Solé Lacks Some Soul

23 07 2010

For those of you who don’t know me too well (not that I have much of an “outside” audience, but still) I can be a saver or a spender depending on the situation, and most of the time I try to be a saver.

So, after I had spent some hard-earned cash on a new haircut and colour because I just had to change the yellow streak in my hair to a fuschia streak, I was short a few and decided that instead of tipping my stylist friend in the boring, disconnected way of many, I would take her out for a light lunch instead.  We drove around town for a little while and settled on Solé.  They have their Summerlicious menu on right now but it was uninspiring so we decided to order off the seasonal menu.  I took one look and immediately decided on the “Slab of Iceberg” salad.  I mean, really, what could be cheaper than Iceberg Lettuce?!  And I was at Solé, so I wanted to know just what kind of chameleon act they could pull off.  I also knew I was going home to a lovely dinner consisting of fresh, cornmeal-crusted yellow perch with baby potatoes and asparagus so a salad was my only option anyway. 

Karma Karma Karma Chameleon

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find that no matter how much I wash Iceberg lettuce it tastes earthy, and not in a good way.  I doubt they even grow that stuff in actual earth anymore, but that specific taste just doesn’t seem to want to go away.  I was concerned but decided to go for it anyway.  Kudos to Solé for identifying that this was, in fact, the lowly Iceberg lettuce they were using in their upscale restaurant and double kudos for trying to make it exciting.  My stylist/dining companion decided to order the classic French salad: Niçoise. 

We sat outside under a giant overhang in a cordoned-off patio complete with a corner fountain to drown out any traffic sounds and chatter.  I thought this was a nice touch considering that they are located on a somewhat busy street.  Our waiter arrived and quickly introduced himself.  Then he started a strange little speech that began with: “Well, what can I say?  Our special is [insert slew of foodie words strung together and uttered too quickly to be understood followed by]…………and that’s about all I can think of to say….because there is nothing else to tell you!” (it was something to that effect complete with long, awkward pauses and body sway).  As my friend put it simply after we left the restaurant: he was clearly on his own planet.  It was strange and uncomfortable because little of what he said was in context with the situation but we shrugged and announced our orders.  We also asked for water to drink.  Waiter-on-his-own-Planet looked at us with partial disdain and walked away.  He arrived with water, some sliced multi-grain baguette, and what tasted and looked like a black currant jelly.  I am no farmer, but I am going to guess the jelly was supposed to be a seasonal accompaniment, however, I have always been under the impression that currants are late summer/early fall fruit…anyone happen to know?  It was a nice jelly but it didn’t match the bread since that had some savoury herbs thrown in and did nothing to complement the sweetness of the jelly.  In the end, I wasn’t sure what type of flavour they were going for but it didn’t work for me.  It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good.

After the appropriate waiting time, our salads arrived.  True to its name, the “Slab of Iceberg” was indeed that.  Said slab was topped with a red pepper dressing which was in turn topped with sprouts.  Surrounding the slab were four artichoke hearts (located on the north, east, south and west points of the giant plate) as well as about a dozen floppy beet “chips”.  My friends’ Salade Niçoise was deconstructed – a large Boston lettuce leaf surrounded by olives, green beans, a hard boiled egg and four grilled shrimp.  Although we thought the presentation of the salads was unique, the salads themselves weren’t very substantial.  That was fine by me, but hypothetically, if I had wanted to order that same salad for a light dinner (which I am apt to do at times) I would probably be quite hungry in the end.  The dressings for both salads were OK.  They weren’t out of a bottle but they weren’t especially exciting either.   All in all, the salads lacked any form of surprise that would make them special or different or even remind me of the fact that I was eating at Solé.  After we had eaten our greens, we peeked at the dessert menu but decided against any sugary goodness although they had a crème brulee trio that sounded appetizing.  Our waiter arrived to check on us when the meal arrived, during, and at the end of the meal as is customary, but we were weirded-out by him enough to keep any good-natured banter to a minimum.  In all honesty, we just didn’t want him to keep coming back to our table.

