Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rundles Restaurant

Rundles Restaurant
9 Cobourg St.
Stratford, Ontario N5A 3E4

This is another review which seemed to take forever to complete. The menu we had was way back in the summer/fall season so for sure the menu has changed now. In fact, the restaurant might not even open at this time; many restaurants in Stratford are closed between December and March.

One thing holding me back from completing the review, other than my pure laziness, was the "overall" experience. Don't get me wrong, we did NOT experience anything unpleasant. The food was fantastic. The wait staff seemed a little nervous and unpolished but it's still better than bad attitude. I can't explain why I feel so. Maybe the answer will eventually surface.

When we made the reservation, we were told (by the answering machine) to leave our info then they would call back to confirm our reservation. Interesting. How are they going to "confirm" our reservation if there's no table available? Being "old-fashioned" people like us (who prefer to talk to a real person than an answering machine), we called few times during 8pm and 11pm and eventually left a message and got response the next day around 10am. We assume this is arranged so their dining service won't be compromised during their operation hours.

The restaurant, along with the house, has been featured in various interior design and gourmet media publications. The frontage of the building is very narrow. There was a small, not very well-groomed English garden at the front entrance. Normally you would expect a sleek contemporary garden to go with such modern design. But the garden might be the owner's way of saying, "I'm on vacation, just make yourself comfortable."

We were somehow disappointed with menu offering (smaller selection due to Sunday). The menu was identical to what was posted on their website, and they were out of skate wing. The food, however, was the highlight of the night.

We had a cocktail called Tampico and sparkling water throughout the meal. From its description on the menu, Tampico is a long drink consisting of campari, cointreau, tonic and splash of lemon juice.

Amuse bouche: pea mint sorbet
The amuse bouche was served on a spoon. Great balance. Pea puree/sorbet was delicate, with just right amount of mint and citrus juice to wake up your palate. It was divine. In comparison, the bread was fresh and good but not as memorable.

Appetizer #1: ROASTED GOLDEN and RED BEETROOT and fresh sheep’s milk cheese, with walnut and sherry vinaigrette.
Appetizer #2: SMOKED RAINBOW TROUT with green apples, guacamole, Peruvian pepper vinaigrette, and tomatillo gazpacho.
Both items utilized the ring mold extensively. Smoked trout was smokier than I expected (in a good way) but the combination of tomatillo and guacamole was a bit overpowering. The contrast created great impact in the first few bites but the whole dish wasn't that interesting afterwards. On the other hand, the beet appetizer was a superb dish. Fine cubes of color were packed by the ring mold, like a jewelry box covered with semi-precious stones. Each vegetable cube retained its unique flavor yet they all harmonize as a whole. Every bite was like a treasure hunt for taste buds. Vegetables rarely taste THAT good. Naturally we both wanted to have more of the beet appetizer; however, J was the one ordering it originally, leaving me no choice but to peck at the smoked trout appetizer.

Main #1: GRILLED SIRLOIN and BRAISED BREAST OF LAMB with roasted red onions and black trumpet mushroom sauce.
The sirloin was tasty and exceptionally moist. The braised lamb didn't taste "lamby" but it tasted good and straightforward. The potato puree was the smoothest we've ever had. At the end it just blended into the jus.

Main #2: CRISP, SUCCULENT CONFIT OF DUCK with garlic sausage, and a cassolette of seasonal vegetables.
I found the garlic duck sausage was a bit strong and out of place. It tasted nice by itself but there was no coherence between the duck confit and the sausage. The coherence issue didn't stop me from loving the dish - it was the best duck confit I have ever had. The skin was crispy and the meat was absolutely tender and moist; clearly it was done over a long period of time. No rush in the process. This is how duck confit should be like. Period.

Dessert #1: CANADIAN, UNPASTEURIZED MILK CHEESES with walnut and raisin bread
Dessert #2: GLAZED LEMON TART and orange sorbet
I really enjoyed the variety of cheese. With walnut and raisin bread, it really tasted like a dessert. J also enjoyed his lemon tart.

J and I discussed about this restaurant. One word we could come up is "Eclectic", to the extent that the restaurant might suffer identity crisis. The menu is somehow limited and it doesn’t seem to be updated frequently; however, the food is fantastic. The wait staff will fluff the down seat cushions if we leave the seat during the meal but they seemed inexperienced in handling plates and responding to customers. The service wasn’t the formal type but the staff wasn’t as welcoming as you would expect from a bistro. The restaurant enjoys lots of media buzz over the years but its wait staff isn’t snub or polished, although people around us did look well-cultured with big disposable income. As we are confused by the personalities of this restaurant, we inevitably discuss "how much are we willing to spend dining at a restaurant like Rundles”. There's never a definite answer on this question but in this case it is extraordinarily difficult.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Keg Steakhouse & Bar

The Keg Steakhouse & Bar
42 Northfield Dr. East
Waterloo, Ontario

We've been to the Keg several times, with friends or by ourselves. There's nothing really "wow" us but we haven't had any unpleasant experience either. Few days ago we were out running errands. It was very late by the time we were done. I complained to J that I was so HUNGRY that I could eat a cow. So…the Keg it is.

The decor of the Keg seems to be a result of careful calculations aiming at pleasing the majority; it is rich, simple, conservative but not too traditional. Take their Christmas tree as an example. The theme of their Christmas tree is gold and ivory, full of gold metallic ribbon, gold and (ivory) feather ornaments, and lighted with ambient lights. It is so lush yet "quiet".

In fact, the menu also seems to be designed to appeal everyone. Fundamentally it is a typical steakhouse menu. For example, their signature prime rib is served with garlic mashed potatoes and horseradish. But there are also items seasoned with teriyaki or ginger sauce just to add a bit of Asian flare.

We started with calamari. For mains I had prime rib and J had crab meat w sirloin, a variation of surf and turf.

- Sweet hot calamari (sweet and spicy ginger garlic sauce)
- Prime rib, garlic mashed, horseradish and red wine herb au jus
- Crab meat sirloin: asparagus spears and crab meat on a sirloin ladled with a creamy three mushroom sauce (2.00 donated to a kids charity with every surf and turf combo)

The calamari is ok. The ginger garlic sauce is on the sweet side, lots of teriyaki in it. They need to rework on the formula of the sauce. To be honest, we would probably enjoy it more with conventional tartar sauce. But we acknowledge their effort on trying something different.

I asked to have my prime rib medium rare and they got it right! I suppose if you dare to list description of each degree of doneness, you really have to get it right. The horseradish was surprisingly intense, moderate consumption is recommended. We were impressed by the amount of crab meat we got for the dish crab meat sirloin but that is about it; we both agree that they did a better job on preparing the sirloin than the beef.

If you want to find a place for friends-gathering or a family reunion and you want to kick it up a notch, the Keg will probably be the choice which keeps everyone happy (except the vegetarian and vegan population. After all, it's a steakhouse.).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Janet Lynn's Bistro

Janet Lynn's Bistro
92 King St. South
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 1P5

Back when I was a student at UW, Janet Lynn's was often quoted to me as Waterloo's top restaurant, both in terms of price and quality. It was a place where I heard you could blow hundreds of dollars on a single meal. That seemed like a ridiculous amount of money to spend on food to me and a decadent waste. So during my last work term, I was asked where I wanted to go for an end of term lunch, I jokingly suggested Janet Lynn's and was a bit surprised when my boss agreed and had already booked us a table there. I deserved this?

