Friday, March 09, 2007

Karaoke Review: Tequila Sunrise w/ Jason Rolland


Many of you may remember when I reviewed Jason Rolland. Various comments came out and it made for some interesting discussions. It was the first review I had written that had gotten a sizable number of people talking. I received a e-mail from Mr. Rolland telling me now had the biggest selection in town. I've had MANY people make that claim so I look at this the same ways as people giving their "credentials" when they try to pick up someone in bar: with skepticism. But hey, you never know so I went. The issue with a few of the "Banned" songs still left an impression, but times can change so I went trying to keep an open mind.

The Good
: To start with, Jason wasn't kidding. He indicated 30k songs in his e-mail which was "More songs than God" according to the cover on his song books. Mr. Rolland was in the 29k range but indicated he had another 2k coming in a couple weeks. In any event the margin was not really an issue. When you are talking 10s of thousands of songs, 1k give or take is not significant in my book. The selection was close enough I have to say Jason Rolland has by far the best ACTUAL song selection of any Karaoke MC in Toronto. I was told that Celine Dion will still be "banned" but the he had removed "Banned" stickers from most of the other selection. Since Jason appears to have lightened up on the banning I try to lighten up on the scoring. Not that I really have to to give him a high mark: This more than double the 2nd highest count I've confirmed with other karaoke hosts. Oh, apparent if you REALLY feel the need Jason can be persuaded to do ONE Dion song, but apparently she gets overplayed. (We had a chat about differences of karaoke philosophy but from what Jason indicated people have been "booed" in the past for singing Dion. Audiences, this is truly BAD form in Karaoke, okay? Not Cool!) Jason still has some of the best equipment I've seen anywhere (as I indicated in the last review) and this one good thing that hasn't changed. Sound is first rate. Mr. Rolland isn't quite a Jeff Zedic but he engages the audience well. The karaoke stage is very well placed (although your audience will be limited). The theme is of course Mexican and the decor suits the theme. The table clothes add to the motive and the restaurant is exceptionally clean and service was decent.

The Mixed
: The prices are fair for the food but not amazing although the alcohol is cheap on Tuesdays. Seating at the Tequila Sunrise is limited and it can't hold more than 50 people from what I saw.

The Bad: Great selection, great karaoke equipment, excellent MC, really bad food however. I know something about Mexican food and I enjoy it immensely. Unfortunately the quality of the food just wasn't there. The portions were not only small, my salad (what little there was) used visibly old lettuce and the chicken I had was dried out. Even the refried beans were average at best. The chef (who came out to sing) looked quite young and perhaps experience was part of the problem. Whatever the reason, the prices seemed less fair after you actually ate the food. Especially with a good chance of being hungry later in the evening. On the up side, the Fried Ice Cream was alright. Perhaps its better to have dessert and drinks here rather than dinner.

Summary: Well Jason, you've blown away the scoring for song selection. I know it was not a small investment and the effort deserves to be acknowledged. Jason apparently doesn't have a Monday or Wednesday event which I encourage a venue to remedy because its truly a shame not to put this HUGE collection to good use. I tried to find weakness in the song selection: Zero, nada. And I'm picky. He even has a good collection of Gilbert & Sullivan. The significantly reduced restrictions add to the songs you can enjoy (except perhaps for Dion) If you CAN find any well known songs (or even not well known songs) you know that are not in this book (Musicologists PLEASE be reasonable) I'd love to hear about it. I'm almost tempted to offer a prize to the person who can find the most weakness in a 30k+ collection in the next 3 months. In short, the selection is great. The only real weakness at the Tequila Sunrise is the food. But its a big one. Maybe that will improve with time but Restaurant owners, if I ever see salad greens that old again I'll send it back and take notes for later. Come for the karaoke, come for the cheap drinks and come for desserts. I'll stop there. For karaoke lovers its a great place to good as the crowds are not huge and the wait times will be quite short.

Final Grade: B/B+

Facilities: 7.9 (The restaurant is a bit small. Excellent decor. Karaoke stage quite good, especially given the size of the venue )
Equipment: 9.0 (Great sound, balance, wireless mikes, 'nuff said.)
Song Selection: 9.3 (30k songs, minus Celine Dion, "prohibited" songs reduced, 'nuff said)
Food Selection:7.7 (Fair food selection for Mexican restaurant)
Food Quality: 6.4 (Dinner wasn't good here: Dried out chicken (sauce was okay), salad was old and in my view shouldn't have been served, small portions. Desserts were okay.)
Food Prices: 7.3 (Its in the 7 range for the lost cost drinks)
Location: 8.2 (Adelaide a one way street. All parking is paid. Small walk from John/Queen or King off the Street car)
Host: 8.7 (Quite engaging with the audience. Gets to know his audience)
Wait times: 9.0 (Small capacity and moderate crowds means you'll get plenty of chances to try out a few of the 30k collection)
Food Service: 8.6 (staff is fairly quick with order taking and servicing)

Venue Information:
Jason Rolland, Tuesdays, Thursdays
Tequila Sunrise
212 Adelaide West
Toronto Ontario

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Karaoke Review: Safari Village w/ Erika


Although I've spent some time earlier looking for good venues in East York I had trouble finding any place I was confident in recommending. Fortunately I got a few leads on places East York. One of which came from the venue owner herself. The Safari Village serves East African & Caribbean food which is certainly different from any other venues I've visited. The most exotic venue I visited before this one was One Eleven (see review) which served Russian cuisine. Given the unusual food ethnicity I was hoping that this would be a good place for East Yorkers to go for karaoke as well.

The Good: The service was quite prompt . I later learned it was the owner's birthday(bonus!). Upon looking at the menu the prices were extremely reasonable. One can eat a reasonable meal from between $6-11 (before taxes of course). The quality of the food was actually exceptional especially for the price. The nicest surprise was when an old karaoke favorite, Erika, who use to do shows at the Fiddler's Green, had come out to East York so I knew I was in for a good show. Erika has always been an excellent host and knows how to keep an audience engaged. It was good to know she hadn't lost her touch. The prizes aren't too shabby either. (Has small prizes at her shows if you pay for raffle tickets). The equipment was in good order and sound was decent as was the karaoke stage which has enough room for a small group to “get down”. Apparently the restaurant owner or the MC have fans as a couple came down all the way from Richmond Hill to attend the show.

The Mixed: While the prices and food were excellent the food selection was not a broad as many people may be accustomed to. This may be in part to do with the culture but upon talking to the owner I was told there was a little more variety in the summer because of larger crowds. Still it isn't bad. Chicken (Choma and Jerk), chicken or beef sandwiches, Ox Tail (apparently quite popular), Chicken Wings and Goat or Vegetable curry were among the top choices. No salads or significant appetizers. What you get is exceptional, there just isn't as much selection variety as a few other restaurants. The decor of the place works well. The candles at the table are a nice touch The ceiling tiles need minor repair which is a small distraction but the decor overall and makes one feel at home. Unfortunately the space is very limited space. 40 people max so its only good for small groups. The Karaoke setup wasn't bad but the monitor was a 32” TV next to the bar and if one wants to see the lyrics you have to face the wall rather than the audience. I've said this before but a simple 12-15” LCD monitor would do better than a CRT television (especially a large one) and is easy to position anywhere with a stand. I actually did some research and found supplier who can provide the monitors (easy) and the LCD portable stand (not so easy) so if anyone is interested let me know and I can get one from a distributor. It really does make a difference in situations where the stage is a little small. The wait times were very mixed and hard to evaluate: The show was split between people dancing in the stage area (possibly because it was the owner's birthday) and singing. I wasn't always sure why there were delays songs but given the small crowd it should have been easy to get a lot of songs in. The next show (in 2 weeks) I hope that Erika will be able to give people more singing time. Everyone had a great time in spite of in. Its hard to know what to say because everyone was enjoying the format (including myself) but I wasn't singing as much as I expected . As it was the owner's birthday I suspect an alteration to the show was made in part because of it and I'm guessing more singing time will be see at the next performance.

The Bad: Erika hasn't lost her touch as a Karaoke MC but her selection has not been updated since I saw her last (2005). Counting the songs in her book didn't take me long and I counted twice to be sure: 5389 after duplicates were removed. It really pains me to say this but two years ago 6k was the base for an average score and people have been increasing this since then so 5400 songs is a bit below par. Its enough to have fun but a karaoke enthusiast will feel they want more of a selection. Small note: there is a door chime on the front door as you come in and out. During the karaoke show this is VERY distracting and it should probably be turned off when the karaoke show begins or replace it with a flashing light.

Summary: This venue has a number of good things going for it: The best prices overall on food and drinks I've seen so far (food quality and prices taken into account), and the venue has a very nice neighborly feel to it. You feel very much at home and the staff seems to give the food and decor a very personal touch. Erika complements this with her excellent and interactive approach to karaoke show hosting. Although the size is small it works well for the “at home” ambiance as long as you are a group of 6 or less. I've probably said this too many time but Erika is an amazing MC but her selection really needs to be expanded. If you are going for great food and good times with a small but acceptable karaoke selection you won't be disappointed and the prizes add to the fun. While the wait times were a tad long for the number of people, there was never a dull moment. I strongly suspect more song time will be seen in future events as I came in on a special occasion. If you are a hard core karaoke fan who is big on selection you may want to look elsewhere but I will certainly be back for the overall experience. Safari Village is my new overall recommendation for karaoke lovers on a budget.

Final Grade: B-

Facilities: 7.0 (Seating limited, door bell distracting during karaoke, good karaoke stage and decor)
Equipment: 7.7 (equipment is good but some small delays due to finding disks and 32” TV in awkward position, a 15” LCD monitor + stand would be much better especially facing the audience)
Selection 6.8 (Song selection needs to be expanded as every one else is expanding theirs)
Food Selection:7.0 (drink selection is good, meal selection good but a little more selection would help)
Food Quality: 8.9 (the quality of the food is exceptional. Makes you almost forget the limited menu)
Prices: 9.0 (overall the best value for the food I've seen yet)
Location: 8.3 (Coxwell Subway 5 minutes east, side street parking)
Host: 9.0 (Erika is among the most entertaining hosts out there. A true showman)
Wait times: 7.8 (due to a special event this is not final, I imagine this will probably go up next week)
Service: 8.8 (staff is very attentive. A small venue helps but even with this taken into account they look after you)

Venue Information:
Host: Erika
Safari Village
1690 Danforth Avenue (East of Coxwell)
Toronto, Ontario
(416) 406-0534
Fridays (every two weeks), recommending calling to confirm

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