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May 5, 2014 10:27 AM

Ici Bistro - Comically Dysfunctional

After hearing sufficient praise which subsequently warranted a visit, 3 of us made our way to Ici Bistro on Saturday night.

I will preface the post with the fact that they did move to their new location at the Windsor Arms Hotel less than a week prior, however; one must assume that a restaurant of such acclaim and who has been around for a sufficient length of time could make such a transition to a new space (same staff) fairly seamlessly....but you know what they say about assumptions…..

Our party arrived around 6:30 (note the time) and placed our order just before 7. We decided to order 7 different dishes (dessert not included), most of which were 'app' sized, with a few mains to round out the meal. Our (lovely) server asked us if it would be OK for the chef to send them out one at a time to enjoy, and if we were in a rush, which we said would be fine and were not in any terrible hurry….

We began with an amuse of fried salt cod/sweet root veg fritters, accompanied by a spicy mayo (there was a theme of re-occurring faces and techniques throughout the night...more on that later). While the flavour of the fritter itself was fairly subdued, the spicy mayo countered the fritter nicely, and the execution of the dish was spot on, hardly any grease - a nice start.

Onto the menu…

Our waitress mentioned that the croquettes were made of 3 varieties, bone marrow, shellfish (lobster/crab) and a wild mushroom/truffle. The Bone Marrow was slightly overdone as most of it simply must have melted into the fat (yes, nature of the beast, but execution fell short); the shellfish rendition was served room temp and while the flavour was there, no detection of actual meat was present. The star of the show (and perhaps the night) was the wild mushroom/truffle - morels blanketed in a rich cream reduction, with croquettes filled with a puree of additional mushrooms and truffle hidden in between, was very good.

2 of us then shared a Lobster Bisque - overall, a nice dish, sans cream, which I appreciated given the restaurants apparent love of the deep fryer. A light broth, with nondescript foam, ginger oil and a shoestring enrobed, fried (slightly overdone) shrimp hung on the mug.

By this point, while we had enjoyed some of our meal, we had noticed that it was now almost 8:30 - having only been served 3 appetizer sized plates.

Our waitress confirmed that indeed the kitchen was slammed (it is only a 28 seat 'dining room' but they have a 'sitting room' around the bar that I believe the kitchen serves as well - my guess is that they did not account for the stress that may induce - but I digress) and that our next course would be out in a few minutes.

20 minutes passed and the Foie app made its arrival, 1 small lobe of seared and 1 small slice of torchon, a nice use of beet discs with a contrasting citrus glaze, and some protein reduction on the bottom.

After which came a main sized order of their Calamari, which I will say was perfectly executed, with a familiar face on the plate in the spicy mayo we saw earlier with our amuse.

At this point I made a comment to our waitress that while my original response was that we were not in a rush, we did have prior commitments and would need to move things along if possible. She assured me the next course would not be much longer.

It was past 9:00 when we saw her next, at which point I requested that we cancel 2 of the dishes (the scallops and the duck) and pre-order 2 soufflé’s (one of the attractions for my wife in the first place!) as at this rate we would not have been out of there till perhaps the next day!

She was very apologetic and clearly upset as it was totally out of her control, but she handled it fairly well (at least that which was within her control).

We then were served the Beef duo, 2 small pieces of tenderloin with a hunk of blue on one, and a slice of brie on the other, with the same mushroom sauce (not complaining, just saying!) that came with the croquettes, and more fried ‘stick’ croquettes this time. A forgetful dish, minus the sauce (I could have had a bowl of that and his bread and I would have been happy).

Next up, my wife loves gnocchi, so we ordered his Merguez sausage with gnocchi, full portion, which came out as a half portion, no gnocchi, just more random croquettes – the server saw the error (at least in the sizing of the plate) and said they would fix it right away. After we were done, the ‘second half’ came out, again, sans gnocchi, with some other new accompaniment in the shape of a white disc – The dish itself was a thrown together mess and I sent back second half telling them it was simply not as advertised.

