Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Winterlicious at Thuet Bistro - meh

In honour of my dear friend Diane's birthday, a bunch of us went to Winterlicious at Thuet Bistro. I had originally wanted to go to Mildred Pierce, but I kept getting a busy signal so I called Thuet Bistro as a backup. Since they picked up right away and were so nice, I decided to keep the reservation.

Marc Thuet is one of a handful of very famous and well-respected Toronto chefs (in company with Susur Lee, Mark McEwan, Jamie Kennedy, and Michael Stadtlander) who made their names at upscale restaurants and then subsequently opened cheaper, more "rustic" spots. So, Thuet Bistro is Marc Thuet "slumming it". Funnily enough though, Toronto Life says that a dinner for two at Thuet Bistro costs $200 while the same at Centro (an upscale place Thuet used to own) is only $190.

The thing about Winterlicious is that you can go to an unaffordable restaurant for a fraction of the price. At some lovely and less celebrity cheffy places like Boulevard Cafe, you get the same quality/quantity of food and service as when you order off the regular menu. At most places however, including Thuet Bistro, you get the airline-sized version of everything and they try to get you in and out as soon as possible.

When Darryl, Diane, and I arrived at 7 sharp, there were throngs of people clogging the doorway trying to get seated. There was a 5pm seating (who eats at 5?), so many people had to wait for their tables even though they had reservations. Thankfully our punctual friend Michael was already seated so we got to push through (much to the annoyance of the throngs) and sit immediately. The restaurant was packed to the rafters and because of all the hard surfaces, it was like being in a nightclub (or Salad King). We had to yell to hear each other.

I had an appetizer that was described as "Red beet marinated organic salmon, yuzu infused Napa cabbage, sashimi essence". I'm not sure how one extracts essence from sashimi since it is a preparation, not an ingredient. But, the cabbage was delicate and citrusy, and the salmon was tender and smokey. My main was called "choucroute de poisson", which was basically sauerkraut with fish (skate and Tasmanian sea trout). The skate was moist and flakey and the sauerkraut was nicely sour, but not too salty. I nibbled on Diane's beef bourguignon, which was soft as a dream but it actually reminded me of Campbell's Chunky beef stew (which I love, by the way). For dessert, I had 'Profiteroles with warm Soma chocolate sauce'. The "s" in "profteroles" is kind of misleading because it was actually only one. But nevertheless it was delicious (and tiny).

They served us three courses in less than an hour and we had a whole 45 minutes until the 9PM seating began, so I ordered orange ginger tea to make the most of our two-hour time slot. The first teacup I was presented with looked dirty even in the very low light. The waiter quickly replaced it and the tea was nice and fresh-tasting.

There were people at the next table who weren't doing Winterlicious and their food was generously sized and yummy looking. I'm aware that margins at restaurants are small, so they can't give you the royal treatment when you aren't paying for it. However, there are places that do, such as Boulevard Cafe and Rosewater Supper Club. It's really hit or miss, so you just have to try places, but as a general rule I think it's best to stay away from famous places with famous chefs. You won't get anywhere near the full experience.

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