Czehoski - a menu with a heavy hand

This past weekend, I went out for dinner with my good friend, Alexandre, and his mother, whom I adore. (I previously featured her Moroccan orange salad on Sift, Dust & Toss with its heavenly, unexpected flavours.)

We chose between Queen and Ossington, deciding against our better judgement to walk along Queen. Swan, where Shants and I had recently enjoyed an excellent meal, was packed. Oyster Boy was even worse. I refuse to enter the Queen St. location of Terroni so we wound up at Czehoski.

I spent many hungover weekend mornings at Czehoski when our friend Heather used to serve there. The restaurant has a pleasant, cozy atmosphere that I've always appreciated. We would drink Caesars and lattes and the chef would put together these four or five course tasting menus as a special treat. They were heavenly: salmons, greens, Hollandaise sauce- even chocolate tasting desserts with basil oils and gold leaf. The chef loved doing it for us because he got to experiment.

On this recent Friday night, our waiter arrived in his red t-shirt, beard and many tattoos. He chatted playfully with us while we thought of a wine selection. Of the five red wine offerings, we chose a Pinor Noir. He returned moments later to tell us they were out of Pinot. The banter continued. I said no to Shiraz. We decided to default to Merlot (fucking Merlot!) The waiter recommended the Malbec. We wavered and he continued to push the Malbec until we decided to go with his selection. The banter persisted all the while.

On to the menu, I scanned the entrees top-to-bottom.Then did it again. Never a good sign. Duck, fatty steak, butter-braised fish, creamy risotto... Who designed this menu? A cave man?! I'd already had two pints of Guinness after work with colleagues and I wasn't in the mood for this richness. 

The waited returned with our wine and opened it clumsily while he did a lame impression of a Portuguese person. Alexandre's father/ Anne-Marie's husband is from Portugal. Not a great move. He poured the wine into each of the glasses, realized they were glaringly uneven and poured bits back and forth to even them out. Then he stood there awkwardly. Eventually, I reached over and handed everyone their wine glasses.

The wine was ok but not great. I thought of Merlot as I tasted it. We ordered. I had the risotto with cheek; Alexandre had the steak with rapini and potatoes. Anne Marie ordered the fish with saffron jus.

The food arrived from another waiter. It was the best part of our meal experience- perfectly seasoned, full of different flavours, well-prepared and hot. The execution on the chef's part was wonderful.

Nonetheless, it was too rich. The menu is simply too rich- and it doesn't seem to be a result of Czegoski's Polish origins. Decadence for the sake of decadence.

Our waiter returned solemnly to check in. No jokes. No banter.

He checked on us for dessert. Shants had an espresso. I didn't want anything. The waiter's surly mood continued. He took forever to return with the check and did not wish us a good evening.

Here are some thoughts on this experience:
  1. If people are discussing wine and seem to have a preference for different varieties, don't push them to order something else. In debriefing the meal with Shants' sister, Julie, she explained that a lot of people who don't really know about wine select Malbec as a default. The wine wasn't terrible, but it certainly wasn't good either.
  2. If people are purchasing a bottle of wine with dinner, they are probably looking to enjoy a nice evening. While overly formal service can make people uncomfortable, service that is too casual isn't great either. Our waiter's wine-pouring fiasco was a huge faux-pas and his moodiness was unacceptable.
  3. Czehoski needs a vegetarian or someone with a lighter palate to provide some counsel on the menu. It's too rich and too heavy.
Rating: 2/5

Czehoski Restaurant
678 Queen St W (North side, at Euclid)
Toronto, ON M6J 1E5
(416) 366-6787

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  1. Funny, I watched Sideways at the Revue Cinema last week. I don't think I appreciated it when it first came out but this time I enjoyed it a lot.

    I've never been to Czehoski but it's always been a place that I've decided to pass on.

  2. I definitely appreciate Sideways more now. It changed the wine industry and brought the pinot to the forefront of the collective conscious.

    Czehoski might be more of a cocktails place, as my work colleague pointed out.

  3. Dang. Not surprising though... I don't think they have been able to hold down a continuous kitchen staff since chef Leor Zimmerman left. That coupled with the dodgiest owners in town is going to feed some menu inconsistencies. I'll follow up with him and find out where he's cooking these days, and we will hit it when I'm in town next... in a week.