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.