Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grano? "NO!"

Grano is an Italian restaurant near the Yonge and Eglinton area. One day I met up with my friend Jean and instead of going to Grazie, which is also nearby, we decided to try out Grano, which is also in the neighbourhood. Before heading down, I took a look at their website. The restaurant seems to be very well established - according to the website, Grano will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2011. The restaurant also sells its own gift cards, does catering, and offers Italian lessons along with dinner (a 20-year tradition at the restaurant). They have also recently hosted the post premiere screening party for the film Letters to Juliet for 300 people. Sounds promising, right? All I gotta say is, thank goodness for the yummy desserts at Panorama afterwards or else it would've been a sad, sad night in terms of food.

Well, the front of the restaurant looks cool and stylish, I give them that.

Once you walk in, you will see this little table with a bowl of breads. I wonder how long they have been sitting there?

Walking down the long hallway leading to the dining area is an ice cream station on the right,

followed by some antipasto trays.

The dining area is towards the back of the restaurant. I do love the rustic feel of the place - the wooden flooring as well as walls that are plastered with endless artwork, posters, and photographs. 

Seems like there is a small courtyard at the back as well (the bright area beyond the door) but I am not 100% sure.

This view looks to the front of the restaurant. I like the large windows. By the way, you may notice that there seems to be nobody at the restaurant  but that's because it was only 5:30pm on a weeknight.

The dinner menu.

The breads came right after we ordered. They may look yummy here, but they were actually pretty hard and cold. I felt like I was eating cardboard. Considering that they were not even close to busy, did it hurt to maybe heat it up a bit? I wouldn't know! Honest! And since I'm at it, three pieces of bread for two people? If they had put the breads on a larger plate maybe they could've fit one more piece so we could've had TWO pieces each.

Then came the weird part. 

After Jean and I each had one piece of bread, there was evidently one piece of bread left. We weren't in a hurry to finish it since we were chatting away and sipping on our pinot grigio. But somehow, the waitress must've thought we have had enough bread (this was merely 5-10 minutes after she brought the bread over), and decided to take both our bread plates away. UMMMM...who said we were done with the bread? We were both too shocked to say anything when she was taking them away but when we got back our senses, we waved her back and asked if we can have our bread plates back since we weren't done. Her response? "Oh, OK". No sorry, no apology, just "Oh, OK", with an attitude that seemed like we were the ones being unreasonable for wanting our bread plate back. How odd is this? Again, I emphasize that there was still bread on the table at the time.

Moving on! Since we both wanted to make sure we had room for dessert, we skipped the appetizers and just ordered mains. Jean ordered the Orecchiette pasta in a chicken, mushroom, and wine bolognese from the menu, with penne instead of the shell pasta. Well obviously from the picture below, the pasta is not penne. Jean didn't bother asking it to be changed though because who knows how long that will take. She tasted the pasta and said it was bland and nothing special. I took a bite and I can honestly say that I can make better pasta at home. 

I had the Risotto del Giorno. On the menu it indicated that it is made with carnaroli rice. From this experience, I know now that I am not a fan of carnaroli rice. I did some research before this post and it seems like in North America, arborio rice is more commonly used than carnaroli for risotto. I usually love risotto so I guess I like arborio rice better. However, I'm still unsure though whether it is the carnaroli rice that I don't like, or whether it is Grano that made a horrible risotto.

I'm used to risottos that are much more mushy and thick, with grains that stick together, grains that are...hm... less "individually defined"? I don't know if you can tell by the picture, but each grain here is separate. I can chew and feel each grain in my mouth, and I'm pretty sure I can pick up each grain of carnaroli rice from the plate with a pair of chopsticks too. That's how the risotto was. I felt like I was eating Chiu Chow congee, which is a very watery Chinese congee (think rice in broth). Not only that, the tomato sauce is so bland and watery. I couldnt' believe I was going have to pay $17 for this.

The only good thing about this place was the tin full of cheese on each table. There was probably only 20% of cheese left by the time we were done. Yes, the pastas were that flavourless, and hey, we need to get our money's worth considering the pastas failed to excite our taste buds.

We didn't even bother with dessert there although from Grano's website, it seems like they have quite an extensive dessert selection. But really, after the poor service and the below-average pastas, I just can't imagine myself staying there a minute longer for dessert.

Jean and I headed downtown afterwards to do some shopping (kinda made me wonder why we just didn't have dinner in downtown instead). After shopping we went to Panorama for dessert. I was soooo glad we went. The desserts were fabulous! Although I gotta say that the service was not that great there either; not that they were rude, just that they were always nowhere to be found.

We shared the creme brulee trio, 

and a piece of chocolate cake.

Thank God for dessert!

I just want to end this post with a question: Has anyone been to Grano and had a better experience? I want to know. 


Anonymous said...

Hmm I have had many wonderful experiences at Grano.

Although I appreciate that you did not enjoy your meal I think you make some unfair assumptions. For example, I know that their bread is baked fresh daily.

The bread that was out is provided free of charge to those who order takeout from their antipasto station. I've had the bread before and have always found it fresh. If you were unsure, then the right thing to do would be to either ask how fresh the bread was or, if you were uncomfortable doing that, purchase a loaf if you were planning on commenting on it.

There is a lovely courtyard in the back and it is usually a bustling place. Likely dining at a later time would have given you a much better feel for the place. An important consideration if you are planning on critiquing it.

