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May 6, 2011 07:57 AM

Toronto's most boring resto: your nominations, please

There are good, bad and mediocre restaurants in Toronto - and then, there are some truly b-o-r-i-n-g ones as well. This came to me after reading about the recent U.S. filing for bankruptcy protection of Sbarro, a mainly mall-based pizza and pasta chain. One online expert noted that Sbarro was pretty much irrelevant, with no atmosphere, no charm, no gustatory zest, no signature product. It wasn't particularly bad, just not much of anything. In short, b-o-r-i-n-g.

Now, surely Toronto hounds can come up with boring resto nominations to match Sbarro's. Like the Miller Tavern, for example, near Yonge St. and York Mills Rd. I should know, because I get there a half dozen or more times a year: It's handy to my lodgings, and I'm seduced by its $1 corkage charge on Mondays and $25-off coupons with which it occasionally papers the neighborhood. The upstairs dining room - I've never tested the boring quotient of the main floor bar - is large, pleasant, comfortable. Effective service.The menu is standard-issue 1970s golf-club cuisine: respectable-quality but unimaginative steaks, burgers, salads, seafood, comfort foods, none of it distinct, some of it overpriced. You'll forget what you ate a couple of hours after leaving. Bland. Not necessarily bad, though - bad is at least interesting - just dreary and unimaginative. No zing, no zest, except for the $3 bread charge, which is annoying, and anything that gets your blood pressure up is never boring.

Yet the Miller's attached parking lot is always jammed, which suggests that boring can sometimes be a major selling point. So it is that I'd like to hear other nominations for boring GTA restos - either chains or stand-alone - that seem to be surviving despite their utter boring-ness. Places you've been to, and maybe even went back once or twice, and maybe - like me and the Miller - still go to every now and then, if only to see if it's still as boring as you remember. Your nominations, please.

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  1. I can understand Sbarro's mall dilemna - not as cheap as the stereotypical fast foods, but not interesting enough to compete with the increasing variety of novel and ethnic competitors. Even at the Eaton centre court, it always seemed to lag behind pretty much everything but Druxy's.

    I think Swiss Chalet is boring, but even as I type this, I realize that I've now decided to go there for lunch. Because it's boring, and I feel like a boring chicken meal. You win this round, Swiss Chalet.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Underdog Rally

      I think Sbarro priced themselves out of business. Mall pizza should not be expensive. They're trying to charge Olive Garden prices for cafeteria service. That is not value. If I'm going to pay Olive Garden prices there needs to be a waiter there, not a green plastic tray to carry across the mall...

      If you have a limited budget and were at the mall would you pay $10 at Sbarro for what Pizza Pizza could give you for half that?

    2. I find a lot of the $300+ a couple, highly-rated, continental cuisine places to be quite boring. The quality of the food may be great, but it's often easily forgettable.

      2 Replies
      1. re: hal2010

        Sounds like you're talking about 360, or maybe even Canoe.

        1. re: hal2010

          I would agree with that about a place like Pangea... Although Canoe was just an amazing experience, and Mistura truly serves some of the most beautiful (not artsy) food I've ever had.

          I totally get what you mean though... the bland, "all we do is cater to rich businesspeople" type atmosphere and menu. Very stuffy, very contrived, very fake. The other day I went to a friend's birthday at Panorama, in the Manulife center. Now admittedly, nobody is treating that place on the same level as Pangea, but it was one of the most unpleasant places I've been. It's completely lifeless, just a room pretending to look like something out of a commercial, or a magazine. The food was completely uninspired and uninteresting (Not that I ordered any of it anyways, since it was so expensive.) Our waitress treated us like dirt. (Not that I blame her, since a couple of us didn't order anything) But I'm sorry, I didn't feel like paying $13 for a pint of steamwhistle.