We were nearly going to leave, but at 9:50 our Soufflés made it out, LOOKING nearly perfect! I commented that perhaps we were about to end on a high and that the tides had turned, sadly not so. The Soufflé was not properly mixed/combined and contained hard pieces of cooked egg white. The Englaise accompanying the Grand Marnier soufflé was far too thin and lacked any trace of vanilla, the Chocolate rendition equally disappointing.

I did not mention that one glass of wine ordered never showed up to the table – regardless; onto the humor…

The Bill arrives and was 100% on point, no desire to rectify a clear ‘night gone wrong’ so I asked to speak with the manager. It was clear that he understood the situation, but again, did not act as I would have expected (typically in the past in situations like this, one would be invited to come back for a dinner on the house to make up for a terrible experience – I have experienced this locally and abroad) but simply removed the 2 desserts and the 1 ‘sans gnocchi’ app.

I understand that for tasting menus, one should expect to enjoy a relaxed drawn out evening, perhaps 3-4 hours, enjoying 10-20 courses, but this was far from a tasting menu (1 plate per table, not each guest with an individual dish) and should never have approached a 3.5 hour marathon with such poor execution.

I plan on touching base with JP directly at some point as he should have an opportunity to address the situation and (hopefully) rectify it, so we shall see what transpires.

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  1. I had dinner at Ici bistro during the last weekend they were located on Harbord. Flawless service, divine food and lovely ambience. Personally I would never book a restaurant in their first weekend operating in a new location - no matter their reputation without expecting some snafus. But that is just me. And truth be told I have never quite been impressed with JPs customer service - in fact he has always struck me as the type that has a better relatioship with the dishes he prepares that people who enjoy the meal. So good luck getting a satisfactory response.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mskatsam

      Some snafus is one thing, a dinner that should have taken 2 hours, turning into a 3.5 hour marathon with egregious mistakes along the way, another. Let's see how he handles the situation....based on your comments and similar to the like, I am even more curious now.

    2. We were just there last night. Sounds like your evening was our evening. The only thing, we are not regulars to ICI so did not know they had moved. We were not phoned or emailed to be told of the change of address and I only happen to find out by chance. I even received an Open Table reminder that morning still using the Harbord address. I complained to the hostesses at the Windsor Arms who were apologetic but no offer of a complimentary wine as I had hoped. Ridiculous.

      No update to the Living Room which was dark and tired looking. Luckily the patio was opened so we sat there and it was very pleasant. We were the first people
      there at 7 on a Saturday night and by the time we left at 9:30 I counted 21 people (some guy was eating on his own). J P Challet's reasons for moving (so he said) were to have a bigger room. The old one holding 25 and
      this one holding 40. So in the old ICI we would have felt like we were in a jumping happening place while last night with it more than half empty it felt rather pathetic. I think there's way more to this story than what's
      being told because the hostess said they wanted to put a sign on the Harbord location about the move (so great you get there only to realize you're in the wrong place!) but the owners of the building wouldn't let them. One more note. We did not appreciate the very smelly cheap candle on the table or the plastic flower in the vase. Very tacky.

      3 Replies
      1. re: LuckyGardener

        That's a sign of poor management. Even their website shows the old address. Will wait for further feedback before heading over.

        1. re: elvisahmed

          The food is very yummy though. So worth going for that.

          1. re: LuckyGardener

            I heard similar complaints from a table next to us when we were there as well.

            I cannot however claim to say the same as you regarding the food. A few glimmers of proper execution, but mostly just duds. Entry level errors abound.

      2. We dined at Ici last night. It was my daughter's choice as she had just graduated from college, and wanted steak tartare. We may have been naive, but thought that a French restaurant at the Windsor Arms would command a bit of class. Our party of seven were well dressed(suits & ties, dresses) Disappointed to see guests in polo shirts and shorts in the dining room. The room itself was dark and pub like. We were seated in a corner, just outside a brighter, quieter separate room in the back. We were all very pleased with our menu selections; croquettes, oysters, steak tartare, scallops/crab/lobster, lobster bisque, and need duo. Everything was delicious . The server was efficient and polite. It would have been nice to have a maitre de or manager stop by to inquire about our meal. We are originally from NYC and when we dine at Le Grenouille, or Le Bernadin, that is the norm. The only other negative factor was the music. We were subjected to too loud dance music and disco, which was not appropriate for this space.

