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355 McGill (St. Paul Hotel)

Open most days. All major cards. Tel.: 876-2823
The chicken was great. It was farm raised, a plump six pounder, frankly a tad overcooked but still with plenty of flavour. It had been prepared simply—salt, pepper, fresh garlic, paprika, a little cayenne. Even hours after it was cooked, the meat was savory and it had a delicious crispy skin. I didn't eat it at Cube. That's what my wife made at home while Nick and I were at one of the hottest restaurants in the city. She ate better.

To be sure, this was a Monday night; but the restaurant was open (although the famed raw bar upstairs is only open Wednesday through Saturday). The crowd was decent and the place was about half full. The service was friendly but ridiculously slow and occasionally incompetent. Our order taken half an hour after we were sitting down, the wine steward also working as busboy—something I have never seen anywhere. A snifter of after-dinner Tia Maria arrived with only a half ounce of liquor and—after we sent it back— a question: "You didn't drink any, did you?" A requested espresso never arrived.

But let us start at the beginning. This is a wonderfully understated restaurant, tucked into a corner of the new St. Paul Hotel, a place so chi-chi that there is barely a sign indicating where the entrance is. The staff—male and female—is dressed in long black shirts. There is a spartan flavour of high tech trendiness which is not bad. The menu is minimal—a half-dozen starters and main dishes, a few desserts, a wine list that ranges through California and Europe but doesn't reach over two pages.

The food should be eclectic—morsels that convey the best of everything. The proffered appetizer was a teaspoonful of a ceviche of salmon topped with rich cream sauce redolent of chives and maybe a dash of horseradish—quite tasty. Then came the starters and main courses, none of which seemed to find a proper balance between taste and pretentiousness.

The fresh sea bass tasted as if it might have been frozen and was certainly undercooked. Sweetbreads were cooked crisply and simply and were quite tasty, but why were they served on the same plate as a very bland lobster tail? Tasteful? Yes. Full of taste? no.

The “Tuna trio” starter consisted of three elegant small square platters (everything is as cubed as can be here) but the tuna lacked taste. It consisted of a flash-cooked sashimi (only the edges cooked) served over seaweed-wrapped soba—bland atop bland. As if to compensate, next to this was a tartare blasting out with shallots and a drop of truffle oil; and then two small slabs of tuna edged with so much chili pepper that it was impossible to taste any fish at all. "Eat from left to right," I was told, "because the food gets hotter." It wouldn't have mattered if I had eaten it as a Moebius Strip. The tuna itself had the bright zesty flavour of last week’s news.

The sense I had, looking at what we had ordered and what others were eating, is that the kitchen may have a stronger hand with meat, perhaps the simpler the better. The veal steak looked great and filling. The squab we had, although barely three small morsels as an appetizer, was well flavoured with a rich caramelized onion sauce. The duck, however, tasted flat with none of the rich meaty flavour this bird should have. "I've had this dish before," murmured Nick. "It was at Caprices de Nicolas, and it was great!"

Desserts fared better. How can one go wrong with chocolate pudding? (here called a volcano and served with a cappuccino cream.) A pair of daily sorbets were fresh tasting and served with excellent praline cookies.

So maybe this was a traditional Monday night blues. Maybe this is one place that gets hotter when the staff is really required to hustle and chef isn't on his day off. Or maybe, like many good restaurants, Cube should close for a night each week. —
Reviewed by Barry Lazar

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