          I'll take a trip to an Ethiopian place, or some Souvlaki on the Danforth over an overly plush, waiters either kiss my ass or shun me like a hobo place any day. Very ironic, but true... I can make wild mushroom risotto and braised short ribs at home, but its the slightly gnarly, sometimes (but not always) slightly sketchy character that I can't re-create in my barely satisfactory apartment kitchen.

          265 Davenport Rd, Toronto, ON M5R1J9, CA

        2. Trapper's, Wildfire, Nota Bene, Le Paradis, Asteria, Mezes, Milestone's, Grazie, The Keg & Brassaii.

          Le Paradis
          166 Bedford Road, Toronto, ON M5R 2K9, CA

          461 King St. W, Toronto, ON M5V 1K7, CA

          456 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K1P4, CA

          Nota Bene
          180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

          7 Replies
          1. re: prima

            Totally agree on Nota Bene. Bbbbbooooring!

            Nota Bene
            180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

            1. re: prima

              Thanks for listing Nota Bene -- the word "boring" hits the nail on the head. Good food, reasonable prices, but a menu almost unchanged for two years, prepared and served in "corporate drone" style. Maybe that's just the formula for success in their location -- corporate lunches, tourists and suburban theater-goers? So is David Lee now retired, living off his residuals?

              Nota Bene
              180 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 2A1, CA

              1. re: jjmellon

                What a pity!!

                IMHO, David Lee is the most creative and best chef in town! When he was at the helm of the 'old Splendido', I always pay it a visit a few times a year and making it my 'only' destination to celebrate my birthday. His tasting menu was so flavourful and full of surprises! Coupled with some spot-on wine pairing, the end result was always heavenly!

                I'm not sure why the opening of Nota Bene resulted in David Lee's losing the 'creative touch'! May be he doesn't see the need of his magic for an upscale BISTRO like Nota Bene?!. As some of you fellow chowhounder eluded to, NB's menu has remained quite static, with no new addition, may be for the soft shell crab and the bringing back of the Wagyu burger, once in a while.
                With so many 5* hotels springing up in town, it would be nice if David Lee and Yannick would occupy a space in one of them and bring back some razzle dazzle to the TO dining scene??!!

              2. re: prima

                Prima, can you give us detailed comments re the restaurants you mention? Thanks!

                1. re: lamaranthe

                  Trapper's seems like an outdated 80s kind of menu. Lots of safe dishes- caesar salad, baby greens, french onion soup, mushroom risotto, tenderloin, etc.

                  Wildfire- safe dishes like caesar salads, mushroom risotto, grilled salmon, steaks

                  Nota Bene- I actually really like the seafood and seasonal dishes at Nota Bene, but roughly half the menu is usually "safe" dishes to keep plain eaters happy. I find things like upscale burgers and sticky toffee pudding kind of boring.

                  Asteria and Mezes serve decent but typical Greek family restaurant fare- chicken souvlaki, greek salad, roasted potatoes. Mezes has a wider selection of mezes/small plates, but their selection is still conservative compared to the less conservative selection (by less conservative, I mean more organ meats, rabbit, goat, etc. on the menu) available at places like Zorba's or Filo.

                  Le Paradis is my friend's favourite French restaurant. She won't eat duck, pork, lamb, horse or rabbit, because they are "cute". Le Paradis is perfectly fine for a neighbourhood bistro, but they serve plenty of conservative dishes that will appeal to people who have an aversion to the strongly flavoured dishes and/or the various types of meat a lot of French people like to eat. I see Le Paradis as a French "lite" bistro.

                  Grazie has a very conservative selection of pastas and mains- no ingredients like bottarga, tripe, rabbit, kidneys, pheasant or snails that might scare some North Torontonians.

                  Brassaii's menu has become more conservative, compared to where it was at maybe 3 years ago. Pretty basic now.

