Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ellison's Bistro

Ellison's Bistro
14 Charles St. West
Kitchener, Ontario

Last month we went to Atlantis at Paradise Island, Bahamas. We couldn't help but to compare the food we had over there with Ellison's, and I must say that the Caribbean cuisine in the resort didn't impress us much. Ellison's Bistro, to us, is a hidden gem in K-W area. We initially learned about this place through word of mouth. Since then we've visited this restaurant several times and tried various items.

We normally like to start with the pepper pot soup. The portions of main dishes are generous, to the extent that we rarely have chance to sample their desserts. Don't worry if you can't take the heat. The food here is not overly spicy, although you can always request for it. If you decide to go to Ellison's Bistro, I highly recommend their pepper pot soup, jerk chicken and roti with your choice of curry (chicken/goat/beef).

Pepper pot soup: the immense black pepper and herbal aroma will awake every sense of yours after your first sip. And just when you think it isn't as spicy as expected, the "heat" will suddenly kick in and numb your tongue and mouth. But you know you can't stop. There's more! The flavorful, thick beef soup is full of potatoes, veggies and stewing beef. Everything blends in yet still remains its unique taste. I would be dying to know the trick if this flavor can be achieved without long hours of baby-sitting the pot. We love to enjoy the soup on cold raining days, although Elvis told us it would be equally nice on warmer days as well - the spiciness will help you to sweat and hence you'll feel cooler afterwards.

Jerk chicken: I have this dish several times and it never disappoints me. The chicken is spicy yet moist inside. It is so flavorful that sometimes I can't help but to finish the whole dish and over-stuff myself. Despite the fact that Elvis is the only one working in the kitchen, he still tries hard to impress...with style. Things like green onion "flower" or orange twist are regulars on his plates.

Roti (fluffy flat bread) served with curry. Don't underestimate this "wrap"; that's a lot of food in it. The worst part is, not only it is difficult to stop eating, you might even ask for more dinner rolls so you can dip it in the remaining curry. It's that finger-licking good.

I took my sister to Ellison's Bistro during her visit. She is from Sydney (Australia), the city with abundant nice restaurants and fresh, good quality supplies. Not to mention she's been "the" finicky eater in my family. She was, however, quite impressed by Elvis' food and service.

Reservation is recommended. Once we decided to pop in without reservation and it was the only time Elvis didn't come greet us. It is nice that the chef actually comes out and greets you. If time is permitted, he is even happy to answer any question about the food, the menu and his restaurant. During a recent visit, I noticed his daily lunch special promo. The items vary by day and it's for take-out only. Probably a good idea to call for details.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


425 King St. North
Waterloo, Ontario N2J 2Z5

It's almost impossible not to have a huge buzz surrounding the opening of this new restaurant. With a lavish new building that catches your eyes even in the middle of the cold, dark winter, the veterans behind Charcoal Steak House and del Dente are attempting to bring a new upscale dining experience north (or is that west?) into Waterloo. We had high expectations for this place, and while it met most of them, there were some disappointments. Until the menu was posted recently on their website, I had hoped for a more adventurous culinary experience. Alas, the Widemans know their target market too well and brought "American comfort food" to town using a fairly standard menu with few twists. I suspect this approach will maximize their bottom line without taking many risks.

The interior was designed by Cricket Design who did a fabulous job creating a warm, inviting atmosphere which hits on all the latest mainstream design trends. A soaring facade of stonework towers over a huge fireplace. Dark tones and warm colours make you feel like you're relaxing in someone's family room. Trendy dogwood and tall grasses accent the walls. Contemporary drum shade lamps, chandeliers and sconces soften the mood with dim lighting. All of this is anchored by a huge two storey glass encased wine cellar that highlights the highest margin items in the house.

I reserved our dinner online at (very handy) for a Thursday night about one week after the restaurant opened. We arrived to a packed front lobby but were still greeted very promptly by the hostess team who took our jackets and found our reservation quickly. Even though the restaurant was only open for a week, the service was well above our expectations with only a few minor glitches. Other new restaurants opening should take note - iron out your service before opening, bad first impressions take a lot of effort to correct.

