The Amateur Eater

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MODERN | 354 Portage Avenue

Tonight I decided to try Modern, since I’d heard some good things about it in the past, and I had never tried authentic African cuisine. I took along my date, and we headed out for a bite.

When we walked in — which was next to impossible, considering the confusing, unmarked doors — our first impressions were good ones. The smell was amazing: spices, meat, and other unrecognisable but delicious aromas. The decor was modern but homey: rich reds on the walls, butcher’s block-style tables, interesting antler chandeliers, and funky panelling and partitions. However, we both agreed that the place seemed unfinished somehow. We couldn’t decide what it was about it, but it felt like they were waiting for some more furnishings or wall hangings. 

The next thing we noticed was the hookas — yes, hookas — being smoked in two seperate places in the restaurant. I know hookas are legal, but really? In a restaurant? By the time we finished our meal, I was coughing up a lung because it was so smokey. I’m still coughing. The whole place seemed like a kind of personal hangout. Everyone seemed to know each other, and they made it known to us by calling across the restaurant to each other… loudly. And now that I’ve mentioned loudness, the music was far too loud for the tiny space.

On to our actual service experience. The easiest way to go through this is event by event, so get ready.

  1. The waitress comes up to us seconds after we are seated, hands us water, and asks us if we need more time with the menus. Of course we do; we have been here for a minute and a half.
  2. Fifteen minutes later, said waitress returns. I say we are ready to order, but we have a few questions. I ask her about the “tapas natchos” on the appetizer / tapas menu, and she mumbles under her breath that all they have from that menu right now is the samosas. This is okay, since we are already considering the samosas, but I ask how many samosas come with each order, and she again mumbles something about two samosas per order, and we decide on that. I order Gored Gored, he orders Fir Fir (more on the food later), and she walks away.
  3. Seven or eight minutes later, the waitress comes back and says “I forgot your order” and waits for us to repeat our order to her. (What she was doing in this seven or eight minutes, I have no idea.)
  4. Fifteen minutes later, she comes back and says “We don’t have any samosas.” How it took nearly twenty minutes for her to a) put our order in, and b) find out that they were out of something we ordered is beyond me.
  5. While we wait for our food, we notice the dime-sized burn on our table, likely from cigarette or hooka ash.
  6. Ten minutes later, my date’s food comes. Alone. And the waitress just says “This is his.” I watch the waitress walk back to the kitchen, and then wander around the restaurant, giving other people their food, wiping tables, etc.
  7. About eight minutes later, she finally comes out with my food. My water is almost gone at this point, and she doesn’t refill it.
  8. The waitress leaves us alone for the remainder of our meal, and doesn’t check to make sure everything is ok, nor does she offer me a refill on water at any point. I really did need that refill; my food had a strong, Clydesdale sized kick to it.
  9. We finish our meals, and wait for ten minutes. After the waitress walked by two or three times and did not stop to notice we had finished, I finally stacked the plates on top of each other, and put the cups on the plates as well, at which point, she swooped by and placed the bill on the table, while mumbling under her breath. 
  10. She did not return after this, we just left the money on the table, and walked out.

I understand being a server is a hard job — I’m a server myself — but this was just ridiculous. It nearly ruined the evening; the only saving grace was that I was there in good company.

Now, once the food actually came, it was tasty. His Fir Fir (a moistened African bread and meat dish, similar to stuffing) had a nice kick to it, and the meat was tender. The spices mixed together well and created quite a lovely taste experience. My Gored Gored was not as satisfying, but still yummy. It is described on the menu as “lean cubed beef, simmered in a blend of red pepper and herbed butter. Served raw or rare along with Awaze (chili pepper and spice paste)”. It was lean enough, but not as lean as I would have liked, being that it was specifically advertised as “lean” beef. Some of the pieces of beef were raw or rare, but over half of them were cooked through and completely tough. The spices were delicious, but as I said above, very spicy. But I like a good kick, so I wasn’t complaining. Both meals were affordable ($11.50 for mine and $13.00 for him), and came with salad and injero: a satisfying, cold and crepe-like bread.

Overall, the food was good, but nowhere near as good as it would have had to be to make up for literally the worst service I’ve ever experienced. We also agreed that the menu did not properly explain what dishes were.


Atmosphere / Decor: 4 / 5
Food: 3 / 5
Service: 1 / 5 (only because I’d feel too bad giving out a zero)
Overall:  2.7 / 5

Would I recommend / return? Absolutely not.


  • Modern on Urbanspoon