                  1. re: prima

                    Is there another French bistro in Toronto that serves kidneys? You have no idea how many "French people" eat there on a nightly basis! I can assure you Prima, there is nothing French "lite" about Le Paradis. Yes, it always has a chicken or steak dish that satisfies the average diner, but it also has an amazing wine list with reasonable markups not intended to rip diners off. To me, there are many more French "lite" bistros in Toronto that are all style, no substance. Le Paradis is not one of them.

                    1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                      Ok, fair enough, SWS. Maybe I should label my friend as "French lite" (She's a Francophile, not a Francophone, and not French). It's unfair I labeled Le Paradis "French lite" because I associate it with being her favourite French restaurant. My bad.

                      I take your word for it if plenty of "French people" are eating there on a nightly basis. Plenty of "French people" also eat at Pastis on a regular basis. Apologies also if "French people" as a term is offensive- I shouldn't be generalizing like that. I do know that my French cousins are Chowhound types who like to eat andouille, stinky cheeses and organ meats, but there are plenty of plain-eating Francophones throughout the Fracophonie, and probably even a few who don't eat cute animals. I shouldn't be generalizing about the eating likes of millions of people based on the dozen people I know.

                      Edit: Veal kidneys are available by request at Steak Frites:

                      I would think Pastis might serve kidneys from time to time, but they don't seem to have a website or an online menu available.

              3. One could argue that almost any major chain restaurant sells a variation on boringness. For many, boringness is a comfortable shorthand for knowing what you're going to get. With a few minor differences most Kelsey's, Keg's, Red Lobster's, Milestone's, Boston Pizza's and many others across North America are essentially interchangeable in their decors, layouts, service styles, and even menus. But they're all so boring that I can't imagine how you could choose the most boring. If it was the most boring, then it would have to be different, which paradoxically might make it less boring.

                Even within non-chain restaurants of certain types there is a general standardization -- think of the stereotypical shoji-screens decor of 95% of Japanese restaurants, or the ocean blue accents that are seemingly mandatory in Greek restaurants. Service is also standardized into boringness, from the certain casual buddy-buddy expectations at a cheap restaurant up to the expected formality of the waitstaff at any fine dining restaurant. As some point out above, sometimes it's the priciest most well-reviewed places that are the most boring because it's hard to take risks with your customers at that level. When someone brings a client to a business lunch at a top-notch restaurant they don't want the wait staff to suddenly start dancing on the bar. They want standard, normal, respectable boringness.

                I think a better challenge would be to highlight those few exceptional restaurants that *aren't* boring, the ones that break out of the established mould of their respective price range and genre. While I can think of some restaurants that are livelier than others, I can't think of many that are exceptionally un-boring, except maybe Noir which has the gimmick of being entirely in darkness... though even that itself is slowly turning into yet another international restaurant genre now.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Gary

                  Well said, Gary. Perhaps you can start a thread sometime on distinctly unboring restaurants. Given your thoughts on the chances an unboring resto takes in the marketplace, though, they'll doubtless be out of business before the thread poops out. For the nonce, however, let's try to concentrate on the question at hand, which is restos that are boring above and beyond the call of duty. I agree wholeheartedly with Prima's nomination of Trappers, just down the street from my nomination of the Miller Tavern. Trappers is probably even more boring than the Miller - at least the Miller has an interesting beer and wine list. The last time I was in Trappers, I fell into a trance and didn't awaken till the next morning. But Trappers abides after all these years. Alas, it started so promisingly decades ago, specializing in local Canadian cuisine - one of the first restos in the GTA to do so - and now, many owners later, it's just another boring joint catering to the locals who find steaks at Wildfire, just across the street, even more boring than Trappers. What is it about York Mills/Lawrence Park that encourages such boring restaurants?

                  P.S. I'm going to a Japanese resto tonight, where I'll keep an eye out for those boring shoji screens.

                  1. re: Gary

                    Precisely the reason why the first thing I want to do when I go to Montreal next is go to Au Pied Du Cochon... perhaps the most unboringest-looking restaurant in canada?

