Thursday, December 15, 2005


100 Cumberland St.
Toronto, Ontario M5R 1A6

When shopping in Yorkville (not that frequent an occurrence, I assure you) we would inevitably walk by Sassafraz, the so-called "celebrity hotspot". I never imagined I would actually go there, preferring places focused more on food than on marketing. So I was surprised to learn I would be headed there for a bachelor party of all events. With a bunch of non-foodie type people to top it off.

The initial impression lived up to the marketing hype. Parked out front on the narrow, slush filled street was the first Maybach I had seen in person. Inside I was greeted by a fairly typical modern, contemporary restaurant design. Not much to comment on, so I'll skip to the chase.

As I was there for a social event and not so much for the food, I don't remember much from the menu except for what I ordered. And the chef's name, which was prominently plastered all over the menu. The amuse bouche was a slice of beef tenderloin seasoned with well, pepper as far as I remember.

For an appetizer, I had the Stilton and Duck confit salad. Upon presentation, the stilton was poured around the ring molded duck confit which was topped with some julienned vegetables and light greens. The duck was on the salty side, and not as tender and flavourful as I had hoped for. The sauce/cheese was quite good, but there was quite a bit of it and it didn't work all that well on its own near the end.

For the main course, I ordered the venison tenderloin and osso bucco with a barley risotto. Looked good on paper, not so great in practice. The venison was very flat, seasoned with a one dimensional peppercorn rub. The meat was tender but lacked in taste. The prune (I think) sauce was very sharp and contrasted too much with plain meat. It just didn't work together at all. The barley risotto was fine, and the only saving grace to the dish.

The service was professional and well rehearsed, but we ended up waiting about 45 minutes for our appetizers and another 30-40 minutes for the main course. It was partially our fault for being about 1 hour behind our scheduled reservation, and there were a few other large groups in ahead of us. It probably also didn't help that we (as non-connoisseurs) shied away from the $100+ bottles of wine on the menu which put off our French waiter.

Overall, it met my expectations, including the part about not expecting to see any real live celebrities. Would I go back? Perhaps when I'm rich and famous.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Maharaha Palace Inc

Maharaha Palace (Closed)
103 King St. North
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2X5

One of our friends suggested to have lunch at this restaurant. I went there long time ago and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I showed up probably after 1 PM; there was barely any food left and everything looked cold. (As a full time grad who only got up before 10:30 AM if there was a class or an appointment, lunch@1 PM was considered reasonable)

This time we showed up shortly after 12 PM and the food was nice and warm. The flavor of most of the dishes was on the mild side. Maybe it is not appropriate for me to make such comment since I didn’t have the hot sauce (green chili) served on the side. I like the goat curry; the meat was tender and the sauce was flavorful. I tore naan (flatbread) into pieces and dipped it in the sauce. The naan and poppadum were a bit disappointing though. The naan alone was on the plain side, the poppadum might be authentic but not to my liking. I like poppadum crispy and with generious seasoning, like the ones at Janet Lynn’s and the Other Brother’s. Dessert section also needs improving. There were only two types of ice cream (vanilla and chocolate), no pistachio ice cream.

The service was nice. Used plates wouldn’t have chance to lie on the table too long. Judging by its lunch buffet menu, this is an average Indian restaurant. I will probably go there if any friend suggests to have lunch there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Korean BBQ Restaurant

Korean BBQ Restaurant
265 King St. East Unit#204
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 4N4

There are several ways to chase away the cold. Having spicy, steamy hot Korean food is definitely one of them. Here’s one great example. When we dined at the Korean BBQ Restaurant several days ago, our table was close to the front door. Constantly sipping on hot tea didn't seem to help. One of our friend couldn't stand the draft generated every time the door was open; he had to push, force the door to close ASAP. After few rounds of steamy hot spicy food, the draft became "soothing breeze".

When I first read about this restaurant from kw eats, I was wondering how come people kept calling this restaurant "Korean BBQ Restaurant". Doesn't it have a "real" name? Of course I realize that it IS called Korean BBQ Restaurant.

There were 8 of us. We ordered two combos: combo B for 3 (4 items) and combo E for 6 (7 items). In other words, we sampled 11 courses out of the 22 choices. For people with "ordinary" appetite, their portion should be plenty, especially if you tend to consume lots of rice.

I don't have Korean food often and not really keen on spicy food. So I shouldn't comment on whether or not their food is authentic. Food in that restaurant is spicy but not overly spicy. The pork bone soup is spicy but extremely flavorful. It is best served with a gigantic bowlful of rice. The kimchi fried rice is very good, too. We should have ordered more.

My favorite part of that restaurant is actually their side dishes. It is free, unlimited supply AND delicious! The sweetened potato dish is sweet but with a hint of saltiness. It was difficult for me to stop munching on them. The tofu is deep-fried with soy-based dressing.

Korean BBQ Restaurant seems to be a family-operated restaurant. The owner is quiet but polite. My only complaint would be its location. If you want to look for it by its address, you'll be doomed to miss. Korean BBQ Restaurant is located on the second floor of a small plaza/building. If you drive by, the most obvious sign of that building would be "Hong Kong Fashion". When driving down along King St. from Waterloo to Kitchener, you should start to look for parking after you pass Queen St.. The restaurant will be on your right hand side and right across the street from New City Chinese grocery store. If you see Kitchener Farmers' Market or hit Cedar St., you've missed the restaurant.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Luce (Closed)
30 Mercer St. (Hotel Le Germain), Toronto, ON M5V 1H3
Phone: (416) 599-5823
Fax: (416) 599-6571

Luce is run by Rubino brothers, who also own the restaurant "Rain". If you are familiar with the TV series "Made to Order" on the Food Network Canada, you probably know that the filming is done in either "Rain" or "Luce".

We were stuck with ordering the tasting menu for both. The reason is that they want to make sure they can serve every dish at the same time for each table. This makes sense (there are roughly 6 courses in the tasting menu) but I wasn't quite impressed. At Susur, a couple who choose to have the tasting menus will be served with two completely different sets. Maybe I am asking too much.

There was some lost in translation. After I ordered the cocktail "Luce" and J only asked for sparkling water, our server ASSUMED that we didn't want to have our (ok, MY) courses pairing with wine. I was slightly disappointed. There was one episode of "Made to Order". In that episode, Michael convinced Guy to prepare the special menu for an Italian winemaker, so he would be convinced that food prepared in the "then oncoming" restaurant would be good enough for his wine. *shrug* Oh well, there is always Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The cocktail "Luce" contains Limoncello (lemon liqueur), prosecco (Italian sparkling wine?), vodka and lemon juice. There might be more ingredients but those are all I remember. The drink was simply served in a martini glass with some tiny ice bits floating. Sophisticated flavor. Chilled properly.

The meal started with parsnip pumpkin amuse-bouche with squash chip. To describe it in plain English, there were two scoops of ice cream (one parsnip, the other pumpkin) garnished with squash chip. Then we had bread with sun-dried tomato roasted garlic spread and olive oil. The olive oil has such refreshing, almost "grassy" scent that we barely touched the spread.

The first course was served soon after we got the bread and its spread/dip. Charred eggplant and artichoke soup pan seared prawn with citrus. The prawn was cooked just right. The citrus flavor was strong but not overpowering. I am not sure why those two items are on the same plate since they don't quite complement each other (not really much of a contrast either).

The second course had three items: fennel panna cotta candied fennel, purple kale stuffed white bean and rosemary and date stuffed 3-cheese atop apple clove sauce. Fennel and panna cotta is an interesting combination. The purple kale item was pretty but it was overpowered by the other two items.

Before this review turns into a 40-page, double spacing essay, I will quickly list all the items I remember:
(3rd course) Porcini mushroom with fennel truffle and olive sauce pairs with buffalo goat cheese pasta with chili oil.
(4th course) (Pan seared?) Pancetta, salt cod, pork cod mash on yellow corn sauce. Pork belly lobster tomato sauce on the other end.
(5th course) Three items: Guinea fowl leg, foie gras crostini, polenta topped with heirloom tomato
(6th course) Roasted fig with spaghetti squash with three pieces of thinly-sliced cheese on the other end of the dish (sorry I didn't catch the name of the cheese)
(dessert) Two items: Fig cognac tartufo, Fuji apple confit butterscotch streusel

The item which really "wow" us is the cod dish. The cod was tender and juicy, the pork cod mash was rich and creamy (we tried not to think about how much pancetta dripping was in the creamy mixture). The fig cognac tartufo consisted of cognac ice cream with one fig in it. I always thought tartufo should be some Italian dessert with one flavor of ice cream hidden in another flavor of ice cream. The apple sauce in the dessert dish had unbelievably intense green apple flavor that it almost tasted artificial.

