Friday, April 29, 2011


Though we claim to have advanced beyond neanderthals I feel at times that human beings are more like cattle, or perhaps lemmings.

Why is it that we gravitate to the thoroughfares of dining establishments to have long-drawn out conversations punctuated with grandiose gestures.  People congregate in doorways and hallways or crowd around a single focal point while cocktailing.

We mash ourselves into these bottlenecks, jostled by those around us; pressed indiscreetly against the stinking armpits of our neighbours (or voluptuous bosoms), while there are large open areas with virtually no one in them.  Vacant tables stand at the ready to embrace our idiot selves, but instead we bump, grind and flail: risking spilled drinks/dinners as servers attempt to manoeuvre the mine field of errant limbs.

Everybody move to the back of the bus!

More disturbing yet; even after being requested to move - ever so politely - a number of times over, people will just continue to shuffle back into the area that a member of the staff is trying to get to and from.  Blocking the way over and over and over and over and over.  How long until we get the point?  Perhaps we should ask Pavlov's dogs?

During these times of heavy congestion, you may feel a gentle hand on your back and a courteous request: 'Pardon me'.  But what we really want to say is MOVE!!! and we'd like to say it with our elbows.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

down the street...

Everyone is so happy to have one of Stratford's greatest late-night spots finally re-open after the harsh winter!  The place was a-buzz with activity on opening weekend and the menu just as tasty as ever!  For those of us who know the food scene in town, this is the classiest place for late-night rendezvous.  So popular is 'DTS' that one can be nearly jostled out the door by the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on some nights.

Such a great way to greet guests - free bubbly was presented upon arrival!  And beyond the greeting, it's hard to go wrong with Anj and Caitlin behind the bar and Marjorie is always a delight at the table!  The location is as sensuous as ever and with some fresh paint and a good scrub over the winter, the place is ever more vibrant.

The wine list has an Ontario focus with Lailey Vineyard and Tawse Winery appearing among others.  Cocktails are expertly shaken - tiny ice crystals reflect the lights making my martini oh-so-perfectly chilled. 

Can't wait for patio weather, you'll find me amidst the blossoms, under that stars (and beside them - as it is a favourite haunt of the actors and plenty of restaurant icons) at 'DTS'.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Weekly Linkage: Gross Food, Gross Fish and not-gross-at-all Bijou

Maybe I'm wrong.  I'd love to be.  I'd love for someone with knowledge of the facts to correct me (perhaps in the comments section of this post).

I consider Stratford to be a clean city, with beautiful parks and with a distinct absence of the litter and general grime that other locales suffer from.  The grass is green, the flowers are beautiful, the trees are healthy, the not (well, at times it's green, but beautiful and healthy?  No.)

Perhaps it's too motionless, perhaps it's all the duck/swan poop.  Whatever it is, to me it appears disgusting.  And yet people fish in it.  Now, I know the derby this past weekend is facilitated by the Optimist club 'stocking' the lake with healthy fish from another location. This doesn't alleviate my gut feeling of disgust at the thought of people eating the fish from that water.

People are often shocked at the concept of the '5 second rule' in restaurants (the idea that if a piece of food hits the floor, as long as it's picked up within 5 seconds, it's still ok to use).  While I'm sure that rule is NEVER put into practice in ANY restaurant in our lovely city, to me this derby is a far more disturbing practice.

I mean, these fish effectively marinate in a poop brine for hours, sometimes days - as this morning there were families fishing in the rain, 2 days after the derby.  They are then caught and (I fear) cooked and eaten by potentially unsuspecting families.

Please tell me I'm wrong.  That I'm an ignorant idiot.  Show me some facts that dispel my fears.  I'm actually begging here.

On to the links!

Sticking with the gross food theme: this is an older article, but still quite relevant given the success of shows like Outrageous Foods on the Food Network.  It talks about the gross food movement.  You know, like shrimp and ham cake, 9lb burgers and the mega bacon sandwich.  It's sort of like if Maury Povich or Jerry Springer were chefs, these are the things they'd make.

