Friday, August 26, 2011

Food Fail: Ciao Wine Bar

Pizza Capricciosa @ Ciao Wine Bar

I try to avoid writing negative reviews for things I don't like because, as they say, if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn't say anything.  And goodness knows there are plenty of kickass things out there I can rave about.

But occasionally, it's so bad that I think the word needs to get out there, especially if the products are on the pricey side.  As I've written before,
companies have no business putting out garbage, particularly if they're going to charge a lot for it.  It's a waste of time, effort, and money for all parties - for them in developing it (if they're not going to do it properly) and producing it, and for us, the consumers, who work hard for our money.

In fact, crappy products piss me off more than poor service because people have emotions, and behaviour is harder to control/regulate, but products should only be released after a thorough research and development process, after making multiple revisions and improvements.  And as I've also written before, if a product is amazing, it can make up at least in part for bad service.

So!  Ciao Wine Bar, in the upscale Yorkville area of Toronto.  So disappointing and so ridiculous.  I don't take food disappointment well, because as you all know, I take my food very seriously.

Previously, I'd been to Ciao for another friend's birthday but I only ordered the strawberry bellini; I'd already eaten that day.  My drink tasted unremarkable and it was microscopic for its $10 price tag, but seeing as how it's Ciao Wine Bar and not Ciao Cocktail Bar, and it's in Yorkville, I let that slide.  Everyone else seemed to enjoy their food that night.

So then a few months later, when my girl TD (Tiny Dentist) decided to have an intimate birthday lunch celebration there on a Saturday afternoon, I was down with it.  She ordered a pizza capricciosa (artichoke hearts, cooked ham, black olives), our other friend RN (Registered Nurse) ordered gnocchi with tomato sauce, and I ordered one of my faves, penne alla vodka. We were SO disappointed.  How?  Let me count the ways.

1.) TD's pizza (pictured above) was REALLY salty - I had a taste.  But they don't make their own ham and olives, we assumed, so we let that go.  But it was slightly undercooked in the middle and the base of the pizza was just really sloppily made - thick and gummy in some areas and thin in others.  I don't know if they make their own sauce, but it tasted like it came out of a generic brand can from the grocery store.  Mamma's Pizza is far superior - and way cheaper.

2.) According to RN, her gnocchi was overdone and tasted like Chef Boyardee.  Boyardee-quality at a Yorkville restaurant?! Unacceptable.  Unacceptable anywhere, actually.  When I went to take a picture of it, she told me not to even bother.

Penne alla vodka @ Ciao Wine Bar

3.) My penne alla vodka tasted just like diluted Campbell's tomato soup, for the love of food!  How could that be allowed?!  The pancetta was not the traditional rolled style that I prefer, which is fine, but it was EXTREMELY salty.  Cured meat that salty should be cut in super thin slices or strips, but these were as thick as regular bacon and cut about a centimetre wide, so it made me really thirsty - which was a problem because our server seemed reluctant or constantly forgot to replenish our drinks (more on that later).  The pasta was slightly overdone.

4.) Our server was generally courteous but he was never around when we needed him and he kept hovering when we were just trying to chat while we waited for everyone to arrive - and when we just wanted to eat in peace.  He "forgot" several times to get us things we asked for so on average we had to ask 2-3 people for what we needed.  He also kept trying to upsell us on everything but again, I get that it's Yorkville.  Fine. 

5.) The basics of serving Italian food are not down in this place. What I mean is that we were not offered cheese or black pepper for our pasta dishes, which would be excusable if the food didn't need flavour enhacements but it sorely did.  And when RN and I asked for parmesan for our pasta, our sever gestured to a shaker on our table filled with that, dry, flavourless, cardboard-like crap sold on supermarket shelves as "grated parmesan".  (Side note: If it's not refrigerated, it's not really cheese, because cheese goes bad; it's a "cheese product", which doesn't qualify as real food, in my mind.  Also I never even buy pre-grated, refrigerated cheese from the supermarket - if it's not freshly grated when you're cooking or before the food is served, it is no good.)

So RN and I said no, we would like some freshly shaved cheese, please, and they gaped at us like we were asking for something they'd never even heard of before.  After about 20 minutes and asking about two other staff for our cheese, they gave us a plate of thickly-shaved parmesan strips - you know, the kind people put on salads and not on pasta dishes. 

I was dumbfounded.  It's not like we invented putting grated cheese on pasta.  It's not like most pastas in Italy (and other Italian restaurants in Canada!) aren't served like that (Side note #2: I was always puzzled and jealous of how my Milanese roommates in Spain could stay so skinny with the amount of cheese they ate...).  We couldn't understand why we didn't and couldn't have freshly shaved cheese on our pasta - and it's not like I was being picky and insisting on parmiggiano-reggiano.  I would even have been okay with grana padano.  It was the oddest thing - this from a reasonably nice, classy restaurant in the heart of Yorkville?  Are you kidding me???

The only thing satisfactory were their portions, which were quite generous, but it was kind of a moot point, because the food was no good.

So needless to say, we won't be going back there - it's not like there aren't a million other nice restaurants in downtown Toronto.

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