In general, the dishes are very earthy yet polished. They purposely choose Italian ingredients which you don't normally see in a...well, typical Italian restaurant in North American. Examples are Porcini mushroom, panchetta, polenta.
P.S. According to Wikipedia, Polenta is "a cornmeal mush... traditional staple food throughout much of northern Italy."

By the way, I have never had a meal which contained so many ingredients I dislike ...pumpkin, goat cheese, fennel, fig, date...J was teasing me throughout the whole meal on this. Yet, I finished every course. They deserve some bonus points on this. The last time I finished something I really DISLIKE in a restaurant was at Susar - his gourmet version of hot and sour soup.

Although it is smaller than it seems on TV, Luce's interior echos with Hotel Le Germain. The warm wood tones and the refine design makes the space very peaceful and intimate. (Be aware of their washroom though; there is only one unisex washroom for the whole restaurant, making me wonder if this actually violates any building/restaurant health and safety code.) The service is a bit distant but still polite and prompt. The food is good - fresh ingredients and proper preparation. The plating was nothing like "home-made comfy food", but I can feel that they deliberately scale back the showy presentation. (I am sure it would have been easy to throw in some chives or eggplant chip to add some drama.) Although every item was bite-sized, I was so full after the meal. The dishes were almost "zen-like", earthy and low profile. Maybe that is part of the reason that we didn't "miss" any of the dishes after the meal.

Will I recommend this restaurant? It is like Minimalist interior design. A piece of high quality minimalist furniture will cost much more than some fancy ornate pieces. It really depends on whether or not you appreciate that specific style and how much you are willing to pay for their seemly-down-to-earth cuisine.
P.P.S. While we were there, we saw Michael Rubino show up couple of times. He looked just the same as on TV.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Almadina Egyptian Cuisine

Almadina Egyptian Cuisine
150 University Ave. West
Waterloo, Ontario

This week some coworkers brought in Baklava from Almadina Egyptian to celebrate "Eid al Fitr" (feast at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting). Syrup, crashed nuts and lots of butter in between phyllo layers make it "sinfully" tasty. This reminds me of my dining experience at Almadina Egyptian.

When I first came to Waterloo, I lived quite close to the campus. And I didn't cook, at all. Still, it took me several months before I finally decided to step in this restaurant. It was relatively dark and quiet. And I just didn't know what I could order. Luckily one day I went there for lunch with a friend, who was a "regular".

Their dishes were not as heavy/greasy as I expected; in fact, some were served with yogurt. I went there quite often for a period of time and sampled most of the common items. Alas, I still can't remember how to pronounce those dishes. The chicken quarter was normally moist inside and crispy outside. The hummus is nice but there is nice hummus somewhere else. My favorite dish, other than their baklava, is actually their rice side dish. It is rice mixed with buttery short fried noodles. It is kind of chewy but not crispy. I found this site through Google search. Based on the recipes provided on this site, I believe "Riz bi Sh'areh" (rice and vermicelli) is the dish.

I almost forgot to mention this. Recently they set up booth at Farmer's Market. You can get steamy hot wrap from them. I tried it once, the beef was nicely flavored. It wasn't very spicy because I asked for the non-spicy version.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Red Lobster

Red Lobster
1732 King St. East
Kitchener, Ontario N2G2P1

There is only one Red Lobster in the tri-city area. The parking lot is constantly full and 40 min wait during peak hour is a norm. Normally I shy away from those chain seafood restaurants. I grew up in a small island surrounded by sea so I tend to have high standard on seafood dishes. Unless I go to relatively high-end restaurants or unless there is no heating involved, it is quite common that the seafood course I order is overcooked. Also, sometimes when the seafood tastes "fishy", it is not necessarily a good sign. Alas! I got lured by the Endless Shrimp event. (And to be honest, Red Lobster is not that bad).

There is one new item on their Endless Shrimp Event this year: Coconut Shrimp Bites. The rest are the regulars: Shrimp Pasta, Fried Shrimp, Garlic Shrimp and Popcorn Shrimp.

First I ordered Coconut Shrimp and Garlic Shrimp, followed by one serving of popcorn shrimp. The garlic shrimp was cooked nicely, perhaps the butter did the charm (the whole plate of shrimp was smothered in the butter). However, it was so salty that I had to finish one drink I initially ordered and asked for more water in order to finish that portion. The coconut shrimp was a nice surprise. It tasted just like the "Parrot Bay Coconut Shrimp" I ordered before. The shrimp was coated in batter and coconut flakes. The dipping sauce was supposed to be Pina Colada flavored. I did taste the coconut and very faint of pineapple. To me, it is not Pina Colada if without rum. Popcorn shrimp was served with the cocktail dipping sauce.

We've been to Red Lobster several times. So far we've tried New England Clam Chowder, Roasted Tilapia in a Bag, Cajun Farm-Raised Catfish, Shrimp Pasta and Lobster-crusted salmon. The food portions in Red Lobster are generous. The food is not superb but for the price you pay, it is not too bad.

My favorite item dish from Red Lobster is actually their biscuits. Apparently many people agree with me. When I google with the keywords "Red Lobster biscuit", there are whole bunch of recipes coming up.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Yamato Japanese Restaurant

Yamato Japanese Restaurant
18 Bellair St.
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2C7

We didn't originally plan to go to this restaurant. The food is nice, but we stayed at Sheraton on Queen St. (The restaurant is in Yorkville). What can I say? We just don't visit Toronto frequently enough that some of my favorite eateries gone in between our visits.

Yamato is divided into two sections, one is for sushi, the other is for teppanyaki. Teppanyaki, as its name suggests (in Japanese), is cooking/grilling on a big flat metal surface. What makes having teppanyaki a fun experience is you get to see the chef's performance while cooking.

I heard that it takes years of training (probably not as long as being trained as a sushi chef) to master teppanyaki techniques. I am not sure if they have the same strict standard in North America but it is quite fun seeing the chef preparing food for us.

There are several stations in the teppanyaki section. The chef works in the center and customers sit around him. There is metal surface (i.e. the grill), between the seat and the chef, on every side of the station, so the chef can prepare food right in front of the customers no matter where they sit. There were three customers (me, J and one guy) at this station. The chef showed up with a little cart which carried all the food ingredients. He asked us how well we wanted our tenderloin and rib eye done (medium rare) then he started his "ceremony".

Did I mention that the whole prep process was quite a show? The onions, sliced into rings, were piled like a dome. With some oil drizzled on top and a match...the flame went at least 2 feet high. Shrimp grouped on the other side of the grill top, a bit of oil, seasoning and a match...another flame! Although he didn't put every ingredient on fire, the whole process was as smooth as water flow. Prior to serving, he drummed the sale and pepper shakers (all the tossing and sounds). Then he served all orders at the same time.

There is a HUGE difference between flambeed and burned food. Clearly the shrimp I had was the former one; it was cooked just right, not soggy nor rubbery. The onions were nicely caramelized. The tenderloin was extremely juice and tender (J also liked his rib eye very much). The veggies were typical teriyaki style. Oh, he added herbal butter in bean sprout. The first time I went to that restaurant, I was slightly concerned about that big bowlful of "wasabi" on the chef's cart. It turned out to be herbal butter, prepared by chopping herbs then mixing all ingredients in a blender. We were offered two sauces for dipping, mustard and ginger. The mustard sauce got the mustard kick and some tangy taste, very interesting flavor.

Overall it was a great dining experience. However, J got stomachache afterwards. My stomach didn't like it much either last time we visited. I really hope it is just some freaking coincidence since the food is good.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Cameron Chinese Seafood

Cameron Chinese Seafood
21 Cameron St.
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 3N2

We've been to Cameron so many times that some waitresses actually recognize us. Most of time we are there for their dim sum. When my parents visited, we took them to Cameron and they were surprised that there is actually "decent" Chinese food in town. Please keep in mind that their standard is pretty high to begin with; they flied over from Richmond/Vancouver, where "tons of" Chinese restaurants are located.