Even worse (better) is when people cram food into them quickly.  At least this year, women will have a chance to compete in the Nathan's Famous hot dog-eating contest (though for a quarter of the prize money).  I applaud Nathan's for giving both sexes equal opportunity to act like pathetic fools.

Hopefully all that processed meat won't kill them.

Worried about radiated seafood from off the coast of Japan?  Be thankful you don't live in Britain, where since 1952, a nuclear plant on the Irish sea has dumped about 44 times the amount of cesium-137 into its waters than Fukushima has dumped into the pacific.  I guess that's good news?

This device doesn't measure radiation, but it will tell you if your meat has expired.

In case you weren't aware, this past weekend was easter.  Here are some interesting facts about the eggs you painted.

A celebrity chef who will not snub Toronto!  I always liked David Chang better than those other guys anyways.

A bunch of food related 'best of' and 'top 100' lists came out recently.  The San Pellegrino Top 100 restaurant list does not include any Canadian restaurants, which is bad news for Langdon Hall, who had finished 77th last year. The seventh annual Canadian Cheese Grand Prix results are in.  Also, some guy named Grant Achatz was the only food related entry in the Time 100 list.  Never heard of him.

On a sombre note, one of the most enigmatic and fun to watch Canadian TV chefs passed away this week.  Ken Kostick was just 57.

Lastly, but by far not the least, this past week saw chef Aaron Linley and Steve from Bijou Restaurant battle Paula and Ben from Verses Restaurant in round 2 of the 3rd annual Nick and Nat's Iron Chef, Uptown!  Aaron did Stratford proud as he defeated the competition in 'Battle Organic Beef'  As he does, The Local-Come-Lately was there to intrepidly report the goings-on.  Please read his article, complete with a kick-ass  video capturing the action!  Congrats Aaron!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

customer profile: the deal chasing penny pincher

There are many different types of customers encountered by servers on a daily basis.  This is the first of a series of profiles on some of the worst/most irritating guests.

To preface: I understand that some people can't afford to spend a lot on dinner, perhaps the value menu at Wendys is your preferred option? These people should perhaps consider eating at home more often instead of hopping from wing night to wing night.  If your budget only allows for little Jimmy to eat 'ketchup sandwiches', don't eat out, stay home!

There are some great deals to be had in this town as far as dining is concerned, and I am in no way discrediting those who enjoy things like 5for5 at the Parlour, Beat-the-Clock at Molly Bloom's, Wing Night at the Boar's Head, 1/2 Price Basic Pizza at Pazzo, (Dis)Advantage cards, etc.  If you take advantage of these deals, whilst enjoying a couple of pints or a bottle of wine then bravo! you are a savvy and frugal individual.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who feel that restaurants exist to feed them within their budgets, allow me to present a wake-up call. 

Restaurants are businesses!  Who knew?

These places exist, not to support your burgeoning waist line, but to make a profit and support the families of the people who own and work in them.  Go figure.

Getting angry at the service staff because refills aren't free with your 59c wings is just stingy.  Not to mention the great debate over the beverage purchase required to use your advantage card.  Leading off with a query of "what's your cheapest..." just makes you sound like a scrooge.

The idea of a deal is to get you in the door, into a seat, where you will henceforth spend some of your hard earned cash.  Those who partake ONLY in the deal, refusing to spend a penny more than necessary are merely a passing irritation to be tolerated until that table can be turned for someone else.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

how to get a server's attention

First of all, patience is key.  If you are in a restaurant where the service is good and you're being taken care of in a timely manner please resist the urge to hunt down your server to ask for salt.  You probably have enough salt in your diet already, let me rephrase, you probably have TOO MUCH salt in your diet already.  If you are a female it will only add to your water retention and if you are a male, well....I digress.

Let me first go over the ways to NOT get your servers attention.  These things make you look uncouth and  boorish.  You may want something NOW but perhaps a moment or two will not hurt you.

