A snowflake made of utensils with text on top.By now, some of you may have figured out that I love dining out and eating new, as well as familiar, foods. But Toronto’s Winterlicious and Summerlicious events are the two times of the year where I strategically plan to not eat out. At least, not at any participating restaurant. While I’m not averse to a good deal, I find it hard to stomach the giant list of mediocrity that is offered up as prix-fixe. To save a few dollars, you give up a lot. Small portions. Banquet food. Stressed service. How is this a good deal?

Since Winterlicious reservations began last week, it stirred up chatter on various boards and heralded my imminent two-week restaurant blackout. Now, the concept of ‘licious is good. Restaurants offer their fixed-price menus during a slow time to lure new and old diners through their doors, the city blankets Toronto advertising the event, and the masses gets a break on the price of their dinner. Everyone wins!

But no, unless the restaurant is inclined to give it their all instead of the banquet-style feed that is usually on offer, everyone loses out. Potential patrons are turned off – because the food is lacklustre, service is poor (sometimes due to the high volume… sometimes not), or maybe it’s the high-turnover atmosphere that many restaurants adopt during this period. Whatever the case is, it’s not a situation that will bring people back after the prices bounce back up and it certainly doesn’t show the restaurant at its best, unfortunately.

Given my current stance of dining-blackout during these times, I’ve clearly had my share of dismal experiences. But it’s not all bad. There are those restaurants that rise to the occasion and offer everything they would on a regular night, despite the piles of diners that tromp in and out for ‘licious events. In particular, I remember the wonderful panna cotta served at Truffles at the Four Seasons and a lovely seared duck at Focaccia. I also hear Canoe and Bymark have decent reviews. Mind you, the “good places” tend to book up quickly. It’s likely too late for this round, but make use of your American Express front-of-the-line next time. If you’re going to bother hitting ‘licious.

What I do like about these events is that it gets those who wouldn’t normally venture out, up and out of the house. While it won’t make everyone a repeat customer, I hold the hope that for some, it will spark their interest in food or maybe allow them to broaden their palates with some new tastes. Still, like many foodies I know, I’ll keep a wide berth around participating restaurants during the event, as my few good memories are generally buried under too many cookie-cutter meals in small portions with bad service. It’s worth both my time and money to visit at another time, where I’ll have a better chance to enjoy my meal.

And then maybe, I might actually come back.