Back to their dim sum. There are three items we will order every time:
1) Sticky rice with Chinese sausage and BBQ pork wrapped in lotus leaves. It is extremely flavorful and the lotus leaves add unique aroma to the food. Let's just say this is something you can't make at home.
2) Spring rolls wrapped in Chinese rice noodles. So far this is my favorite. I've ordered this dish in many other restaurants, Cameron is the only restaurant which prepares the dish with spring rolls. Normally it's Chinese dough fritters wrapped in the rice noodles; the texture is therefore both crispy and smooth. Cameron's version even kicks it up a notch; the spring roll filling provides the creamy rich flavor. And it is not just the ordinary spring rolls. I would guess they first sauté the filling (seasoned shredded taro with ground meat), make the spring rolls then deep dry them. I definitely prefer the taro filling over cabbage or bean sprout ones!
3) Deep-fried balls with ground meat. This is J's favorite.
Normally we will order 5 to 6 dishes to share. Turnip cakes, shao mai, shrimp dumplings show up on our list constantly as well. We are not too crazy about dishes such as chicken feet, beef stomach or curry octopus.

After dining there so many times, we did have chance to try their not-so-well-received dishes. One year a group of us went there for Peking duck. We had to order in advance and it was on the pricy side. We were shocked to see that there was only duck skin in each Chinese bun. Ok, I know that is the best part, but I went with an empty stomach, Paper-thin duck skin just didn't cut it. Avoid their peking duck (which is not difficult to do; just don't phone in and order in advance).

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ben Thanh Viet-Thai Restaurant

Ben Thanh Viet-Thai Restaurant
36 Northfield Dr. West
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 6A1

Cambridge store
10 Pinebush Rd.
Cambridge, Ontario

Ben Thanh just opened one store in Waterloo several months ago. It was such a relief for more driving down to Cambridge just for a bowl of soup noodles. They used to have a store in Kitchener but it was closed down due to the expansion of Kitchener Farmer's Market.

I've been to that Kitchener store so many times but most of time I ordered their soup noodles. The soup is delicious and it is the fastest item; it seemed to take forever if I ordered something else. However, this "rule" doesn't apply to the Waterloo store. Almost every time we go, we get slow service; there was always on item which arrived much later than others. Since I like the soup noodles from this restaurant the most, I don't really possess much bargaining power. Luckily the service was ok during our last visit.

Here are the items we normally have (List is arranged based on how frequent we order that specific item):
#1 (106) Beef, Tendon. Frank Brisket Rice Noodle Soup: they slow cook the tendon and brisket so they are extremely flavorful, tender yet not slimy. When I go to a restaurant, I like to order things I can't make at home.
#2 (501) 2-Spring Rolls (deep fried): the spring rolls are crispy outside and juicy inside. What makes it different from those in other Chinese restaurant is the fish sauce dressing.
#3 (030) Sour Sop Neclor Shake: the sourness is actually quite minimal. J likes to sip on it during summer time. I'll share some if he orders it.
#5 (422) Pad-thai (Fried Rice Noodle w/ Mixed Seafood): I would have ordered this item more if not because I waited for good 30+ min several times (in the previous Kitchener store). The seafood portion is generous, the sauce is interesting. I could never figure out what goes in it; I could taste ketchup, chili pepper, soy sauce...that is about it.
#6 (303) Grilled Pork Balls, BBQ Pork, Spring Roll with Vermicelli: I don't order this item very often. I am not a big fan of grilled pork balls to begin with. I used to like BBQ Pork prepared in Vietnamese style but I've had better version than what is offered at Ben Thanh. I'll just order the spring rolls alone if I crave for some. (It's ranked #2 on my list )

We don't normally have this item but I feel I should recommend this:
(101) Special BEN THANH Beef Noodle Soup
It is like a treasure hunt. Sometimes you can find beef tribe, brisket and other miscellaneous beef parts in the soup. I know exactly what parts I like (thinly sliced beef, brisket and tendon) so I rarely order this item.

Will you appreciate their soup noodles more if I tell you how much effort it takes to get the soup right? J's mom gave us the family recipe for making the Vietnamese soup noodles. It is chicken-based. To make a bowl of decent soup noodles, we will need to prepare the stock - chicken bones, chicken, onion, celery, carrots and other spicies. babysit the soup for at least 2 hours (let it simmer and skim of all the impurities). Luckily, J's mom makes awesome soup noodles (chicken stock).

By the way, if you want to go to the Cambridge store, the parking spots are a premium. We tried to park in the parking lot for the box stores (Michael's, for example) then walk over. It is actually faster than finding for a parking spot. Don't blame me if you get tickets though.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Lotus Tea House

Lotus Tea House
79 Regina St. North
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 3A7

Right before the Thanksgiving long weekend, the temperature finally dropped to the seasonal norm. We “celebrated” the comfy cool weather by enjoying a bowl of spicy soup noodles and spicy tofu at Lotus Tea House last Friday.

We visit Lotus Tea House so often that we have tried all the main dishes (and most of their appetizers, desserts and tea). I still remember the first time I had their food, it made me feel quite nostalgic. In Asia, the varieties of soya-products are countless. Footurkey? ah…much more than that. It can be faux ham, faux chicken nuggets, faux sea scallops or even faux smoked duck breast...pretty much sky is the limit.

Some animal right advocates and Buddhists are strongly against this type of vegetarian cuisine. The main purpose of being vegetarian is to stop killing, consuming animals. If you consume things which taste like meat, you’re still thinking about killing. This totally ruins the whole purpose of being vegetarian. On the other hand, all the faux-meat products might be a means to persuade meat-eaters to try vegetarian food. They might provide the “guilty pleasure” for vegetarians. They are also great for people who would love to be vegetarian but shy away due to the limited choices. After all, vegetarian need not be boring.

All the dishes prepared in Lotus Tea House are strictly Buddhist; that is, meatless (of course!), no garlic, no onion, no green onion and non-alcoholic. That is obvious that they won’t bother to apply for the liquor license.

Here are the items I really enjoy:
- Soup which comes with the combo. (This item might also be available on the menu). The soup is extremely flavorful. I was inspired by their veggy soup and made few pots last winter. Let’s just say that I KNOW how difficult to achieve that level of richness.
- Cold noodles with sesame sauce. It is such an indulgence to have their cold noodles dish on a hot summer day. Normally this recipe (Chinese style) calls for shredded ham (or cooked chicken breasts), julienne cucumber and carrots. The sesame sauce might blend in unsweetened peanut butter and garlic. At Lotus Tea House, this dish is prepared with faux ham and the sesame sauce is peanut-free. But please avoid this dish if you have nut (or peanut) allergy.
- Spicy tofu with rice. It is quite spicy but not THAT spicy. You won’t feel much in the first bite. But the spiciness will eventually kick in. Moreover, you’ll gradually feel the tickling, numb sensation spreading within/around your mouth. I am no pepper expert but I found it is more interesting to have different layers of spiciness than the pure suicido.
- Curry with rice. The curry flavor is closer to the Japanese style (milder and sweeter than the common curry items in Indian restaurants). They replace the stew meat with some chewy soya pieces which taste like fish balls.
- House Special Soup noodles. If without the soya pieces, its flavor is almost identical to “hong shao” beef stew with noodles. The Taiwanese take beef noodles quite seriously. There is actually a festival dedicated to it. The soup base is considered a trade secret. I haven’t tasted any beef noodles so authentic in Canada yet ironically, it is vegetarian.
- Fruit tea. The fruits have to be diced (or from a can) and cooked in simple syrup. Then they will be combined with hot water, orange juice and tea leaves (maybe with a shot of pineapple or passion fruit syrup to boost the flavor). It is such a tedious process that I’d rather enjoy it at Lotus Tea House than preparing it at home. One tip on enjoying this tea – ask for refill when the teapot is half-empty. Otherwise the refill will taste flavorless.
I heard that Lotus Tea House is operated by volunteers or “semi-volunteers” (less or equal to minimum wage). They close on Mondays for their weekly workshop (worshiping). They have a nice meditation room on the second floor. If you want to understand Buddhism more, it might be a good starting point. If you are not that religious or you are already devoted to other religions, you may just simply enjoy their food.

