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N44 - Huge rating downgrade!!

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A Toronto institution, N44 has strangely never been a favorite amongst us Chowhounders! The few time I dined there, I found the food to be quite acceptable though lacking the 'wow' factor usually associated with a Toronto Life 4* rating. This was never the case with the 'old' Splendido under David Lee or Sushi Kaji...etc
With a major downgrade from a 4* to a 2.5* in the latest edition of Toronto Life. I am curious to find out the reason behind such a big drop! Has anyone eaten there recently and care to comment about the food?!
Last time I saw such a huge rating downgrade was Via Allegro! From 4* to 2* and now, not even mentioned!!!!

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  1. The review, I believe, you are referring to ends with the line "Overtaxed waiters struggle under the demands of high-maintenance regulars." I guess the reviewer is close enough to overhear the neighbouring tables, I hope in this day and age the regulars are not the snap your fingers types. I assume high-maintenence regulars also overtax the kitchen, which is never good for the whole dining room.
    I have actually never eaten at North44, I've been to Bymark and One a few times. Bymark strikes me as the better of the two. The food is safe, crowd pleasing, consistent, expensive and in no way blazing any trails.
    Many restaurants start with a vision but in the end become a business and just cater to market demands. Maybe North was once a great restaurant and the food has changed, or maybe the food hasn't changed and we've moved on. Based on a couple of lines in the review it sounds like their clients are there for reasons other than just the food.

    2 Replies
    1. re: dubchild

      I'm surprised. We went once close to 2 years ago and everything was very ordinary. There was nothing that compelled us to make a return visit. In fact, I recall being pretty disappointed with the $$ we forked out that night.

      1. re: millygirl

        I had the very same experience as MillyGirl, likely 4 or 5 years ago now. Food was completely forgettable, overpriced, service was poor as I recall. Way too expensive and utterly disappointing overall experience.

        I an not a Mark McEwan fan at all. I find his restaurants uninspired and overpriced. My personal opinion is that he simply "mails it in" and is riding on a reputation which may have been cutting edge 20 years ago.

    2. What probably happened is that the TO life people finally came to their senses and realised N44 is not spectacular and is overpriced. And I don't think that opening his food store helped as that just shows again how he does not offer good value. Plus it's hard to focus your attention on many enterprises at once, something has to give.

      16 Replies
      1. re: foodyDudey

        Haven't been there in over a decade. There are way better options in the city.
        It is just curiousity, poor taste or vanity that brings people to N44 these days.

        1. re: 5andman

          How does vanity bring people to a restaurant that hasn't been an "it spot" in over 10 years?

          North 44 is convenient for people who live in North Toronto. Apart from Centro and North 44, there aren't that many upscale non-bistro/non-Italian continental restaurants in North Toronto. North 44 and Centro continue to have a market, it's just not your typical Chowhound market.

          1. re: prima

            Surprisingly, Centro has had a "re-do". It has improved significantly. I've been there twice in the last 6 months. Not sure it is a destination place, but a significantly better option than N44, and definitely good for North Toronto

            1. re: prima

              It's vanity, plain & simple.

              Customers are blinded by the 'name' and decor
              (food has nothing to do with it)

              1. re: 5andman

                Do they serve clouds in the coffee at North 44? ;-)

                If someone goes to a restaurant because of the name, or the decor, and not because of the food, I usually figure that person is really into decor, isn't really into food, might not know better and/or is a sucker. It's also possible the choice was not in that person's control. North 44 is one restaurants some smalller companies choose for their business dinners and Christmas parties, so most people I know who have dined at North 44 over the past 5 years have been there for a work function.

                It never crossed my mind to call a person who heads to North 44 vain. Not everyone goes to restaurants for the quality or taste of the food served, and there's probably nothing wrong with the scotch at North 44.

                1. re: prima

                  The food a N44 isn't horrible, it's just not great. I'm sure there are some that go there to be vain because they think it's expensive and great (in their opinion), but I doubt most of the diners go there to be seen at a restaurant that lost it's place in the "seen" years and years ago. I also went there a few years ago for a christmas dinner, it was the most convenient, decent place between here and Scarborough. We had a nice dinner with some fairly nice steaks. I think Mark Mcewan's restaraunts have long since fell in to disrepair (food wise), but I'll still go there on occasion. Bymark isn't bad either, once in a while.

