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Jan 31, 2009 04:12 PM

Bad winterlicious experience: Paese

A big fan of Paese during non-licious times, numerous good meals there until last night.

Had to wait over 50 minutes for a reserved table, not the fault of the restaurant as people lingered over their coffees and refused to call for the bill, nothing the staff can do. The host was very gracious about it and apologized politely.

Starters: Green salad with pomegranate seeds: Ok I suppose. Nothing to complain about.
Caesar salad: from my recollection Paese's Caesar tasted much better than this one which lacked acidity, saltiness and taste. plus it was over-dressed. oh well
Mushroom soup: heard from comments from the next table it was watery. Can't vouch for that.
I ordered off the regular menu, grilled calamari. Nicely done, not rubbery, swimming in a pool of olive oil sauteed spinach and sundried tomatoes. good contrast in flavors

Mains: Striploin steak. I think restaurants do themselves a HUGE disfavor by buying lower quality/cheap ingredients during such events. There really isn't much you can do to make a poor quality piece of beef taste like beef. Devoid of flavor despite grilled to desired doneness. What a waste of calories!
I ordered off the menu: spaghetti with chicken meatballs which was solid, went well with my glass of wine.
Other options include a pasta dish and a salmon stew, nobody tried them.

Dessert: Chocolate Mousse. Dense, cloyingly sweet (to my palate, not necessarily to others), but the texture was more brownie like than airy mousse-like. Pretty good chocolate though, not the mousse I had in mind.

Just a general comment to all 'licious restaurant participants, if your goal is to promote your restaurant so patrons come back in non 'licious times, try to make a good impression instead of focusing on getting through the event without losing money. It's generally accepted that these events aren't cash cows and staff hate working during these events, nevertheless you did sign up so show off the skill of the kitchen!

This experience reminds me why I haven't gone to a 'licious event in 3 years..... overcrowded restaurants, stressed out wait-staff, cheap ingredients in quick-fire dishes....

Now unfortunately it has put off my S.O. from coming to Paese in the near future, which is a real shame. I actually had a decent meal by ordering off the regular menu!

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  1. Well put! Totally agree with your remark! Another observation I made regarding 'getting through the event without losing money' is that year in year out, a majority of restaurants choose to serve 'cheap' chicken breast and salmon fillet dishes! Repetitive and boring!!!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Charles Yu

      Yep, even Bymark took off the burger!

    2. Totally agree.. this winterlicious thing is an abomination... let alone its Summer clone. The sheep seem to flock to it, even though in many places its not great value, and often we haven't been able to get in to eat from the full menu! Get rid of it!

      22 Replies
      1. re: Squeakycheese

        I'm going to have to disagree. As a fan of Beerbistro in licious and non-licious times I can safely say their quality of food doesnt go down at all. And for the bargain price of $25, one can get an excellent meal during winterlicious. I was there last night, had a very good meal.

        1. re: radiopolitic

          Keep Winterlicious, say I.

          Even though the program is now an out-and-out dud, and has been so since the end of its second year - the first year was wonderful - at least having Winterlicious (and Summerlicious) signals to me which restos to stay clear of till mid-February, namely the restos that remain in the program and, in my view, offer little else but noise, chaos and dreary dining options. A few restos may do it right, but most aren't worth the bother. But keep it, because then it'll be easier for me over the next few weeks to get a table in the restos I like that AREN'T in Winterlicious. Probably without a reservation. I note that some of my favorites have wisely dropped out of the program this year.

          Then, when the smoke clears in mid-February, I can get back into places like Paese, which is ordinarily pretty good, without encountering a brawl at the front door.

          1. re: juno

            Which restaurants will you be heading to, juno?