Monday, October 10, 2005 - Kitchener Waterloo and Area Restaurants

I finally finish marking all the restaurants I have reviewed (so far) on (or Google Map). That is such a painstaking process. The "search by address" function is only available for US addresses; I had to manually find the whereabout of each restaurant. Also, it crashes my Safari (the application window will suddenly disappear in the middle of loading pages). If you are also a Mac user, please use either Firefox, Camino or IE for Mac.
I still need to explore more on the site and see what features it offers. But here it is, please feel free to share my excitement (one day, I'll flag all over the place on the tri-city map with my restaurant reviews!)

Kitchener Waterloo and Area Restaurants

Montana's Cookhouse

Montana's Cookhouse
740 Ottawa St. South
Kitchener, Ontario N2E 1B6

It all started from a $10 gift card. The card was good for Swiss Chalet, Milestones, Montana's, Outback and Kelsey's.
1) Outback - we tried it before and it was pretty good. But there are other steakhouses I'd rather go in town;
2) Kelsey's - for us it's more a place we hang out with friends for a beer or some sorts;
3) Swiss Chalet - next please?
4) Milesones - there isn't any in KW area. We eventually had chance to visit this restaurant, but it will be in another review.
So "I" decided to go to Montana's. J didn't want to go at first 'cause he felt it was just another chain restaurant. He'd rather go to Outback to chew down some steak.

I remembered that we had their signature rib and BBQ beef brisket sandwich. We even shared a deep-fried cheesecake. That was brutal; I was so full that I could barely walk afterwards. That bad experience (not really due to the quality of their food) didn't stop me from going back; I've been hooked to their BBQ sauce ever since. We've dined in this restaurant occasionally since it is within the same plaza with Zehrs and RONA. Here are my all-time favorites: Apple Butter Rib Tips, 1/2 lb B. B. Q. Beef Brisket Sandwich and what else? ribs with either their Texus bold or Apple butter sauce. According to their menu, Texus bold is famous of its hickory-smoked flavor. The flavor Apple butter is a combination of their Signature Bold BBQ sauce and apple jam.

We normally show up at odd hours (e.g. 2 PM on weekends) so we don't know what their service is like during peak time. But the service is in general not too bad. I enjoy the crayons on the table and I find that I am not the only one enjoying it. Last time we went to that restaurant, we saw two ladies focusing on their drawing so much that they could care less of their food. Montana's is also a very family-oriented restaurant; there are so many families w/ young kids. Glad that there is somewhere everyone can enjoy.

My advice of dining at Montana's? Stick with items they are GOOD at. My mom had their Montana's Herb-Roasted Chicken and she wasn't impressed. Come on! You don't go to restaurants like this and order fettuccine alfredo and expect it to be good, do you?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Other Brother's

37 Yarmouth St.
Guelph, Ontario N1H 4G2

We were planning to visit The Other Brother's some time but going on Saturday (October 1, 2005) was completely out of blue. We went to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the day. On the way home, we dropped by Wellington Court in St. Catharines to greet the chef and drop off our belated Thank You card. (Chef Erik Peacock catered our reception more than one year ago). We were hoping we could stay for dinner but full house + no reservation.*sigh*

On the way home, the hunger was getting unbearable. Suddenly I felt I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. "Hey, doesn't highway 6 end in Guelph?" "Your point is?" "We can go to The Other Brother's. Now it's not that far to drive there". Catalized by the hunger, "Mr. Half-Empty-Glass" emptied out his glass even more. He pointed out that there was only a slim chance that we could get a table without a reservation on a busy Saturday night. Plus we didn't even have its contact info...blah blah blah...Then I did one thing I haven't done for ages - call... 4...1...1. We were lucky enough to get the last available table (it was around 9 PM) and the rest was history.

As mentioned by our friends, this restaurant is quite small but the decor is carefully arranged. The server brought us a basket of poppadum (thin, flat, deep-fried Indian bread) with hummus. The bread was crispy and flavorful. The hummus wasn't too garlicy and the flavoring was very sophisticated. This immediately sets our expectation high... talking about the good first impression.

I had a cocktail "Hypnotique" while munching on poppadum. As its name suggests, this drink is composed of vodka and Hypnotique. (Hypnotique is blue colored liqueur in an aqua-colored bottle; it's a blend of cognac, vodka and fruit juices) I can't really comment on the drink because Hypnotique has quite unique flavor; it is hard to screw up this drink.

We had "Ahi Tuna Tacos with Wasabi Mousse" and "Pan Seared Foie Gras with Ice Wine Jelly & Rhubarb Compote" to start, "Ahi Tuna with Wild Rice, Soy Peas, Leeks& Corn in a Saffron Lobster Cream" and "Roast Rack of Lamb with Honeyed Herb Crust on Herb Roasted Potatoes with Fresh Baby Vegetables" as the main dishes. The tuna tacos were very nice, the wasabi mousse didn't have the "kick" I would normally experience when having sushi. However, it was refreshing. Although it is hard to go wrong with foie gras, I found that having a bit of everything (foie gras, ice wine jelly & rhubarb) in one bite plays the charm. It was so well-balanced that I couldn't think out any proportion which might work better. The same magic also happened on the lamb dish. The lamb itself tasted very "meaty" (almost "goaty"); however, it became so smooth yet rich when mixing with the mint jelly. We were quite amazed that this subtle change could make such a difference.

The tuna I had was done properly; it was almost crusty outside but still rare at the center. Although I would prefer it even more rare but that was good enough. The seasoning was nice too. The wild rice mixture had the crunchy texture but with the lobster cream it wasn't too dry/hard. The dish was nicely done. My only concern is, on the menu, all the seafood items come with same side dish (Wild Rice, Soy Peas, Leeks& Corn in a Saffron Lobster Cream). I can't help but to picture army of round big white plates in the kitchen with wild rice mixture shaped with circular mold and the apprentices are busy to ladle out the lobster cream. OK, I don't really mind the grains but lobster cream for every dish? Doesn't it make every seafood dish taste the same? Regardless, we want to try their fondue next time we visit.

We were pretty lucky that our server was very friendly and polite. She always tried to serve from our rights. I enjoy to see people nowadays still try to do things properly. J didn't agree with me though. Our table was against the wall, so J had to move a bit every time she tried to serve from his right. If the service is that good all the time, it will be the biggest incentive for us to become their regular customers.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Home Garden

170 University Ave W.
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3E9
(University Plaza)

If you ever wonder what, other than the western fast food, people eat in Taiwan when they are on the go, try Home Garden. Home Garden is located in University Plaza (the one closer to the UW campus). We haven't been to this restaurant for a while so we decided to go this evening.

The owner greeted me sincerely as usual. He told us that there were some new items on the menu but I had a craving for their deep-fried pork chop and J is never keen on satay so we still ordered the usual stuff.

The "lunchbox" (or "bian dang" in Taiwanese or bento" in Japanese) normally comes with a main dish, a stew egg (spiced egg) and two side dishes. OK, I KNOW stew egg sounds crazy but here's how it's made. Basically you put hard-boiled eggs (without the shells) in a pot along with water, soy sauce and your "secret ingredients", let it simmer for "a while" then you get flavorful hard-boiled eggs. If you leave the shells on and you put all the above ingredients plus some tea leaves, you get "tea-flavored" eggs. I don't know if it's a Taiwanese specialty but you can get it anywhere in Taiwan, even in 7-11. The two side dishes today are cauliflower stir-fry and ma-po tofu (spicy tofu). Both are heavily thickened with corn starch.

The main dish is worth one paragraph all by itself. The deep-fried pork chop is thin, crispy outside and juicy inside. The seasoning mix for marinating the meat and prior to serving is normally considered a trade secret. The owner once told me that his wife (aka the chef) actually spent more than 10K to learn the recipe. And boy! They got it right! Now when my brother brags about the Taiwanese eateries in Vancouver, I can proudly say that we also get AUTHENTIC Taiwanese food here.

