Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Benjamin's Restaurant & Inn

Benjamin's Restaurant & Inn
1430 King St. North
St. Jacobs, Ontario N0B 2N0

Benjamin's Restaurant and Inn is located at the north end of "downtown" St Jacobs. Although I never quite understand why St Jacobs attracts so many tourists, it is indeed a small pretty town. There are unique shops and studios, and plants in the planters are so perfect they almost look unreal. Most of the restaurants, if not all, in St Jacobs are along the King Street. They range from casual to formal, with Benjamin Restaurant sitting on the higher end.

I have to admit that I was slightly reluctant to set my foot into Benjamin's the first time. For some reason I thought it was a place more suited for the tourists than the locals, with so-so food, slow service, not-so-friendly staff and worn (but charming in some people's eyes) settings. I'd rather wait in the long line to get in the Stone Crock Restaurant. Good thing that I gave it (and myself) a chance. We've been there several times after my first visit.

The following notes were taken during our recent visits:

The bread is in general nice and moist. Normally we are offered the sliced multigrain variety but occasionally we get bread with vegetable bits (zucchini maybe?) in it.

Calamari- lemon thyme marinated calamari tubes, gilled over open flame, accompanied w q truffled greens salads and an orange vanilla aioli

They did an outstanding job of grilling the calamari; it had great texture. Not like it is that difficult to get it right - fresh squid and a quick grill will do, but you'll be surprised how few restaurants offer this light and healthy item. However, I didn't taste much truffle in the salad. Also, the orange vanilla aioli seemed out of place; it goes better with the deep-fried calamari.

We've tried scallops prepared in different ways. Although they never overcooked our scallops, the dishes didn't seem to reach their full potential. This might sound abstract but I can explain why.

Grilled jumbo sea scallops basted with sesame soya glaze accompanied by tamarind noodle salad and mango oil.
Sea scallops: grilled scallops over nuttery spheghetti squash w pancetta crisp n roasted tomato n smoked paprika coulis

Like the grilled calamari, the texture of the scallops was good. But the excellence stopped there. In the noodle salad dish, the scallops were slightly under-seasoned. The concept of tamarind and mango is great but I couldn't taste either in that dish. The scallops with squash, pancetta and roasted tomatoes sound wonderful as a fall/winter dish. In reality the depth and smokiness were missing. The tomatoes weren't roasted enough to compete with other ingredients; they weren't refreshing enough to cut through the grease either. The smoky paprika coulis, which was supposed to envelop the dish with big bold flavor, was also lacking. After the initial tasting my only thought was, "Why?" Why is every ingredient reasonably prepared but they just don't form a nice dish when put together?

It seems all the dishes we had at Benjamin's suffer from the same shortfalls. The grilled elk chops or lamb chops were succulent but not quite memorable. And it's not like no attention was given to the sides. Once we had fresh corn shoots sprinkled on our mains. It isn't a common ingredient and I definitely appreciate the thought of showcasing the local produce. However, its flavour was so unique and intense that it didn't quite get along with the rest of the dish. I understand how hectic and unpredictable it is being in the kitchen but it will take more work on tweaking the flavours and better execution to bring Benjamin's to the level of sophistication it (intends to) be.

Having said that, food in general is still quite enjoyable. The service is always friendly though slow at times. And the place does have a homey, country feel to it which makes it good for tourists and locals alike to feel welcome in St Jacobs.