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.