Tuesday, February 21, 2006

North 44 Restaurant

North 44
2537 Yonge St.
Toronto, Ontario M4P 2H9

This is probably the first time that I feel reluctant to write a review. I wasn't thrilled with either their service or the food. We were there for the Winterlicious so MAYBE it wasn't their norm. But again, it is unlikely for me to visit this restaurant again.

It was first snowing then turning into pouring rain but we arrived on time. We confirmed that they offered valet parking and we were instructed to wait at the door. So we were waiting…and waiting…people came and went, and we were forgotten. Eventually I got so fed up. I actually walked out in the fierce hail, found the closest parking, came back and grabbed J so we could park his car. By the time we walked back, we could finally be seated. (Here comes the interesting part) "I am sorry, but you are so late for your reservation, we don't have table available…." HUH?! How long had we been standing in front of them before we needed to rush out and parked our car?

The ordering process was quite awkward. We were first informed that the next group would arrive within 2 hours so we had to finish our meal in 90 min. Fair enough. Saturday night + Winterlicious, we understand how busy they were. We ordered sparkling water. Normally we expect to have few choices (or at least something like "Is San Pellegrino ok?"). Nope. Throughout the course, they had our orders wrong several times, one waitress got quite frustrated that she raised her voice to one of my friends, "You ordered this risotto!"

Back to the food. I had slow braised pork belly with seared scallop and natural reduction to start, organic Irish salmon with scallops, chanterelles, clams, natural reduction and crisp pancetta as main, and pavlova with winter fruit compote and orange mousse as dessert. J "upgraded" his appetizer to seared foie gras, roasted veal loin with braised shank ravioli, sautéed garlic spinach, Vichy carrots, apple jam and natural reduction as main, and apple and fig crumble with cinnamon ice cream and Tahitian vanilla sauce for dessert. Almost all the things J ordered tasted better than what I had but we couldn't really "trade"; the food potions were ridiculously small (Yes, even people like us who are quite accustomed to the "high-end-restaurant-bite-size-serving" feel so).

The only item which was done properly was the scallops; it wasn't overcooked. The whole culinary journey went downward spiral from there. The pork belly was fatty and "porky"; it had some unpleasant pork odor. Although the meat was tender, not much flavour was built before the braising took place. At that point I started to miss the piece of pork belly I had at Luce, or "Tung Po Rou" (Chinese pork belly stew), or any delicious pork belly I’ve ever had in my life. The salmon was slightly overcooked. There might be just wee bit too much pancetta dripping in the sauce; it left a funny aftertaste in my mouth, as if I just had bacon and egg breakfast in a diner.

The dessert was worth one paragraph all to itself; I rarely had such awful dessert in a so-called high-end restaurant. According to the definition on Wikipedia, Pavlova was named after a famous ballerina and should have "a crisp crunchy shell, while the interior remains soft and moist". Well then, the ballerinas on my plate must prefer to dance alone; no ingredients went well with one another. The meringue was hard and crusty from inside out, the dried fruits were tucked under the meringue and formed a piece of packed fruit cake. And if it wasn’t because it was written on the menu, I couldn’t taste the orange in the mousse at all. I stopped after two bites: one was the meringue alone, the second one was a mix of all ingredients. Several days later, I saw Rob Feenie on "New Classics with Chef Rob Feenie" making Lime curd Pavlova with a coconut citrus sauce. I was drooling all over. Maybe one day I will try this recipe just to prove that it is nothing to do with the dessert itself, but how it was executed.

1 comment:

M@ said...

We went to Tundra last year for Winterlicious and it was equally awful -- unbelievably slow service, worse food than I would get at Montana's or what have you, and an inexplicable refusal to validate our parking (their web site clearly stated -- on their Winterlicious page -- that they would do so).

Winterlicious is a good idea but I have yet to hear of a good experience from it. The restaurants are perfectly willing to take our money to sample their cuisine, but they aren't willing to make the experience good enough that we'd come back. I felt like a second-class citizen. I'll never go back to Tundra, that's for sure. And North 44 is on my blacklist now, too.

Great review by the way -- I always enjoy your posts.