Most of the items on their menu are quite authentic, including the bubble tea. I like their tapioca because it is chewy and prepared with brown-sugar simple syrup. If they have combos which include bubble tea at a lesser price, I'll probably order it more often.

BTW, the touch screen order system was setup by one of his sons. Both of his sons go to UW to "study computers" (direct quote from the owner). That is probably one of the reasons that this couple opens a restaurant in the University Plaza.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Boston Pizza

597 King St. North
Waterloo, Ontario

I couldn't convince G to go to Boston Pizza just to get it over with, so I ended up going there with some colleagues last week. It was, as expected, a fairly unforgettable corporate chain restaurant. Somewhat like a Pizza Hut, but with more selection, more decor, more grease, and more money. We had the Meateor pizza and a Spicy Peirogy. The Meateor was a pizza with lots of meat. The Spicy Peirogy was more interesting - potato slices, bacon, sour cream, green onions on a tomato-less cream sauce of some kind. Not something your doctor would recommend. The appetizers came quickly, the pizzas seemed to take a lot longer than necessary. Service was the typical pre-scripted corporate pleasantries, except for a rare moment of candor.

Server: "Our featured appetizer is the Thai Chicken Bites."

Us: "Why is it featured?"

Server: "I guess they want us to sell more of it."

Total came to around $85 for a couple of pizzas, drinks and yes, one order of Thai Chicken Bites. I didn't feel great afterwards, and neither did one of my colleagues, but that's probably our own fault for splitting 2 large nearly pizzas nearly devoid of vegetables between 5 people.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


101 Queen St. North
Kitchener, Ontario N2H 6P7

We went there long time ago so I don't remember what we had. I only remember it was in the middle of the winter. It wasn't snowing but definitely ice here and there when we walked between the restaurant and where we parked. The restaurant was VERY quiet; we were the only customers (other than of 1 or 2 other couples). We talked to the guy who minded the store at the time. He told us that most people didn't seem to know that this restaurant not only run during the theater season. They were normally very busy before the play but ...well, we saw how empty it could be.

We've tried some edgy restaurants after our visit to Art Bar, so I am not sure if we will still consider their food edgy and nice. What I remember clearly is the reduction for duck breast. It was so rich and flavorful. But again, not sure if it is because I was (probably) the only person ordering that dish that evening.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

McDonald's Part 2

McDonald's in Asia has far more interesting items on the menu than in North America. For example, you can apply sprinkles/toppings to your french fries. (Not sure if it's a promo or a regular item) I tried seaweed sprinkles long time ago and it was quite nice. I've tried their curry pork chop burger. It tasted like Japanese curry pork schnitzel (or to be more precise, "tonkatsu" curry) on a bum. Fried chicken or chicken wings (McWings) are also available in two flavors, original or spicy. If you go to the website of McDonald's Hong Kong , you will see picture of McWings.

Last time I visited relatives in Taiwan, I tried their new product, rice burger. Unfortunately it was completely no match with MOS's rice burger. It was partially soggy, and the rice "bum" crumbled in a short time.

Speaking of rice burgers, I have to mention that Japanese chain, MOS Burger. If you go to their regular site, you can check out their menu. My favorite rice burger is the "Kinpira" version. From the website, "Kinpira gobo" is a Japanese dish, braised burdock. (Recipe. And picture. ) Burdock has crunchy texture. This rice burger is quite healthy and tasty. Too bad we can't have it here.

Back to McDonald's. My all-time favorite of McDonald's is their French Fries. Yes, I have read the book "Fast Food Nation", I have watched the movie "Supersize Me", and yes, I know they have "formula" to make their fries taste as if they were deep-fried in tallow. Their fries still taste good though.

McDonald's Part 1

Since we went to McDonald's for dinner on Friday, I might as well write something about McDonald's. We notice that they start to hand out the nutritional information of their products. They have been aggressively building a "healthier" image. And you think they start to offer leaner, healthier options? Think again.

Based on their nutrition table, a toasted deli sandwich normally contains 500~620 calories (except grilled veggie melt, 480 g). Their standard burgers contain 410~520 calories (except hamburger around 250 calories and Chicken McGrill, 380 calories). Sure you may argue that the new deli sandwiches are in general heavier than the standard burgers. But the sandwiches are normally consumed by units; you don't normally consume just 2/3 or 3/4 sandwiches, do you?

Having salad as the side dish is not necessarily a healthier choice than french fries either; it mainly depends on your choice of dressing. A small fries contains 220 calories while side salad w/ creamy caesar dressing can add up to 210 calories and coleslaw also contains 220 calories. I'll leave the rest of the math to you if you would like to break it down to nutrient proportion.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

All dressed down and no place to go

"Every once a while", we will go through this - not in the mood for cooking, nor going to nice/formal restaurants (all dressed up and stuff), nor having OK yet overpriced food, nor waiting in a long line, nor driving far.... that is what happened to us on Friday evening. Eventually we went through the yellowpages restaurant section.
"Should we go to xxx?" "Neh, we just went recently."
"How about yyy?" "That's in Cambridge."
"xyx?" "Food is just ok."
"How about zzz? food is good." "Don't feel like dressing up tonight."
"Steak?" "Not in the mood for that."
The time was ticking away during the discussion. Eventually we realized that it was way passed 8 PM and we were so hungry. We ended up going to...McDonald's for toasted deli sandwiches. (We got coupons a while ago, 2 can dine deli sandwich combo for $9.99).

To uplift our spirits, we wanted to have some nice desserts. so here we went again...
(Skip the discussion) We didn't get any dessert after all.

P.S. I found some funky icons on this site, These two are under the "Fools House" selection.

Angel and devil. Knight and his horse.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Zen Garden

This was originally posted to kw.eats in June 2004.
Unable to avoid the bold new signage that graces the building on King and Princess, G and I visited Zen Garden this week. Our first impression was pretty good. Upon entering, it's clear that the old Hanna's bistro has undergone a major renovation. Gone were the dark entrance and eclectic decor. They've been replaced with a peaceful, err, Zen like openness with pale green walls, natural wood tones and bamboo furniture. It appears the owners have attempted to put a bit of "design" into place place, as opposed to running it like a generic Chinese eatery that you often see elsewhere. Now while food should be the focus of any restaurant, providing a pleasing atmosphere is probably not too far down in the scale of things that attract customers -- although my view is a bit slanted right now due to all the home improvements I've been going through over the last few months.. too much HGTV... but I digress.

Being an Asian vegetarian restaurant, the immediate comparison is of course Lotus Tea House. The approaches are quite different though - Lotus has a limited selection of fairly basic dishes driven presumably by Buddhist guidelines, while Zen Garden has a much larger selection of items which are more heavily seasoned and reflect more traditional meat based dishes. Their menu sections included appetizers, combos, sushi, noodles, teas, dessert, each of which had between 5-15 items. Combos were all $12.99 for dinner ($5.99 for lunch I believe). The dinner combos all include soup, a spring roll, the entree served in a japanese bento box and dessert. There were about 15 entrees to choose from, although most of them escape my memory at the moment. The soup was a heavily seasoned seaweed miso soup, on the salty side compared to the richer vegetable broth at Lotus. The spring roll was fairly standard, although served with a slice of red pepper and carrots as a garnish - more pleasing to the eye than some brown on a stark white plate. We also had a fried fillet appetizer, which kind
of reminded me of what Captain Highliner might produce if he made a vegetarian fish stick. Some ingredients pressed together in the shape of a fish, battered and fried.

For the main course, I had the deep fried enoki mushrooms wrapped in seaweed which were quite tasty, although I believe it would be difficult to batter and fry something and not make it taste good. Included in the bento box were steamed vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower), deep fried tofu, steamed rice and soy sauce for dipping.

G had the "beef" noodles off of the noodle section of the menu. I think this was in the $6-8 range. It appears these items are the more typical single dishes you might find in a meat-based Chinese restaurant. This dish was the equivalent of beef ho fan with tofu instead of sliced beef. Nothing spectacular.

Dessert was a coffee tea jelly served with cream - a bit heavy on the coffee side for my palate which leans towards the sugary western dessert.

Service was very quick and friendly - something I was pleasantly surprised with considering the restaurant was only 1.5 weeks new. We didn't have to wait hardly anytime for orders to be taken, appetizers or the main dish.