            1. re: Full tummy

              To Full Tummy:

              Which restos will I be going to during Winterlicious? Darned if I know - it depends on what I feel like eating (I often go to a spot when I yearn for a specific dish that experience tells me it does well.) But I do know it won't be a resto that participates in Winterlicious, a concept that has outlived its usefulness. Which means I'll doubtless be going to a smallish ethnic joint in my neighborhood, because ethnic places rarely make it on to the Winterlicious list - their size, price point and (mainly) the upfront fee they have to pay to join Winterlicious make it prohibitive. The owner of one fine-dining joint, which used to be in the Winterlicious program but declined to join this time round, told me the program wanted $750 for his resto to join, and he declined - not only because of the fee, but because of the associated hoops he had to jump through. It just wasn't worth his bother for his smallish resto. Instead, like many other non-participants, he's instituting his own $35 prix fixe outside of Winterlicious - piggy-backing, as it were, on the Winterlicious concept of three courses for a set price, and his prix fixe choices are much more adventurous than most Winterlicious choices. (Scaramouche's Pasta Bar is another fine-dining non-Winterlicious participant with its own somewhat adventurous prix fixe, at $52 and worth it, during Winterlicious.)

              So I use the Winterlicious website as a guide as to where NOT to go. It simply ain't worth the aggravation - especially given the trouble it is, during this miserable weather, to drive all over town on potholed streets and then finding it almost impossible to find a parking space without climbing over snowdrifts taller than I am. Which means that, for the next couple of weeks, I'll decide whether I'm in the mood for crispy chicken, mango salad, schnitzel, hot and sour soup, thin-crust pizza or - in the case of the non-Winterlicious fine-dining joint mentioned earlier - a most intiguing rendition of tuna, and head where my mood takes me, usually just a 10-l5 minute drive from my little hutch in York Mills - so long as the joint's NOT on Winterlicious.

              1. re: juno

                OK, juno, you've got my curiosity piqued (and mouth salivating), as I also live in York Mills and am always desperate for good food nearby. Where do you go for your crispy chicken, mango salad, schnitzel, hot and sour soup and thin-crust pizza?

                  1. re: TorontoJo

                    TorontoJo, for great schnitzel that isn't too far from the York Mills area, try Europe Bar & Restaurant on Bathurst just south of Lawrence on the west side. The man dining at the table next to me was a Hungarian Canadian, and he said he thought Europe was currently serving the best schnitzel in the city- worth his drive from 905!

                    1. re: phoenikia

                      Thanks, phoenikia! That's definitely on my list based on the recent thread about it. Love schnitzel.

                      1. re: phoenikia

                        To TorontoJo and Full Tummy:

                        Phoenikia has informed us correctly on good schnitzel in the Yonge and York Mills neighborhood. It's indeed Europe Bar & Resto, and it probably IS the tastiest schnitzel in town, but then there's not much competition. Paprika, another Hungarian joint several blocks north of Europe on Bathurst St., also does a creditable version, but it has no liquor licence (which to me is a capital offence).

                        Hot and sour in the neighborhood? Cravings, on Yonge St. between York Mills and Lawrence, does a damn good one, but the portion is rather small for the price. Teensy, in fact. For better value, go to Thai Plate, on Bathurst St. south of Wilson, where the hot and sour is almost as flavorful. Thai Plate also does a respectable mango salad. Indeed, all the standard Thai offerings there are nicely done, though the menu itself is pretty much standard issue and not overly imaginative (in short, like most every other Thai joint in Toronto). Still, if you don't want to drive too far from Yonge and York Mills, the cooking there is consistently fresh, tasty and vibrant. A lousy wine list, mind, but you can bring your own for $10 a bottle. Never ever crowded at dinner. Can't understand how it stays in business, though the proprietors are unfailingly cheerful.

                        For crispy chicken, I go to a Charles Yu Cantonese resto tip from some time back (Charles, who I swear probably never eats at home judging by his voluminous output on Chowhound, rarely lets you down). Sun Stars is the name of the place, in a strip plaza on Finch Ave. between Bayview Ave. and Leslie St. - a little farther than I like to drive in this crummy weather, but then sacrifices must be made for good crispy chicken. It's maybe 15 minutes from Yonge and York Mills (in good weather). Try to get there for dinner before 7, when it gets mobbed by the local cognoscenti, or after 8:15, when the crowd thins out. I wish all those special dishes hand-printed on the walls would be translated into English, but I suppose that's a non-starter there, where English among the staff is very, very limited. All I know is, the local Chinese noshers seem to have much more interesting dishes on their tables than I do on mine - but a lot of them also go for the crispy chicken, which isn't all that easy to do right - an otherwise-decent Asian Legend, on Yonge St. north of Sheppard Ave., screws it up badly.