Although clearly the internet is a forum where you can air your thoughts freely, I think critiquing a restaurant based on two dishes is unfair and unrepresentative. Grano is a neighbourhood institution that has succeeded for 25 years, while so many other restaurants in the same block failed. That fact alone speaks to something they are doing right.

The Food Junkie said...

Thanks for your comment. I welcome all comments, which is why at the end of this particular post post I ask any readers to let me know of their experiences at Grano that may be different than mine. So thank you for sharing yours!

However, I would like to say that I have not assumed anything. I have not assumed that the bread was cold, and I have not assumed that the service was bad. The bread was indeed cold and hard, and if it feels like cardboard to me, I will not hesitate to say so. As well, I did not comment badly, and actually praised, the decor of the restaurant. Most importantly, I even made sure I let my readers know that the reason why the restaurant was empty is precisely because I was there early, and no other reason. I was also disappointed with the service, which I noticed you failed to comment on. I don't think anyone can disagree that having a good first impression at a new restaurant is important, so I am genuinely surprised as to why I shouldn't blog about my disappointment with Grano.

You should be aware that I am not a professional food critic for any newspaper, magazine, or establishment. I write a food blog that chronicles my thoughts about my experiences at restaurants, as well as my cooking and my baking. I write about my experiences at a restaurant, their food and service, and I will express my thoughts about it afterwards, whether good or bad. You should also take notice that I did not explicitly say to anyone to not go based on my one experience either.

I think you should have any open mind that not everybody will have the same opinion as yourself about restaurants (or anything else in life for tha matter). And like you say so yourself, Grano has been around for almost 25 years now, so I'm SURE it will survive even after my negative post about it =)

Anna P Jama said...

Yikes. Sounds like you really didn't find what you were looking for in this meal which is frankly a crying shame when you slam your hard-earned money down on the table with high hopes.

Admittedly, my experiences at Grano have been terrific BUT my opinion is a biased one based not on their food but on their extreme generosity. Grano kindly hosted all of our Toronto Taste steering committee meetings, providing us with ample space to meet, some tasty appetizers and beverages and some very attentive service – all donated. And while my opinion of the food or service can't be bought with free goodies, my opinion is definitely impacted by benevolent restaurant staff and owners who go out of their way to help my favourite cause, Second Harvest.

Though the food clearly wasn't enjoyable for you, I bet the experience could have been salvaged if your server had checked in – "Would you like to hang on to your bread?" "Are you enjoying the food?" I bet you would have appreciated the chance to respond politely "Actually, we're finding it a little bland, is there anyway the chef can remedy this without adding salt?" or "The bread looks great, could we please get four pieces of it warmed up?"
I'm not sure you could have done much about the risotto but I think a willing server might have been able to suggest a suitable replacement once you sent it back.

I don't think there's anything unjust about posting your opinion of your meal, especially when you're clearly soliciting more favourable opinions. You sound like you're truly looking to be fair and give the resto another chance. I do, however, always recommend giving a chef or restaurant the chance to help you get the meal and experience you are looking for while you're looking for it. Unfortunately, this means that if your service staff isn't going to check in, you have to go through the not-so-fun process of asking for everything and sending back dishes.

No chef wants to be slighted by a less-than-perfect server. I always assume that any restaurant with a great reputation like Grano's appreciates the chance to get you a meal you would really enjoy – they don't want you to feel like you've wasted your money anymore than you do.

Thanks for the great pictures of Panorama's desserts by the way! I usually just go there for cocktails and the great view! Desserts are on the menu next time.

The Food Junkie said...

Definitely a fair comment, Anna =) I agree with you.

I truly believe that for any restaurant, even ones with rave reviews or comes with high praises, are bound to have times when their quality slips, whether in food or service. Restaurants that can minimize these slip-ups are PRECISELY the ones that stay around. Nothing is perfect, and definitely cannot be perfect ALL the time. As for Grano, having been around for 25 years (which is one of the reasons that brought me there in the first place), I have no doubt that it is a great restaurant. At the same time, I cannot ignore the fact that I did not have good food or good service there, and I see no wrong in posting my opinion on it. Having said all that, it also does not mean I will never give Grano another try.

Oh you MUST try the desserts there next time you're at Panorama =) It's delicious. But then again, you never know, you may not like the desserts there lol!

Anonymous said...

Although I have never been to Grano, I don't think the comments are unfair. Reviews are not based on the average system. Five good experience by one customer doesn't offset one poor experience by another.

The length of the institution (25 years) do not necessarily indicate success. The owners may have had a good leasing deal 25 years ago allowing them to stay competitive in the neighbourhood. Eaton's department store was in business for 130 years before going bankrupt. They were not successful on the 129th year.

The Food Junkie said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous =)

You brought up two very valid points: the "average system" and the "length of the institution". I agree with your analogy and I definitely think it also applies to restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous below sounds like they are emotional connected. Interesting......... Keep on fighting and writing

The Food Junkie said...

Thank you! Will do...don't you worry =)

Anonymous said...

Hey Ms Yu

I came across this blog of yours and I really am amazed that you arent doing this for a living. This is your calling. I see a cookbook in your future, and after that, a movie, and after that an admirer will write a book about you and her experiences in imitating your culinary intrigues. Unfortunately, you will be too successful to return any of her calls. Awesome job

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails