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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