Syn is the second restaurant to open under Blowers Street since La Cave moved. Brought to us by Chef Ron Muise, a Cape Bretoner who honed his culinary skills in Europe, Syn’s menu has a French bistro feel.
The interior hasn’t changed much, still a charming rabbit warren of multiple “caves,” each one providing a cocoon of privacy for diners, perfect for illicit trysts or romantic late-night dinners.
An exceedingly long wait for appetizers is the first hint that things are not going well. It’s early for dinner, and there don’t appear to be many other patrons, but our food takes quite some time to arrive, and when it does, it’s cold. The side vegetables consist of carrots and a pile of burnt shredded napa cabbage. It seems to be a bad night, so we make a return visit hoping for better.
The second time around, temperature and wait issues have been resolved, but some of the problems that plagued our first visit continue—namely, overseasoning. Just about everything is so heavily peppered and salted that it is unpalatable; plates that otherwise would be licked clean are left half full as our burning, parched tongues scream for mercy.
A huge chunk of impeccably cooked monkfish ($9.95), wrapped in pancetta, suffers the wrath of the pepper mill, as does an otherwise excellent rough-textured pate du champagne ($8.95). Pan-seared shrimp with red pepper coulis ($9.95) are very nice, as is the shallot and goat cheese tart ($8.95); both are served over mixed greens.
Duck breast ($19.95)—though a little overcooked—is tasty, but the accompanying potato too salty to eat. The Black Angus striploin ($19.95) is cooked as ordered but has to be scraped to remove the salt and pepper crust, and the beautifully cooked but heavily salted classic “steak frites” must also be left behind due to our rapidly withering taste buds. Beef tenderloin ($22.95), a large and tender cut of meat, comes with a rich shallot demiglaze, and the grainy mustard mashed potato is delicious. Alas, the natural sweetness of a pile of fried parsnip chips has been completely destroyed by salt.
The pork loin stuffed with apples and pecans ($19.95), with a bourbon sauce, is excellent. Stuffed pork often comes to the table dry and overdone, but this is fabulous.
Neither salt nor pepper make an appearance during dessert, but the food hardly improves. A blueberry creme brulee ($6.95) splits, leaving a separated custard sloshing around under a too-thick roof of sugar, and the white and dark cheesecake duo ($6.95) is crumby and dry. We do have a nice vanilla meringue ($6.95)—the fluffy mounds of beaten egg white sit on a pool of tasty creme anglaise.
If not for the abuse of salt and pepper, these would be decent meals—there are flashes of culinary brilliance, like the handling of the meats and the goat cheese tart.
Syn also suffers from lack of attention to detail. On one visit we are the first guests of the night, but the bench I sit on is dirty, covered in crumbs. The lovely warm rosemary and potato house bread is served with cold butter. The menu has several spelling errors, including one particularly glaring mistake: the potato is listed as “dauliphoisse,” when it is actually “dauphinoise.” I double-check in Le Repertoire de La Cuisine, the French classic reference, but I find no listing for the word. Syn has the potential to be a great restaurant, but right now, it’s just not delivering the goods—and that, truly, is a sin.
Syn5244 Blowers Street 405-7966 Hours: 5pm-1am, later on weekends.
Visit nine circles of Liz Feltham’s food reviews at: www.foodcritic.ca