I was recently posting a reply to the mediocre review of Colborne Lane, and I began to think about the quality of food in this city.
As a warning in advance, I'm a grad student under a fairly limited budget. As food (surpassing even travel) is by a vast margin my biggest joy in life, I can save and justify approximately $100 per person for a spectacular meal on occasion; please keep in mind that this is without standard alcohol pairings, because, sadly, due to health concerns, I cannot consume either wine or beer (martinis and other forms of hard liquor are perfectly acceptable). IMO, for all but the most brilliant of meals, given the lack of alcohol, this should be more than a sufficient cash drop for a fantastic experience.
To give you a sense of my history, I grew up in Ottawa, and I spent four months living in Washington, DC. In Ottawa, largely avoiding the Byward Market and suburbs, with but a modicum of research, I was hard pressed to find restaurants that disappointed me: the service and quality of food ranged from wonderful to stellar. In DC, even without research, the majority of places I ate at were utterly brilliant and the joy of being able to wander into a random safe neighbourhood from a subway stop, pick a restaurant with a nice menu, and have a meal that left me euphorically satisfied was unparalleled. The DC restaurants that didn't quite fit into that category were at least decent, merited the cost, and were definitely repeatable. I can't think of a single abysmal dining experience while I lived there.
Prior to discovering this delightful message board, to which I've adored being a member for about a month as I feel that it's introduced me to a myriad of new culinary options that are far more sophisticated than the rather unimpressive and consistently disappointing choices recommended by NOW magazine and other online sources (a personal thanks extended to all of you wonderful people for this), I found that I simply could not locate restaurants that impressed me. I've eaten at easily 200 restaurants in this city, and seldom do I not leave feeling disappointed and cheated unless the food was almost ludicrously cheap. I became convinced that this city had very little to offer in terms of impressive cuisine.
In my time spent here, I've gained hope on countless occasions. Frequently, though, I read about more costly places that seem to be held in high esteem and gotten tremendously excited over them, but it seems that every five positive reviews are met with five equally negative reviews. Examples include Susur, JKWB, Colborne Lane, Lai Wah Heen, and Edward Levesque's Kitchen. While a couple of those might for a few years be out of my price range, I am amazed that people are willing to take the risk to shell out $200+ a couple for an experience that may be hit-or-miss. For example, Lai Wah Heen: people tout their dim sum but dismiss their dinner. A restaurant at this price point, IMO, should be consistently brilliant, and not just at certain meals.
I don't particularly think that I'm difficult to impress. I do enjoy cooking and baking and feel that I can do it fairly well, albeit no to any professional standard. To give you an idea of me, I have little-to-no formal culinary training, but I have studied several forms of SE Asian (most notably Thai and Malaysian), Indian, Sri Lankan, and Italian cookery extensively. My standards are not ridiculously high, and for brilliant food, I am willing to overlook significant flaws in service, as long as my water glass isn't left empty for ridiculous periods of time and the food is utterly brilliant.
Frankly, I feel that it's utterly pathetic that my favourite Torontonian restaurants consist of Matahari Grill, Thai Paradise, Tokyo Grill, Ethiopian House, and the Keg, which are all *good* offerings for their price, and consistently so, but none of those are truly spectacular and unforgettable, and I hesitate recommending any but a couple of them to visitors.
My tastes are not unrefined and appreciative of haute cuisine, I don't feel. I was in St. Martin in December and ate at several high class French / Mediterranean restaurants, mostly notably one in Grand Case, and was utterly delighted and satisfied to the core of my being, even earth-shatteringly moreso than some of my Ottawa and DC meals, which I felt prior to the experience might just be impossible. It was wonderful, and something I haven't experienced even one single time in Toronto.
I hate the thought of sounding elitist, especially because I'm adamantly not so and because so many of you here hold much more culinary sophistication than I will possibly hope to grasp within the next decade, but I am appalled that, in a greater metropolitan area of five million people, in my very humble and inexperienced opinion, there is such a lack of consistent, satisfying cuisine. Are there any places here that are true finds that merit a moderate cost without fear of disappointment, and if not, why is this the case? There is really absolutely no excuse for this in this city, IMO. I feel sometimes that Torontonians have learned to settle for the mediocre, which is depressing at best.
In termination, I want to assert that I am in no way intending to belittle the opinions of anyone on this board. I have deeply enjoyed reading all of your words, and within the last month, I had read virtually ever post in every thread and thoroughly enjoyed every one of your reviews and perceptions. I thank you all for your valuable input, and I really hope that you can shatter what I hope are my misconceptions about this city.