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?


Anonymous said...

Best restaurant in North Waterloo hands is good and I agree they played it safe on the menu for sure...but the decor and ambiance is top new favorite spot!

sharris said...

Was just there last weekend - wine glass had a chipped rim, napkins were soaking wet, and the food... hmm... the veggies were mush, the tenderloin was mediocre, the side of mushrooms were good, the soup of the day was outrageously salty.

This is nothing more than a trumped up steakhouse (I mean come on, wings and burgers on the menu??). Overall, I would rate the food and environment a 6/10 - not nearly up to the level of other Waterloo restaurants like Sole, Benjamins, Charbries, etc.

Anonymous said...

Atmosphere is great, food is not.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I went tonight for our 10 year anniversary and really loved it! I had the Asian salad and the walnut crusted chicken breast, he had the beef skewers and the beef tenderloin. Everything was perfect, service impecable, atmosphere was great. The night was finished with the chocolate torte, soooo rich!

Daniel Fish said...

Went to Wildcraft to celebrate anniversary. Never again. Service great and friendly. My entre, a steak dnner was unsatisfactory. Steak was burnt at edges and had a lot of gristlle, fries were limp, old and cold. I wrote a note on their web site, but they obviously have no class, they didn't even bother to answer. Del Wideman would be ashamed.

Anonymous said...

I was here a few weeks ago and mad the Wild Mushroom Fusilli to which i added shrimp. It was really good but the restaurant needs to extend their menu to suit all kinds of people not just the upper class. The prices are a little steep but the price of food isn't cheap either these days...overall it was ok but being a person from the younger generation i felt very unwanted and looked down upon

Carl and Sonya said...

5 stars! My wife and I shared the SHORT RIB QUESADILLA as an appetizer; it was very tasty with a hint of heat. For our main course I had the BEEF 'N' BLUE which was fantastic (I love blue cheese so this was a bonus)! My wife had the APPLE AND DATE GLAZED PORK TENDERLOIN which came wrapped in prosciutto and roasted with a sweat sauce. She found it very flavourful. For desert we shared the cheese cake double baked in filo pastry, it was so good I barely got any;).

Anonymous said...

Patio area and bar is very trendy and chic, good atmosphere. Wait staff was polite and courteous. Though presentation of food was great, the food is not up to par with the Charcoal group restaurants. The hostess staff is definitely not up to par with Charcoal Steak House and Del Dante restaurants under the Charcoal group, instead of being professional and courteous, the hostesses were busy socializing amongst themselves.

Anonymous said...

Other than the decor and atmosphere of Wildcraft all else is very very average. I have had the Tuna and like the review states it is no a very high grade. The peppercorn crust just kills the dish as well. I have also had the filet and it was overcooked and just no a good quality beef. The first time i went the hostesses were trying to push us to have dinner in the bar area since it was later in the eve and i guess they were close to closing down the dining room. The service is a step above a franchise restaurant. Its not bad but its very average.
I asked the server for a Bourbon, she had no idea what i was talking about.
I think its time the Widemans take their staff to a place like Morton's in Toronto to see what service and quality is.
Wildcraft will do fine because they built a sexy restaurant and most people in Waterloo dont know better. They were raised with the charcoal steakhouse and that is their benchmark. P.S Sole is no better.