Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Johnny Fresco

Johnny Fresco
3-244 Weber St. North
Waterloo, Ontario, N2J 3H4

A couple of days ago a colleague insisted on going to this new place he previously remembered driving by. Of course, he didn't know the name of the place nor the type of food it served, but at least he knew where it was (corner of University and Weber). Turns out it was Johnny Fresco, which about two months ago took over the space where Donut Queen used to be. We did a brief drive by and it looked safe enough so we ventured in for lunch.

The space is bright and airy, but almost a little too sparse and empty. The menu is mostly fast food oriented, with burgers, pitas, fries, and other pick up and bite items. The set up is reminiscent of Harvey's where you order at the counter, a tray is set up and passed along the counter where toppings are placed on your cooked to order burger. The burgers are thick 6oz deals, which take a few minutes longer than the average fast food joint to cook. I ordered the only somewhat different item on the menu, the Greco Pita. This turned out to be a pita with a burger patty cut up and stuffed inside. It was a little dry and a little too full of burger meat for my tastes, even after I loaded it up with toppings, including tzatziki sauce, mushrooms, pineapple, hot peppers, plus the typical lettuce, tomato, cucumber. It came with a side and can of pop, the side being a choice of fries, garden, or caesar salad. Trying to be somewhat healthy, I choose the garden salad. It was served "Subway" style which means the same toppings that go on a sandwich/burger go into a plastic container to make the "salad". I tried some of my colleague's fries but they were not noteworthy (so why am I making a note of them?)

Overall, the food was about average, slightly above Harvey's but slightly below The Grill at University plaza. Most of the clientele seemed to be foot traffic from the local high school. It didn't seem like there was enough volume to support the place but I'm not a restaurateur. However, it was a cold and snowy day so perhaps it was down from the normal levels. Perhaps they were trying to cut costs because it felt like the only heat in the place was coming from the grill. It was freezing inside, and having bare metal chairs didn't help at all. I see no reason to return. The last thing this town needs is another copycat burger/greek fast food place.

Lunch items were $4-6, plus $1.50 for a combo or another $1 for a double burger (far too much meat for the average person).

China Garden

China Garden
31 University Ave. East
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2A2

I can't believe we never write anything about China Garden. How can this be? We have had numerous meals from this restaurants ever since we first came to Waterloo. I still remember "the good old days", biking to China Garden for a bowlful of congee with dough fritters. We are no longer students and we've switched our main transportation tools to cars. Time flies! Still, there are days that we just crave for authentic Cantonese eatery food, and China Garden hasn't changed much since my first visit.

So far we have tried roughly 30% of their items, naturally we order some specific items more often than others:

- congee + dough fritters. I like the house special or shreaded pork with preserved eggs. There were times the congee was too watery, most of time the consistency is ok. And it is such a treat to dip crispy dough fritter into the thick congee then bite into it. :)

- fried rice: at one time we ordered the fried rice with two sauces (one ketchup-based the other cream-based) very frequently but we eventually got tired of it. Nowadays I tend to order salt fish and chicken fried rice and J enjoys the pineapple & chicken fried rice.
- sliced beef flat rice noodle. This is our all-time favorite comfort food, greasy and loads of flavor.
- fried noodles: I like the crispy noodles. As long as I get the crispy bits, I'm happy with any combination.
- beef tendon and brisket: the quantity is small but it normally packs with lots of flavour.
- XO sauce rice noodles. Pan-fried rice noodles with XO sauce and finish with peanut sauce.

Although they claim that they don't use MSG, I can still feel it afterwards(migrane, abnormal thirst and occasional rash). Not like MSG will stop me from having Chinese food completely. : p Btw, if you pay in cash and order $20+ (before tax) for takeout, you get 10% off.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

All About Crepes

All About Crepes (Closed)
75 King St. South
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 1P2

After giving this place a scathing review, I felt like I should give them a second chance and returned once again for lunch. I must admit, the plating and presentation was much improved over their first efforts, but the menu wasn't changed at all and featured the same oddly priced list of crepes. Portions were still small, fillings had a very processed and unrefined taste to them. The dessert crepe my companion had wasn't too bad, but seemed to be filled with nutella (and too much at that). Strangely, the place was still quite busy so what do I know.

Thai Sun

Thai Sun
75 King St. South
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 1P2

After what seemed like an interminable 6+ month wait, Thai Sun is finally open, capping off a small row of shops and restaurants on the newly built Willis Way. I visited the place for lunch a few days after shortly after the opening. The decor was very contemporary, with flowing curves, designer oriented highlights and changes in elevation for added architectural interest. The difference between renovating an existing space versus starting from a blank canvas is evident here as a lot of effort was put into the design, and pays off well with a good first impression.

The menu was better than I expected. Thai Sun looks to be targeting a more upscale market than the typical 500+ menu item selection found at most common Viet-Thai restaurants. For lunch, they offer a few specials on a rotating menu, plus about half a dozen each of appetizers, entrees, soups and salads. The specials included spinning noodles (more commonly known as pad thai), green chicken curry, and wonton soup with beef jerky. Most specials include a side such as a shrimp roll, spring roll, mango salad and/or sticky rice. I was intrigued yet hesitant to order the beef jerky, as I was afraid I'd end up with a hot rod or something similar. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few tasty sweet and salty pieces of cured beef sprinkled with sesame. The wonton soup was about average, a nicely flavoured broth with a small number of forgettable wontons. The mango salad was a tasteful combination of sliced mango, onions, peppers and cilantro. However, it didn't have as much mango as I would have liked. Sticky rice was served on the side in a small woven container and helped provide a solid base for the meal. My colleagues were all generally pleased with the food although portions were somewhat small and not filling enough for a bunch of strapping young men.

As expected with any brand new restaurant, there were quite a few service related missteps. We had to ask for napkins and cutlery, food took quite awhile to come out, and entrees didn't arrive at the same time forcing two of us to wait awhile before giving up and starting without meals in front of everyone. Also, the side dishes were completely mixed up and we missed one of them without knowing it. I wouldn't hold this against them though unless the problems continue after a few weeks.

The lunch specials were all $11.99 or $12.99, soups and appetizers all less than $10, and main dinner items around $15. I found this pretty reasonable for the quality of the food they offer. I applaud them for their take on Thai food, with high quality, fresher ingredients and less reliance on excessive sauces and cooking. They've put together something more interesting than the ubiquitous copycat Viet-Thai places around town.