MILLIE'S BISTRO (1980 Avenue Road, at Haddington, 416-481-1247) Summery Mediterranean-rim menu served in a pleasant but noisy room or on a noisier car-exhaust-choked patio. Depending on how crowded this popular casual spot is, service ranges from attentive to good luck. Prices are higher than elsewhere for food that's strictly par. Complete meals for $45 per person ($30 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Open daily 11:30 am to 11:30 pm. Fully licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NN
in spain they're known as tapas, in Italy antipasti, in France hors d'oeuvres. Greeks and Turks call them mezes and North Africans mukabalatt. Although they have different names, appetizers from the Mediterranean region have much in common.Served casually with drinks, these bite-sized dishes can be combined to create either a light meal or a major nosh. Their ingredients are similar as well -- fish fresh from the sea, flatbreads straight from the oven, grains and veggies in abundance, olive oil and garlic galore. They're perfect accompaniments for a night under the stars with good friends.
The Literary Device heard wonderful things about Millie's Bistro, the three-year-old north Toronto spot owned by chef Gary Hoyer. A vet of the original Windsor Arms, he's concocted a pan-Mediterranean menu that stretches from Gibraltar to Georgia.
Sounds like the perfect thing for a sweltering summer evening, right? So, with the Poncey Pseud dragging his Cuban heels in protest, we three venture beyond Bloor into the land of monster homes.
We've made reservations under Poncey's pseudonym, Joe N. Cates, and are quickly seated on Millie's near-empty trellised patio. Waiting for drinks, we have to shout at each other to be heard above the din of rumbling dump trucks and exhaust-belching SUVs passing by in a steady stream. At 7 o'clock, the patio's 30-something seats are full. Most of the new arrivals appear to be regulars, and their tapas-style dinners arrive swiftly. Meanwhile, we wait.
To be fair, Millie's menu does warn that their "food is made to order." But after a 30-minute delay, why is our "freshly grilled" calamari salad ($9.95) stone cold? Did the squid have to be refrigerated before it could be brought to the table? Expecting a whole grilled critter, instead we find the calamari julienned and skimpy, on a bed of red-leaf, mango, red pepper and a little bitter endive doused in preserved lemon vinaigrette.
Would we like some pepper on that? asks a different server. He disappears to fetch a pepper mill and never returns.
With many apologies, our mains appear. The Pseud's chicken breast tagine ($18.95) comes complete with a cone-shaped lid. Opening it, we expect a cloud of steam to billow out, a sign that this Moroccan casserole has just emerged from the oven. But, no, the chicken ballotine, diced root vegetables and couscous are all lukewarm. Was the lid plopped on for presentation?
My Lamb Both Ways ($24.95) -- braised shoulder with spinach puree and a solitary cumin-dusted chop -- is also far from hot, and its egg noodle bed seems incongruous.
Equally overpriced, the Device's seared tuna steak ($24.95) -- ordered rare, much to our server's surprise -- looks properly cooked but tastes mushy, as if it had been previously frozen. A garlic-free aioli is drizzled over it, and a few slices of potato, some undercooked green beans and Boston lettuce bring little solace. At Zinc, it's called salad niçoise and costs 18 bucks, but Millie's doesn't include hard-boiled quail eggs or kalamata olives.
Presenting us with the $140 bill, the manager asks how everything was. He's taken aback when Poncey and the Device lay into him, complaining about the servers' random attention (even though we counted seven frenzied staff working the patio) and the inconsistent wine pours.
Why were we the first to arrive and the last to be served? Why, when the tuna was sent back to the kitchen, did it return in exactly the same condition? He mentions staff problems on an unusually busy night and comps us three entrees for our next visit. Not bloody likely, mutters the Ponce.
All restaurants suffer bad days, so the Device and I return twice over the next week to give Millie's another chance. We now know to stick with the tapas menu, but, while better, the fare is still under-spiced, overpriced and small-portioned. Service and delivery time improve at lunch, when there are only six or so customers in the joint.
Two roasted garlic bulbs ($5.95) sided with rubbery "crisps" are nowhere near as sweet and caramelized as they could be. Turkish pizza ($9.95) is simply two small lavash wraps stuffed with minced lamb. A trio of tiny chickpea and shattered-shrimp pancakes ($11.95!) comes with a dollop of Romesco, a mild red-pepper rouille with a hint of garlic. Byesar ($7.95) is a tasty Egyptian fava bean take on hummus, the kind of bread spread some eateries serve gratis as an alternative to olive oil or butter.
Once, she may have been absolutely marvellous, but for now Millie's is thoroughly middling.@@@@@