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.