1. DO NOT address your server whilst he/she is attending another table - this includes tugging on his/her apron.  This is not only rude to the server but also to the other people, who (while obviously less important than you) deserve attention too.  It's not okay for your server to ignore you because they are disclosing their sexual adventures to a co-worker or having a smoke break (unacceptable) but taking care of the rest of their section is part of their job!

2. DO NOT yell.  There are no exceptions for this.  Shouting across the dining room to get your server's attention makes you an ass. Period.

3. DO NOT lift your glass and wave it in the air/set it atop your head.  This will cause your server to ignore you - as they obviously would not want to interrupt the stupid show happening at your table - until you regain your faculties and start acting like a sensible adult again. This goes for waving money at your bartender, it's rude, have some class.

4. DO NOT snap your fingers.  We are not dogs, and you are not the King of England (unless of course you are the King of England then go ahead, we'll forgive you, but just this once).  This makes you look like a pretentious jerk, a high and mighty asinine prat.

5. DO NOT whistle.  This is similar, yet more heinous than shouting; it encompasses both the concept that you are referring to your server as an animal to be beckoned at your leisure and/or a stripper.  If you are going to whistle, expect a jug of water, or in the more severe cases, hot coffee, poured on your lap/head.

Basically, to get your servers attention, make eye contact with a meaningful look.  If your server is in the middle of something give them a moment to look over, hold their gaze, and they will come to your aid at their next available moment.  If you truly have been waiting an unbearable amount of time - check the clock, time moves slower than you think - then approach the bar and present your query politely to the bartender, they can help sort you out.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

when foodies go too far!

Now I'm all for supporting local/sustainable food. I prefer small independent restaurants who know their producers and use great products presented in delectable fashion, but there is a line!  This line is too often crossed by the people who launch far past 'foodies' to become 'gastronomes'.  These pretentious people believe that EVERYTHING that crosses your table should be 100% organic, even if you have a family of 6 and are hoping to feed them on a reasonable budget.

These 'gourmands' are stuck on the finer points of old European service, requiring even the most casual restaurants to flambe their bananas foster table-side.  They argue over the differences between wagyu and kobe beef ad nauseum.  They correct you constantly with pronunciations of uncommon food words and always use extravagant inflection and of course, every conversation about food somehow ends up with a discussion about how much they loooove FWAAAH GrrrRRRAAAAAAHHHHH!

I have served these people and I've cooked for them, but they are most irritating when you eat with them.  There is constant criticism of your choices, "that year in the Southern Rhone Valley was NOT a good vintage" "I cannot believe you would order THAT!"

The sad part is, the 'gourmands' are missing out.  They have forgotten the most important thing about food and drink; the enjoyment of it!  It's great to appreciate the finer things but one must always be careful to not take it too far lest your friends stop going out for dinner with you!

(Thanks to Catherine Cassidy for introducing me to this great video!)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weekly Linkage: Drunk Babies, "Monster Whopper", Wine-Smuggling and more!

With winter now upon us, it seemed appropriate to include a couple of wine related posts in this week's linkage as during the winter, drinking wine is one of my favourite hobbies.
Wait.  It's April.  You'll excuse my confusion, as I look outside Stratford appears to be in the middle of a January-like squall.  Let me start again:
With spring now upon us, it seemed appropriate to include a couple of wine related posts in this week's linkage as during the spring and summer, drinking wine is one of my favourite hobbies.  Seriously though.  Where is spring?

I need to rant a little bit, bear with me.  I know Japan has quite a few pressing issues at the moment, but this doesn't bode well for the future health of their country.  Seriously Burger King?  The "Meat Monster"?  1,160 calories, 69g of fat, 24g of saturated fat, 2,300mg of sodium and 1.5g of trans fat.  Idiots.  I mean, isn't there any sense of responsibility towards the health of your customers here?  Oh, wait, you're a corporation, I forgot.  Your only moral compass is that which individual governments impose on you.  Thank goodness Japan has less stringent regulations for you to exploit.  Jerks.

Moving on to more local, less corporate and far healthier topics: Jennifer Bylok did an awesome article profiling our Slow Food Market for Spotlight Toronto.  It's great to see a good thing get publicity.

An article discussing why you should feel good about eating Ontario farmed trout.  If that article inspired you: Lyndon Hatcheries is a local farm (New Dundee) that offers Rainbow Trout and Arctic Char.  They also have a spring-fed pond in which you can catch your own.

Heading a bit further down the road you can find Ontario's first high fat butter.  84% fat, barrel-churned goodness!

Daniel Boulud has snubbed Toronto (again), this time for Montreal.

Remember Terry David Mulligan?  Apparently he is willing to go to jail in protest of a ridiculous liquor law that forbids anyone from crossing a provincial boundary with wine, beer or spirits.  Always wonder why it's harder to get a B.C. wine than a South African?  This is part of it.  Go Terry!

Applebee's and The Olive Garden are taking steps to reduce the number of toddlers that are accidentally served alcohol in their establishments.  Bravo.

Back to Spotlight Toronto (because it's awesome), this time an article by Suresh Doss (because he's awesome), in which he goes shopping at an LCBO with sommelier Joel Wilcox.  The video embedded in the article is the first episode in a series entitled "Shop With A Sommelier".  Well worth a watch.

Last but not least, I'm sure you must have heard by now that there is some sort of election happening in Canada next month.  My intention with this blog is to talk food, not politics, but occasionally the two can mix.  Here's an absolutely awesome article that cuts through the b.s. and offers a party-by-party breakdown of food policy.  If you are reading this blog, you need to read this article.

P.S. follow me on Twitter @chewstratford, or be my friend on Facebook.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

location, location, location!

Congrats to the newbie to the Stratford food scene; Big D's has taken on the challenge of one of the most cursed locations in the city.

Into the 90's, House of Gene (which occupied the space at 104-108 Downie st.) was a big hit.  A half decent Chinese buffet with good egg rolls and questionable lighting.  Gene's was a dual location mammoth at that time - and quite a popular family dining destination.  But somewhere along the line, when Gene's left, the building was seemingly condemned to its current fail-rate.

Without missing a beat, a new restaurant takes over the location at the corner of George & Downie (kitty corner to the Avon) in whole or part and promptly runs itself into the ground.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Perhaps a second season is achieved by one of these new places but rarely beyond.  It seems that there is a great deal of unpreparedness, hasty openings or poorly thought out partnerships associated with this location.  The season in Stratford is short and it seems like restaurants scramble to be ready for opening week.

There is certainly more than one location around the city that seems to be cursed with turnover.  27 Market Place where the new Backstage will be opening.  38 Erie st. which currently is being nicely maintained by County Food Co. (great 'bucket' picnic lunches available to enjoy by the river).  107 Downie st. has settled down for now with Downie st. Burgers grabbing a great niche market recently (arguably the best burgers in town?).

But though some of these others seem to have found their niche, that location at 104-108 Downie st. has one of the worst track records in recent history: Bistro 104 became Garlic's became Gilt became Olive's became Tantara has become Big D's.  I wish them luck, but God help them!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

black krim? brandywine? cherokee purple?

I realize it is only April but you can't blame me for fantasizing.  As soon as the sun warms my face for the first time on a balmy spring day I start to think about tomatoes.  Sure, the long harsh winter has brought plenty of Mexican tomatoes to our city, but those little bastards are waxy and grainy - a far cry from a summer tomato.  Once the heirloom varieties begin to ripen (unfortunately not until the end of July and beyond) I keep my eye on menus to find them showcased in the simplest forms.  A really good heirloom tomato does not need a great deal of pomp and circumstance; sliced and served with some local cheese and a light vinaigrette is just about perfect.

