Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Bauer Kitchen

The Bauer Kitchen
187 King St. South
Waterloo, Ontario

I really wanted to like this restaurant. It has a long and successful pedigree (Charcoal Group - owner of Charcoal and Wildcraft, amongst other local places), it's participating in the urbanization of Uptown Waterloo which I heartily support, and it has a great industrial chic vibe to it inside. The decor is interesting and it seems to have less of a focus on the bar compared to Wildcraft; however, after a couple of visits I was ultimately disappointed with the single most important aspect of a restaurant - the food.

My first visit (sorry, no pictures from this one) was quite acceptable - duck confit spring rolls with a spicy orange sauce were fried crispy and had a generous filling of shredded duck, and the braised short rib gnocchi was also a generous and flavourful meaty offering. It was the aftermath that wasn't so nice - a severe case of food poisoning that had me up all night. Now, one can never be 100% certain of the cause but I had nothing else strange that day so it seems that it was the likely culprit.

The second visit was a lot better from my stomach's perspective, but not for my tastebuds. (Apologies for the dark pictures - it is difficult to take good pictures by candlelight with a point and shoot - but in this case it's somewhat appropriate as the flavours match the lighting).

To start off, we were offered the usual bread. It was purported to be freshly baked that day, but judging from the texture, it seemed at least a day old. It set the tone for the evening though, as what followed was almost a complete disaster.

First appetizer: Hand made beef short rib ravioli, truffled leek cream, red wine jus and fried shallots. ($11.95)

This was literally one big ravioli and looked a bit odd especially with the sauce running all over the plate. It was under seasoned and bland. Beef ribs should have a deep, meaty flavour but this was just completely flat and a touch dry. Same with the red wine jus, which added no punch to the flavour. The best part was the pasta which was fresh and cooked properly. I should have stuck to my vow never to order pasta at a restaurant, but was fooled by the promise of the beef short ribs this time.

Second appetizer: Steak tartare with quail egg, shallots, lemon zest, capers, garlic and crostini. ($9.95)

Sapphire had the steak tartare. It had a fairly unique presentation with the spices laid out separately on the side and the egg on top, so one could presumably mix them together in a proportion that would please their palate. It wasn't a very generous serving of steak and Sapphire said the spices reminded her of the flavouring packet from instant noodles. Although considering she sometimes eats the dried noodles straight up, that might be a compliment.

First main: Duck confit pizza with honey roasted pears, thyme, caramelized onions, stilton cheese and roasted garlic ($14.95)

On paper this seemed to be a fairly straight-forward flavour combination, but the duck was dry and tasteless, the pears tasted like styrofoam (and not even honey roasted styrofoam), and there wasn't enough cheese to pick things up. The crust was crispy and well done though, and it appears they have a stone oven to cook pizzas in.
Second main: Pan-seared Ontario duck with grilled sweet potato medallions, red pepper, wilted spinach, thyme and pear relish. ($23.95)

We'll often try to order dishes that we wouldn't normally cook at home - and as you might guess, duck is one of them. So we've had a lot of experience eating duck in restaurants, and this dish missed on many aspects. A well seasoned and properly seared duck breast should have a meaty, smoky flavour. This one was missing all of that, plus the fat wasn't rendered off sufficiently, ruining the texture as well as the flavour. As with all the other dishes, this was under-seasoned. We thought perhaps this was for health reasons - cutting back on sodium? But alas, the spinach was swimming in butter. Other items were unremarkable, although I'm not sure quickly grilling thick slabs of sweet potato was the best idea.

Dessert: Chocolate walnut brownie with silken chocolate mousse and raspberry sorbet. ($7.45)

There is a separate pastry chef listed on the menu, and the dessert reflected it. While it was not particularly outstanding or innovative, we were simply happy at this point to be served a well executed dish. The brownie was rich, dense, and very chocolately. It paired nicely with the mousse for texture, and the raspberry sorbet for flavour contrast. It was, unfortunately, the highlight of the evening.

Service was up to the standards we expected from a place like this. The front desk was overstaffed (a good thing) and we didn't have to wait for our jackets to be taken or our table. The kitchen was a little on the slow side (might explain things drying out?) but nothing outrageous.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about the dinner we had and this review. I'd really like to chalk it up to a bad day (by either the kitchen or our tastebuds) but there were so many things wrong with both visits that we'll have a hard time going back to give them a third chance. I'm sure many customers and readers will disagree, judging by the buzz and the crowds they are still attracting, but with all the options available in Waterloo now I have a hard time wanting to return.

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