We were brought water quickly, although no drink order was taken at this time and this caused our bread, drinks and appetizers to eventually arrive at the same time. This was really the only quirk in service which otherwise was very friendly and efficient. Even while Wildcraft is advertised as "casual upscale", there were some nice high end touches such as having napkins refolded after leaving your seat.

First up were the sirloin skewers. This was my favourite dish of the night, even though it wasn't perfect. The beef had a fantastic rich, savoury taste, dusted with walnuts and just a hint of heat. Normally I prefer my beef on the rare side, but even though these were cooked through the texture was fine. Three of the five skewers were perfect, but the other two had a fair amount of chewy gristle. The chili orange aioli that accompanied it didn't quite complement the flavours by virtue of being too sweet.

Our other appetizer was the roasted wild mushroom soup. This was a puree of five mushrooms (portobello, shiitake, oyster, button and porcini), topped with some fresh enoki mushrooms and a healthy dose of white truffle oil. The truffle aroma was almost overwhelming at first, but added a rich earthiness to the dish. A great dish for the winter. In the background of the photo you might be able to make out salt and pepper grinders. They've dispensed with the "would you like some fresh ground pepper?" routine which was not missed - usually I'd expect the chef to properly season the dishes, and if not, I'd like to taste it first before deciding if it needs more spicing up.

For my main course, I had the seared ahi tuna. It had a nice crust of pepper, fennel and coriander seed and was evenly and properly seared. The flavour of the fish was a little plain and almost watery, especially when contrasted with the heavy spice crust. A nice ponzu sauce made up for the lack of taste though. The julienned vegetables was a little heavy on the onions and pepper. They were seated atop a bed of jasmine tea scented rice. The fish wasn't quite sushi grade, or at least it wasn't trimmed to sushi standards since there were some stringy bits of membrane running through a couple pieces.

G had the ricotta ravioli, a hearty portion of huge ravioli in a roasted pepper sauce. The sauce was quite sharp, but when matched with the rapini (hidden underneath) it was fine. The ravioli were stuffed very full with ricotta and herbs and were quite satisfying.

For dessert we shared the cranberry maple tart. It was a nice pairing of very sweet chai syrup and tart cranberries with a pecan crust. On the side was some whipped cream and nice candied ginger. G enjoyed this dessert very much. Normally she avoids this kind of desserts because they tend to be overly sweet. Nonetheless, a scoop of vanilla ice cream would go better with the tart than the whipped cream; that blob of white mass was really out of place.

Overall, the quality of the food and service were top notch, especially considering how new the restaurant is. The menu isn't quite as exciting as I had hoped. Starters include a few soups and salads ($5-$7). Some more interesting appetizers ($9-$17) include the sirloin skewers ($10.95), warm goat cheese ($8.95) or short rib quesadillas ($8.95). They have an offering of thin crust pizzas called flatbreads for around $10. Entrées are pretty standard and range from $13 for the W burger to $35 for the veal porterhouse. The list includes a few steaks, pork tenderloin, chicken breast, rack of lamb, salmon, seared tuna, a vegetarian stir fry and a couple of pasta dishes. You can also jack up your bill by adding some sides à la steakhouses - mushrooms, peppercorn sauce, shrimp skewers or fries ($4-$6).

Desserts are all made in house, and kudos to them for doing so. It's all too common these days to find the dessert menu stacked with Dufflet pastries. Again there was nothing surprising on the menu, which includes crème brûlée, cheesecake, chocolate torte, fruits, cheeses and gelato. I think the cranberry maple tart we had was the most original item.

Total for the evening was just under $100 including tax and tip. One bottle of sparkling water and no alcoholic beverages were consumed.

Finally, I couldn't resist a picture of the washroom. Trendy trough sinks and some gratuitous LCD TVs. The men's washroom had little instructions on the faucets, but the ladies did not. What kind of statement are they trying to make?