                        For pizza, I took a tip from resto critic Gina Mallett of the National Post, who insists that Trio, an Italian spot I'd seen but never bothered with on Yonge St. north of Lawrence - where Italian restos are a plague - does the Neapolitan-style (wood-burning oven, all sorts of hair-splitting strictures, that sort of thing) better than a couple of hotshot places downtown. I don't know about those hotshot places - no joint is worth an hour-long wait at Pizzeria Libretto and that other spot on Queen St. W. - so I've never tried to get in. I've leave those mob scenes to downtown types. But Trio is just around the corner and down the road from me, and it's quite good. No bizarre toppings. Just straightahead chewy pies of first-class quality at attractive prices, expertly baked by the pizza-master, who speaks little English - though the wine list could bankrupt you. Stick with the house red, a Californian cabernet sauvignon ($20 a half litre). Walk right in, sit right down - and tuck in. Good fresh salads as well. And no lineups - my kind of place.

                        1. re: juno

                          Thanks, Juno -- we must live very close, as most of these are regular spots for me as well. I love Thai Plate (especially since they will deliver to me!), though I do not like their hot and sour soup. It would be perfect except for the addition of a sweetness that is typical of Thai cooking, but not Chinese. But I like just about everything else on their menu, and you're right -- they are the nicest bunch of people. Their lunch buffet is a great deal.

                          I haven't been to Cravings since they opened, but I will have to get back to try their hot and sour soup again -- I vaguely recall that I liked it, which is a rare occurance (good soup, that is, not my vague recall).

                          And Trio is one of my favorite spots in the summer for a casual dinner and a glass of wine on the tiny patio on Yonge St. It is also around the corner and down the street, so the convenience factor is great, as is the people watching. Trio shares the same (or some of the same) owners at Sapori next door, which we like for a more upscale Italian spot. When Trio opened, we were happy to see some of the same waiters we knew from Sapori. Thanks for the tip about the house red.

                          I'll definitely check out Sun Stars. In the same "great rec by Charles" vein, let me recommend Yang's for great dim sum. It's a bit further up Bayview (probably a 20 minute drive), but great quality and price in a really nice setting.

                          BTW, what is "crispy chicken" at Sun Stars exactly? Is it anything like my long loved and now lost Szechuan shredded beef at Chung King? Coated, deep fried, then stir fried in a spicy sweet sauce?

                          1. re: TorontoJo

                            To TorontoJo:

                            Crispy chicken is, obviously, fried chicken of some sort. The half-chicken order at Sun Stars ($8.95, if I recall) is, I suspect - I don't inhabit the kitchen so I don't know the gory details - first seared, then stir fried (or quickly deep fried). Then it's hacked into chunks. Delicious crispy skin (which you MUST eat even though it'll probably shorten your life span) and tasty, moist chicken. Served with side condiments, which aren't necessary, so good is the unadorned chicken. I recall, as you do, the Szechuan shredded beef at the late Chung King on College St near Spadina. This chicken dish, a common item on many Cantonese restos nowadays (Maple Yip also does it well) is vaguely in the same ball park, but there's nothing too spicy or sweet about it to my taste. Just crunchy goodness.

                            Also not particularly sweet, at least to me, is the hot and sour at Thai Plate, which you found too sweet for your taste. Mind, its formula does change slightly from time to time, but not by much. It depends on which of the partners is making it, I suppose. If you like hot and sour, you might wanna give it another whirl.

                            But how did we get so off-topic? After all, this thread started with a discussion of Winterlicious at Paese? So let me bring it back to Paese before signing off. The main dish Cornish hen at Paese is my go-to entree at Paese when I want fowl with some personality. Not on offer on the Winterlicious menu, natch. So I'll wait till the accursed Winterlicious is over before going back for it. Paese, where you're not charged any corkage at all (except Saturday) when you bring your own bottle. My kinda joint (except during Winterlicious).

                            1. re: TorontoJo

                              Didn't realize Trio was worthwhile for pizza & casual dinners- thanks for mentioning it TorontoJo & Juno;)

                              For another Italian resto on that stretch, I do enjoy gnocchi alla gorgonzola at Gamberoni, but I haven't tried anything else. Also like the sandwiches at Ciccio Sanwiccio.

