CULI­NARY DREAM TEAM?

Craig Hard­ing’s amaz­ing Mediter­ranean menu is a feast for the senses, but what’s go­ing on with the ser­vice?

Village Post - - Contents - JOANNE KATES

Joanne Kates bites into An­ndore House ho­tel’s buzzy new resto, Con­stan­tine

CON­STAN­TINE

15 Charles St. E. 647-475-4436 con­stan­tineto.com

SCENE: Pulling from in­flu­ences across the Mediter­ranean, this resto draws a dis­cern­ing crowd of food­ies of all ages

REC­OM­MENDED DISHES: Grilled halloumi on panella with pick­led chili and lab­neh; Le­banese dirty rice with bel­uga lentils, cel­ery root and co­rian­der; Lamb burger served with fries and Is­raeli salad

DRINKS: Art­ful cock­tails like the re­fresh­ing Lavandula (Lil­let Blanc, Dil­lon’s cherry gin, Pares Balta Cava, laven­der lemon syrup) plus a cu­rated se­lec­tion of Old and New World wines PRICE: $150 for two

OPEN: Mon.–Wed. 7 a.m.–11 p.m.; Thurs. & Fri. 7 a.m.–1 a.m.; Sat. 8 a.m.–1 a.m.; Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. RESER­VA­TIONS: Book on­line at con­stan­tineto.com

I am rarely con­fused by a restau­rant. But Con­stan­tine has me mys­ti­fied. What sort of crea­ture is it?

At first glance, the place is 100 per cent down­town hip­ster. It's hard to find a sign out­side, which is a sure in­di­ca­tor of wannabe cool. Be­cause if you’re cool, you al­ready know where it is. And if you don’t know where it is, you’re not cool. This al­lows the restau­rant to serve the so­cial func­tion of mak­ing you feel cool if you make it in­side. Which is an im­por­tant func­tion of the mod­ern Toronto restau­rant: Con­fer­ring sta­tus.

In­side the place, sta­tus con­tin­ues to be con­ferred by its beauty. It’s a big resto (145 seats) care­fully di­vided into in­ti­mate spa­ces, with a huge open kitchen as cen­tre­piece. Il­lu­mi­nated shelves with white vases lighten the sexy dark, and velour ban­quettes and walls both dampen sound and lend luxe. As does the menu, a mag­i­cal mys­tery tour of Italy and the Mid­dle East, Mi­lan in­flected with Ankara.The name is a ref­er­ence to Con­stantino­ple, the cap­i­tal city of the Ro­man/Byzan­tine em­pire which is now Istanbul.

Once the food starts ar­riv­ing, it’s clear that this kitchen can de­liver. And how could it not, with such lineage? The new An­ndore House ho­tel brought in chef Craig Hard­ing of Cam­pag­nolo and the de­li­cious new La Palma, to helm the cui­sine of Con­stan­tine.

But here’s the part I don’t un­der­stand. These peo­ple spent a

for­tune cre­at­ing the An­ndore House ho­tel and Con­stan­tine. They brought in Craig Hard­ing, a gold­plated culi­nary team and built a great menu. And the ser­vice is ap­palling.

At first it seems fine. One waiter takes our or­der and seems to know what he’s talk­ing about. He asks whether we want the pasta first, or the pâté with it. I re­ply that we’d like him to choose the or­der and pac­ing of the dishes. He as­sents.

First come the smoked sea bream pâté with sour­dough. It is quite fab­u­lous, a but­tery cloud of lightly smoked sweet sea bream to spread on crusty warm sour­dough. Al­most heaven.

Then they bring ev­ery­thing else. At once. Is this what they call pac­ing?

We love the ca­vatelli Mi­lanese, al dente pasta scented with saf­fron and rich with juicy long-braised beef ribs. And the slightly charred per­fectly roasted sweet pota­toes with fresh figs, goat cheese, scal­lion, chili and candied wal­nuts. And the spiced car­rot zinged with chimichurri and baby mus­tard. The fish is also quite grand both in prove­nance and ex­e­cu­tion — per­fectly cooked Fogo Is­land cod with melt­ing leeks, crunchy wal­nuts and a hint of saf­fron.

All quite won­der­ful, but not won­der­ful all at once. De­liv­ery is done by three dif­fer­ent wait­staff, none of whom ex­hibits any in­ter­est in any­thing re­lated to our din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Af­ter they bring the dessert, a mar­vel­lously crisp de­con­structed lab­neh ’n’ cream milles feuilles, we won­der: Will the waiter who took our or­der re­turn to of­fer cof­fee or tea?

Not only does he never make that of­fer, but the guy seems to have de­vel­oped an al­lergy to our ta­ble. He drops some­thing at the ta­ble be­side us. I beckon. He ignores me. He walks by our ta­ble. I beckon again. He ignores me again. A third time he walks by and ignores us yet again de­spite our at­tempts to catch his at­ten­tion.

So I end as I be­gan. Con­fused. How can a restau­rant with such a clear com­mit­ment to fine de­sign and food have such abysmal ser­vice? Not once in a long din­ner do I see a su­per­vi­sor walk­ing the floor. Usu­ally in restau­rants of this size, one sees a su­per­vi­sor check­ing on ta­bles and ser­vice, say­ing hello and … su­per­vis­ing. The par­illa, the wood- fired oven, the clever cooks — all of that means noth­ing if bad ser­vice makes din­ers hos­tile.

Clock­wise from top: The open kitchen, Fogo Is­land Cod and spiced car­rots De Mello Pal­heta Spe­cialty Roast­ers, Cof­fee Chicken Idol, Es­pres­sa­mente Illy, Lone Star Texas Grill,

Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cor­don Bleu de Cui­sine in Paris. She has writ­ten ar­ti­cles for nu­mer­ous pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chate­laine.

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