In the end, the food at Solé was fine.  It was definitely better than the average sports bar or chain eatery but on the other hand, it wasn’t memorable either.  I think food often reflects the mindset of the chef who makes it and when someone is passionate about their food, there is no mistaking it.  In this case, it appeared that passion had been replaced by apathy – but who cares?!

Passion leaving the body

Images courtesy of http://animal.discovery.com and www.yeatsvision.com





A Tale of 2 Jacks – Part 2

13 07 2010

A mere 85 kilometres from Mississauga is another Jack Astor’s (although I am sure there are many in between).  Sadly, my second Jack Astor’s experience was a horror movie complete with lots of boring plot build up and extremely shocking scenes during the extended climax, as well a dénouement in the pouring rain.  Classic.

My aforementioned West Indian friend and I arrived at the Jack Astor’s in Kitchener right after work.  The two teenage maitre d’s greeted us and we explained that we were there as two of a total party of 5 people.  One of the girls’ eyes lit up: “I think your party is already here!” she said.  My friend and I cast sideways glances at each other, fully aware that it was unlikely others had already arrived, but proceeded to follow the teen.  She led us through the bar area and pointed to a large table where some other girls were sitting.  The two girls were Indian or West Indian but that was all they had in common with us.  I started to giggle and my friend said flatly “No, that’s NOT our party”.  The teen turned around and I saw that she was slightly confused.  Then she started to look embarrassed.  Finally, she apologized for the gaff and slowly led us to another table on the opposite side of the restaurant, apologizing again.  We sat down and broke into peals of laughter.  Every once in a while we would look at each other and recall what had just happened which caused even more laughter.  We had just experienced racial stereotyping at its worst!  As it turned out, that incident ended up being only one of several lows we hit that night.

When our (also teenaged) waitress arrived she introduced herself while writing the time of our arrival on the (all-too-common) brown paper tablecloth.  I made a mental note of this since I had only seen the time note take place during lunches when restaurants were more likely to be busy; this night was definitely the opposite.  She asked us our drink orders and then went off.  We then ordered a starter of pita bread with hot spinach and cheese dip once she was back with our drinks.  It was standard fare and tasted like every other spinach and cheese dip, but we were famished so it worked to control our hunger.  About halfway through our app, two other friends arrived and ordered some drinks (the beer list was spewed at us by our “friendly” waitress like machine gun fire) as well as spring rolls to start.  At this point, we were still waiting for the fifth member of our party – the birthday girl – so we did not want to order our full meals.  An hour later, the waitress started hovering at our table so we went ahead and ordered our meals.  I really don’t remember the meals so they must have been less than stellar.  Don’t you hate it when you realize (as you are eating your perfectly boring meal) that you are going to be paying at least $15 plus many taxes for something that was likely premade and then heated up in a microwave?   Thank goodness we have the HST to bring it all together now.  Phew!  What I do remember was looking at the decorations around us and noting the Elvis booth nearby.  The crowning glory of this booth was a giant toilet seat with a picture of The King in the centre.  It was funny for two minutes if one knew their Rock ‘n’ Roll history (for those not in the know, Elvis apparently died whilst using the bathroom) but it contrasted greatly with the classier version of the Jack’s we had seen just one week ago.  The other surprise of the night was the fact that our meals were delivered at different times and by different waiters and waitresses.  Was our teenage waitress annoyed at us, scared of us or all of the above?  In addition to this, it was impossible to get the attention of the waitress to ask for additional napkins or forks or drinks since she was busy flirting with various co-workers.  Incredibly, no one came to ask how we were enjoying our meals (which at this point, we definitely weren’t).  Finally, the birthday girl arrived and she sat down at our table.  When our oh-so-awesome waitress suddenly showed up to take her drink order and the thought of ordering a meal came out of the birthday girls’ mouth, the waitress practically rolled her eyes.  Her body language said it all, so the birthday girl opted out of eating and simply sipped her drink.  When I mentioned the occasion for our meeting, a free birthday cake-type thing arrived in the same annoyed fashion.  Then we were being hovered over once again.  Secretly emanating from the staff of Jack Astor’s were two simple words: GET OUT!

