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Bistro Blues: Clarkson Mediterranean Bistro

As the holidays are approaching, everyone is scrambling to get together to celebrate and exchange seasonal warm wishes—everyone, including my family.

After finally setting a date with some family friends, we were eager to make a reservation at Capra’s, but unluckily for us, Capra’s was closed for a private function. Doing some research, my mom stumbled across Clarkson Mediterranean Bistro nearby. Serving up Italian fare, we thought it’d be a good alternative—emphasis on thought.

We arrived to dinner at 6:30 in the evening and immediately you could sense that the bistro was way overbooked. There were way too many tables squeezed next to each other for anyone to comfortably move around in their seats or for waitstaff to get by for that matter.

After we were seated, my mom and I browsed the wine list for a hot minute before agreeing on a bottle of Primitivo, second tier on their price list. Our waitress sauntered off to bring us our wine but gave back empty handed, informing us that this particular wine was no longer available but the higher priced Primitivo was a good substitute. Cue, eye roll.

After the overpriced Primitivo was poured into everyone’s wine glass, we decided to order our meals with most of our party opting for the prix fixe menu, consisting of a starter, main and dessert for $34.95.

As we waited for our appetizers, we began chatting about what everyone’s been up to lately, how school is going, and are there any vacation plans happening. Talking amongst our tiny table, however, began to prove challenging due to the high noise level. Unfortunately, a large party of twelve was seated directly in front of us and was beginning to get quite vocal.

Now, I understand that restaurants do get noisy; it’s only natural. But over at our table, we couldn’t hear our own thoughts, let alone the conversations we were trying to have with one another.

After approaching a waiter, we were told we could move to a quieter section towards the back. Interestingly, as the night went on, two more parties had to be relocated due to the party’s high volume. Note also that staff did not once approach the rowdy group to remind them that they were in a restaurant full of other paying patrons. An unfortunate hiccup, but our party was hopeful that the food would compensate for poor ambiance.

Wrong again. Starting with the bread basket, it made a poor first impression. Like most bread baskets, it was a waste of time. Stale bread = no thanks. Had it been warm, pillowy bread or toasted crostini or something even remotely homemade, that would have been a sign that the food would help turn things around. But the bread was stale and what can you expect from a restaurant that serves stale bread?

After attempting (and then failing) to gnaw on a slice of bread, our starters arrived. So began the clinking of forks and knives against the plates. Among the dishes on our table were a Beet Salad, Caprese Salad, Manhattan Seafood Chowder and Clarkson Calamari Salad. At a glance, the presentation was definitely an afterthought with seafood bisque staining the rim of a white bowl or calamari been thrown lackadaisically over wilting arugula.

Hungry, everyone finished their plates and was left nursing their wine while we waited for the next course. Unfortunately, that course took a ridiculously long time to appear. According to our waitress, the kitchen staff was having some difficulty that night.

When our mains finally did arrive, it was sheer confusion. Another waiter delivered our dishes but was clueless as to who had ordered what. I should note that after waiting over an hour, we too had forgotten what we ordered. To make matters worse, the server was unable to even announce what the dishes he was serving us were. Another big eye roll.

It turns out that we ordered a medley of items which included Seafood Linguine, Veal Marsala, Pan Roasted Scallops and Jumbo Shrimp, Cod Fish, and Shrimp and Crab Claw Linguine.

I have to say that for a restaurant with so many seafood options offered, the seafood was not the greatest. My Shrimp and Crab Linguine had good flavour but should not have been advertised as a seafood pasta as there were more mushrooms and peppers in it than seafood. With two tiny shrimp and one small crab claw, I call B.S.

What’s more, the seafood was not cooked properly. The shrimp was overcooked, giving it a tough and rubbery texture that took several saws of my knife to cut into. As for the meek crab claw, what was the point? There was little more than an ounce of crab meat. Scrap the seafood and make it a veggie pasta or else deliver what was promised!

Seated beside me, my dad ordered the Pan Roasted Scallops and Jumbo Shrimp. His scallops were also way overdone and his jumbo shrimps were laughable in size. They looked like the small shrimps on a cocktail ring and only being served six for a main entree kind of sucks. Not to mention, the shrimps were charred to the point where their shells couldn’t be peeled off.

The Seafood Linguine, which included mixed seafood tossed in red sauce was decent. Sloppy plating, again, but the flavours were decent. However, I’m not sure that the pasta was linguine, rather spaghetti. A bit nit-picky I suppose, but again, false advertising.

The Veal Marsala was tender, but just like the shrimps and scallops, the portion size was way too small. A secondary piece of meat or another accompaniment would have better balanced the dish and given it some more oomph.

As for the cod, the selling point was really that kiwi salsa that it was served with. But, that sauce looked incredibly lackluster once we saw it. You know what they say, you eat with your eyes first. Let me tell you, when I saw that dish, I was glad I wasn’t the one that was going to be eating it.

Overall, the entree dishes were alright but definitely not anything spectacular. Flavours were satisfactory but they didn’t jump out and throttle your tastebuds. Everything just tasted sort of ordinary.

Once our plates had been cleared, again we waited for some time before being served dessert. During this period of waiting, we noticed a few things, like the frustration of staff kicking the swinging kitchen doors wide open with force or bartenders carelessly dropping ice all over the floor. These things create a poor image for the diner.

When the time for dessert came, the people in our group who didn’t order a dessert as part of the prix fixe menu were glossed over and had to wait until after everyone received their desserts to order. Poorly anticipated by the waitstaff once again.

When the bill came, we were also overcharged for extra starters that were included in the prix fixe, which validated an already-sour experience. While we’re on the subject of price, the bill after tax totalled roughly to $350 for six people, which means that for $50 a person, you’d expect a better quality meal.

Overall, the potential for Clarkson Mediterranean Bistro is there, but it unfortunately missed the mark. People love great Mediterranean food, but you have to deliver what is promised on the menu and you also have to create a good ambiance for your customers. From the service to the food to the atmosphere, I can’t say that anything felt really stellar.

Unfortunately, I won’t be returning to Clarkson Mediterranean Bistro and would NOT recommend this restaurant to anyone. If you’re in the market for good Italian food, visit Michael’s Back Door or Capra’s instead. Trust me, you don't want to end up with a case of the bistro blues.

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