Earl's Restaurant

Bay Centre 1175 Government tel: 250.381.1866

We don't normally review chain restaurants, if for no other reason than they make for boring reviews. Standardized food and service usually creates such a high level of consistency and mediocrity, that it's not worth analyzing. However, since the Earl's at the Bay Centre is new and it was a holiday Monday and nothing else was open, off we went.

As we approached the door, my worst dining nightmare came true - four drunk men barreled in front of us, laughing and talking loudly. I groaned as we waited for the hostess to stop hugging them, eventually seat them at the bar (as if they needed more booze) and direct her attention to us. As the hostess took our menus I said to her quite seriously 'don't seat us next to them.'  She giggled and sat us directly next to them. I guess she didn't hear, or didn't understand, but it seemed pretty obvious that in a restaurant with a lot of available tables you wouldn't seat a thirty-something couple next to a group of loud twenty-something men.  They were disruptive, loud and annoying, but were at least entertaining as they ran around spanking each other and other restaurant patrons with a frying pan provided by the kitchen. It seemed that they were known and happily tolerated by all the staff, so I'm guessing that this is considered acceptable behaviour. (note to self: next time I'm drunk, wandering around downtown and I don't want to impose myself on any of my regular haunts - I'll remember this kind of behaviour is embraced at Earl's)

Our server seemed well trained, but not very insightful.  She answered all my questions confidently and seemed like a reasonably intelligent person, but they weren't terribly thoughtful answers. Not great service, but acceptable at this level of dining. The dress code was bizarre - there appeared to be some sort of system, as everyone was similarly bland looking in very short skirts and low cut shirts, but it was unclear what the instructions for dressing could have possibly been. 

The space itself is well designed and attractive. Clearly, a lot of money and professional services were poured into this location. The vibe is very young and modern, including loud music. I didn't mind it, but Patty did.

As it was Margarita Monday, an Earl's classic for as long as I remember, I had a raspberry margarita ($6 - I remember them being cheaper). It's a well set up bar, with a lengthy beer and cocktail list. The wine list is impressive with respect to its value pricing. The selection is somewhat pedestrian, but is generally thoughtfully put together and paired well with the menu. When I inquired why the prices seemed so low, the server proclaimed that the wine list wins awards...ooo...ahhh. Since that didn't answer the question, I presume the pricing is a reflection of bulk purchasing, but even then it was surprisingly cheap. We had the 2003 Osooyos Larose for $55 - around regular retail price. Despite no listed vintages and nothing particularly exciting, it's the best wine list I've ever seen in a chain restaurant.  

We ordered the edamame to start ($6.5). It was well portioned, but waaaay too salty. I can't believe that was a standard portion of salt - it had to be a mistake.

For our mains, I had the half ribs and chicken ($18), a signature item. While the Cajun chicken was the same dish they've been serving since the early nineties, it was tender and the seasoning pleasant. The ribs were tender and the quantity and thickness of the BBQ sauce good. My coleslaw was missing, so the only vegetable I was presented with was a half pound of fried potatoes.

Patty had the a 10 oz New York steak ($26). It apparently came with no topping and Patty wasn't that happy with the selection of add-ons - blackening spice, blue cheese or mushrooms. He went for the blue cheese ($2.99). Patty was also a little disappointed by the size selection of the steaks. All the good steaks were big. The only small'ish steaks (7 and 9 oz) they had were sirloin and tenderloin. While both can be enjoyable, sirloin is usually chewy and tenderloin is bland. His steak was cooked perfectly, but the vegetables were incredibly underdone, even for our tastes. We liked the fresh horseradish, and the mashed potatoes were flavourful.

Overall, everything seemed a little rough around the edges. My expectations weren't high, but I was expecting a more refined product with regard to food. The service was competent, but felt awkward and at times 'over-trained' - sometimes you want your server to think for herself. The clientele is overwhelmingly young and male and generally has a nightclub'ish feel. That said, if you like lots of skin on your server, loud music, drunk people and predictable food - you could do worse.

Value of food 68/100

Quality of food 61/100

Wine and beverage 71/100

Service 63/100

Ambiance 78/100 (well designed and comfortable, but with a lot of boobie-girls and drunk men.)

Average 68/100

reviewed Sept 4/06