Overall, it has a very difficult comparison with Lotus being run as a non-profit. While Zen Garden has a much better selection of dishes, the prices are quite a bit steeper. I spoke to the owner briefly, and he indicated that it was the first restaurant they've open and run. Pretty good for a first attempt.. I'd probably return once in awhile as it's very close to work and not overly pricey.

Verses Restaurant

182 Victoria St. North
Kitchener, Ontario

This was originally posted to kw.eats in December 2003.
If my memory serves me correctly, the Verses owners Debbie and Brett
previously ran Select Service Catering. They also had a previous stint at
Langdon Hall, so not a bad pedigree. I hear Langdon Hall has changed
their menu now, which corrobrates that story. Many of their staff
apparently also followed them from Langdon Hall.

The parking lot set the scene well, full of Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, and a
lonely SVT Mustang. A nice, welcoming entrance with discreet Verses
signage forshadowed the meal awaiting inside. Upon entering, we were
quickly met by the maitre d' who promptly took our jackets, and ushered us
to our table.

Now, the building itself deserves a mention. Obviously inspired by The
Church in Stratford, the dining room is the main floor of what used to be
a church, with tables located throughout the floor, pulpit area and even
in the balcony area above the entrance foyer. The decor has largely been
kept unchanged, with stained glass portaits of Jesus, Mary and crew
overlooking you as you dine. While there are no walls or dividers inside,
which creates a wonderful feeling of openness, the tables are arranged
artfully enough so that we never felt as if we were staring at another
group or participating in their conversation. Open concept privacy, if
you will.

Before I digress too widely, I don't think any restaurant review would be
quite completely without mentioning the food. I found the menu itself
adequate, but not very creative. Appetizers (~ $8-$18 - all prices from
memory so may not be accurate) included staples like fois gras, scallops,
and a few other items. They had perhaps 7-8 mains (~ $20-$36), including
a couple of fish items, rabbit confit, pork chops, lamb, a striploin. I
started with the vegetable napoleon ($10), which was a few layers of
perfectly grilled peppers, zucchini, and overly sauteed onions, surrounded
by a trio of seasoned cheese wedges. My partner had the "fois gros verses
fois gras" ($18), consisting of a delicious slab of seared fois gras (is
it ever not delicious?) and a mediocre slice of fois gras spread with some
brandy (?) jelly, a couple small slices of toast, and a dish of mango
slices. For my entree, I had the Georgian Bay Splake ($24). A
wonderfully grilled piece of fish, crisp outside and tender inside, set a
top a mound of wild rice drowned in butter and some non-descript veggies.
Recommended. My partner had the "Surf and Turf" - a few slices of nicely
cooked steak for the turf, and a bland hunk of overcooked tuna for the
surf. These were served over a warm miso flavoured vermacelli stir fry.
A failed attempt at trendy asian fusion. Definitely not worth the $36.
We finished the meal with chocolate attitude ($12) - 4 interpretations of
chocolate haphazardly thrown onto a place - a chocolate sorbet dusted with
goil foil, a chocolate brownie, chocolate pate, and chocolate mousse.
Excessively rich and overpoweringly chocolatey, but we scraped the plate
clean. This is not a dessert you want to fly solo on though. Other
desserts were $8ish, and were vaguely interesting, but not enough so that
I actually remembered what they were. Kudos for being made in house
though I'm not a wine guy, so I'll leave that to others.. bottles were
$25-$50+, or $8 by the glass. However, the waiter waved us off of the
house "Verses" label for what it's worth.

People go to restaurants for good food, but they stay away because of bad
service. Verses has nothing to fear in this department. Our assistant
server was inexperienced but made up for it in eagerness and an A+ attempt
at first class service. My water glass was refilled almost literally
after every sip - the water level kept rising, and he'd be there before
the glass hit the table. He almost looked disappointed when he noticed my
glass was full enough not to require a refill Nice touches with replacing
napkins and brushing and clearing the table promptly. Our head waiter was
on the slow side, but I wasn't sure if it was his fault or the kitchen's.
We had to wait a little longer than usual between courses, but it wasn't
excessive. It was a full house afterall.

We chatted briefly with another server and Debbie, who explained their
history and told us about their tasting menu, which they offered at the
chef's table downstairs next to the renovated kitchen. 8-10 people, $120
for 6 courses or $180 for 8, all at the chef's discretion. I'm sure it
would be a tasty adventure for the expense account.

While the food is far from perfect, and the prices higher than most
places in town, I'm sure this place will do well, as there is much room
for fine dining to be expanded in KW. Total with tax and tip was $160
for 3 courses and 2 glasses of wine. But one doesn't go to these types of
places for value do they.

Monday, September 05, 2005

King's Street Trio on University

King Street Trio on University (Closed)
65 University Ave. East
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2V9

King's Street Trio is "the" restaurant which inspired me to start my gourmet adventure. Before I "took off", it used to be the only restaurant I would go when I wanted something GOOD. It has been such a long time that I can almost say that I've been thru their ups and downs with them. On the bad days, I've had bread which might make a sound if it dropped on the ground. Or canned/cocktail fruit as the side dish of my sirloin. Or steak which seemed to be smaller than my last visit. All of the above happened before they moved to their current location (65 University E.). I find that the quality of the food/service stabilized after they moved.

Now let's talk about the reasons which kept me going back to this restaurant.
Reason #1: Live Jazz performance, especially the original King's Street Trio. (Sorry I can't recall the name of the lead) Back then, there weren't many places with decent live jazz performance.
Reason #2: Steak. Certified Angus beef. My favorite is their prime rib, which is only available on Fridays and Saturday evenings. I don't know why I have this feeling. Compare with prime ribs done by King Street Trio, the ones offered by Charcoal and Ali Baba are more "macho", bigger portion and smokier. King's Street Trio's rib, to me, can be described as a well-groomed gentleman (not necessarily in a suit but well-dressed). I like prime ribs from all those restaurants. They are just different.
Reason #3: Dessert. My favorite dessert at King's Street Trio used to be the cappuccino cheesecake. I did have some ok slices but in general it was nicely done. After they moved to University Ave., I ordered the same cake once but it was presented in a different way (it tasted different as well) so I never ordered again. Being a creme brulee/creme caramel maniac, I ordered their creme caramel quite a lot. It is nice, very refreshing and creamy.

It is hard to express how I feel about King's Street Trio in just one review. I haven't been back for a while ('cause there are so many other restaurants to try!). Even so, it is still more or less a bench mark for me when it comes to compare fine dining restaurants. I just checked their online menu. They now have lamb loin. Maybe I'll try that next time I visit.


We went there when the restaurant was first open. Once we pulled in their parking lot, we knew immediately that no one would bother to steal our car. :) That was the first time I saw so many high-end cars at once in K-W.

The restaurant is beautiful. It was renovated from an old church with high style. The elegance of the room almost made you feel you should elegantly "glide" into the room. We've been to the Church Restaurant in Stratford. Verses is smaller but also prettier.

The service is amazing. The staff was very friendly and well-trained. The sommelier was very knowledgeable and sincere. Even the "bread boy" (a young apprentice whose job is to remove the bread crumbs before the appetizer was served) tried so hard to do his job right. Although he couldn't use the scraper very well, he was very quiet and focused, slowly scraped away the crumbs. The chef was originally from Langdon Hall, so was the lady who monitored the front and the majority of their crew.

If you want to impress a lady or make her to feel like a princess, that is probably the restaurant to go. Based on the assumption that she won't be intimidated by the formality (yet cozy) atmosphere.

J wrote a detailed review on Verses after our visit, so I'll let him repost his review. Hopefully next time we go, we'll be able to find (minumim) 4 more people so we can reserve the Chef's Table (right beside the kitchen).

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Rushes Restaurant

Rushes Restaurant
475 King Street North
Waterloo, Ontario, N2J 2Z5

I've been to Rushes Restaurant twice so far. The first time was with J. The second time was with my sister Jen. I couldn't pick her up from the airport when she came to visit me from Sydney. Instead of having door-to-door service, I suggested that she could wait and take the regular Air-porter to Waterloo Inn. I would meet her there and take her to the nice contemporary restaurant. I don't remember why I ended up picking her up at the first stop (Cambridge Holiday Inn), but we still went to Rushes for dinner and we had a good time.