I remember my first experience there, struggling with the dinner plate sized flat bread propped up vertically between a few pieces of foccacia. Was I supposed to put it down on its side? Butter or not? Was it even possible to gracefully break off an appropriately sized portion without it shattering? To this day it still confounds me and probably gives the wait staff nightmares.

Bread mechanics aside, Janet Lynn's has maintained it's reputation as one of Waterloo's top restaurants over the years. However, many other places in the region have either opened up or moved up in both price and quality so it's no longer in the rarified air that I remembered it as a student. G and I have had the occasion to dine there a few times since my first visit, each one marked by consistent professional service, high quality ingredients and preparation. The menu is by no means innovative, but lends a certain familiar feeling that probably draws back their many regular customers. The best description I can give it is fine dining comfort food. The list of mains would be at home in any upscale bistro and includes pork tenderloin, sirloin, BBQ corn fed chicken, Black Angus beef, rack of lamb, duck two ways, and lobster. Of course with a more gourmet flair in the description of each item. Even the starters are fairly generic, consisting of lobster bisque, quail salad, calamari, hot and sour soup, smoked salmon, and of course fois gras.

Our most recent visit, we started with the grilled jumbo quail with sweet corn salsa, tomatoes and pine nut salad. The quail was fine, if not a little difficult to get at all the meat. The salad was a little too sharp in contrast between the corn and tomato, but the pine nuts were a nice touch to add some textural interest.

For my main dish I had one of the specials, Thai marinated ribs with asian pasta and julienned vegetables. As expected, everything was cooked perfectly - the ribs were meaty, moist and tender. The Asian pasta was a little heavy on the vinegary dressing which made it a bit of a struggle to make it through the generous portions. G had the roasted garlic and fennel seeds marinated rack of lamb with herb tomato vinaigrette gnocchi. Rack of lamb is G's litmus test of a decent restaurant, as we know from first hand experience that it can be difficult to tone back the harsh lamb taste while finding some interesting flavours which do not include rosemary or mint. Janet Lynn's passed with flying colours here - no complaints. The gnocchi was also very good, making us appreciate proper cooking techniques with this item. The portion size was very generous with 7 ribs arranged in a little tepee over the gnocchi. A real bargain compared to the 3-4 ribs you'd normally be served. We skipped dessert since there was nothing that caught our eye amongst the cheesecake, creme brulee and cakes.

What I've come to appreciate most from Janet Lynn's is the professional level of service. For business lunches, they are prompt and unobtrusive. For dinners the servers have always been able to find the appropriate level of engagement, whether you're on a casual dinner or an eye-gazing romantic affair. I'll never forget one of our first dates when we were seated at a corner table. We were obviously out together for the evening, and when it came time for dessert we ordered two separate ones. The kitchen sent it out on a single plate together with a couple of heart shaped cookies. It was at that time we knew we were in love.

Total cost for the most recent dinner was $104 including tax and tip, but without wine or dessert.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Peter Martin's 20 King

Peter Martin's 20 King
45 King St. West
Kitchener, Ontario

We visited 20 King several times, even before they moved to the current location. I refused to go back after one visit few months ago. One of us ordered Chef's special, the first two courses came with identical garnishes. I understand how hectic it could be in the kitchen but HE~~~LLO! It is chef's special. What kind of creativity does it show in those dishes?

To make the long story short, we visited 20 King again. The menu is standard yet extensive...striploin, lamb, red deer shortloin, osso bucco, duck, capon, salmon...pretty much things you expect from a decent high-end restaurant. Speaking of the word "high-end", the price tag on food is quite steep in K-W standard; the price for a main dish ranges from $26 to $39. the lunch and dinner menus seem to be updated every season. You can always check out their website for the current versions of the menus.

I had a sourtini and we shared St Pellegrino throughout the dinner. We shared the Almond Shrimp as appetizer. For main courses, J had Red Deer Shortloin and I had Duck Two Ways.

Sourtini - pomegranate liqueur, watermelon liqueur, raspberry sour, shaken.
Almond Shrimp - black tiger tempura coated with slivered almonds, served with edamame hummus and lemon vinaigrette.
Red Deer Shortloin – served with creamy risotto, honey-preserved chanterelles, jus.
Duck two ways - confit leg, smoked breast, braised Napa cabbage, Yukon gold mashed and blackberry jus.

The cocktail wasn't the most exciting drink in the world; I expected the refreshing, pungent flavor from pomegranate liqueur and raspberry sour but the drink was just plain sweet. I guess it is meant to be a (typical) girly drink.

The almond shrimp was very sophisticated. The fluffy tempura batter, the crunchy slivered almonds and the juicy shrimp reminded me why we visited this restaurant several times. (After all, I only criticized the garnish and creativity, not the food itself.) The shrimp was served with edamame hummus and lemon vinaigrette, a relatively safe/conservative choice. I don't remember much about the deer shortloin, at least nothing I disliked. As for the duck two ways, it was another classic combination – duck with fruity jus. The smoked breast was thinly sliced while the leg was served whole. Both were tasty. I think the smoked duck breast with greens will also make very good duck salad.

The service was on the slow side. But it was clearly due to lack of manpower (both at the front and in the kitchen). We got a bottle of sparking water on the house because we waited a long time for the main courses. Note: we got the free bottle of sparking water not because we complained or anything; we just looked around and wondered where our food was. In terms of service, it was a nice touch.

It is hard for me to describe the unique characters of 20 King. It is not traditional nor conservative; however, it is not exactly innovative or French-Asian fusion either. The most appropriate word I can think of is "classy", the food is quite sought-after – rich, polished and somehow predictable. It won't really wow you but the menu can stay for few years without being outdated. With the limited resources (based on what we observed that day), that is quite an accomplishment. I am still having slight issue with the garnish though…does it really require THAT much water cress (as garnish) in certain dishes?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Another journey....

We decide to go to Europe and use up all our vacation days this year. To us, as usual, "to-eat" list is just equally important as the "to-visit" list. After doing lots of reading (the official sites, menus, forums and reviews), all of sudden, the fine dining places in this area don't seem THAT expensive any more. We'll see if this becomes an incentive for us to dine out more after the trip.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Langdon Hall

Langdon Hall
1 Langdon Drive
Cambridge, Ontario N3H 4R8

Langdon Hall is a special restaurant in our memories; we went to this restaurant the day J proposed to me. There have been different chefs since then (e.g. Chef Shantz left Langdon Hall and opened his own restaurant, Verses). the current chef Jonathan Gushue started in November 2005, he previously worked at Truffles (at the Four Seasons Toronto). After checking out the sample menus posted on their website, we decided to revisit the restaurant.

Many people will probably be impressed by the grandness of Longdon Hall especially if that is the first time they see the building. It is not about the size of the building, but the soaring white columns with red bricks, dark front door and a formal yet casual, immaculate landscape. The staff is all polite and soft-spoken, the maitre'd has a sense of drama and our waiter has French accent. He seemed a bit distant, hopefully not because we didn't order any wine to start (After thinking about the case of wine sitting in our basement, we really couldn't bring ourselves to order more wine).