Aaron Linley at Bijou always seems to get his hands on some of the most delectable and varied heirlooms this countryside has to offer.  Last summer they were served with C'est Bon Goat's cheese and an adobo vinaigrette with a few renegade pieces of arugula scattered about for that pepper note, simple perfection.

I wait, somewhat patiently, for Savour Stratford when artisans bring their gorgeous tomatoes to our fair city, then buy as many as will last.

Nature gives us so many beautiful flavours when we accept her timing and so, though I will eat tomatoes in the winter time, nobody says I have to like it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

give yourself a Hanh

An oft forgotten delight resides adjacent to the shell station on Erie st. Thai-Vietnamese cuisine is offered for dine in or take-out (I'd suggest taking out, as even the delightful 'Ms. Hanh' doesn't think it's a nice place to eat in - fluorescent lighting makes everyone look garish)  She says, "You take home! It not so nice here, but food is GOOD!" and she is right!

We had a great conversation while waiting for the take out to be ready - though the language barrier presented some difficulty.  She claims that quite the list of local celebrities frequent her little corner shop for take-out.  The likes of Neil Baxter (head chef of Rundles) and one of the owners from Pazzo are mentioned (she recognizes them from her days at the chef school! who knew?).

Most dishes are available in varied levels of heat.  Pad thai is great for those not overly adventurous and recommended mild by Hanh.  One shrimp makes it to the dish without being de-veined but the flavour is spot on so all is forgiven.  Beef stirfry is also recommended, this time hot, served on udon noodles.  The heat is great - we sweat just a little- the beef tender and the vegetables cooked just so, firm texture but not too crunchy.

Spring rolls are hand made and delicious - pastry is crisp and golden brown served with sharp tasty fish sauce, you have to get two of your own or you'll be left craving a second one for weeks to come!

The pho, ordered with a few spring rolls, is a perfect take-away lunch.  It's CASH ONLY so grab a few bucks, chop sticks and some rooster sauce and prepare for the best (and only) Thai food in town.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Weekly Linkage: Bacon, Beer, Coffee and more!

Ah springtime!  Warm(er) weather, sunshine and swans, all signs of better days ahead.  This weekend marked the first signs of patio action at a few places in the downtown.  Sadly, the greatest patio of them all (old Othello's) will remain closed, leaving Peter to search for an alternative canvas to display his floral art.  Another sign of spring: the first of the seasonal restaurants are back as Down The Street has opened its doors this past weekend and the food was as good as ever (post to come soon!).

On to the links!

Big Stratford food/tourism news this week as three local festivals will receive over $180,000 from the province as part of their 'Celebrate Ontario' initiative. 
A potential ban on toys given out by fast food restaurants in New York city.  I'm no politician, but is there some way Stratford can do this?

Some pros and cons regarding the so-called 'molecular cuisine' movement that peaked a while ago and has been brought back into focus due to the release of the epic cookbook 'Modernist Cuisine' by Nathan Myhrvold.  If you enjoy the technical side of cooking and haven't heard of this book penned by the former CTO of Microsoft, you need to read about it here.  It's being called the most important cookbook of our time.

Nothing says spring (or summer, fall and winter for that matter) like a delicious beer: 
Here's a link to A Year Of Beer!: top Ontario microbreweries.
Why do craft breweries sell up?  Jordan St. John attempts to answer.
This guy consumed nothing but beer and water for 23 days...and still went to work!  A true hero.

Waterloo Region Eats' Andrew Coppolino did a great post on Kitchener's top coffee spots.  Stay tuned for The Chew's take on Stratford's best brews.  'Iron Barista: Stratford vs. Kitchener'  What do you think?

Speaking of iron: Iron Chef Uptown returns for 2011.  The first match is this Wednesday.  Stratford is being represented by both Bijou Restaurant (April 20th) and the Stratford Chef School (May 11th).  Kudos to Nick and Nat's Uptown 21 for organising and hosting the event.

Never thought I would say this, but can there be such a thing as too much bacon?