        1 Reply
        1. re: emq

          Formal dress is not on the menu in most Canadian restaurants these days

        2. I have been to a variety of restursunts ranging from McDonalds to Michelin Rated restursunts. I have never had such a terrible dining experience.

          Our waiter took 10 minites to come to oir table initially. We indicated that we were eager to order as we had plans after dinner we wanted to get to. The waiter did not return for another 15 minutes after that. We then asked for a wine menu that took another 10 minutes to show up.

          Prior to attending we confirmed the advertised menu as including a "welcome drink" as part of our set-course menu for $125. The waiter said he was not aware of it and would look into it. While bad enough not being aware of the menu, he did not bother to look into it an ignored our inquiry all together.

          We were asked by the assistant manager if we would like our meal served family style in order to speed up service for our group of 7. Our group clearly indicated we would rather not. However our apps came out family style. We raised the issue with the assistant manager who said it would be rectified for the rest of the meal.

          There was clear breakdown in communication within the staff as all of the remaining courses were served family style ie they piled the food on one big plate and we had to serve ourselves. This was an issue for our entree particularly because the waiter did not bother to bring us plates. When we asked for plates, he brought us little side plates and we were left to attempt to cut our overcooked steaks on an undersized dish.

          We ordered a bottle of wine which was not brought to our table until after we completed 90% of our entree. Really no point in wine after the meal.

          The waiter was not only inattentive, but grew to be rude and patronizing after I asked the assistant manager that our meal not be served family style. He commented on our group of 30-35 year olds as "the gang" and "crazy kids". While this may not have been a big deal ordinarily (but one would think that in a place that is supposed to be one of repute there would be some more formality), these comments were clearly passive aggressive indicating he didn't like how we raised some concerns with the assistant manager.

          We were not offered coffee or tea after the meal. There were several errors on our bill that including charges for things we didn't order. This took some time to rectify. And while realizing we were in a rush, the waiter proceeded to clear empty tables rather than bring us the bill to sign.

          I will say aside from an overcooked entree the food itself wasn't bad, but nothing to write home about either.

          Overall, I was shocked to the point where it actuslly ruined my night. And I am not one who is overly picky or easily upset. With so many other amazing options in this city, don't waste time with this one.

          3 Replies
          1. re: balvy

            I would send your entire posting to the hotel's management!!

            1. re: Charles Yu

              I have yet to hear back from them after sending two emails of complaint last June.

            2. re: balvy

              Looks like after 7 months this joke of a restaurant still hasn't worked out the 'kinks'....

            3. Looks like JP Challet agrees there are issues - leaving the Windsor Arms based on "divergence in vision".


              3 Replies
              1. re: Minnow

                AKA - Tuck tail and run away because he cant fix his sh!t....

                Both he and the hotel should be ashamed how they have handled the number of (evident) food and service issues, examples of which are noted above. They quickly forget they are in the business of making people happy.

                I (along with many family and friends) would never venture to any restaurant he is associated with again.

                1. re: Sadistick

                  Many times a restaurant in a hotel is controlled more by the Hotel then the Chef / owner. As this is not the first "quick" failure at the Windsor Arms where "vision" differences were mentioned. Maybe the Hotel has more to do with it than JP. I just read that the Windsor Arms Hotel bar has been converted to a vintage clothing store, does not bode well for their F&B program...

                  1. re: pourboi

                    Regardless of who has more pull, it does not excuse the pathetic service, the mediocre food (surely JP himself wold have had full control over what leaves his kitchen!) and the abysmal way he/the hotel handled their customers feedback.