We ordered San Pellegrino to share, I had Campari and tonic. The amuse bouche was breaded goat cheese with tomato cumin puree, pine nuts arugula puree. This little chef's treat immediately won my heart. Goat cheese is never my thing. I had breaded chevre cheese somewhere else, it was...I'd rather not think about. Not that amuse bouche. The goat cheese wasn't overly strong, and each type of puree/dressing was very distinct. It definitely served its purpose (as a means to wake up the taste buds).

For appetizers, I had Digby scallop and champagne vichyssoise with Granny smith apple poached scallop hudson bay caviar. We don't normally see restaurants specifically label the origins of their supplies on the menu, but that is definitely a beautiful dish to show case Canadian ingredients. I just wish I had a video camera with me at that time so I could capture how this dish was served. The scallop was thinly sliced and placed in the centre of the plate. Apples were cubed in the size of (roughly) 0.5 cm x 0.5 cm x 0.5 cm and evenly scattered on the plate, along with the caviar. When the vichyssoise (which btw, is a fancy way of saying "chilled potato and leek soup") was slowly poured in the plate from a pitcher, the green apple bits and charcoal caviar started to float in the milky white liquid. It was aesthetically stunning! The taste was just equally pleasant. The scallop was very tender and fresh (in fact, I think it was raw), the subtle yet delicate champagne flavor lightened the body. Occasionally I "caught" a fish egg which generated instant burst of saltiness and richness. Without the apples, the soup might be too rich to finish. J had Dungeness crab tortellini with sweat pea sauce sherry dupuy lentils shellfish vinaigrette. It was delicious but not as interesting as the vichyssoise.

J had fennel crusted Provimi veal tenderloin with ruby beet and truffle puree, sweet pea ravioli, pistachio jus as main. At first we were slightly concerned that the fennel might overpower the veal but it turned out pretty well. In fact, fennel and truffle actually make good combination. Veal was tender as it "should" (after the appetizers, the expectation was high : p). I had Eversprings farm muscovy duck breast hazelnut crust confit leg with Girolle mushrooms (Chanterelle?) and tomato ragout, citrus jus. Another dish well-done! The duck was moist, skin was crispy. The vegetables and citric flavor counterbalanced the rich, savory duck, making it a nice summer dish. We didn't have dessert. There wasn't anything we particularly wanted to try. (Also we had desserts we made the day before still being chilled in our fridge.) Overall, it was a great experience.

Langdon Hall is well-known as a SPA resort. In terms of dining experience, it is a hidden gem in the tri-city area. The evening we went there, our car was the only one from this area (judging by the license plates, many guests were either from great Toronto area or from the States). We will try their Sunday brunch or afternoon tea some other time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Nice Meeting You Restaurant

Nice Meeting You
1177 Central Parkway West
Mississauga, Ontario L5C 4P3

We went to Cameron for dim sum over the weekend. Despite the fact that we showed up around two o'clock, we still waited for good 30 min before being seated. Feeling slightly frustrated by the limited dim sum choices in town, I decide to share a (recent) pleasant experience. The restaurant is in Mississauga though.

In "Nice Meeting You" (yup, that is the name of the restaurant), the staff pushes carts among tables. It is great in a way that when you see something you like, you just grab and consume it in no time. The down side is you have no control over what options you are offered. But hey...that is part of the fun. You pay lots of attentions to your "surroundings" while carrying on conversation with friends. Your head turns like a weather vane and your eyes are sharp like eagles'. Once you spot a cart which carries items you want, you anxiously wait and hope that there will still be some left by the time the cart arrives.

The process, as mentioned above, might sometimes be disappointing (that is, the waitress turns around before reaching your table because the cart is empty), we still sampled pretty much everything we really wanted. There are standard items such as siu mai (steamed meat dumplings) and other types of dumplings and buns. There are also items not available in the few dim sum places in K-W areas, bite-size custard tart as one example (Two choices: regular or creamy). On top of all those, they also serve congee, fried rice and noodles (in small plates) but we were too full to try any of them. Overall, it was a pleasant meal. And it cost only about 2/3 of having similar items in town. I definitely don't mind revisiting this restaurant.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ye's Sushi Japanese Restaurant

Ye's Sushi
103 King St. West
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 1A9

A friend told us that there was a new all-you-can-eat sushi place in downtown Kitchener, so we decided to check it out. We didn't go with high expectations, after all, what quality should you expect from an all-you-can-eat place? It turned out to be a decent restaurant; a great place to go with a bunch of friends (especially if they are thrilled by the "all you can eat" idea).

Dinner is $19.99 per person. Other than the limitation on expensive sashimi (2 pieces of tuna and scallops per person), you can order literally anything commonly seen in a Japanese restaurant. Selection ranges from appetizers, sushi to desserts. Pops are also included in the $19.99 flat fee, additional cost will apply if you order other drinks such as orange juice. They also offer lunch for $12.99 with a slightly smaller selection. By the way, make sure you only order what you can finish. You'll get charged (punished?) if anything is left, e.g. $1 for each piece of sushi left on the plate. The ordering process is quite straight-forward - you write down the item number and quantity (e.g. "65 x 1" for 1 serving of item #65), the waitress will gather the lists and deliver items once they are made.

We started with edamame (Japanese beans), sea scallop tempura, age-dashi-dofu (deep-fried tofu), house salad, smoked salmon rice pizza (deep-fried rice cake topped with smoked salmon and spicy mayonnaise). As for sashimi, we ordered tuna and scallops. Some items are ok, some are pretty good even compared with regular Japanese restaurants. The quality of sashimi is ok but it is NOT reasonable to demand top-notch grade of sashimi from an all-you-can-eat place. Regardless, the sashimi was fresh. If the sashimi we had represents the Ye's restaurant's "norm" then they have already surpassed many Japanese restaurants in town.

Then the crazy sushi sampling began. I couldn't recall all the items we had but I'll try my best:

  • Spicy salmon crispy maki, spicy salmon sushi: we first ordered spicy salmon sushi. the salmon was fresh and the spicy mayonnaise did have a kick in it. With the good impression, we ordered spicy salmon crispy maki afterwards. The crispy bits are interesting, I can't quite figure out what they are, maybe from chopped deep-fried chinese dough fritters?
  • Mango and cucumber hand roll/maki: It is uncommon to have mango in sushi. I think it tasted alright, thought one friend complained that the mango wasn't ripe enough.
  • Red snapper sushi: probably the most disappointing item throughout the whole meal
  • White tuna sushi: second most disappointing item
  • BBQ eel sushi: It was on the dry, plain side; probably prepared from a frozen BBQ eel package.
  • Salmon roe sushi (Ikura): Whenever I have sushi, I like to order salmon roe (if available). It tasted about right. And I am glad that they didn't put a limit on this item.
  • Flying fish roe sushi: a friend ordered it. No complaint afterward so probably ok.
  • Black dragon roll: it consists of avocado, BBQ eel, shrimp tempura, etc. The shrimp tempura was a bit soggy but it was still quite tasty.
  • Maple roll: flying fish eggs, squid in a roll. Not as impressive as the Black dragon roll.
  • Spider roll: avocado, soft-shell crab, the usual ingredients for a spider roll. About as tasty as the Black dragon roll.

To wrap up the dinner, we had mango, green tea and red bean ice cream. The green tea ice cream was no match with what we had in Uji (the city in Japan, famous of its green tea) but just as good as the ones we'll get charged $2-3 per serving in a North American Japanese restaurant. Not a bad way to end a meal especially since it's already included in the flat fee.

Overall, I'll say the food is better than some Japanese restaurants in town, maybe equivalent, say, the California Roll & Crazy Sushi on Bloor St. in Toronto. If you attempt to "maximize" your money worth of value by ordering lots of sushi (the type w/ a piece of fish on top of rice), you might have to swallow lots of "not-so-good" sushi. However, if you know what you might be getting (the limitation of their budget on materials) and order "appropriate" items, it can be quite enjoyable. After all, we did enjoy the spider roll and dragon roll a lot. We will definitely revisit this restaurant, with friends.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Uptown Waterloo Cheap Lunch Roundup (II)

A few new spots have opened since my last posting in February, mostly due to the Waterloo Town Square reconstruction. Hopefully a few more places will come along when the KPMG building opens, including a new LCBO (although not exactly a lunch spot per se).

Gourmet Pizza (Waterloo Town Square)

A decent pizza place, similar to Fratello. Eat in, take out. Just putting the word gourmet in the name and installing a faux brick oven (actually gas fired) doesn't make it gourmet though. Some toppings that may not be on the average pizza joint's item list but nothing terribly exotic. Slices are a decent deal for lunch, but full pizzas are much more expensive than Fratello - even after the buy one get one for $5 deal)

All About Crepes (Waterloo Town Square)

Wow. At least the waitress was friendly. Terrible value - $7-$10 for a tiny crepe. Lunch and dinner offerings were the same - crepes filled with spaghetti sauce, canned tuna, mushrooms, or plain spinach and cheese (note those aren't exactly the menu descriptions, but what I felt was served). That plus a half-hearted attempt at plating (a huge glop of sour cream topped with a single blueberry and dill) does not make for a very filling meal. Dessert crepes were a more reasonable $4-$5 but we weren't going to throw good money after bad. The place was completely full but I suspect it will thin out considerably unless the menu or the prices change.

Thai Sun (Waterloo Town Square)

Now open! See the full review.

Uptown Cafe (Marsland Centre)

A cafe that replaced the uninspired coffee shop in the basement of the Marsland Centre. A surprisingly good option for lunch - fantastic value especially for those working in the building. Daily specials include hot sandwiches and wraps with a side of pasta, chips or veggies for less than $5. The sandwiches often contain real meat - not just your normal deli slices. Burgers and hotdogs for $3 and $2 respectively. Service is very slow during the lunch rush so be warned.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Kristoria (Closed)
104 Surrey St. East
Guelph, Ontario

We visited Kristoria (French Fine Dining) quite a few months ago but were never inspired enough about it to write up the review. Not that it wasn't any good - it was - but just that it lacked anything that stood out, good or bad. So after procrastinating over this like that Masters thesis that never gets finished because there's no real deadline except for that nagging feeling hanging over your head for months, here it is.

Located in the heart of downtown Guelph, this restaurant occupies a tiny renovated old house. The walls are painted a deep, trendy red that matches the iterminably slow website, offset by dark woods and crispy white linens. The place was quite small and held 10 tables, tops. The place wasn't full but we did manage to overhear most conversations without too much difficulty.
I vaguely remembered reading that a tasting menu was available, so after perusing the a la carte menu and not finding anything that jumped out at us, we ventured to ask for a tasting. After the dishes started coming out, we started to realize that this wasn't of those tasting menus that the chef makes up on the spot daily, but it was just items off the menu that the chef chose for us. Oh. Well, not a terrible thing since we ended up getting more courses then we would have normally for a cheaper price, but someowhat disappointing since it lacked the creativity I always hope for from a tasting menu.

Overall the food was very good in a very traditional french preparation and the presentation. There was no pretense of 'fusion' or trying to venture into the new frontiers of fine dining. The style was classic french cuisine, as suggested by the restaurant's subtitle. Service was friendly and the wait staff seemed very genuine, if a little bit unpolished. Understandable seeing as the place had only been open for a few months.

Note this was awhile ago so I present to you our tasting menu without much comment. Also, much of the menu has been changed (as with any decent place).

First course - Thrice braised pressed pork belly with honey, star anise, and a korean pear salad.
Can't be disappointed with braised pork belly, unless they try somehow to make it healthy or something, which they didn't.

Second course - Lobster bisque with truffle foam (tiny little serving but still delicious) and lobster profiteroles and vanilla aioli (not the best combination, plus the lobster was overpowered by the rest of the dish).

Main course - Organic roasted guniea fowl with star anise and fig sauce. Side of carrots and asparagus wrapped in proscuitto. Great winter dish - rich, warm and hearty.

Cheese course - Chevre goat cheese with capers, berries and truffle oil. G doesn't like goat cheese so they happily brought out an alternative which was a nice touch.

Dessert - Tahatian vanilla bean creme brulee - classic, very rich vanilla flavour but overly sweet.

Finally, the bill came with two small scoops of chocolate sorbet. After the huge meal we were too stuffed to appreciate it, plus it was a little too sweet for a sorbet. Including a glass of wine, the total with tax and tip came to $140. A bargain for the amount of great food we ate. We'd probably return more often if it wasn't so far away from Waterloo.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sole Restaurant and Wine Bar

83 Erb St. West
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 6C2

If you want to go to a restaurant which provides relatively good food yet with casual atmosphere, try Sole. In the tri-city area there are several restaurants which fit in those criteria, but try Sole if you haven't.

Sole has been around for a while; the first time I visited this restaurant was back in year 2000. Some menu items come and go (e.g. Espresso-crusted rack of lamb) but nothing drastic. In "the early days", when I tried to convince friends to go to Sole instead of East Side Mario's, my reasoning was that we could get much better food by spending just a little bit more. I am not sure if I can still say it today; it is about $10-15 for an appetizer, $6 for soup, around $10 for single serving of pizza, $15-20 for pasta and $20-45 for main dishes.

The best deal you can get, other than free bread and olive oil dip, is probably their pizza. It’s around $10 for an 8” pizza. You can also get a custom-made one by selecting your own toppings. Occasionally we’ll see pizza dough flying and spinning in the air, which leads me to believe that their pizza is freshly made. My favorite is Sole Pizza – wild mushrooms, prosciutto, parmesan, mozzarella, garlic and oregano.

Some of the appetizers are quite divine. The calamari is nicely fried and seasoned, surrounded by abundant greens. Any greasiness from the deep-fry cooking is washed away by the fruity aioli. With a glass of white or a blonde beer, great for a lazy summer afternoon. I always remember the first time I had the tomato and cheese salad at Sole. Sliced tomatoes and mozzarella were placed alternately on the plate with few basil leaves, drizzled w/ extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It was so simple, yet so delicious. Funny I never ordered it again; maybe just not sure if I will still feel the same way.

During our recent visit to Sole, I had "Cam-tini" to start, Lobster bisque blue crab dumplings brandy cream and the feature pasta – linguini pasta oregano cream sauce with sautéed tuna, baby clams, olives, arugula and tomatoes. J had spinach salad with walnuts, cantaloupe and goat cheese as appetizer and osso bucco (in truffle infused mushroom consomme, gnocchi).
The “Cam-tini” contains Campari, Skyy vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and splash of lemon juice. In my dictionary, Campari martini should be ONLY fully-chilled Campari and vodka served with ice in a frosted glass (martini or collins), maybe just a wee bit of club soda (or sparking water) for the fizz. But I must say Sole’s version is nice too.

I wasn’t loving the bisque I ordered; it was on the watery side. Also, the crab dumpling was cold. The pasta was on the salty side but nice. We are so used to tuna raw to medium-rare; we found it quite interesting that the stir-fried tuna can taste very meaty (its texture is almost like beef). By the way, if you can’t make up your mind on what to order at Sole, it’s always a safe bet to order pasta or pizza. I only sampled the candied walnuts from J’s salad; I still can’t take goat cheese. The meat in osso bucco was tender and the consommé had very distinct truffle flavor (even there was no sight of shaved truffle). We would probably enjoy it more in the winter time.

As a dessert fanatic, I have tried many desserts at Sole – tartufo, cheesecake in various flavors, tira misu and crème brulee. It is always nice to have a cappuccino and dessert to wrap up the meal. I stop ordering crème brulee after they burned my crème brulee…twice; the sugar in the center was black-brown (the color is quite far from “caramel”). It still tastes good but some people might not enjoy it.

Overall, food at Sole is good. It’s been around for several years and we rarely run into mediocre dishes. The service might be slow at times but they are at least friendly. It is probably the consistent quality (in food and service) which keeps us going back.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Hannah's Bella Bistro

Hannah's Bella Bistro (Closed)
4 King St. North
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 1W7

We went to the old Hannah's long time ago. All I remember is that the scallops were done properly – a thin caramelized crust outside and juicy tender inside. But for some reason the experience wasn't good enough to keep us going back. With their new location and new menu, we decide to give it a try.

For appetizers, J had Brazilian beer shrimp and I ordered Calamari caliente. The tiger shrimp was swimming in clear beer broth. The flavor of the shrimp and the broth was subtle yet tasty. Alas! The watercress was overpowering. It would have been nice if there was only one small sprig of watercress. (But it wouldn't look good on the plate, would it?) The calamari was coated w/ cornmeal, dusted w/ chipotle grounds and served with caper aioli (garlic mayo). The cornmeal provided nice crunchy texture and the chipotle is distinct but not the "punch-in-the-face" type of spiciness. My only complaint is that the calamari "stripped off" too much; the cornmeal coating and the meat tended to separate especially when dipped in caper aioli. Also, it would have been nicer if they could absorb more oil when the calamari came out of the fryer. Excess oil makes deep-fried food tastes stale and deep-fried items need not to be greasy. Overall, the flavoring was well-balanced.

The portions of the main dishes we ordered were generous. I had Madagascar lamb curry, pulled lamb with vegetables and banana basmati. J had Ahi tuna with black sesame crust, raspberry ginger sauce and banana basmati. We were both impressed by the aroma of the banana basmati. Man! We thought we were having desserts; the fruity and almost floral scent was so intense it was like eating candies (but without the sugary sweetness). The lamb curry was so rich and hearty, it was my favorite of the night. I can almost see myself revisiting Hannah's and having the lamb curry w/ banana basmati w/ a big, satisfied smile on my face. The piece of tuna J had was HUGE, w/ its price tag, it was such a bargain! (Eventually J hit a tough spot so the actual "edible" area wasn't as big as we thought. Still, it was well worth the price) J asked to have his tuna rare to medium rare and the chef got it right! The cross-section of the tuna showed a thin, black circle (the sesame crust), a 5mm-thick beige circle and pink to dark-red center. The salt brought out the sweetness of the meat, it was delicious. Again, there was one thing we didn't like: the sesame crust was really overpowering. After our trip to Japan, I thought there was no such a thing as "too much sesame". But now I know there is. After we used the fork to remove part of the sesame crust, the dish was outstanding. Btw, we were served w/ delicious black sesame bread roasted pepper aioli. Somehow I suspect the "secret ingredient" of the day was sesame.

Overall, the service is relatively friendly, the food is much better than we expected (hopefully it is not just because we "got lucky", able to sample the best items on the menu). If we continue to have good experience in Hannah's, this will become our usual hangout.

Long vacation

It has been a LONG~ time since the blog was last updated.
So…where have I been? Starting back in March, I was planning our trip to Asia. The research on places to visit (and you bet, restaurants to dine for) occupied most of my after work hours. The results? We got to see the stunning cherry blossom, with the beautiful historical buildings in Kyoto as its backdrop. (Not to mention all the good food we sampled along the way)
I have to admit that it took me much longer than I expected to resume the restaurant review. But here I am with a good appetite and a curious heart. I am ready to go on the culinary journey again.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Boa Nova Rodizio Grill House

Boa Nova Rodizio Grill House
6 Charles St. West
Kitchener, Ontario

We had read many other fairly positive reviews for this place over the last few month, so it had been near the top of our "to visit" list for awhile. However, being an all-you-can-eat type of place, we decided to wait for that most opportune time to visit; when we were hungry enough to stuff ourselves silly. After all, these types of places surely must emphasize quantity over quality, right? Wrong.

First, the technical details. There are two separate features to the restaurant. First is the hot and cold buffet, which was quite good as far as buffets go. Hot items included two soups, sauteed mushrooms, bean casserole, plain and fried rice, and a few deep fried dumplings (probably potato and seafood - I couldn't tell but they were very tasty) On the cold side there was seafood pasta salad, grilled calamari, smoked salmon, shrimp, tuna pate and various deli meats and cheeses. A nice selection, well presented and constantly refilled, and everything looked very fresh. Nothing sat on the steam table for very long, and a lot of attention was paid to keep things clean and orderly. I was impressed, although most of my buffet experience has been at Chinese and Indian buffets where the emphasis has been on, well, not quality. One can order the buffet on its own, but that kind of defeats the purpose of coming to this place. Because you'd be missing out on the main event - the rodizio grill.

In the kitchen, there is a large gas grill with numerous (28?) skewers grilling various cuts of meat. It varies depending on the day and whether it's lunch or dinner time, but when we went on a Saturday evening we were offered eight different meats plus pineapple. I'm not sure how they kept track of all the tables (since obviously every table started at a different time) but we were offered all eight in order before getting repeats

  1. Chicken drumsticks - crispy on the outside tender and juicy on the inside, not dried out as I expected at all
  2. Bacon wrapped chicken - more bacon than chicken, so it was a bit salty
  3. Pepper steak - heavy on the peppercorn rub, it was cooked to a medium well which was a bit more than my liking
  4. Chorizo sausage - meh
  5. Garlic steak - great flavour, overcooked as above
  6. Pork loin - great, if you can get piece that hasn't been attacked and dried out by the grill
  7. Lamb roast - cooked properly, didn't have the strong lamb taste/smell that can affect poorly cooked roasts
  8. Top sirloin roast - by this time I think I was too full to appreciate this
  9. Pineapple - roasted on the skewers then coated in cinnamon and sugar - delicious, juicy and tart, perfect to complement the pounds of meat just consumed - I had them come back with many more slices before the night was over
The whole rodizio concept revolves around the gauchos, whose job is to transport the skewers of meat to your table, where they remove it from the skewer or slice it onto your plate. You're given a card with a red side and a green side - green side up means "yes, please" more meat, while the red side means "no, thanks", I'm still digesting.