Lastly, Top Chef Canada premieres tonight!  Sadly, there are no Stratfordians competing, though I'm sure it's only a matter of time.  Here's a link to an awesome Spotlight Toronto post on a recent mock quickfire challenge between the Ontario chefs competing.  There are some pretty amazing pictures plus a video of the event (the video's not properly embedded, but it gives you a link).  Enjoy!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

dining etiquette + adults part 1: cellphone usage

The dilemma faced by the average individual to set aside mobile devices while dining out becomes harder and harder the more we depend on the immediateness of these devices.  We live in a "now" focused world where an incoming call is weighted with similar importance to the people we are sitting with.


There are two issues at hand here:  The first, and generally more obtrusive one, is talking on a cell phone.  The second, which more directly effects those at the table with you (and perhaps your server) is the text/BBM/mobile browsing/tweeting/etc. the silent, yet irritating distraction that halts conversation at the table.

Let's begin by addressing those who choose to talk on their phones in dining rooms where other people are enjoying a nice dinner.  To be fair, this does not apply to every restaurant at every time of day.  Someone on a cell phone in a restaurant that caters to business clientele at lunch time is not so heinous as a loud-talker in the middle of an intimate dining room in the evening. 

The duration and volume of the conversation are almost as important as where you are having it.  A quick "Hello? We're already here, see you shortly!" is okay, but discussing the finer details of  "the thickness of conductor insulation required for minimum bending radius as a multiple of the cable diameter for units without metallic shielding" should perhaps be done whilst not having dinner, or at least be courteous enough to the other guests to head out into the foyer, or outside if the weather permits.  There is little that is worse than having an intimate dinner ruined by someone on a cell phone loudly recounting his/her sexual adventures from the night before.

At the very least, be aware of volume!  If you must have a conversation in the dining area, please have it in hushed tones - no louder than the general hubbub of the restaurant.

The second issue has more to do with being polite to your own guests and possibly being distracted when your server is trying to take orders etc.  There is nothing wrong with 'checking in' on 4square or sending a quick 'tweet' about something delicious you just had/or are about to eat.  These are great tools that you can use to promote your favourite restaurants and a large number of places offer WIFI with their guests in mind.  Just make sure you're not distracted by an in-depth text conversation while your friend excitedly tells you their exciting news or while the server 'patiently' waits for your order.

As always, be courteous of those around you!  Hopefully they will return the favour and everyone can enjoy their outing without disturbance.

BONUS LINK: dear cell phone user 
a pdf for you to print out and give to obnoxious cell phone users!

Friday, April 8, 2011

party for 15! and no we don't have reservations...

"That wont be a problem, just give us a moment to get something set up!" (said in sickly sweet tones with an over exaggerated smile)

Large groups are the bane of restaurant existence (slight exaggeration), though they are often good moneymakers and guaranteed numbers for the owners, they are trouble for just about every other person involved in serving them.

Depending on the size of the party itself and the size of the restaurant, a large group can pretty much grind things to a halt as far as the kitchen is concerned.  Understandably so, after all, coordinating all the different plates for that many people just takes time! If the order goes into the kitchen for a table of two just after a large party, forget timeliness, their food wont be coming out until AFTER the larger order is completed.

Everything with a large group takes more time, not just multiplied, exponentially more.

Invariably it will be impossible to get the attention of the whole table at any given time which means every time you approach the table someone new will require something of the server.  Even if the server says in a loud voice "Would anyone ELSE like a refill on their beverage?  Another glass of wine perhaps?  Sir, another Heineken for you?" they are often ignored until the next trip back when the aforementioned 'Sir' asks in a snooty tone, "uh, can I get another Heineken?!?" What the server would like to say is..."Of course you can! But would you mind PAYING ATTENTION WHEN I ASK YOU NEXT TIME?!?!?!"

