Queen’s Eats: Steaming hot takes on fine dining in Kingston

My most underwhelming experiences at Kingston's most bougie restaurants

Just because a restaurant's fancy doesn't mean your guaranteed a good time.
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Navigating an upscale menu is like playing Russian roulette. There are always a few entrées that are more ‘fancy’ than they are full of flavour. And, given that most upscale restaurants serve small portions, there’s a good chance you’ll end up craving McDonald’s after your meal.

While a dish’s high price usually means it’s been made with higher quality ingredients or that it has a more adventurous flavour profile, a higher price doesn’t guarantee a better dining experience.

In my three-and-a-half years living in Kingston, I’ve dabbled in fine dining—and by that, I mean I’ve ventured beyond always going to the same tried-and-true sushi restaurants. Yet, more often than not, I’ve left these fancier restaurants feeling like I paid more for ambience than actual food.

So, I’ve compiled my most underwhelming experiences at Kingston’s fanciest restaurants, and my tips for getting the most bang for your buck on a bougie night out.

Tango Nuevo 

This restaurant is Kingston’s one and only tapas bar, which boasts a cozy atmosphere alongside a menu of mouthwatering shareable plates—or so I thought. 

For my 20th birthday, my boyfriend offered to splurge on a fancy meal, and Tango seemed like the obvious choice. We pored over the menu in advance to prepare, planning our trifecta of tapas orders: fried goat cheese, mini duck bao, and patatas bravas.

The fried goat cheese and mini duck bao are no longer available, according to Tango’s online menu. In my opinion, their removal is for good reason. Tapas are defined as appetizers or snacks, but this was taken to new extremes with the size of the fried goat cheese balls, which were no bigger than large marbles. While they were objectively delicious, and were complemented perfectly by the accompanying citrus-y marmalade, it felt like we were overpaying for the miniscule portion.

The pair of bao buns topped with shredded Asian-style duck were appropriately sized; however, the flavour was disappointing. The duck was steeped in a hoisin sauce with no acidic element to balance the sweetness. Overall, it was an underwhelming bite.

Tango Nuevo is by no means a bad restaurant, and it’s a great option for a night out if you know what to order to make the most of your money. This brings me to the patatas bravas. These butter-soft potatoes tossed in chili oil and drizzled with garlic aioli are perfectly accompanied by one of Tango’s artisan cocktails. My recommendation would be to order two portions of this dish, or to ask your server about which menu items have stood the test of time in their opinion. 

Pan Chancho 

It’s Kingston’s beloved bakery and café, and a place where I’ve happily waited in line before for Sunday brunch. My regular order is eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and a side of roasted potatoes, which are perfectly seasoned with a hint of lemon.

I’ve only had one dissatisfactory experience at Pan Chancho, and the El Chancho is the culprit. The El Chancho is one of the more expensive items, listed at $17. You definitely get your money’s worth, because it comes with bacon, chorizo, and peameal bacon, alongside two eggs, roasted corn salad, crispy potatoes, chili sauce, grilled brioche, and bacon jam.

Everything on this plate is delicious on its own, but fourdifferent proteins on one plate is decadent even for me, and that’s even though my brunch of choice is drowned in buttery hollandaise sauce. For a dish with so many elements, I got bored of eating it quickly. The fun of any breakfast platter is stacking the elements together, but the small slices of brioche are good for maybe five bites of a makeshift bacon-and-egg sandwich. Then, you’re just left with a lot of meat. 

Additionally, the bacon jam doesn’t compliment the majority of what’s on the plate. I can’t stress this enough: there’s too much meat in this dish. The corn salad appears to be a saving grace as the sole vegetable on the plate. However, it’s surprisingly bland and could use a hit of lime to create more of a palette cleanser.

Le Chien Noir

On my 21st birthday, I convinced my friends to have a fancy evening with me at Le Chien Noir. My three housemates and I all ordered the crispy duck leg served with a side of brie cheese fondue and radicchio. This dish came with a lot of problems.

First of all, each of our duck legs were different sizes, meaning some of us got more meat than others, and the so-called brie fondue was just a smear of melted brie on the plate. Secondly, one of my housemates, who got the smallest serving of duck, received the largest wedge of radicchio. Radicchio is like bitter red cabbage, and with a vinaigrette, it can make for an upscale salad. However, this dish came with a naked wedge of it covered with a few sad grill marks. My housemates and I choked down the radicchio, trying to mask the bitterness with glops of brie and salt.

Though this seasonal dish is not currently on the menu, I recall it costing over 20 dollars. Although the duck was perfectly crisp and well-seasoned, the radicchio was unforgiveable.

In upscale restaurants, unusual ingredients become synonymous with being fancy, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily delicious. If you’re spending a premium on a bougie dinner, make sure it’s something you’ll enjoy. I suggest asking your server how dishes are prepared, or what they recommend.

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You’re never short of a good meal in Kingston, and there’s great food worth splurging on. But when you’re spending more, make sure you’re getting the best. Ask your servers about popular menu items, or check out online reviews, which are usually brutally honest. Most importantly, if you see radicchio on the menu, run.

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