Ate at a fancy new new downtown restaurant today. Happened to be downtown around noon. Wanted to try the new place because of all the hullabaloo about it being opened by top chefs, using local ingredients made me think that we might want to have dinner there on a special occasion. Lunches are usually a relative bargain, with somewhat smaller portions but much lower prices than dinner entrees. Less of a risk.
Don’t eat downtown much anymore. Did so almost every weekday when I worked at Saskatoon Open Door Society from 1998 to 2009, to get a much needed break from a noisy and crowded workplace. But my office is now way up on Airport Drive, so I seldom get downtown anymore. So I walked a bit of a detour to see what had changed. Old familiars like Strongfield’s, which used to make the best bagels in town, and continued to try under new ownership are finally gone. The fancy Tapa place that had replaced the once decent but long-declining Black Duck is now the Rook and Raven or some such idiotic faux-English pub title.
I hurried by; I avoid such places. The food offerings are usually mediocre and boringly predictable. (There are actually companies that sell and airlift complete “Irish/Emglish pub” kits to wherever a buyer wants to assemble them, including, presumably, the smell of stale beer.)
I was glad to note that La Taverna, under its new ownership, seems to be maintaining quality with its promises of pastas made fresh daily, and that Rembrandt’s still seems to be offering good food at reasonable prices (and also presumably the somewhat less prompt and less reliable pub food from the same kitchen at the adjoining Winston`s pub). But I did want to try the new place, with all I’d read and heard about it.
It was a bad mistake. The food was not bad, just nothing special given the high price. Sixteen dollars for roast chicken with a little too much gristle on a fresh but smallish bun with a smallish salad and very ordinary, slightly soggy fries (for which they refused to substitute a soup). That may not sound all that outlandish, but every beer on the menu – even a simple local bottle or draft – is priced at over seven and every glass of wine well over nine. Desserts, too, looked significantly more expensive than at places that offer truly excellent desserts like Calories (where lunches, too, are better and better-priced).
The space and decor were post-modernly-sand-blasted-brick-warehouse-with-fancy-lightingly-impressive, as was the open kitchen with its laudably diverse – but all male- crew of more than half-a-dozen cooks and assistants. But, having lived much of my life in downtown Toronto, I’ve seen too many such operations – aimed at Young Urban Professionals, and those pretend to be, and trendy people in general with more money than taste- come and go. I do appreciate good food. We`ve travelled a bit, and lived in Germany for four years. While there, we also often visited and dined in Switzerland Italy and France. Most of the meals we had in the pubs and modest restaurants in those countries there easily put this place to shame in terms of quality as well as value. Moreover, I’ve learned to cook well enough to put quality ingredients and proper preparation before the fancy decor, pretentious service piss-elegant fancy plating and artistic swirls of Balsaminc, etc, that seem de rigeur in such places.
But I do enjoy going out to eat because there are some truly interesting food and even great food values in Saskatoon. First and foremost are the Friday lunches at Amigo’s Cantina that I try never to miss. On that occasion, Chef Scott comes up with a surprise special every week. His creations are always interesting and usually very good. Quite often they are brilliant gourmet dishes. And not only do these go for less than I paid for that mediocre burger, but the beer, always fresh-on-tap, costs a third less and the wine is even more of a bargain. Then, too Bill (Guiseppe) at Two Gun Quiche offers,on 20th Street at Avenue B offers, in addition to good quiches, excellent, very genuine Italian sandwiches, again at a very reasonable price. And if your really need a hamburger, the he Park diner on 20th Street will provide a much better one at a much better price (and great breakfasts, too).