Paramount Fine Foods brings mediocre Middle Eastern fare to I-Drive 360 

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Photo by Rob Bartlett

Ordering at Paramount Fine Foods, a Canadian chain serving Middle Eastern fare, is a little odd. On both my visits, a waiter has come by and insisted on taking my order at the table, this despite the fact that an "Order & Pay Here" sign dangles above a trio of registers at the front of the restaurant. "Don't worry," said the server on our most recent trip. "I'll take care of you."

And ... cut.

What happened next played out like a scene from Waiting for Godot: Five minutes passed before two glasses of water were set before us (the server completely forgot about our drink order), then said server flat-out disappeared. So we waited, looked at our menus, thumbed our phones, looked about the bright open space, and waited some more. Ten minutes passed and I had decided to put in our order at the counter when a different, and profusely apologetic, waiter came by. I soooo badly wanted to ask, "May I help you?" but I didn't. We informed him of our yet-to-materialize drinks, he apologized some more, jotted down our order, then scurried off. I wish the curtain had fallen right then and there, but this exercise in absurdist dining painfully continued.

Mains – a mini mixed grill plate ($17.99) and lamb pita sandwich ($9.49) – arrived before our starters. Another gentleman (this one looked like a manager) whisked his way to our table to apologize about the manakeesh flatbread ($4.49) we had ordered; it seemed the order didn't come through to the kitchen and it would be a few more minutes before it was ready. For a place that was less than a quarter full, they appeared unusually harried, absent-minded and preoccupied.

In the meantime, the other starter – okra in a congealed tomato-garlic sauce ($4.99) – was laid before us in all its microwaved glory. Some bread would've been nice to scoop it up with. The menu promises "free pita bread out of the wood-burning oven to all dine-in customers," but nary a pita was offered to us. It's just as well – the okra looked too drab for us to care. The mini mixed grill had one hit (nicely seasoned minced beef kafta kebab), one miss (overdone striploin beef) and one meh (juicy, yet flavorless, chicken shish tawouk). A dreary side salad was anything but fresh, and while the hummus hit the mark, the garlic sauce was just way too garlicky. It bears repeating: No pita materialized ... that is, until the dry lamb sandwich arrived, enveloped in the ever-elusive bread.

When the manakeesh, a Middle Eastern pizza with akkawi (a salty white cheese) and za'atar (a blend of sesame, thyme and olive oil), arrived, it proved far too oily to enjoy.

We got up to peruse the display case, where an impressive array of baklavas, kanafeh, osmalieh and other Middle Eastern sweets beckoned. When I inquired about a cupcake-like dessert ($4.99), who should appear before me but our original waiter – the one who so intently promised to "take care of us." When I asked him what was in the cake, he said it was filed with ashta, a Lebanese clotted cream. "OK, let's get that," I said, "as well as the four assorted mini-baklavas." Moments later, he came by to say that there wasn't any ashta in the cupcake but, rather, it was filled with chocolate and raspberry sauce. However, it turned out to be better than the three (not four) un-crisp mini-baklavas.

So what's needed here, in case it wasn't obvious, is better food and better service. If they hope to survive, you might say it's of paramount importance.


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