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Winterlicious 2011 Reviews

uberathlete | Feb 5, 201110:05 AM

Hi everyone. I'm hoping this thread is populated by the experiences of those who dined Winterlicious this year. It would be really helpful to those of us who are deciding on where to go. Hopefully, we get a good objective account of the food and service of participating restaurants.

I'll start with my experience in Sassafraz.

I went to Sassafraz last night for dinner. I had read some reviews beforehand and while most of them were negative I was willing to give it shot. Those negative reviews have been validated. If there was one word to describe the evening, it's disappointing.

- Baby Red Oak and Arugula Salad with Beet Chips, Toasted Pecans and Orange Fennel Vinaigrette
- Potato and Celeriac Soup with Truffle Beurre Noissette
- Shrimp Tamale with Roasted Poblano Chili Sauce

The salad is your pretty standard salad, with little vinaigrette (ie. too little). Quite ordinary. The soup was decent, again pretty standard and no wow factor. My dinner companion mentioned that it was something that could be made at home by sprucing up a tinned can of soup. I agree. Again, quite ordinary. The tamales was the biggest disappointment. No flavor, little shrimp, and a raw grainy texture. The best way to describe the taste is boiled mashed waxy potatoes. Poblano sauce was underwhelming because it was underseasoned and had little, if any smokiness All in all the starters were the biggest letdown of the night.

- 10 oz. New York Striploin with Sweet Potato Hash, Haricot Vert and Ancho herb Butter
- Wild Mushroom Stuffed Cornish Hen with Red Quinoa and Winter Vegetables
- Duck Cassoulet with Confit of Duck, Braised Lamb, Wild Boar Sausage and Flageolet Beans

Best dish of the evening was the steak. It was well seasoned, and cooked perfectly. The vegetables that came with it were a good match and cooked al dente. The Casoullet, visually, looked like canned beans served with meat on top. Taste was quite ordinary, lacking richness and an element that would cut the monotony of the dish. The sausage was underseasoned. Confit was tender as was the lamb, though again, lacked depth. The Cornish hen was underseasoned, but had nice crisp skin and the meat was relatively juicy. The stuffing was the weak link as it was literally mush, and almost no mushroom taste came through. The quinoa was an excellent match and the vegetables were cooked perfect. Overall the mains were a underseasoned but portions were just right.

- Lemon Lavender Tart with Milk Chocolate Cream, Toasted Meringue and Amaretto Custard
- Chocolate Pave with Passionfruit Sherbet and Rosewater Gelee
- Gotham City Cheese: Ice Wine Washed Rind Made from Pasteurized Cow’s Milk with Fresh Fruits and Garnishes

The tart had a nice relatively crispy pastry crust and a rather tart lemon custard. Decent but ordinary. The milk chocolate cream went surprisingly well with it. The chocolate pave was a little too bitter but the sherbet was quite refreshing, though it did taste slightly like air freshener. It came with some jelly like substance that had no taste whatsoever and added nothing to the dish, Finally, the cheese. This was literally a one and half inch rectangular piece of cheese with rind that if tasted while blindfolded, tasted like supermarket white cheddar. It came with a few dried apricots and plums, some grapes, and crispy triangles that tasted like old fortune cookies with no sugar.

Excellent service. Out waiter was unpretentious, attentive, had a pleasant demeanor, and made you feel relaxed and right at home. This made the night a little more bearable.

I went to Sassafraz hoping that the negative reviews I had read were just overstatements. But unfortunately they validated those criticisms. It also, to a degree, validates the notion that Winterlicious brings out the worst in restaurants in Toronto. This was the kind of meal that underwhelmed enough to convince me to not come back, which is a shame because it is a nice restaurant and has an excellent reputation. You are better off spending $45 dollars on a non-Winterlicious prix fixe from Simple Bistro, which has less fanfare but excellent quality. At times during my dinner I stopped to imagine myself eating at a regular office cafeteria, and to my disappointment that level of quality they served would fit that setting. If I were chef, I would be embarrassed serving some of those items, especially the shrimp tamale. I would definitely not recommend Sassafraz for Winterlicious dinner. They seem to have really slipped this year based on the reviews they got last year.

100 Cumberland St, Toronto, ON M5R1A6, CA

Simple Bistro
619 Mount Pleasant Rd, Toronto, ON M4S2M5, CA

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