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?