Overall, the service was very good for a place that claims to be casual dining. We were met immediately at the door, offered our table and an explaination of the restaurant. Plates were cleared quickly, and we were never left wanting for more meat for long. The gauchos were attentive and tried to keep track of which items we liked to bring back (more pineapple please!).

For dinner, buffet and skewers of meat is $35 per person. One can just have the buffet for less (perhaps $20 ish?) but why bother? It's not particularly cheap, but a unique and worthwhileexperience.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Truffles @ Four Seasons Hotel Toronto

21 Avenue Rd.
Toronto, Ontario M5R 2G1

We went to Truffles during the Winterlicious. The whole restaurant was packed on Friday night. There were some chairs w/ black polyester/elastic seat covers, obviously those were brought in for the Winterlicious rush.

Truffle's Winterlicious menu includes three courses, two options for each course. So we managed to cover both and shared the food. In general the portions might be slightly smaller than what they would normally serve. Or no change in portion, but the size of the plates might be smaller than what they would normally use. One thing I am sure is that we were quite full after the meal. So they didn't manage to reduce the cost (for Winterlicious) by cutting down the food portions.

First course:
Fennel Soup Tomato Marmalade
or Winter Greens with Carrot Croutons Aged Gouda and Carrot Sultana Vinaigrette

I am not a big fan of fennel so I think it was just ok. J was happily sipping thru the whole bowl of soup. The salad was quite generic, not much plating involved. (When I say "generic", I mean it is generic within "its category"; something you expect to get from a decent restaurant.) The highlight of the salad was the shaved aged Gouda; it adds depth to the plate. Btw, the salad looked small but it was quite filling. This could have been served on a 10-inch or 12-inch plate. I don't know why they had to cram all the ingredients into that little 8-inch plate.

Second course:
Crispy Duck Confit Savoy Cabbage, Pancetta and Caramelized Chicory
or Brown Butter Basted Salmon Sunchoke Puree, Roasted Cauliflower and Truffled Enoki Mushrooms

J really enjoyed his Salmon. The fish was slightly overcooked in my standard but it's just my personal preference. The brown butter played the charm. (Note: I highly recommend that you cook w/ brown butter. You'll be amazed by the enormous, nutty flavor it can aid to your dish. How to make it? Easy. Heat the butter on low-medium heat until all the water content is gone and the color turns yellow-brownish. Remove it from the heat before it burns.) As for my duck can something submerged in fat NOT taste good? The veggy part was very flavorful (partially due to the pancetta?).

Third course - Desserts:
Bergamont Crème Caramel
or Warm Dark Chocolate and Pear Tart Roasted Cashew Ice Cream

I never have Bergamont creme caramel so I don't know if it was done the way it is supposed to. I didn't like it though. The texture was closer to jello than to typical creme caramel. The fruits used in this dish seem to be straight from a can (along w/ the syrup). To salvage the mood for the rest of the night, J offered to trade w/ me. The tart was ok. Compared w/ the previous two course, dessert is the weakest link.

Overall, all the food was nicely prepared but nothing is exciting. Maybe this suits their clientele? I suspect people who can afford and are happy to stay in Four Seasons appreciate good food but on the conservative side.

I feel the need to complain a little about their cocktail. I ordered a Cosmopolitan. It wasn't the worst I've ever had but I expected more from a decent restaurant like Truffles, especially after they charged me $14 for one! A Cosmopolitan normally consists of vodka, triple sec (or Grand Marnier, if you want to kick it up a notch), lime juice and cranberry juice. I can't believe how "flat" that cocktail was. Cosmopolitan can be very complex yet beautiful, not necessarily a "girly" drink. If using better quality of triple sec or cranberry juice is not an option, they should at least use freshly-squeezed lime juice to add the complexity. Compared w/ this disappointing Cosmopolitan, all of sudden $14 cocktail "Luce" seems a steal.

The service was slow; however, it was clear that they were swamped by the Winterlicious crowd. Our waiter "disappeared" for quite a while. At one point a lady came to add more sparkling water in our glass so we thought maybe we were caught in the middle of the change of shift. However, he "miraculously" showed up at the end and seemed slightly shocked to find out that not much left in our bottle. Before we could even react, he opened another bottle and said it was on the house since he thought other waiters might accidentally serve other tables w/ our water. Also, the hostess was very courteous. I showed her the coat check tag and inquired where we could get our jackets. She actually took the tag, ran to the other side of the floor and got them for us. I am normally quite skeptical about any restaurant evaluation system/measurement but few trivial things like those make me feel there might be a reason that Truffles is rated an AAA 5 diamond restaurant.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Uptown Waterloo Cheap Lunch Roundup

I've been working in Uptown Waterloo (kind of like downtown, but more upscale, or something) for a number of years now and have been too lazy to pack a lunch everyday. Here are some of non-fast food chain places that me and my collegues frequent for a quick lunch. We're pretty frugal when it comes to lunch spots so it'll be rare to find us paying $10 or even close to that on a daily basis. They've become quite repetitive so I'm hoping that the new development next to Waterloo Town Square brings something more exciting and innovative. I'm not holding my breath though.

The Savoury

Food of the British Isles says the tagline. This is the default place to go when nothing else comes to mind. Freshly baked meat pie (steak and mushroom is good, as well as the chicken curry) and soup or salad for $5.49 or sandwich with soup/salad for $5.99. Rotating specials include lasagna, schniztel on a bun, and the occasional one off special such as stuffed pork or meatballs and rice. They also offer a lot of imported snacks and candies, and yes, you can even buy a frozen haggis. And no, I haven't tried it.


A local pizzeria that opened up fairly recently. Standard normal crust you'd find at any chain. Pretty good pizza for reasonable prices. A fair selection of slices available for walk-ins but we find it's a better deal (and fresher) to order a whole pizza and share. Note that if you order zucchinni as a topping you'll get eggplant. We tried it twice (thinking it was a mistake the first time, but it wasn't).


While not strictly in Uptown Waterloo (ok, it's not even in Waterloo) we'll often send someone to pick up sandwiches from their deli. Vincenzo's is a gourmet Italian grocery shop, but it has a deli counter that can be jammed 3 deep at lunchtime. The secret to quick service is to pre-order online. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The sandwiches they offer are build your own - pick a meat, cheese, bun, spread and toppings. The basic sandwich is only $3.95 but you can top $5 with premium ingredients such as rare roast beef, roasted artichoke, or sundried tomatoes. Make sure you order "the bomb" - a spicy bruschetta-like spread.

Angie's Kitchen

The stereotypical greasy spoon diner. We used to go here quite often for their all-day breakfast special ($4.50 for eggs cooked to order, bacon or ham, home fries). Eventually the grease got to us but it sure was tasty. Their menu is fairly extensize - all the standard diner dishes are available from burgers to sandwiches to an all-you-can-eat fish and chip special on Thursdays.


A part of the Zehrs/Loblaws company, this grocery store replaced the old and very rundown Zehrs in Waterloo Town Square a few years ago.
This used to be the default place to go because we're all suckers for a good value. For under $5 you can get a small sub, roasted chick or deli sandwich plus pop or water plus a side of fries, soup or salad. Over the past couple of years they've slowly raised their prices, skimped out of things like cheese on the sub, took out red cabbage and shaved carrots from the salads, and used cheaper buns for the sub. So while its still a reasonable value, our fond memories of pay only $3.73 including tax for a hot meal prevent us from returning regularly.