When I first stepped in Rushes, my eyes sparkled. For any soul who yearns for contemporary interior designs, sometimes it is nearly unbearable to live in K-W region. Don't get me wrong. There are lots of nice restaurants (food-wise, decor-wise) in town, but nothing as sleek and contemporary - the earthy neutral color palettes, frosted glass doors with stainless steel handle bars/trims, dark stained wood and multi-color glass tiles, orchids, white linen and clean-line designs. I thought I was in some trendy restaurant in Toronto.

They have some sample menu posted on their website. I remembered having their grilled asparagus salad and duck breast with orange marmalade and raspberry Merlot reduction for the first visit. I don't remember what I had as main during the second visit; only remember I had salad w/ grapefruit vinaigrette and sampled my sister's seafood pasta. I think I was quite happy w/ my choices 'cause I didn't remember complaining anything. J has slightly more negative impression of their food though. I only tried one bite of his appetizer and it had very rich, intense flavor. But J felt slightly disgusted after finishing the appetizer all by himself. He also complained that the New York steak he ordered was overcooked. I didn't order dessert for both visits, probably because their dessert selection wasn't interesting enough to make me "activate" my dessert stomach. Overall, it is a nice-looking restaurant. The service might be slow sometimes but the server was always nice to us. As a fine dining restaurant, their food is good, but not particularly good. Maybe that is why I haven't been back since.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Jamiroquai - c u @ Kool Haus!

Jamiroquai is my favorite music group. Today I went to Jamiroquai's website. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw "USA and Canada tour dates" as the latest news...they...are...coming to Toronto. Jamiroquai is going to perform @ Kool Haus! J was laughing when I got up and did some mambo jumbo dance. (More precisely speaking, just bouncing around out of control)
On their official website, it said that more detailed ticket info would be posted soon. I couldn't wait, so I Googled Kool Haus and tried to buy tickets from TicketMaster... no available yet. *sigh* I can't wait! Last time they did a gig in Toronto was July 16, 1999 @ Molson Amphitheater. I missed it; back then I wasn't a fan of theirs yet. I finally had chance to listen to their album "Traveling Without Moving" in year 2000, since then I have been addicted to their music.

Man! what a great year. I get to go to The Herbaliser's concert (June 30) and Jamiroquai's concert (Oct. 28).

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Charlie's Lunchbox

Charlie's Lunchbox
(in University Plaza, betweem Gino's pizza and Grand China. Waterloo)

Today I didn't bring my lunch (more precisely speaking, I didn't pack my lunch last night) so I decided to grab something from this newly-opened restaurant. My coworkers and I were kind of pressed of time so we decided to order something to go.

We arrived around 12: 15PM. The menus were written on two blackboards. One had items such as "Lunch Box A" "Lunch Box B", the other one had more specific description (e.g. "BBQ chicken leg"). I couldn't help but to ask, "What's in Lunch Box A?". I was told that they would start to offer lunch combos once the school term begins. O~kay. So what options do we have? The young lady was very nice, she removed the lid of every tray and showed us the items (the sincerity is very much appreciated). Today they had BBQ chicken for $4.99, grilled salmon for $5.99 and shrimp tempura for $5.99. I ordered shrimp tempura while my coworkers ordered BBQ chicken.

There was no shrimp tempura in the steam table so it was MADE TO ORDER :). We were prompted to choose "steamed vegetables" or "salad". I chose the steamed vegetables. The young lady first had a big spoonful of veggi in my container, but was soon instructed to take out half. I was a bit shocked at that time. "I knew it! I knew it! $6 for a shrimp tempura combo. maybe I'll only get a piece of greasy batter w/ bite-size rice and 2 baby carrots"...that was the first idea coming into my mind. However, she filled up that corner w/ potato wedges. Then the "assembling line" started to operate. One slice of Japanese spongy egg (the type normally appears on top of nigiri sushi), 2 deep-fried dumplings, 3 small sauteed fish balls and rice were put in my lunch box and only left one corner for the battered shrimp. My coworkers were asked if they would like to have pickled ginger or pickle. They said, "neh, it's ok". But they still got a generous does of ginger. While at the cashier, we were offered to take one free drink since it is still their promotion period.

We went back to the office and finished our lunch in the kitchen. Our lunch boxes were the CHAMPION! Everyone else was asking, "Where did you get that?" after learning that it only costs $5 or $6 (plus tax), is quite obvious where we will all go for lunch next time. :) The food was fresh and the staff was extremely friendly. I've been thru the ups and downs of Mr. Sushi (Did I mention that "Charlie's Lunchbox is run by the Charlie who started Mr. Sushi?). It was a great experience today and I hope that the quality of food and service will last.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Waterloo Busker Carnival August 24-28, 2005

Every year I always look forward to the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival and the Busker Carnival but it seems I might miss both this year. I was in Las Vegas during the Jazz Festival (July 7-10, 2005). The Busker Carnival started this Thursday but I couldn't go. I catch a cold that I even needed to call in sick :(. I was hoping that IF I felt better today, and IF the weather was nice, I would be able to go. In reality it rains a lot today, and I still cough like crazy. So I am stuck at home... stupid cold... stupid rain.

Bianco Nero

Bianco Nero (Closed)
61 Main Street
Cambridge, Ontario

We learned about this restaurant from the dining guide section on "the Record" (KW local newspaper). What caught our attention is that chef Todd Enright has been trained at "Langdon Hall, Stratford Chefs School, Michael Stadtlander and Susur Lee".

I had "pan seared foie gras with French lentil salad and kumquat-maple jus" to start, J had "some kind of fruity/vegi sorbet" (maybe tomato? I don't remember) w/ yellow bell pepper water". The foie gras was delicious and flavorful, it went so well with the fruity jus. Lentils got intense maple flavor and the texture was just right. I was expecting to taste some "kick" from kumquat rind but it feels more like tangerine; the chef had tone it down a lot. But I am sure this is within his calculation. The dish J had was extremely subtle, especially after tasting my own foie gras. However, the yellow pepper water was amazing. We just happened to see Michael Smith in "Chef at Home" making tomato water that week. It was such a pain-staking process and now we now why some people are willing to do so.

After cleaning out the appetizers, we couldn't wait to taste our mains. I had pan-fried roast duck breast with duck confit crepe (I am sure this dish has a more elegant name on the menu than my description). J had "bison served two ways". I actually asked whether or not they left the skin on before ordering that duck dish. To me, serving pan-fried duck breast without the crispy skin is a CRIME. The duck breast was thinly sliced with the skin attached. The plating was simple yet every ingredient was prepared in an impeccable form. I had a bit of the bison, it was also properly done. But I was so busy in digging in my own dish that I don't remember much about the bison.

The dessert menu is quite a show; every item seems so interesting. I had "Creme Brulee trio - vanilla, lime and lavender, and espresso" and J had "lemon tart with pine nut crust and mascarpone-honey ice cream". Both are nice but I am a creme brulee fanatic so my vote goes to creme brulee. I am glad that they didn't add too much lavender, otherwise the dessert might become too savory/herbal. It was very refreshing. I love coffee so I had a great time working through the espresso flavor. But I have to admit that the espresso is the least exciting among the three (It was still nicely done though). In my opinion, the one actually shows the true strength of the (pastry) chef is the vanilla flavor. It was flawless - creamy texture, rich vanilla flavor, a layer of thin yet solid cameralized sugar. The cream was well chilled while the sugar was lukewarm... couldn't be any more perfect than this.

Overall, I am surprised about how simple and harmonious the dishes are, considering he's been trained at Stratford Chefs School and Susur before. (I thought it would be fancy and edgy). J joked that we should definitely come back since nowadays we can rarely find any restaurant we don't have much to complain about. Well, since he puts it that way, the service is OK. And I hope next time the chef can drop by and explain his work/vision to us, not just to the blonde beauties two tables from ours. j/k

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

del Dente

del Dente
2980 King St. East
Kitchener, Ontario N2A 1A9

J and I decided to celebrate the birth of Sapphire Martini blog by revisiting del Dente. del Dente was one of the first restaurants we went to when we first started to explore restaurants in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Last time I had some pork chop with Kalua sauce...haven't been back for about two years. It is not THAT bad (it actually tasted like Mexican Mole sauce), it's just...different. Our experience there is not always positive, but their potted bread can always pull us back. Just like this time.

