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.