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.