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.