The old-school thought was to give a new restaurant one month to iron out the kinks before a reviewer would attempt to write a review about a place. I believe a restaurant shouldn’t open until those kinks are ironed out, beforehand. That is what research, testing, and soft openings are all about. A perfect example was Buca Yorkville, who had their staff doing testing, drills and offering free meals for a month until they felt they were ready to open. And when they did open, not only were they ready, the service was flawless and the food was exceptional. I wish others would take note.
I visited Constantine restaurant a few times, three weeks after they opened. But I feel they have not reached their full potential of what they could be, given more time and work.
Constantine is on the main floor of a new boutique hotel, The Anndore House, at 15 Charles Street East, close to Yonge and Bloor Street. The restaurant offers breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. It is the latest endeavour from the team behind the successful Le Palma and Campagnolo restaurants, Craig Harding and Alexandra Hutchison along with Jack and Domenic Scarangella and Steve Christian of Mercatto.
The room is visually beautiful with a relaxed elegance. You can see they spared no expense on design and decor. The space is large and has seating for about 160 people. They want to add about 12 more tables on an outside patio. I am not sure they will be able to fit that many in such a small space, but that remains to be seen. The main room is done in beige variations and is pleasing to the eye. The center focus is a bar/counter on three sides surrounding the open kitchen, where you can get a birds-eye view of the work and smells going on. There is also a picture window in the back where you can see the pastry chefs making everything in-house. The two side rooms add some colour and privacy from the main room. The room is set off by shelves of white hand blown glass vases that are equally beautiful by day, and aglow at night. The wooden floors are adorned in Mosaic tile. There is also a 50 seat bar up front, that has late hours and serves drinks and snacks. Next door is the Scarlet Door, serving breakfast and lunch and takeout. It has a large round window looking into a cute barbershop.
I liked the brunch menu and found the service to be better than the dinner service. It wasn’t as crowded as dinner and they were better able to service the patrons. The avocado toast is good, not memorable, with dukkah eggs, smashed avocado, and shallot marmalade on sourdough. I would have preferred another type of marmalade for my taste. The Beverly Creek Farms lamb burger is served with harissa aioli, and fries on top of an Israeli salad (clever). The burger was cooked perfectly and my only criticism would be to cut down on the salt. Actually, most dishes here were over-salted. They also have things like shakshuka, buttermilk ricotta pancakes, frittata, and a breakfast pizza. Plus, something I haven’t seen since my childhood at home, a brûléed grapefruit. For dessert, I was impressed with the sesame mousse, which was more like a pannacotta consistency to me, made with tahini, halva, a crispy sesame tuille and lime powder. This is not only an original dish, it is delightful.
Things seem to fall apart at dinner. Drinks took forever to arrive, dishes were forgotten, food was overcooked, and the quality was lacking.
The grilled halloumi on top of triangles of panelle (chickpea fritters), with pickled chili on a smear of labneh is good. The wood fire pizza was just fair, ours was a Swiss chard and ricotta. Though, I am biased – it is so easy to make comparisons to Buca, where theirs is so outstanding, it sets it apart from all others. The burrata with fresh peas, asparagus, fava beans and mint pesto would be SO much better if you cut down on the salt. The Israeli salad, with couscous, pine nuts, charred radicchio, currants, parsley and broccoli is a nice accompaniment. The mains were problematic in that the Fogo Island Cod was so dry and overcooked that it was inedible. The server said the chef has to cook it like that for it to be flaky. PARDON Me!!!??? Just say, I’m sorry and return it with a properly cooked one, which they eventually did. And guess what, it was flaky!!!! The cavatelli alla Milanese was awful, the braised beef was tough, chewy and fatty. The branzino wrapped around bulgur, currants and pistachios, was the best of the bunch. We were looking forward to our side dishes, but they never arrived at the table. At least they had the sense to send a free dessert to us. What I am surprised about, is not one manager came by to see how our meal was going. You would think at a new establishment this would be a necessity.
You would also think when paying homage to the diverse regions of the Mediterranean, they would try and perfect the food, the service and pacing before opening to the public. They’ve got the aesthetic down pat. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that these are a few speed bumps, because I do want to see Constantine to become impressive on all levels.