood linguine' special last night was very tasty with tons of seafood and good value at $16. At least for THAT pasta dish, it was not run of the mill. Yes, you might be right! For something a bit more special, better to order their specials of the day.

      1. re: Charles Yu

        Thanks, Charles. Yes, I agree it is made with real crab. I just felt there were a lot of other ingredients making up the "dough", and not as much crab. It seems that what you meant when you said fillers is fake crab; I agree I didn't detect any fake crab. What I meant when I said fillers was just that there wasn't much crab in the crab cakes, that it was loaded up with other things that don't necessarily add to the flavour but bulk it up, like flour, bread crumbs, etc. I do expect some of that in a crab cake; I just felt that Melanie's had too much.

        I will definitely go back soon and avoid pasta. Am looking forward to it, in fact. I do really like the place...

    2. My experience with the crabcakes at Melanie's was enjoyable - tasty and hot. This was at brunch. It's a great neighbourhood brunch spot.

      Melanie's Bistro
      1870 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4C1J4, CA

      4 Replies
      1. re: JamieK

        I remember having cod cakes at brunch with eggs; is that what you had? Or do they have the same dinner appetizer with the brunch?

        1. re: Full tummy

          With eggs. It was the Newfoundland special.

          1. re: JamieK

            The Newfoundland special has been on the menu since they've opened, and I've had it two out of the three brunches I've had at Melanie's. But, it's made with cod cakes, not crab cakes. They are quite delicious and flavourful.

            1. re: Full tummy

              Oh, that's right. It's been a while. Yes the cod cakes were good.

      2. Well, I recently ate dinner again at MB, and I stayed away from the pasta. For mains, hubby and I shared the steak and a stuffed chicken dish. Perfectly cooked rapini on both plates, yummy mashed potatoes, sauces were great. Definitely a notch above the pasta--why? Maybe I'm just tired of pasta... The steak was actually about an inch and a half thick and cooked to specification (medium rare), nicely charred. Not the best meat, for sure--don't know how long it was aged and how, or where it came from--but it was good value for $20.00.

        We shared the cheesecake for dessert, and it was a bit of a disappointment. While it was beautifully garnished with a berry compote, the compote was missing a hit of something...it could've used some port, perhaps. And the cake itself was bland and not sweet enough. I appreciate that when desserts are made well, you can get away with using less sugar, but this was too much "less". A sweeter, richer compote would have provided better balance.

        Am planning to try the Valentine's menu which appears to be much more ambitious than the regular menu, and I'm hoping the dishes are well-executed. Will let you know.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Full tummy

          It's fantastic for us that Melanie's is just up the street from us and East York is sort of lacking in good places to eat. We went there ecently and had some awesome food. My husband had the steak (just as described, thick and tender medium rare), but he said it was one of the best he's had. I had the coq au vin and really enjoyed that too. Unfortunatley they were out of decaf so I couldn't finish my meal with a nice decaf cappuccino (I've had those here and they're delish). I think they could have improved on the ambiance though--no table cloths (thought they had those before), lighting was too bright and our candle was burnt out. Our waiter, though nice enough was not that attentive. But we do like this place. The brunches are good and it's so close and we want to support local businesses.

        2. Just posting regarding the crab cakes under discussion. I recently ate at Melanie's again, and my companion decided to order them. This time, they were completely different than the first time we had them. Don't know if they changed the recipe, or if my previous experience was an anomaly, but they were definitely different. These were denser, more like the cod cakes I've eaten at Melanie's brunch, with very visible shreds of crab (this was not the case the first time I had them). They were definitely enjoyable and worth the money. I must say I am feeling more contented to have this little place in my nabe.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Full tummy

            We had brunch at Melanie's for the first time today. Very nice little spot. I had the denver omelet which was very nicely done. It had finely chopped tomato, red pepper, green onion and cheese (sorry don't recall what type), It came with some ww grain bread, a few potatoes and a little bit of fruit salad. Mr. MG had the chicken club sandwich which he enjoyed. The coffee was really good and the service excellent. Our only complaint was the fries, they could do much better in that department. Frozen, and not crisp enough.