Needless to say, none of us tipped.  I realize there may be some backlash for not tipping but one of the main skill sets required of a waiter or waitress is a strong knowledge and understanding of customer service.  This was completely void on the night of our visit.  And oh yes, I almost forgot the dénouement:  as we were leaving the restaurant it started to pour.  The sky was stormy and gray, much like the faces of the staff at Jacks.  A perfect ending to a perfectly horrifying experience. 

Here’ s a quick recap of what happened and didn’t happen (there will be a quiz):

–          Racial stereotyping

–          Inability to get the attention of staff

–          Delivery of beer list occurred in machine-gun-fire fashion

–          Constantly changing staff overseeing our meal

–          Food mediocre at best and delivered at different times

–          Implied and/or obvious eye rolling

–          Hovering

–          The Brown Paper Tablecloth

Moral of the story:  This restaurant definitely lived up to its name.





A Tale of 2 Jacks – Part One

5 07 2010

A few months ago, I was in Mississauga with a friend of mine for some shopping.  After several hours of wandering aimlessly around Square One, we decided to refuel at Alice Fazooli’s for lunch.  This is an Italian/Seafood eatery with other eclectic choices like alligator thrown into the mix.  To our dismay, they did not open until dinner and the logical other option was Jack Astor’s which was a mere 10 metres away.  Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with places like Jack Astor’s except for the fact that they’re, well…general…and often times boring, but due to a lack of options (and our mounting hunger) we grudgingly pulled open the doors and stepped inside.

It was quiet in there because they were still 7 minutes from opening and when we walked in, the young maître d smiled at us warmly.  Coming from a customer service background, this is not easy to do when a customer blatantly ignores the rules.  She said it would be no problem to accommodate us and promptly seated us in a nice booth.  “Not a bad start”, I thought to myself.  About a minute after we sat down a youngish waiter asked us what we wanted to drink.  We requested more time and started exploring the drink selections (I promise it was at least 12 noon at that point).  My friend ordered a blue rum concoction and I ordered a Bellini cocktail.  Not only were our drinks good but they were also enormous and arrived quickly at our table along with the menus.

After some discussion about just how large our beverages were, we agreed to start off with a plate of calamari before things got messy due to our very empty stomachs.  Already, alarm bells were going off in my head since cooking calamari is basically an art.  I once read that if you overcook calamari by just a few seconds it will become inedible (unless, of course, one enjoys eating rubber bands).

Didn't think so...

To our astonishment the large plate of battered, deep fried rings was hot, fresh and perfectly tender.  Hooray!  The dipping sauces were standard (one was tartar and one was horseradish) but tasted fresh rather than like condiments scraped out of a jar.  There was even a sprinkle of parsley on top of the squid to make it look more appealing.  After eating as much as we could handle (my philosophy being: when life gives you good calamari, you eat all of it) we moved on to our lunch course.  Jack’s had an Indian special going on at this time so I ordered the Samosas.  My friend (being West Indian) chose the classic Three Peppercorn Pasta instead since she already eats all the Samosas she wants at home.  Once again, our food tasted fresh and was very hot.  The Samosas I ordered were a good size and arrived in a grouping of three accompanied by a wonderfully smooth chutney; it was the best chutney I have ever had.  Sweet yet sour with a little kick of heat.  It was complex too; one second I swear I tasted cherries, the next second I had chilli pepper flavours filling my mouth.  It contrasted beautifully with the crunchiness of the Samosas and did a wonderful job of brightening them up too.  My friends’ pasta, a Jack Astor’s favourite, had a good bite to it from the peppercorns with the perfect amount of pasta sauce (not dry but not flooded either) accompanied by a handful of pan seared mushrooms throughout.  All of this was topped with real bacon and a sprinkle of parmesan.  We gobbled it all up and with renewed vigour, returned to the mall for more window shopping.  It was a great visit to a chain restaurant.

When the opportunity to visit another Jack Astor’s came up a mere one week later (I swear my bank account groaned) I agreed.  Little did I know just how much seemingly standardized chains could vary.

(image courtesy of http://www.quinl.com)