                            2. re: juno

                              Good to hear about the H &S soup at Cravings- I've walked by dozens of times, but had never eaten there after being disappointed at various posh panAsian restaurants around town.

                              Thanks for mentioning SunStars, too;) Are there any other dishes you'd recommend besides the crispy chicken?

                              1. re: phoenikia

                                To Phoenikia:

                                At Sun Stars, I also like the bitter melon (a kind of squash, I think) with olives and ground pork. But bitter melon is a specialty taste. For delicate palates, Sun Stars also makes it with green beans instead (also tasty). And I like the fried rice Fukein style as a change from standard-issue plain boiled rice. Someone has suggested the place does a good job on spicy salted small white fish, but I've yet to try it. Sun Stars seems to specialize in fresh fish dishes and shellfish, and I'll get around to them eventually, I suppose, but they can be expensive (and probably better to order when you're with a group of six or more). We're usually two.

                                The Engish menu can be quite unhelpful at Sun Stars, with just rudimentary translations. You often just order and hope for the best. But lately, I've had good luck trolling the aisles to see what the regulars are having, then asking them what it is (and where it is on my English menu, where it sometimes can't be found). The other diners have been delighted to explain what they like and why and, most important, speak much better English than most of the efficient staff.

                                The place has a good vibe. Enthusiastic eaters enjoying themselves immensely. And modestly priced. It's my theory that Chinese cuisine is the last great inexpensive dining-out experience. Most other ethnic cuisines have gone upscale. Two should be able to eat well at some places for $30-$40 or so, and you can easily do that at Sun Stars. No tablecloths (tablecloths are a bother anyway), razor thin paper napkins, a somewhat frantic atmosphere. But the food's good - not great, like some of the fancy joints off Highway 7, but pretty damn good (with the proviso, like at most Chinese restos, if you order the right dishes). Just remember that Chinese restos seem to change for better or worse quite abruptly - a talented chef quits, the owner decides the resto biz is too tough and the place is sold - and you're back to square one, looking for a good nearby Chinese nosh. Which is a funny quest to be talking about on a thread about Paese, an Italian resto.

                                1. re: juno

                                  It's "Sun Star", and it's generally very good, esp. value wise.

                                  main thread:
                                  some more comments:

                  2. re: radiopolitic

                    Oh good we are headed to beer bistro this week. The menu looks more creative than many. We have a 7pm res - where they trying to turn tables, or will we be able to linger a bit (buying beer, naturally)?

                    1. re: julesrules

                      I was there for 3 hours so it shouldn't be a problem. I didn't feel rushed at all. I've never been rushed there, hence why I keep returning.

                      1. re: julesrules

                        i'm going to beerbistro on thursday... looking forward to it after seeing these good reviews.

                        any suggestions which items to go for?

                        1. re: fakeplastic

                          I really like Beerbistro's frites and their dessert sampler.

                          1. re: fakeplastic

                            Are you going for Winterlicious or just a regular visit?

                    2. I was at Paese this evening and had a fabulous time!!!! Hot Bread was promptly delivered, waiter was very prompt and very polite!!!!! I had the Winterlicious menu started off with the Caesar salad which was nicely dressed and not to heavy. As for my Entree I ordered the Beef Striploin which was magnificent, perfectly cooked and lots of jus. Dessert was my favourite I had the Apple Crumble which was perfectly heated and topped with a scoop of Vanilla ice very lite and perfect end to a Perfect Dinner.....

                      I must also say our server Nick was excellent, knowledgeable and made our experience phenomenal...

                      I would definitely recommend Paese A++

                      1. Have eaten at 4 Winterlicious participating restaurants and across the board - the portions are smaller and it is NOT a deal whatsoever!! Tutti Matti - the pasta portion was small and almost tasteless. Chocolate Banana Cake was very dry - portions for my guests' desserts were tiny compared to their regular menu. Exceptional service however. I am not unreasonable and expecting foie gras, lobster, etc. for $10. Mildred's Temple was the best of the lot but again very small portions - you are just basically paying regular menu price if not more.