The 3rd restaurant I chose for my Winterlicious 2013 experiment was The Host. The Host is a restaurant in downtown Toronto that specializes in Indian cuisine.
Indian cuisine holds a special place in my heart because I grew up eating it. My best-friend’s family was from India, and his mother made incredible Indian food. After being exposed to such great cooking a great deal of my life, my standards for this cuisine were set high.
Several years ago my brother suggested we visit The Host for dinner. Every time I enter an Indian restaurant I become quite judgmental. I do no like that I do this, but I can’t help it. When we sat down my brother and I ordered an array of dishes, and I was impressed with most of them. I particularly remember thinking that this was an establishment that I would visit again in the future. It has been 2 years since my last visit, but after reviewing the restaurants participating in Winterlicious 2013 and saw that The Host was participating, it was a no-brainer that I make reservations.
I had a lunch reservation for 1pm and when I entered the restaurant I was promptly greeted. The gentleman that greeted me held a menu in his hand and began to escort me to a table. As I was getting ready to sit down I told him that I was here for their Winterlicious menu. He stopped, sighed, and then walked back to where the menus were kept and pulled out a sheet of paper titled “Winterlicious 2013.” Immediately I felt disappointed by the attitude I felt I was getting. If you do not want people to order from the Winterlicious menu, then why participate?
After sitting down and taking off my coat, I looked around the room to assess the crowd and found that the restaurant was relatively empty. It was only 1pm so I did find this quite odd. Where is the lunch crowd? I turned back to my table and began to review their menu. I find it amusing that I read the menu at the restaurant when I have a habit of studying the menu of places I plan to visit days in advance and already know what it is that I want to order. In fact, any restaurant I wish to visit I do lengthy research on. I want to know what the food looks like, what the price range is, how broad their menu is, what other diners thought about the food and service, location, etc.
On this afternoon I had planned to order the Chaat Papri for the appetizer because I had never tried it before and it looked interesting. According to the description it consisted of crispy wafers garnished with a combination of potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt and tamarind chutney, and sprinkled with spice powder.
For the main I ordered their “award-winning” Murgh Makhni, also knows as butter chicken.
For dessert I ordered Kheer, a rice pudding with spices.
As I sat there waiting for my food, I looked around the room and noticed that every table but mine had papadum. Papadum is a thin crispy bread often served as an appetizer or snack, very much like how Mexican restaurants serve nachos as a snack. As I waited for the waiter to bring me papadum to snack on, my appetizer arrived. After taking the first bite, my first thought was, “ahh it’s cold!” I do not know why I expected the Chaat Papri to be hot, but that it was cold surprised me and made it less appealing to me. Considering all the ingredients that go into this dish, I found the tamarind chutney to overpower every other ingredient. I also felt that the wafer to sauce ratio was off and more than ever I wanted that papadum to break off and dip into the sauce. I could not wait any longer so I called the waiter over, and by that I mean I waved my arms in the air because not once did the staff make eye contact with me. Once the papadum arrived with a side of coriander chutney, the waiter promptly removed the chaat papri sauce that I had planned to eat with the papadum. I took a deep breath and tried not to get annoyed. I could have asked for it back, but I was becoming too frustrated with having to seek out their attention.
Soon after receiving the papadum, my main was placed in front of me. On the menu it stated that you had the option between a side of rice or naan bread. I was never actually asked what side I wanted, and I had planned to ask for rice, but never got the chance. Fortunately my butter chicken arrived with both a side of naan and rice. I generally find naan to be okay, but nothing to go crazy over. Not today. Immediately after the naan was placed in front of me, I was mesmerized by the steam emanating from the basket and the butter melted on it made it that much more appealing. Without hesitation I began to break off pieces of the naan. Wow, this was the best naan I have ever tasted in my life! It was thick in some places and thin in others and this made it perfect for me since I enjoy bread that is not overly baked. In fact, I like it on the verge of being raw. This naan offered me both; sections of thick soft bread and thin crispy sections. And did I mention that it was hot? Who does not love hot, fresh bread? For a second I almost forgave the restaurant for their sub-par customer service.
Now on to this “award-winning” curry. I have had many curries in my time, how much better can this one be? First bite; I was 100% in agreement with the judges. This was one tasty butter chicken. It was thick, with an array of spices running through it but none fighting with the other. It was a perfect harmony of flavors only to be followed by large pieces of white chicken with no fat. I was a happy camper where the food was concerned. The only part of the main that threw me off was the salad. I have never seen this type of salad with a curry before. Maybe a cucumber salad, but never greens. Needless to say I did not touch it.
Right before receiving my dessert I was given a towelette. I have never really understood the towelette “protocol,” so I ripped the package open and began to clean my hands with it. I am assuming that was the point. But why not do this at the end of the meal? Oh well. Shortly after cleaning my hands I received the rice pudding. Compared to everything else I had received, this dish looked quite simple. I have no issues with “simple.” In fact, I find that simple dishes are often the best tasting dishes.
Dipping my spoon into the pudding I expected it to be creamy and smooth tasting. I can’t pinpoint what it was about it that I did not like because it was not “bad,” it just wast not what I was expecting. For example, some of the spices were too bitter, the pudding was cold as it should be, but it tasted as though it had been sitting in the fridge for a while. Ok, I am being too judgmental and picky here. I know.
Overall the meal was great. I could have skipped the appetizer and dessert and still been more than happy with my meal. In fact, that is what I am going to do next time I visit, skip the appetizer and dessert. Yes, I will return to The Host because simply put, the naan and butter chicken were that good. I will however come with friends. As annoying as it sounds, many restaurants give you much better treatment when you come with a party than on your own. It is ridiculous really and if the food had not been good, I would be telling everyone I know to stay away. But lucky for The Host, they got some things right.
Total cost of my lunch: $15 plus tax and tip.
**Click on the pictures to enlarge.