                  1. re: prima

                    Vanity in Toronto? Hmmmm.

                    People lining up for the hottest item or place. Name-dropping. The "it" place to be seen and heard. Frenzy.

                    Nope, not in TO.

                    1. re: 5andman

                      It has been a long time since I dined at North 44 and what I do remember was good but nothing interesting and definitely not worth it at the price point. I recently saw some photos from a friends Winterlicious dinner there and granted it was for Winterlicious but the plating looked atrocious. Poor understanding of white space on the plate.

                      The vanity argument I think holds for most of the people in the area. Same reason Granite Club is packed. It's busy based on an image of prestige - whether accurate or not is another matter.

                      Toronto definitely suffers from a vanity issue when it comes to dining. Dim lighting from weirdly arranged lamps hanging from ceiling? DJ douchebag in the corner?

                      Too many restaurants opening up doing the same things over and over again. Not to say they're putting out bad food but a lot of it is in the same vein and they're fawned over.

                      I think some of this vanity can also be tied to a discussion in another thread where the Chinese food up in Markham/RHills was discussed and how it wasn't frequented a lot - or didn't pop up on peoples year end lists. It's obviously a more complex issue but I think part of it is due to the fact that they aren't seen as somewhere to show off or that they're too good to be going there. Why spend Friday night on Hwy 7 when you could be schmoozing with middle aged, cake-faced, married Russian women looking for some fresh meat at Pravda?

                      1. re: radiopolitic

                        "...schmoozing with middle aged, cake-faced, married Russian women looking for some fresh meat at Pravda?"

                        Thank you for the intel! ;)

                        1. re: radiopolitic

                          "Dim lighting from weirdly arranged lamps hanging from ceiling? DJ douchebag in the corner?"

                          add bad overpriced food to the mix and you've just described every restaurant owned in whole or in part by Charles Khabouth!

                        2. re: 5andman

                          5andman -

                          If I hear of a new place or product I'm there. Lined up - no, but I am definitely wanting more info. I am always on the look out and curious to find new and interesting stuff. Does this make me vain?

                          Btw, while I'm here I should mention that my post above should read - I am NOT surprised.

                2. re: foodyDudey

                  I wonder when they'll finally realize the same about Canoe. Until they come to their senses about Canoe (and many other restaurants, for that matter), it's a worthless publication as a restaurant ratings guide, IMO - but that probably won't happen any time soon.

                  1. re: justxpete

                    I have eaten at N44 a number of times including my brother's wedding over 15 years ago, along with the other restaurants in his "empire". Food has always been very expensive, and portions very small The whole place seems to be stuck in the 90"s. I agree about McEwan (the man) above and believe he has "jumped the shark" ina big way. I won't even watch him on Top Chef Canada as I find him so pretetious and arrogant.

                    1. re: robb

                      The grand days of N44 have come and gone. I was there last month. The food was good. Not great.....good. When you're paying top dollar, I can think of several other restaurants that put it to shame. In the same neighborhood, Centros has had a fantastic transformation. Great food, great price point,excellent and accommodating service and a far more affordable wine list. As a bonus, they have a great bar in the basement, with live music. Spend wisely my friend!

                      1. re: franpelyk

                        What others beside Centro put it to shame?

                      2. re: robb

                        Interesting comment!! The few times I met Mark McEwan in his restaurants or Supermarket, I found him to be very approachable and friendly!
                        'Pretentious and arrogant'! - No one beats Susur Lee!!!
                        BTW, Via Allegro seemed to fall off the radar screen. Is it still in business?!

                  2. I've never had a bad meal at N44, nothing inventive but solid food for me. Restaurant was on my top 10.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Apprentice

                      Funny, I feel the exact same way. A lot of people bashing a place they haven't been to in ten years, or ever. Same with One. Chowhounders hate it, but I’ve been there a handful of times, without complaint. Too expensive? Sure. But how can people complain about prices when the menus, with prices are online?

                      If McEwen's guilty of anything, it's being successful for too long. Eventually everybody turns against you. And I agree with Charles, I've heard nothing but good things about approaching him/dealing with him. He may be awkward on tv, but that doesn't mean he isn't a decent guy...

                      1. re: johnandjane

                        I am at ByMark regularly (at least once a month) and at One 3 to 4 times a year - all work related. I find both menus very dull/standard and expensive. I stand by my own comments and would never go there on my own dime.