                    ...spelling faux-pas totally intentional, by the way... :)

                  2. Might I suggest that we not turn this thread into yet another tired old "bash the chains" fest (hard to resist since Sbarro started it...)

                    Hal2010's post begs a question -- does American or European food automatically equate to "boring" while everything coming out of Asia isn't? He bashed all continental cuisine in one fell swoop and I don't think that's correct.

                    For the "boring" vote I nominate every independent McSushi out there. You know the kind. 100 varieties of California rolls. Invariably run by Chinese or Koreans. They may not be a chain but might as well be since they have almost identical menus.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: TexSquared

                      I was actually going to post the same thing regarding the sushi restos but didn't didn't since I actually find all Japanese cuisine to be the most boring food imaginable, including high-end places to which I have been. It looks pretty on the plate but that's it. Now I will duck to avoid the inevitable barrage of michelin stars and exclamation points that will be volleyed about.

                      To be specific though, I'd vote for Swiss Chalet. I'm stumped why anyone would like it.

                      1. re: jamesm

                        Since everybody can't resist bashing chains... if you can't beat'em join'em...

                        For chain restos I have to vote for Mandarin. Spring Rolls a close second.

                        For non-chain resto's, Joe Maggiano's hands down. It's become my family's go-to place on big days (Mother's Day and Father's Day) when they can't get a reservation anywhere else. There's a reason why you can get a table easily.....

                        If you want to nominate for worst chains on the continent post here:

                        1. re: TexSquared

                          Jamesm, here are photos of another ' non-boring' Japanese Omakase meal in Toronto. This time from Aoyama. Not really high-end but still, note the varied dishes ranges from raw marinated civiche style, to sauteed, fried tempura, plain raw sushis...etc. Just the aroma of the butter garlic sauteed lobster was enough to excite the senses!!

                          2766 Victoria Park Ave, Toronto, ON M2J4A8, CA

                        2. re: jamesm

                          Michelin star Japanese cuisine in Japan aside.

                          Here in Toronto, Sushi Kaji's cuisine boring??!! An Omakase meal there incorporating raw, steamed, fried, sauteed, broiled, grilled, boiled, baked... dishes is one of the most exciting meals in town! Especially, when most of the time, the patrons have no idea what surprising dishes the chef is going to spring on them!!

                          Some of the photo illustrations of one of my meal there, are not only pretty but the dishes tasted damn good as well! ( I left out at least five more dishes and desserts! )
                          Lastly, unlike a lot of 'real' boring restaurants with static menu items, Kaji's menu changes almost daily if not weekly!!

                          Sushi Kaji
                          860 The Queensway, Toronto, ON M8Z1N7, CA

                          1. re: jamesm

                            What high end Japanese restaurant have you been to ? If you mean Ichiban is the kind of high end Japanese restaurant you are referring, then yes, it is very boring. Obviously you just have not been to a good one, eat out more, you will for sure find an interesting Japanese meal.

                            1. re: skylineR33

                              Pity most people outside of Japan do not realize how 'tasty' Japanese 'cooked' food can be!!

                              Most of them only associate Japanese food with raw fish dipped in monotonous soya sauce! Of course that is boring! But that is only one part of the 'plain raw', 'marinated raw', 'boil', 'poach', 'steam', 'grill', 'fry', 'bake', 'sauteed'...spectrum! If they could only eat a great Kaiseki course dinner ( which showcase all the individual techniques in sequence) in Japan??!!!

                              Also, as an example, just the thought of some of their simple 'charcoal' grilled food is 'exciting' enough to make me salivate!

                              1. re: skylineR33

                                Actually I've been to sushi kaji and also Japan twice on business but thanks for condescendingly assuming ichiban is my frame of reference for 'high-end' Japanese cuisine and that I 'obviously' haven't been to a good Japanese restaurant and need to to eat out more.

                                1. re: jamesm

                                  Maybe you need to read my post more carefully. I said 'if', which is the keyword here.