            Our waiter told us about the Tuesday night dinner special. Two courses for $20. Sounds like a very good deal to me. The fennell crusted salmon caught my eye. We will definitely return.

            The atmosphere is just so so but I like that it is very clean, and they seem very nice and eager to please.

            1. re: millygirl

              Oh, sounds good. Yum, yum. Haven't been for brunch in a while. Will have to get back soon.

              1. re: millygirl

                We've been there, i think, 3 times for brunch since the beginning of the year simply because the food is good and the atmosphere is right for us at this time in our life. We have an infant and Melanie's is large enough to accomodate us and our car seat (this is not possible at many of the Leslieville brunch spots we used to frequent.) The food is delish (newfoundland cod cakes are my fave)

                In fact, it appears to be the nabe hangout for young families as we are not the only ones with little people.

                1. re: Apple

                  Have you had any of the dinner items Apple? And what about the burger?

                  1. re: millygirl

                    We've eaten dinner there only three or four times (this is pre-baby only) - For dinner - I've had the pasta - fusilli & penne - I think... it was okay. My husband has had the bolgnaise & the steak... I think he enjoyed it.

                    For lunch - I've had the turkey sandwich & salmon BLT (the latter was a special of the day and quite yum!!) & my husband has had the tikka wrap and the burger. All not bad. (Although my husband thought the tikka chicken was a bit dry and would probably opt for one of the sandwiches again. He doesn't remember the burger as anything spectacular or terrible for that matter.) The salads are usually a spring mix which is usually light tasting and fresh.

                    Overall - it's a fine option for the 'hood. I wouldn't drive out of my way to hit MB... but as far as neighborhood restaurants go, I am glad it's there. It's well priced, family friendly (though it doesn't cater to children, per se...) and a very reliable & tasty option when we don't want to cook or when we are meeting friends for a casual meal. Melanie is a nice lady and happy to see us everytime. For this, we are very happy to spend our money here.

                    1. re: millygirl

                      I've had dinner there but it was a while ago, about a year. I had the shrimp linguine and remember it was quite good, tasty sauce and filling too, I ended up taking some home with me. My friend had the butter chicken and loved it, no leftovers there, every saucy morsel sopped up.

                      I don't remember seeing a burger on the menu but I just checked the online menu and it's only on the lunch menu. And it seems the butter chicken is now only on the lunch menu as well.

              2. This place has been on my go-to list for over a year thanks to the positive reviews and fan base on this site. Finally dined there tonight. Our table shared the Lobster Mac & Cheese and the Mixed Green Salad with mushroom crostini. Both were excellent and set the expectation for a promising meal. The wait between apps and mains was almost 1 hour. It looked like the busy kitchen was making sure everyone in the room had their apps out before working on any mains - not cool when we arrived ahead of almost everyone else in the room and were made to wait for others who arrived well after our reservation. Essentially we were left there to enjoy a bottle of wine without food. All other tables were getting bread baskets. And speaking of wine, poor list and it (a red) was served much too warm. Where are they storing their wines? I ordered the special - pork tenderloin, stuffed with a mushroom druxelle, and a mustard sauce with a side of bok choy and garlic mash. What I got was a very overcooked, dry, tough, piece of pork with a stuffing that tasted more of salt and sage than mushrooms. It was criminal what the kitchen did to that piece of meat. The side consisted of 4 pieces of asparagus and not bok choy as recited by the server when she took our orders. The sauce was not mustard based but something fruity, reminded me of berry jam. I pointed out to the server that my entree was to come with bok choy, they did check with the kitchen only to confirm that yes there had been a substitution. OK, not a deal breaker, but why didn’t the server know this? Since when are there subs for specials???? The other entrees were cranberry and goat cheese stuffed drunken chicken and striploin steak - the chicken had no goat cheese or cranberries therefore a stuffed chicken breast minus the stuffing (WTF!) and all entrees were served with the same fruity sauce, asparagus and garlic mash as the pork special. So essentially, each entree was identical except for the meat selection. Plates were cleared, clean forks and napkins brought to the table in preparation for dessert. Another ½ hour elapses before the server returns. Feeling honoured to be asked, we order dessert; chocolate mousse cake, carrot cake, creme brulee coffee and tea. The desserts were OK to good; should have been better for in-house made desserts by a former pastry chef. And to finish off my evening, the server spilled the hot water from my tea pot scalding my hand (he honestly felt very badly about it so I tried not to make him feel worse, but hey, it’s my skin screaming in pain here...) So I am really puzzled - was it an extremely off night or is the nabe so devoid of dining choices that it makes one happily settle for mediocre food and service or are my tastes the polar opposite of all the positive posters? Overall, it was quite amateurish by any standard IMHO and I won’t be returning any time soon to try and answer my own question. And really, vintage Paul McCartney and The Who (Baba O'Riley) as music to dine by?????

