I HATE Winter/Summerlicious! Gave up over a year ago after several attempts over several years and NEVER having had a meal worth returning for. I even have the list of participating restos saved so I can avoid them (I won't even go to my regular places if they're in Winterlicious). And I haven't read a single thread on the topic this year.
So last night when we suddenly decided to go out we headed for the York St Keg - Sundays are always quiet - only to find a 45-minute wait (I guess lots of other people were avoiding Winterlicious too). Now, that location is pretty good and excellent value, but certainly NOT worth a 45-minute wait, so we scrambled to find an alternative on a Sunday evening downtown.
We ended up dropping by Tundra - in my consciousness I expected 'safe' Canadian food, whcih sounded OK but obviously had never been a destination for me.
Only upon being seated (as 'walk-ins') did we discover they had a Winterlicious menu!
And it looked pretty good - with some interesting variations on the pedestrian Winterlicious offerings I recalled from previous years.
Yes, the ubiquitous 'salmon' was there - but accompanied by 'crab mashed' potatoes; an interesting twist. And a choice of 3 other mains: Cornish hen "au vin"; Lobster mac 'n' cheese; and a vegetarian Pumpkin/Goat Cheese Risotto.
For our starters we had a roasted cauliflower soup (with a 'green oil' drizzle - that's how the server described it) and a salad (mainly apple based, with a roasted apple vinaigrette and apple sticks, rather than the roasted beets on the published menu).
Both were very tasty and well prepared with fresh ingredients. We ordered a wine from the 'special Winterlicious list' - a choice of four with much lower than normal mark-ups ($32) and which were all available by the glass as well.
For the mains we had the Lobster mac 'n' cheese and the Cornish hen "au vin". The mac 'n' cheese was certainly comfort food but creditably presented and cooked. The pasta was al dente and there was certainly a good (but not large) amount of lobster. the cheese was gratinated - good texture but the sea of white/off-white colour was pretty boring. But tasty. Not sure I'd order it again, but every 6 months might be around right.
Loved the chicken though. It was a twist on the classic dish - all the same basic ingredients but prepared separately, rather than all being in one pot. So the veggies were crisp, rather than braised to softness. The sauce had been reduced so was much thicker than a typical 'au vin' - and the cornish hen was perfectly cooked and presented (not overcooked as happens in many coq au vins).
Two desserts followed; An apple cheesecake and a Spiced Carrot Cake (sort of a carrot-cake muffin). Both were fresh and excellent.
Coffee was awful!
So two full meals and a bottle of wine for under $120 (before gratuity). And good attentive service (topped up our wine several times).
The meal was worth far more than the price - so we tipped above 15% - and encourage others to do the same. Just because the meal is cheaper than normal is no reason to be cheap with a server who serves you as well as someone who pays 'regular' prices. And don't tip at all if you don't get service! (another Winterlicious rule from the past).
I'd go back here to try the other two mains! (But I'm still not ready to embrace Winterlicious in general - but I'm wavering).