Friday, March 07, 2008

King Crab Oyster Bar & Grill

King Crab Oyster Bar & Grill
907 Victoria St. North
Kitchener, Ontario

King Crab is the younger sister of King St Trio, a restaurant that has been in Kitchener-Waterloo for quite a number of years. With an experienced sibling, it has the chops to be a good restaurants, but is just missing out on that intangible je ne sais quoi that makes a decent place good. Let's see if we can figure out what it is.

To start off, it offers a healthy selection of seafood and oysters, and does it reasonably well, something that cannot be said for too many other places in town. Of course, a landlocked city in the middle of Ontario isn't the first place you'd turn to for seafood anyway.

The restaurant is located in a fairly nondescript strip mall in the middle of a commercial purgatory, surrounded by carpet shops and appliance stores. Strike one -- the ambiance on approach doesn't whet the appetite. Inside, the dining room is bordered by an open kitchen. This normally is an attraction, but we've always been seated by the windows away from the kitchen for some reason.

Sapphire started off with a Kir Royale which was nicely made and well presented.

There was hardly any traffic the night we were there, but the bread was still nice and fresh. Sourdough with a crispy crust, served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

To start, we had a half dozen oysters ($15). Not being very knowledgeable on oysters, we just as a sample of three varieties - raspberry, pickle point and malpeque. They were served with three flavourings, the traditional horseradish, an interesting wasabi sauce, and Chinese oyster sauce. I didn't particularly like anything other than the horseradish though. Other starters range from $6 to $15.

For mains, we had the crab feature ($23) and halibut ($?). I put the two pictures next to each other so it's more obvious that the dishes came with the same sides - cardamom scented jasmine rice and seasonal vegetables. This is strike two - although I suppose it keeps costs and complexity down, it smacks of laziness to plop a different protein down on the same starch and veg. At this level of restaurant, I would expect a unique combination of food for different dishes.

As for the proteins themselves, the crab was a soft shelled crab dusted with Cajun and Szechuan pepper. It was a lot meatier than the ones you'd find in a sushi roll so it was nice to be able to taste the meat, although it was very lightly seasoned and not very spicy at all. The halibut was wrapped in prosciutto with a grainy mustard sauce. The sauce was nice, but the halibut was a little overcooked and a bit tough. Portion was also quite small.

Other mains were pretty typical. Aside from seafood they had Angus steak, pork tenderloin, breaded chicken schnitzel, and a vegetarian entree "available on request" -- not very confidence inspiring.

Dessert was actually the highlight of the meal. All desserts are made in house, something a lot of places are highlighting these days to differentiate them from the restaurants that just import a few Dufflet cakes to mark up. The one we shared was layers of mascarpone cheese custard, alternating with coffee dipped English biscuits and raspberry coulis topped with whipped cream and shaved white and dark chocolate. Rich and decedent like any good dessert should be.

Service was good, friendly and attentive although with only three tables to serve there wasn't much pressure.

So overall, only two strikes but that might be enough to keep our dining dollar at more interesting and innovative places.

NOTE: It looks like the menu has been updated since our visit. You can visit their website for an online version.