Recommendations are harder for Winterlicious 2006. The people in charge have permitted a general $5 increase in prices, with maximum price in the range set in accordance to their perceptions of the restaurant's station. Substantially gone from 'licious 2006 are the specially for 'licious nothing menus- eg. mesculan salad, salmon (4oz. portion at $4lb wholesale) creme brule. Perhaps the improvement is consequent on the price increase; perhaps the restaurant owners are getting into the proper spirit; perhaps it doesn't matter: the more things change etc. The proof will be in the eating. So I write based on experience.
The 'licious world is divided as follows.
Some places look on the programme as a money maker. So you get the nothing menus. Most places are like this and particularly the chi-chi ones. Besides, you (mark) should be grateful to have the honour of dining at my upmarket scene and escaping at the $125 level for two. ($125 is what the "bargain" ends up at, with coffee, a glass of wine, tax and tip. Now comes parking, babysitter) Only problem is that you have had an unsatisfying meal. But this should not be a surprise. At their regular prices the meals are also unsatisfying; so 'licious is a good deal. And you have been to..... My comment is that given the add ons, coffee, wine (overpriced), tip (keeping the waiters happy and remaining), and remebering that 'licious is held in slow season (when the overhead is just as large and the same even if you don't get $25-35 plus a head), any place should be able to put on at a profit a good and satisfying meal at their set 'licious price. But the kitchen has to understand food and have the right ideas about dining in general; but this is hard because their calling card says bullshit, not food. And the customers have to want to eat tasty but low chow mien ingredients and dishes.
So if you select places on scenester repuation, you are virtually guaranteed disappointment. Now in defence of these places. "You know, customers are funny. They make no allowances for the fact that prices are really low. They want to be treated as if they were paying the whole pop and and expect to get the whole show. What am I do do? I am stuck."
Then there are the places that look on 'licious as a promotion. These are few in number, and here one finds the very pleasant surprises.
There have been a number of postings previously to the effect that 'licious is a waste of time, money and calories. The posters say that they would have been better off to go to a reasonably priced restaurant outside the programme. They are right for two reasons. First, they didn't choose a 'licious promo place so now wonder it didn't work out. Second, there are a few "nice' places (where one would want to take a first date) that are overlooked in Toronto that offer excellent and interesting meals at low prices. I am leaving out the "ethnic treasures"
So let me start by recommending the nice places outside of 'licious that we know and are really cheap.
Cosmo, St. Clair and Dufferin, (I just posted as "Chowfind Schnitzel"), Wednesday schnitzel night in particular
Thai Plate, Bathurst and Ranee, Monday lunch buffet in particular.
Boulevard Cafe, (bourgeois European Peruvian) Harbord and Borden
The Big Ragu, southern Italian, St.Clair and Landsdowne, authentic crummy decor.
Djerba la Douce, about 1457 Danforth next to the funeral home,Tunisian (Italianish (but a bit too ethnic for a first date?)
Pony, sort of French, College and Bathurst, especially the various prix fixe options. See long comment further.
I have posted about these places previously.
I would like to see posted other Chowhounds' recommendations.
Now the 'liciuous recommendations.
I should say that lunch is often a much better deal, and serves just as well as the bit of adventure into the unknown.
The Willy Mays, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzy etc. of 'licious is Bouvelard Cafe (416-961-7676) for lunch ($15). A miracle, especially if you have the fish main, and the soup instead of the (non-mesculan)salad (my preference). Note that BC is on my list of non 'licious good places to go. BC puts together its 'lious menu from its regular menu. Everything is good from the bread (cornbread) to the deserts. (In Toronto, amazing.) Dinner ($25) is equally recommended.
Caju, 416-532-2550, 922 Queen, Brazilian 'nice", $25. dinner only. We would go for 'licious lunch, which was cheaper, and very good. Now its dinner only. Soup if caldo verde is a bore but boring is the characteristic of Portuguese soups (in my experience), delicious salad dressing, beautiful fish stew (peixe com vatapa), delicious veg dumplings which had made a beautiful $15 'licious lunch. the chocolate coconut dessert is excellent and by far more interesting that the passion fruit mousse which is bit light on passion.
La Bruschetta, St.Clair and Dufferin, $15 lunch is worth the try., 416-656-8622. We went last winter and complained on the board, see previous post (as" La Bruscetta- go elsewhere", note no "h"). I think that we ordered badly, and there were other complaints unrelated to our selection, but worth a dark horse try at $15.
Millie's Bistro. 1980 Avenue Rd. 416-481-1247 Good last year as a $10 lunch, now $15. ?
Pony, College and Bathurst. Owned and operated by the best French style chef in Toronto (now, who would like to enagage in argument?), but suffers from being far too neglected by reviewers and the public. Well composed plates, consistent and harmonious from begining to end; his dinners are complete and without loose ends. His $22.95 ($22.95 weekend) prix fixe menus (selected from a la carte) are excellent. However by not changing the (best had anywhere) mushroom soup and the (excellent) tart au citron, he punishes those who would want to be regulars drawn by the measly $22.95. Note that Jamie Kennedy, the prior occupant of the location, operating as Palmerston, now at JKWB and R gets $17 for chicken soup, albeit it is with "ailerons", but really he means only one chicken wing.) Back to Pony. However, Pon'y's $20 'licious dinner last year was a disappointment, the chef perhaps simply can't do it at the $20.level. It is not his fault, but the organizers' who dictate price and limited him. Now they let him have another $5! If he were permitted to charge $35 which is top 'licious dollar, his meals probably would be a sensation. So Pony is well worth trying at $25, or better yet, go some evening outside of 'licious!
Cataplana. 938 College at Dovercourt, Portuguese, a really nice place. 416-538-1562, $20 lunch, $35 dinner. They kept their 'licious menu running post 'licious and we went several times. Last year they screwed up the menu posting on the 'licious site. It seems that they have done the same this year, so check.
Lunch is really a dinner. Very good, really cheap, a bit homestyle, but in a nice way. The problems (for me) are these. The starter soup is of course Portuguese and I think a bore, except for the pea and sausage soup which has pork. The salad is mesculan with a few additions. The dessert are Creme Brule or Molotoff. The CB is good but not interesting, the Molotoff (a decorated very spongy soft meringuish thng, looking like a slice of sponge cake) is good and interesting, but boring after two times. But the Molotoff is recommended the first time!
Zucca Trattoria, 2150 Yonge St, 416-488-5774. Delicious, where I would take the Queen. The problems are these. First, you don't get enough to eat unless you are a fashion model who is afraid of losing her job if she gains two lbs. But I figured this one out. 'licious dinner is $35. Order three dinners between the two of you, different items. For $105 for two you will have the best "tasting menu" in Toronto and (drumroll) enough to eat (unique)! So, highly recommended.
The second problem is this. The great refinement that characterizes this restaurant sometimes causes the kitchen (on regular menu) to err and the dish falls on the wrong side. There is nothing wrong with it, it just disappoints ("underwhelms"). And even worse, the portion is small.
Happy chowing. I wish more people would post about their experiences. And by the way, don't think that you are an ignoramus with nothing to add if you think that the place sucked even though a quel ubermeister restaurant reviewer wrote in the paper that it was great, or vice versa.