In case you haven’t noticed, Toronto just got blasted by a thunderstorm that caused widespread flooding and blackouts throughout the city, culminating in yours truly walking in the pouring rain for approximately 6 kilometres between Lawrence Station and the Finch TTC parking lot while walking through the underbelly of Finch Station and witnessing it turn into a dark deserted place that wouldn’t look out of place in a Living Dead movie set. So in the aftermath of all this chaos and confusion, we did what all rational people do following a crazy natural phenomenon that crippled a city: we went for lunch the next day.
Crazy tropical storm notwithstanding, it’s July, which means Summerlicious is in full swing. For readers outside Toronto, this is one of two annual events (the other being Winterlicious) where you can go to a whole collection of fancy restaurants (or those with fancy pretenses) and get a prix fixe, 3-course meal for relatively low prices. Lunch is cheaper than dinner, and can range from $15 to $25. Our target today, Fred’s Not Here, offered our lunch menu at $20/pp, right in the middle of the price range. It’s a really fun thing to do with your friends and loved ones, and gives many miserly people like me the chance to sample supposed upper-class cuisine that we wouldn’t usually have. While not exactly a frou-frou place, Fred’s Not Here is a long-standing downtown staple located in the heart of King Street. I’ve long heard about this place but never had the chance to actually sample it. Of course, the thing that’s been stuck in my mind for a long time is how silly (and admittedly unique) the name is. Who’s Fred? Why is he not here? Why is he NEVER here? And why the hell would you want to market his non-presence? Is he that disagreeable that his not being here is a good thing? So many questions. So few answers.
Walking in, the first that struck me was how odd the restaurant layout was. The moment you step in, there are stairs leading downwards to your right pointing you to another restaurant, called the Red Tomato, and another small set of stairs straight ahead which brings you to Fred’s Not Here. I understand that the two restaurants are owned by the same people (or something like that), but geez that immediate intersection was a bit odd. Sitting down, a look around the restaurant showed what I felt to be a lack of character in terms of interior decoration. Is it supposed to be modern? Classic? Casual? There’s no real unifying theme to how things are organized, which is a bit unfortunate, given its unique and catchy name. Opportunity missed there, I felt. Still, the true test is in the consumables, and at this stage I have yet to experience it, so I won’t be so harsh in judging the place.
The Summerlicious menu allows you to pick one appetizer, one main course, and one dessert. I had crispy duck wings, seafood risotto, and peach melba while WW ordered the lobster soup, seafood risotto, and gluten-free chocolate cake. So let’s get right to it, beginning with the appetizers: the duck wings were quite plentiful and had quite a bit of meatiness, with a nice sweet sauce at the base of the plate to complement the dish. My problem was that each wing was WAY overcooked (doubtless on purpose, to achieve the dry-crispy style) which caused the meat to lose its tenderness. What I would have preferred instead, assuming that the wings needed to be dry, would be to have a light batter enveloping the wings. Also, the sauce, pooled at the base of the plate, was far too scant to compensate for the meat’s rather dry overall texture. On the flip side, WW’s lobster soup, labeled as the “famous lobster soup” was delightful. It was like as if a French onion soup and a lobster bisque got together and made a wonderful offspring. There was cheesy pastry at the top of the bowl and clear, sharp tasting broth inside which left me wanting more. It was as close to soup perfection as I’ve tasted.
Main course-wise, our risotto was delicious, though I found it a bit surprising as it was very heavy on the tomato sauce. It reminds me so much more of a Spanish paella than a risotto (which is usually cream-based and smooth, in my experience). Don’t get me wrong, the paella/risotto was still excellent, with strong flavours and prominent spices, not to mention so much seafood that I thought the supporting cast of Finding Nemo wandered into my plate by mistake, but it still felt like I wasn’t getting what I ordered. Perhaps one of you guys can let me know whether a red-coloured and spicy risotto is, indeed, legit? That salmon was really nicely cooked, though.
Finally, the dessert. This was the most disappointing part of the meal, but then again I suppose you can’t really do much with a peach melba. It’s basically a sliced peach and vanilla ice cream. On the other hand, WW’s gluten-free chocolate cake was impressive as it tasted how a regular chocolate cake should taste. There was nothing exceptional about its taste or appearance, but just the fact that we could close our eyes and not taste the “non-gluten” part is achievement enough, I suppose.
So overall, it was a pretty good meal, but not a spectacular one. The fact that the highlight was the appetizer should tell you a thing or two about the overall experience. If it wasn’t for the Summerlicious event, as well as the delightful company (WW and I hung out with a few of my coworkers), then my feelings towards the experience may be slightly worse than what I’m giving it right now. The service was very friendly, and the overall taste of the food was good, but I just can’t help but feel that, based on this meal, Fred SHOULD have been here. At least that way he can make improvements to this place.
–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!
Fred’s Not Here
321 King Street West
Toronto, ON M5V 1J5