                6 Replies
                1. re: tuttebene

                  tuttebene, I live in the neighborhood and am a fan of Melanie's so I'm extremely prejudiced. But I think yours is the first and only spotty review I've read. We've tried a good percentage of the regular menu and specials and have never, ever been disappointed.

                  Yes, it's a neighborhood spot, but IMO could be anywhere in the city and would deservedly get a following. We could eat anywhere but choose Melanie's.

                  Did you go on a Friday or Saturday? That seems to be the busiest times (aside from Sunday brunch) and most likely even more bustling than usual thanks to the recent (accurately) favourable review by Amy Pataki. Not that this is an excuse. Please give Melanie's another try. They are really kind people who put out an effort with usually great results.

                  1. re: neighborguy

                    I just had a SUPERB meal at 'Simple Bistro'!
                    The roasted leg of Boileau Venison with a juniper berry jus and walnuts entree was one of the most delicious dish I had tasted anywhere, this year! ( including a number of Michelin star restuarants ). Crusty outside, tender, moist and rare inside, the texture, aroma and taste of the meat/sauce combo was out-of-this-world! Like a fine wine, I can still remember the gorgeous after-taste!
                    ( I will make a separate posting of the whole meal later on.)
                    BTW, the Lobster and Scallop Boudin appertizer served with spinach and a creamy sauce vin blanc was almost as amazing!
                    $40 for a three course prix fix with such tasty food was a steal! The overall 'better value food', IMHO is much better than say, Rubywatch Co.,!

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      Photos of dishes from the aforementioned meal at 'Simple Bistro'
                      - Lobster and Sacallop Boudin
                      - Duck Bonbons
                      - Dungeness Crab Croquettes
                      - Pan seared European sea bream
                      - Oven roasted led of Boileau Venison
                      - Steak Frites
                      - Apples galore
                      - Interesting interpretation of 'Black Forest Cake'
                      -Caramel Sticky Pudding

                    2. re: neighborguy

                      I can appreciate that you are a fan. And yes, it was a busy Saturday evening but they left the impression that cranking out the food was more important than pleasing the diners and that by 7:30 PM, they may have run out of supplies. Add to it the poor service (albeit nice people, just not skilled) and it made for a long and disappointing evening all round - Melanie was walking around the room but not checking on tables or helping the servers so that too was a little surprising. I was genuinely perplexed given all other favourable postings. I live only a couple of subway stops away myself and really wanted to like it. Sigh...I'll accept being the lone voice on this one.

                      1. re: tuttebene

                        I've only been to Melanie's once, for brunch, and had the Newfoudland cod cakes and eggs. My fellow diner and I had efficient service and the food was good - I could only eat half though it was just too rich. They may be stretched by the good review from Amy P. I wish them well because we really need good low key places with great food in this part of town. But they have to be consistent.
                        In the same neighborhood I have found Relish to be rubbish, and Bistro Camino to be a gem - just ignore the decor!

                        Bistro Camino
                        2750 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4C1L7, CA

                    3. re: tuttebene

                      Your experience is unfortunate, to say the least. I too was wondering as I read your post if they have been overwhelmed by a reaction to Pataki's extremely positive review (and, of course, no excuse).

                      Well, as has been said before, it's a neighbourhood place and while I haven't been in a while, I will continue to go there not because the area is bereft of dining choices but because my experience -- food and service -- has always been enjoyable. I do agree they could reconsider the music line-up.

                      edited -- I meant this in response to tuttebene's review above.