As a side note, I think the "valu" in the name is misleading since I find most of their grocery prices slightly higher than the Zehrs that dot suburbian Waterloo. To be fair, they didn't name it Good Valu-mart.

Harmony Lunch

I've only been there once but it deserves a mention because I'm sure this is the oldest restaurant in town. This is the real-deal when it comes to greasy spoon diner. Where else can you get a burger made by dipping an ice cream scoop into a vat of ground pork and pressed flat on a grill next to a foot high pile of sauteed onions? This place has been around since the beginning of Waterloo and most of the customers seem to have been as well.

Huether Hotel

A bit above our normal price range but notable for the surprisingly high quality of food. There are two separate restaurants. First is the Lion Brewery in the basement of the hotel (enter off of Princess St) which serves standard pub grub but with an upscale twist. We're not talking high end gourmet here, but much better than you'd expect at a corporate pub chain. In the summer Barleyworks is open as an 2nd floor patio off of King St. Their menu is different but has similar items of similar quality. Service can be quite slow on Thursdays and Fridays so arrive early and order quickly.


Ok, this one is a corporate chain but with the recently lowering of their prices (some of it quite significanly) plus a constant stream of 2 for 1 or $2 off coupons in the mail it has gone from worst value to best value.

Index of Restaurant Reviews

20 King
All About Crepes
Almadina Egyptian
Art Bar
The Bauer Kitchen
Ben Thanh Viet-Thai
Benjamin's Restaurant & Inn
Bianco Nero
Boa Nova Rodizio Grill House
Boston Pizza
Cameron Chinese Seafood
Charlie's Lunchbox
China Legend
Cora's Breakfast and Lunch
del Dente

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

North 44 Restaurant

North 44
2537 Yonge St.
Toronto, Ontario M4P 2H9

This is probably the first time that I feel reluctant to write a review. I wasn't thrilled with either their service or the food. We were there for the Winterlicious so MAYBE it wasn't their norm. But again, it is unlikely for me to visit this restaurant again.

It was first snowing then turning into pouring rain but we arrived on time. We confirmed that they offered valet parking and we were instructed to wait at the door. So we were waiting…and waiting…people came and went, and we were forgotten. Eventually I got so fed up. I actually walked out in the fierce hail, found the closest parking, came back and grabbed J so we could park his car. By the time we walked back, we could finally be seated. (Here comes the interesting part) "I am sorry, but you are so late for your reservation, we don't have table available…." HUH?! How long had we been standing in front of them before we needed to rush out and parked our car?

The ordering process was quite awkward. We were first informed that the next group would arrive within 2 hours so we had to finish our meal in 90 min. Fair enough. Saturday night + Winterlicious, we understand how busy they were. We ordered sparkling water. Normally we expect to have few choices (or at least something like "Is San Pellegrino ok?"). Nope. Throughout the course, they had our orders wrong several times, one waitress got quite frustrated that she raised her voice to one of my friends, "You ordered this risotto!"

Back to the food. I had slow braised pork belly with seared scallop and natural reduction to start, organic Irish salmon with scallops, chanterelles, clams, natural reduction and crisp pancetta as main, and pavlova with winter fruit compote and orange mousse as dessert. J "upgraded" his appetizer to seared foie gras, roasted veal loin with braised shank ravioli, sautéed garlic spinach, Vichy carrots, apple jam and natural reduction as main, and apple and fig crumble with cinnamon ice cream and Tahitian vanilla sauce for dessert. Almost all the things J ordered tasted better than what I had but we couldn't really "trade"; the food potions were ridiculously small (Yes, even people like us who are quite accustomed to the "high-end-restaurant-bite-size-serving" feel so).

The only item which was done properly was the scallops; it wasn't overcooked. The whole culinary journey went downward spiral from there. The pork belly was fatty and "porky"; it had some unpleasant pork odor. Although the meat was tender, not much flavour was built before the braising took place. At that point I started to miss the piece of pork belly I had at Luce, or "Tung Po Rou" (Chinese pork belly stew), or any delicious pork belly I’ve ever had in my life. The salmon was slightly overcooked. There might be just wee bit too much pancetta dripping in the sauce; it left a funny aftertaste in my mouth, as if I just had bacon and egg breakfast in a diner.

The dessert was worth one paragraph all to itself; I rarely had such awful dessert in a so-called high-end restaurant. According to the definition on Wikipedia, Pavlova was named after a famous ballerina and should have "a crisp crunchy shell, while the interior remains soft and moist". Well then, the ballerinas on my plate must prefer to dance alone; no ingredients went well with one another. The meringue was hard and crusty from inside out, the dried fruits were tucked under the meringue and formed a piece of packed fruit cake. And if it wasn’t because it was written on the menu, I couldn’t taste the orange in the mousse at all. I stopped after two bites: one was the meringue alone, the second one was a mix of all ingredients. Several days later, I saw Rob Feenie on "New Classics with Chef Rob Feenie" making Lime curd Pavlova with a coconut citrus sauce. I was drooling all over. Maybe one day I will try this recipe just to prove that it is nothing to do with the dessert itself, but how it was executed.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Asie (formerly known as Brittany Restaurant)

Asie (Closed)
178 Peel Street
New Hamburg, Ontario N2A 1E3

Brittany Restaurant has been on our to-visit list for a while; however, it was so out of the way that there was never enough incentive for us to go. We eventually went after the restaurant’s name change; it is now called "Asie".

I have to admit that when we first read about their name change and the sample menu on their website, we were quite skeptical. So many chefs attempt to do fusion but few have done it right. You can't call your food fusion just because you dash some Chinese five-spice in your rub, or spread wasabi mayo on your salmon filet. The combination should be harmonious, the food should taste "as if" it should have been done this way. Regardless, I made reservation.

I don't know when the name change occurred but it is definitely still in the transitional stage. On their homepage, the restaurant is now referred as "Asie" but the domain name is still The sign at their front and the wine list are still bearing the name "Brittany". The menu and business cards are switched to "Asie".

We were seated in the "red" room. Clearly the room has been updated but still retains its intricate detailing - foot-tall baseboard, elaborate crown-moldings and hardwood floor. Did I mention that the arch beside the bay window had lily-of-the-valley (something floral) patterns repeating thrughout the arch?

While I was determining which sake I should order, Kim (the chef/owner) came to greet us. After learning that I want to steer away from the "North American norms" (e.g. Gekkeikan from LCBO), I saw his eyes literally sparkling. He quickly took away the wine menu and said he would serve us his sake tasting menu - three different Junmai-Ginjo. I was slightly nervous (don't know how much we would be charged for having such premium grade of sake) but my desire for junmai-ginjo made me fearless. It turned out to be a correct decision. I will have a separate review on his sake selection. But in general we are very impressed by his appreciation of sake and happy to learn that we can actually get premium sake here.

