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The Crown Diner downtown lacks the regal grace of a true diner experience. Liz Feltham is not amused.



I've been looking forward to visiting the Crown Diner. Owned by two professional chefs (Harvey Eade and Moody Fadhil), their early press release trumpeted an "everything from scratch" menu. I'm excited.

For a diner, the decor is upscale---definitely not going for a nostalgic feel here. A few fish-shaped light fixtures are left over from a previous occupant, while beautiful black and white vintage prints hang on multicoloured walls. Washrooms are beautifully appointed.

The menu is nondescript. The generic list of usual starters and entrees is cheap, though. As our server assures us that everything is made in the kitchen, I get more thrilled than I was at my first peek at the menu, so I ask if the fries are handcut. The reply, "No, they're frozen," sets the tone for my inauspicious first visit. This isn't a single visit review, because frozen French fries are least of the Crown Diner's problems.

The only starter that looks remotely appealing is the most expensive---the crab and lobster dip ($11.99). Again, it's "made to order" our server proudly announces; it must be, as it takes a long time to appear. It's worth the wait---the dip smacks of cheese on top, with chunks of seafood and sundried tomatoes underneath. Soft, warm pita triangles provide perfect edible utensils and generous portions make it great for sharing.

We order two diner standards, a hamburger platter and a hot turkey sandwich. The burger looks fresh, without that pressed patty look. It's not bad, though a dose of salt and pepper wouldn't hurt. The hot turkey sandwich is akin to the home version with real turkey and gravy, although the gravy- swaddled turkey still tastes dry.

A striploin steak and potatoes is truly awful. Overpeppered mashed potatoes set my tongue ablaze and the steak, ordered medium rare, is medium well. This steak has a mushy texture and is on its very last legs.

A pan-fried seafood platter consists of a small piece of salmon, two slightly larger cuts of haddock, shrimp and scallops. Interestingly, they are all the same colour---gray, flecked with a black. The first bite of haddock leads to a mouthful of bones, the salmon sports a strange taste and it all suffers from being dry and overcooked. The sides are the best thing to be said about both these mains: The frozen peas and corn niblets are cooked perfectly.

Desserts are courtesy of the Crown's "very own pastry chef and they're really really good!" we're told. Over a couple of visits, we try the chocolate marquis, the bread pudding and the lemon mousse cake.

The mousse cake is the best of the three, a circle of mildly lemon-flavoured mousse over a graham cracker crust drowning in a red sauce that might be raspberry. An accomplished, professional pastry chef is with me when we have the marquis. She is stumped as to what might be in it---the powdery texture is too dreadful for a chocoholic like myself to choke back. Bread pudding sports pecans (good), apples (good) and cheddar cheese (why?).

The service is friendly, but the atmosphere could use some work. Our server brings us bottles of pop from a cooler, plunks them down and asks if we need glasses. On our second visit, the floors, table and cutlery are dirty.

I don't know how business is here at the Crown, but the food tastes like a restaurant that's already given up.

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