The Glebe has a lot going for it. It’s a leafy downtown neighbourhood. There’s some great shopping. It’s real and full of life and there’s lots to do. But if you’re on the prowl for a solidly good little restaurant, this genteel neighbourhood is surprisingly ill-served. There are exceptions, Urban Pear being noteworthy among them, but they are few.
You may be thinking I’m about to share a Glebe “find.” My apologies. I’m not.
After a number of visits to the long running Infusion Bistro my opinion is unchanged. This Bank Street restaurant may have staying power (it’s in its ninth year), but Infusion is dishing up, for the most part, tired, sloppy food.
I do like the look of the place – small and snug, with a wall of exposed brick, a long bench with soft pillows, tall mirrors, big windows, and a quirky chandelier over the open kitchen. And not everything on our plates is a failure. I like the lamb burger, though it arrives raw in the centre (we are warned the chef does it ‘to pink’) and the ‘onion Merlot reduction’ on top tastes of red onion and too much sugar. I also liked the peppery frites that came with the dull steak and the little tin pail in which they’re served with my lunch burger. The Infusion Salad is a full-meal portion of tasteless boxed baby greens with the dressing drizzled on top – once you’ve forked through the first ten bites, you’re left with a diminished mound of boring, undressed greens. What makes the salad interesting is the stuff on top – walnuts, bacon, blue cheese, grilled apples, raw beet curls. If it were tossed to spread the wealth, it would be a better dish.
The rest falls between decidedly mediocre and never again.
The antipasto plate is a generous but predictable mound of what-you’d expect (though-you-hope-for more) the meat and cheeses curiously cut into strips, squiggles of balsamic syrup squirted on everything. The mushroom-gruyere strudel works pretty well one night, but is doughy and soggy another, the sauce beneath it thick and floury. Despite the fun “soup challenge” (two chefs make a soup, each based on a single ingredient; you taste, you judge, you vote and a running tally is kept on the wall) neither one can make a decent soup. One night the ingredient is pumpkin – one bowl is a wan curry, the other is hyper-sweet, too-creamed, with bits of raw onion. Another visit, broccoli is the challenge – in both soups we find swimming chunks of woody stem and strings. A butternut squash soup is thin, too sweet, the flavour watery. Same deal with the Mulligatawny, it tastes watered down.
The frites are good, the steak is dull, and I find the vegetables piled on top of the fries (cauliflower, carrots) undercooked and unnecessary. Pasta dishes are boring – roasted red peppers, soggy artichoke hearts and supermarket Kalamata olives tossed with overcooked pasta in a lackluster tomato sauce and with an enormous blob of cold goat cheese on top is the ‘Mediterranean’. Whatever.
On the no-go list, the warm steak and mushroom salad. The meat is served in big, fat chunks that are burnt and bitter, messily tossed over the outside leaves of a head of romaine in need of a better trim. Also on the no-thanks list is fish. Any fish. The shrimp in a pasta dish are salty and tough. We choke on the calamari – these rings seem to have their membranes on – and they taste steamed. The catch of the day is halibut, but it tastes like the catch-of-a-few days ago. The menu informs us that the salmon is “cooked properly, therefore rare in the middle.” I like my salmon with a ruby heart too, but this fish arrives raw at the centre, almost cold and not tasting sashimi-grade. The striped bass special one night is also raw at the centre. You can’t get your knife through the flesh. It’s sent back to the kitchen, where it is put back in the oven, then re-sauced (a too creamy basil mustard sauce that doesn’t do the fish any favours) and re-served. For $29, I expect more.
Desserts fail to thrill. There’s a trio of crÃ¨me brulÃ©e. What flavours? Our server has no idea. ‘Probably a chocolate, a green tea, maybe a mango. Changes all the time. You never know.’ (Yes, dear, but you should.) They are all too sweet. When we ordered beignets with cream and apple compote they arrived rock hard. Our complaint was greeted at first with doubt. “They were made today.” Perhaps, but they taste microwaved, the cream is icky sweet and the apples are shriveled.
I just don’t see pride in this open kitchen. What I do see – over five visits – are a scruffy pair of cooks in T-shirts talking and texting on cell phones, guzzling water from a jug, getting mad at a waiter. Either put up a wall boys, or put on a better show.
On a happy note, I like a wine list that offers all wines at the same price, provides descriptions of the style and flavour, and suggests food pairings. If only a good pairing were to be hadâ€¦