We shared fried calamari to start, J had manzo pizza (topping: beef, asparagus, hot peppers) and I had fussili etouggee (spicy sausage, tiger shrimp....). We shared one creme brulee to wrap up the dinner. Our "first" potted bread was as cute as we remembered but a bit plain. When I touched our second potted bread, I felt the thrill thru my finger tips. It was crusty outside but when my fingers poked through the bread, it was fluffy and steamy inside, totally goes well with the bread spreads (hummus, apple cinnamon butter and chive butter). The calamari was fresh and not overcooked. The pasta I had was del Dente. We still like pizza from Sole more but the size in del Dente is just marvelous. The creme brulee was huge, at least twice as big as those offered anywhere else in town. However, it has more "eggy" texture as opposed to creamy silky texture. Our server was very nice. She came back and asked us if we enjoyed our food for almost every dish. This is probably one of the best among our visits to del Dente.

Overall, it is a good restaurant for friends or family get-together; it offers relatively good food but it won't break your wallet.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hiro Sushi

Hiro Sushi
171 King St. East
Toronto, Ontario, M5A 1J4

This is going to be a long one. Please bear with me.

My hubby and I went to Hiro Sushi for dinner on August 13, 2005. We have heard good things about this restaurant (from friends and Toronto Life) and decided to check it out.

Before we went, we thought it would be a high-style restaurant. To my surprise, the atmosphere is actually quite "homy". Other than the chef's prep counter, what really caught my eyes is an old photo of two snuggling bunnies (the picture is so HUGE that the bunnies in the picture are at least ten times larger than their actual sizes). And the chef is probably a big fan of Marilyn Monroe; there are several posters of hers on the way to the washrooms downstairs. Some customers were in casual attire; they sat at the sushi bar and chatted with the sushi chef.

We were warned about the potential communication difficulty (with the staff) and the food portion. There is absolute no problem for us in terms of their food portion; we've seen worse. The REAL CHALLENGE is to order our food. Don't get me wrong, their staff is nice, definitely no "attitude". I just feel deeply regretted that all the money I spent on my Japanese classes was down in the drain; I wish I could order in Japanese.

We were guided to the Sushi bar. After we sat down, the waitress gave us the drink menu. There are about 6 sake items on the menu, including the usual Gekkeikan or Hakutsuru brands. I ordered a bottle of "Okunomatsu Ginjo" (200 mL bottle, $14) since LCBO doesn't seem to carry it.

Since we made up our mind to try the Chef's special (Omakase), we didn't spend much time reading the menu. After we placed our order, (here comes the fun part) a cook walked out from the kitchen asking us "what kind of omakase" we had in mind. Huh? Isn't that Chef's choice? After his explanation, we realized that we could choose to have the sushi-only omakase or the full combo, which includes appetizers and soup prepared in the kitchen. They are normally served before the sushi course. J ordered the full combo and I chose the sushi-only omakase.

Then he brought up the next question but we didn't quite catch it. something about "at the same time". I thought he was asking us if our meals should be served at the same time since the full combo would start with the appetizers and the soup. So I replied, "Yes, please." 'cause I didn't want to sit there and watch J eat. After he left, J asked me, "What was his question?" "Eh...see if we want to start at the same time?" My jaw almost dropped when the assistant placed the plate full of sushi in front of me within the first 15 minutes after we entered the restaurant.
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH~~ Is that all I'll have for the night? I was hoping that, by ordering omakase, I would have chance to get one or two pieces at once from the chef and let him gauge our eating. So we could have super-fresh sushi in every bite. But in reality I was facing a tough choice: should I eat fast and enjoy the freshness but see that $40 gone within one blink? or should I savor it but the freshness of the remaining pieces will decrease with time? The situation I was in pretty much explains the fact that...I completely misunderstood his question.

Despite this incident, the food is actually amazingly good. The sake came with a beautiful sake decanter. I remember I saw it in "Made to Order" (TV program) once. Not sure if I can get it from J-town but I should be able to order it online. The sake was well-chilled and had such fruity aroma, hard to believe that sake is actually made of rice.

The first appetizer was served on top of a big chunk of ice lined with one shiso leaf. The octopus along with other ingredients were thinly sliced and piled on that "platform". There is nothing fancy about their plating. But serving food on a big chunk of ice (about 2.5" in diameter, 1.5" tall) in the middle of the summer makes me feel that they sincerely want you to feel cool and comfortable and enjoy their food.

The second appetizer was made of some fish liver (monkfish?). I saw similar dish on Iron Chef before. It is considered a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. Let's call it "the Japanese' fois gras". There is nothing fancy about the dish but the flavoring was just so right.

The soup course had one salmon fish ball floating in the clear broth (or water, we couldn't taste anything from it). The texture of the fish ball was nice. There was such gentle yet complex taste in the fish ball; it slowly released in your mouth. You could easily miss it if you just scoop the ball in your mouth and swallow it.

There is another reason that I slightly panic when I saw all the pieces were on one plate - Where should I start? I used to be a fan of "Shota no Sushi" (Japanese manga/anime series) and I learned a lot from it. The sequence of eating your sushi is a BIG DEAL. If you happen to have something with richer flavor before a light piece, you won't appreciate the latter as much as consuming them in a proper order. Some chefs might even take it personal because they spend so much effort "plotting the drama" (from getting the freshest ingredients to designing an impeccable sequence to present their work) and you DARE to ruin it. If my memory serves me right, I should start from the upper left corner. But why was salmon the first piece? isn't it supposed to be considered very rich? I soon shook those ideas out of my head. They are probably very used to "foreigners" who don't know how to eat sushi. I might as well chill and be myself.

Most of the pieces were nigiri (hand-held sushi) except 6 pieces of California roll maki made by the assistant. Each piece was so picturesque, as if straight from Sushi Chef School text books. Ok, I made it up. But judging by naked eyes, fish slice is about 1/4" thick, 7/8"x 3" (roughly T0.5cm x W2.2cm x L7.6cm) and the rice underneath is about 3/4" tall 5/8"x1.5" (roughly H2cm x W1.6cm x L4cm).

Chef Yoshida's approach is very traditional, but he does things PROPERLY. There was no stand-alone wasabi paste on the sushi plate and soy-sauce was the only condiment available on the table. I am sure you can ask for more wasabi but this shows how confident the chef is about the freshness of the ingredients. When I first put the sushi in my mouth, I could taste slight saltiness from the fish. Then I could clearly feel that the fish being torn and surrounded by the rice, the aroma became more intense then all of sudden, the fish just "melted away". There is only one word to describe it: heavenly! And the chef was able to cast the same spell again and again until I cleaned my plate.

I strongly believe that many people who don't like raw fish sushi is because they haven't tried a GOOD one yet. Good sushi should not taste "fishy", not to mention other unpleasant characteristics such as slimy and soggy. Based on this dining experience, Hiro Sushi is quite conservative. No fusion or new ingredient combinations. But it keeps the fundamentals of a good sushi restaurant: great ingredients, solid techniques and the respect of a chef's professionalism. If there is a chance, I'll definitely go back.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Why is this blog called "Sapphire Martini"?

It didn't take me long to come out w/ my nickname - I like to have "Martini" made of Bombay "Sapphire". That's right! This blog is all about food. (Maybe a bit of everything else...depending on my mood.)

At first I was really reluctant to start this. Come on! Who wants to read a restaurant review in which the critic can only use words like "this chicken thingy", or "a chocolate and raspberry square in berry juice" (note: the correct description should be "chocolate raspberry terrine, raspberry coulis")?

On the other hand, food has been such an important element in my life. Back when I was a poor full-time student, I could save up every penny in order to spend on CDs and GOOD meals. The expense proportion hasn't changed much even after I started working. Prior to each trip, I'll get so excited at...doing restaurant search. When I stay home doing nothing, I like to watch Food Network programs, collect recipes or read restaurant reviews on the internet and drool in front of my monitor. There is no doubt about my passion in food.

So... why not? Great dining experience is just pure sensational. I'll just express how I FEEL about the food/restaurants and leave all the analysis, precise terminology and proper references to the pros.