I went to Habitat on Saturday night for dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday. Thanks to the warnings on this board, I was prepared for a disappointing meal but had hopes (given some positive reviews) that we'd be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, we weren't.
I should state at the outset that I am not a fan of Couillard. Nonetheless I did not wish to be proven right, since I was actually spending money and time there. Howeverm I was unimpressed with both food and atmosphere. First the food.
I can't remember what other dishes were ordered as apps, but I had the crab fritters. The crab was visible but the dominant flavour of the dish was salt. The fritters were incredibly salty. Nicely crunchy on the outside, soft inside, with a side of julienned vegetables in a nice vinegrette. Too bad I could mostly taste the salt.
For mains, I had what the menu said was masala dosa. This dish actually made me mad, not because it was bad, but because it betrayed the arrogance of the chef. I find it annoying when a menu uses names of dishes with no recognizable reference to that said dish on the plate. What I got was not even dosa-like. It was a nicely spiced lentil-based runny curry, with two Sri Lankan-style rotis (which were incredibly oily). Now I didn't expect a proper masala dosa - I know that Couillard's style is fusion. I was interested to see what he would do to a dosa. But this was a curry with bread. This is 2005 multicultural Toronto - it should be assumed that diners may know the difference, and may make decisions on what to eat based on the names of dishes. Masala dosa in this case were simply words that I assume were chosen for their (presumably exotic? to whom?) sound. Having said that, the dish was perfectly tasty, although not in any way special or interesting.
Two of us chose the Fukien noodles - disaster. I've been dining regularly with this group of people over the last few years, and have never witnessed anyone send anything back. This time it happened. The dish was so salty it was inedible. When we told the waiter that he said, "I know, I find it too salty too." How about warning people about that when they order, or better yet, how about adjusting the recipe?
The burger and the spicy salmon were winners, although neither was spectacular. They were simply good, the burger properly cooked with good toppings (each topping is an additional $2), the fish nicely spiced with Caribbean style rub. The rice that came with the fish was very bland. Others liked the jerk chicken, while cataplana did not impress another diner (I was sitting too far to hear the reasons).
We skipped desserts. Overall, I'd say the hype surrounding this chef is not justified. The menu might have been exciting 20 years ago, when fusion and spicy food equalled adventurous, but seems to miss today. The kitchen seems to ignore the fact that Toronto diners today have much more sophisticated and educated palates, and much greater access to a variety of ethnic cuisines. Frankly, at this price level, there are much better options in Toronto.
Finally in this heat wave, the restaurant was uncomfortable. There is no AC, understandably given the open doors to the terrace, but that makes for a very uncomfortable dining experience inside. We were literally stuck to the handsome leather chairs. The restaurant was almost empty, except for the patio crowd, no doubt partly because of the conditions inside.
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