Last night, lets try someplace new!. Based on the Chowhound posts, we went to Niagara St Cafe. Our major conclusion, and it is really a confirmation, is that life is not fair when you are a restauranteur in Toronto. The food at Niagara St is consistently "underwhelming" across the board and left us with no desire to return. Prices are just as high as at someplace good . Yet Niagara St was close to full on a night that places that deserve to be well patronized were slow: generally the wrong places succeed in Toronto.
It is not that the food at Niagara St is bad. It is not. It can best be described as innocuous and inoffensive, unless you are irritated by food that is innocuous and characterless. Niagara St seems to be one of those places at which the food doesn't matter as long as it doesn't bother the diner and has a bit of novelty and pizzaz, at least in the description.
The menu reads much better than it eats. And it is quite overpriced for what you get. The skill level is adequate but not noteworthy either in technical skill or plate composition. Relatively expensive ingredients listed in the menu are used very sparingly; portions are small. Flavours are often so muted that the net result is that the dish is inoffensive, except when it is screwed up. By this I mean that even if for example, the diner doesn't like beets or duck, the diner could still eat the dish: the flavours of beet or duck do not come through and there isn't much of the ingredient. There is a general lack of generosity, even a meaness, throughout. It is if those in charge of the kithchen are half baked restaurant business people not food people.
My summary description of the food is that it is eminently forgettable. Acceptable if you are there with friends and you don't want the food to distract from the conviviality. But we would be embarrassed to take someone there to whom the food matters at all.
And if we recommnended the place, it would reflect badly on us.
The Portuguese house wine was $7 for a not large glass; at $7 I expect something a bit better than what I guessed was a $9 bottle unless the owner has found something, in which case he can charge what he wants for his skill. The wine was coarse and did not go with the cooking.
The parsnip soup was technically good as a soup and would photgraph well but didn't taste of parsnips. It reminded me of Hungarian vegetable dishes, wherein the vegetables are treated so as to disguise the fact that you are eating vegetables in order to overcome the aversion thereto.
But the soup was appealing by description, as was the beet salad. Beets with oranges on argula with a walnut-caraway vinaigrette.
There was no taste of beet. Most of the beets were yellow beets which are a lot milder than red anyway. But the few scraps of red beet were also insipid. As for the orange, I had to look for it and of course they had been in the common marinade and were barely recognizable as orange. As for the dressing, the caraway element had good flavour, and the vinegar was strong, but there was no sense of walnut, which I presumed to mean walnut oil. Why one would use walnut oil in the dressing beats me, other than to dress up the menu description. The (too) strong tastes of caraway and vinegar would be fine if the vinaigrette dressed something robustly flavourful, but it dressed bland marinated sponge. The arugula didn't go with the rest of the dish and had no purpose except as a decoration and to add a chi-chiesque item to the description. The vinaigrette clashed. The dish was a quite small portion of cheap ingredients that were easy to prepare and serve and was screwed up. It cost $8. I felt ripped off.
Similarly the the duck papradelle for $7. A few shreds of duck with some noodles in a broth like sauce. This was served without a spoon; I don't know what the restaurant intended the diner to do with the broth. But maybe the place knew something. I asked for a spoon and ate everything together. The sauce was too salty and overwhelmed the gentleness of the noodles. Of course the duck was innocuous and scarce.
My guess is that the dish was made with recycled duck confit (they could even have used a new one; one leg goes, long, long, long way here). Of course one can use left over duck confit, but either way the kitchen has to use some brains too.
The Ms had a good five dollar vegetarian root vegetable dish which unfortunately cost $14.
I had the duck confit, quince glazed with roasted pepper squash and quince. Yummy by description. The duck was relatively bland except for being sweet in some undifferentiated way on top and for a patch with a lot of salt. The sauce was a brown nothing. The leg sat on some small cubes of squash (not too much mind you) and we successfully searched for the quince and found a couple similarly sized cubes. The quince had been cooked with the squash and was hard to distinguish.
We left before coffee and dessert and in reaction to the bullshit went to Dundas and Ossington to Caldense, a Portuguese bakery- cafe. Good and cheap.
(I had wanted a veal sandwich at an upstairs Portuguese dance hall, but the kitchen had closed.)
We should have gone to Batifole or Pony or Cosmo for soup and schnitzel and my Ms. tells me that I have to get over my personality conflict with Edward Levesque.