We shared seafood spring rolls w/ miso horseradish (wasabi?) dressing to start. J had the chef's special Muscovy duck breast and I had panko herb crusted Ontario lamb rack w/ a herbed tomato demi-glaze. The filling in the seafood spring rolls reminds me of the Chinese fish balls. The horseradish dressing was mild but the punch was there. The panko crust is an interesting approach. Panko is Japanese breadcrumbs; it is fluffier than the normal breadcrumbs. The duck breast was marinated in some oriental spices. Some people say that the taste of duck is the hybrid of chicken and beef. Well, the duck we had that night definitely tasted more beefy than chicken-y. Normally duck served in the restaurants will be smothered in either fruity or maple/honey glaze, not in Asie. The first bite was almost too dry. The meat was just unbelievably meaty and heavy, I might mistake it as bison if not knowing we ordered duck. Kim was quite happy with how the dish turned out, so he probably had it done this way on purpose. As for desserts, J had the green apple gallette, I had mascarpone cheesecake. The desserts were nice but we were totally distracted by the last of the three sakes.

Overall, food here is something you would expect from a relatively high-end Asian fusion restaurant. The best part is that we got to chat with Kim and understand how he actualizes his ideas through his food. I feel that he is still in the exploring stage. Some approaches are relatively bold but there are also things which are too matchy-matchy, almost 2-dimensional. It will take some time to polish his style to a more sophisticated level. (Note: The food is good. Here I simply refer to his fusion approach.) There are some things he could have tried; not sure if he has thought about them but decided not to do so. For example, instead of having classic vanilla dressing, he could drizzle something like honey/red bean paste mix over the cheesecake for an Asian flare.

The new restaurant name is "Asie" ("Asia" in French?). This shows their ambition in promoting the restaurant as a global fusion trend-setter. I feel bad but have to say that the food is not quite there yet. However, if Kim continues to be so passionate about learning and appreciating Asian (mainly Japanese) culture, he is very likely to achieve his goal.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Shandiz Persian Cuisine

Shandiz Persian Cuisine
170 University Ave. West
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3E9

I had to admit that the first time I stepped in the restaurant because all the "usual suspects" weren't open. It was in between terms; many restaurants in the plaza were closed. The menu was intimidating; combinations of English letters I couldn't quite figure out what they were. What was worse, someone was doing some wiring above the ceiling. All the lights were on, the kitchen was packed in action and the TV was on. Gas, plumbing, electricity, cable...I had to tell myself "ah...he is just hooking up broadband internet connection". (So lame that I can't even convince myself, I picked the table closest to the front door after ordering what I wanted)

OK, the atmosphere in the restaurant is not that intimidating; it must be the gloomy weather doing funny thing to my head. My impression of the restaurant changed especially after tasting the food. There are lots of items I don't really know what they are (can't pronounce them either), but the menu actually includes very detailed description. The staff was quiet but at least polite. And the food...I love the lamb shank (btw, it is one of the few items i could actually read out loud), the saffron rice also goes well with it. The meat was on the dry side but heavily flavored. After the first bite, I had the illusion that the original size of the lamb piece should be 4 times bigger. Just like red wine reduction, one bottle of wine being reduced to less than one cup. The flavor of the lamb was so intense, but not too salty nor "herbal-y". I also ordered the beef kabob combo for J. It was good, but the lamb shank was better. So no sharing ~

I would definitely go back for the lamb shank.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

China Legend

China Legend
160 University Ave. West
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3E9
(University Plaza)

About 10 days ago, I went to Home Garden to order take-out. I noticed that "Grand China", adjacent to Home Garden, is now replaced by a new restaurant called "China Legend". So I went back the next day.

I ordered two items to go: Kon-pao-guy-ding (spicy hot chicken) and Taiwanese stew over rice. On my way home, my whole car smelled just like decent (casual) Chinese food - aroma generated by high-heat wok work. However, the taste was relatively disappointing. The spicy chicken was not spicy at all; there wasn't any Chinese chilly pepper in sight. The onions were too raw, almost as raw as sliced raw onions normally served on a burger. Originally I ordered "Taiwanese" stew because this restaurant is just next to Home Garden, one of the most authentic Taiwanese eatery in town. After having first bite...well, let's just say that it was a stupid decision.

I chatted with the lady (probably the owner?) while waiting for the order. She mentioned that they bought the restaurant from the owners of Grand China because they were planning to retire. With so many (Northern) Eastern Asian eateries crowded in University Plaza, they really need to improve significantly in order to stay.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Oscar's Family Restaurant

Oscar's Family Restaurant
835 Victoria St. North
Kitchener, Ontario N2B 3C3

There are several diners /family-oriented restaurants in town, Oscar is probably one of my favorites. I really can't explain why I keep going back. Their food portions are generous, some items are tasty and their servers are friendly. Still, I have enjoyed much better food and service somewhere else. After I finished half of the beef liver (and doggy bagged the other half) and almost full slice of butter rum cake today, the answer became clear. It is due to the satisfaction after having comfort food.

There was one period of time that J and I dined at Oscar a lot, back when we were "nesting". Before we purchased our place, this section of Victoria street was just the route to Guelph. It was quite a surprise to see so many home-furnishing-related stores on this block.

When I go to Oscar's, I tend to order the few items I have (again and again). Chicken parmesan, beef/pork/chicken souvlaki, burgers and beef liver. The beef liver is kind of an odd ball. When I first ordered it and actually enjoyed it, J stared at me in disbelief. It was a surprise to me, too. Although I love foie gras (sorry for all the animal-right advocates out there, but it is really tasty), but beef liver? The beef liver dish is HUGE (actually pretty much every dish at Oscar's is huge): liver coated in bread crumb and pan-fried, topped with sauteed onions and 2 slices of bacon, steamed vegetables and your choice of potatoes. If beef liver is not your cup of tea, you can also try their burgers or souvalaki.

The service is general quite good. When it is busy, the service might be slow but people are always friendly. Rumor has it that the Sunday brunch is the craziest time; the line-up can stretch into the parking lot. Maybe it explains why the entrance and exist are two completely opposite doors and separated by a glass.

Monday, January 02, 2006


3051 Vega Boulevard
Mississauga, Ontario L5L 5Y3

We’ve been to this chain several times. Last time we went there was on Boxing Day. When I first visited this restaurant, I was surprised that their food was better than I expected. In fact, I think this is probably one of the “better” chain restaurants out there. Too bad there isn’t any in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Milestone’s has quite a brunch menu. I’ve tried the shrimp and avocado Benedict. I won’t say I am absolutely loving it, but it is pretty good. The hollandaise sauce tastes creamy and not “artificial’. The avocado salsa is a nice touch. If I go out for breakfast/brunch, I tend to order egg Benedict whenever it is available. I must say egg Benedict from Milestone’s is better than some I had in some fancy restaurants/hotels. The shrimp is the weakest link of the whole dish; it is small and slightly soggy. Not knowing what “frittata” means, J ordered the Italian Frittata. It turned out to be an omelet, unfolded. We weren’t quite impressed by the toasted focaccia; it is almost flavorless. It is not too bad if treated as a thick slice of toast.

One thing I must mention is their curly fries.…so…GOOD. At the first sight the fries look like onion rings. They are crunchy and quite addictive. I am glad that they really mean it when they describe the amount of fries as “a mountain of curly fries”. It was enough to share with friends.

Speaking of friends, Milestone’s is definitely a great place for friends get-together. I would much prefer to go to Milestone’s than Eastside. Hopefully they’ll open one in K-W soon.