                                  Japanese cuisine includes tradition/new style sushi, kaiseki, shabu shabu, sukiyaki, teppanyaki, ramen, yakitori, unagi cuisine, tofu cuisine, nabe, okinawa cuisine, kushiage, horumon (offal) cuisine, tempura cuisine, sobe cuisine ....etc. Good Japanese restaurant only provides one kind of cuisine (ie, You won't be able to find tempura in a sushi restaurant.). Do you mean you have been to all these specialty Japanese restaurants which specialize in its own kind of Japanese food and find all of them boring ?

                                  1. re: skylineR33

                                    Sorry, the key word was 'obviously' which negates the 'if' because obviously is assuming your conclusion to be self-evident. Maybe you need to write your posts more carefully.

                                    From my experience with multiple Japanese restaurants here, in Vancouver and Japan I have found them relative to other international cuisines boring. I never claimed to have fully invested myself in exploring every conceivable iteration of Japanese cuisine but those that I have experienced have been boring. Some interesting ingredients but overall I find it extremely dull. For example, at sushi kaji the flavours were consistent throughout, no variation. Apart from some textural nuances and differences they may as well have prepared the same 7 dishes and served them in sequence.

                                    1. re: jamesm

                                      Sorry, but reading your comment 'at Sushi Kaji the flavours were consistent throughout, no variation' I have to inject my two cents worth.

                                      In one of the meals I had there, I was served a cream corn, crabmeat croquette as appertizer, a Japanese 'surf and turf' of grilled lobster and veal 'scallopine' with a Japanese mushroom reduction, Marinated Bonito 'civiche' with citrus infused home made soy, Baked oysters with a Japanese Bechamel foam. Now, how can one say flavours of all those totally varied dishes be 'consistent throughout, no variation'??!!

                                      That was not much difference than dishes fronm a say, David Lee's Tasting Menu in his 'Old Splendido' days?!

                                      88 Harbord Street, Toronto, ON M5S 1G5, CA

                                      Sushi Kaji
                                      860 The Queensway, Toronto, ON M8Z1N7, CA

                                      1. re: Charles Yu

                                        Alright, you guys win I don't find it boring.

                                        1. re: jamesm

                                          Sorry, don't mean to get a laugh out of people's disagreements, but I am howling. And I needed a good laugh!

                                          To stay on topic, it is sometimes hard to remember that one person's experience at a restaurant is just that. It is quite possible Charles's meals had great variety and the time you went, yours didn't...

                                          1. re: Full tummy

                                            "It is quite possible Charles's meals had great variety and the time you went, yours didn't..."

                                            which seems to be the case ALL THE TIME in numerous threads. Especially when it comes to Kaji. I think you're on to something here.

                                          2. re: jamesm

                                            Culinary palette and taste is a such personalized thing. Its like judging girls in a beauty contest! When foodies debate about food, there are no win or lose scenario, just a different in opinion. So, lets call it a draw!!
                                            Now, back to the subject of boring cuisine and restaurants. IMO, nothing beats 'Persian' food. Every menu are the same. Kabob, Kabob and more Kabob. Be it white or dark chicken meat, ground beef or beef morsels. Accompaniments are always a burnt tomato together with rice mixed with saffron and berries. No sauce and identical seasoning. Once in a while, if one is lucky, may be a lamb shank or chicken leg stew in tomatoes and beans might appear as a special!!
                                            Whether its Paris, London or Toronto. Same conclusions! Borrrrrrrring!!

                                            1. re: Charles Yu

                                              I totally agree with you there Charles on Persian food, esp Afghan! My MIL only likes Bamiyan or Pamier and the only thing you can order is Kabob and that gets tiring and boring! My SO and I go to Japanese or Chinese when we don't go out with her but when she comes with us, she's very picky and only likes Middle Eastern or Afghani. We have been to Bamiyan at least 5 times in the past 2 months and I get tired of eating the kofta or chicken kabob. I try to change it up by ordering the wrap. :)