Large parties also believe the entire restaurant world revolves around them, it is inevitable that someone at the table will feel neglected by their server, though likely not because of a lack in the service, more regarding their own attention span.  A large group will think that every member of the service staff is tending to their table - of course every person wearing a uniform is indentured to them.  Other servers, from other sections, get requests at random, causing problems later when the inevitable separate cheque issue comes into play.  It's hard to remember what each person had if they ordered things from someone else.

The next time you are part of a large party in a restaurant, try to be a little courteous to the staff.  Familiarize yourself with who your server is, then pay attention to that person when they are at the table.  Realize perhaps, that it is somewhat your responsibility to order things subject to the timing of the rest of the group.  It's probably not your servers fault, but the fault of your friends/family, that you are without a fresh drink!  Even better is to have someone in the party take charge and be responsible for ordering the wine/shared appetizers/etc and to keep everyone focused when it comes time to order.

After all, though servers would like to multiply themselves and be at your beck-and-call at every possible moment, that technology hasn't been invented yet.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

good idea: watch Fellini's 8 1/2

bad idea: eat at Fellini's   

 'Happiness consists of being able to tell the truth without hurting anyone'
~ Guido (from the film 8 1/2) ~

Unfortunately this truth might hurt a little.

I had hoped that eating at Fellini's would be a lighthearted Italian experience filled with warmth and laughter.  Disappointment ensued...

We called ahead but were told by a young woman that "there might not be a table available if we don't come right away" - no offer of a reservation possibility.

The greeting was pleasant enough and our waitress was friendly and upbeat.  A look at the wine list offered flights (three 2oz portions of different wines) a great idea, but unfortunately there weren't enough drinkable wines present to warrant getting three. 

We perused the menu and the insert on which the daily features were written.  Both had a relaxed feeling that bordered a little too close to carelessness, somewhat dog eared and spilled on, mine even had some items smudged out.  It's ok to not take yourselves too seriously, but the crayons on a table which has only adults at it seems to denote a certain _______?

Appetizers were bacon wrapped scallops and spinach salad.  Presentations were colourful and pleasant but the scallops were dry, seemingly cooked directly from frozen and the bacon wrapping them was rubbery; both sat atop some kind of onion and red pepper bruschetta with cream cheese which ultimately masked the scallops entirely when eaten together - thank heaven for small blessings.  The salad was not unpleasant, but that is the best that can be said.

Entrees arrived a full hour after we ordered with a long stretch of wait time after the appetizers were cleared.  Thankfully the company was pleasant enough to endure the untimeliness and the presence of the highlight of the meal, which is the olive bread, made in house and served with olive oil and balsamic, was comforting - though it was also served with unnecessary pre-packaged butter.

The main courses arrived and the feature, priced at $20 - chicken breast stuffed with crab and portabello mushroom with linguini in a lemon pepper cream sauce - looked as though it had been in a holding oven/under a heat lamp for quite some time, congealed sauce, dry chicken.  The pizza arrived looking like some overcooked version of a frozen 'no name' and the taste was exactly that.  Slightly soggy in the middle and burnt on the edges - it should never have made it to a table - this is something that one might eat after a drinking binge, only because there are no other options available.  The saving feature to the food was a rather tasty version of rustic ratatouille, the only thing that was eaten without complaint.  Sadly, the server did not seem to realize, or perhaps didn't care about the unrest at the table regarding the food.

Tempting fate, we ordered dessert and as much as the tartufo was delicious, the tiramisu was too heavy and decadently chocolate for it's namesake - had it been called something else, it could have been great!

Nearing the end of the evening, a contrast to the disastrous plated fiasco finally appeared.  The manager who saw us off (possibly the owner?) was delightful.  Gracious and kind with a genuine sense of humour, at least he left us with a touch of the warmth I expected from the experience.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

iron chef uptown champion?

Yesterday, when Nick and Nat's mentioned that Aaron Linley would be competing in the Iron Chef competition I couldn't help being reminded of his brilliance!  I returned to 'Kitchen Confidential' to re-read a portion that always reminds me of Aaron's cooking.

In the following excerpt, Bourdain is speaking fondly of a chef he says he is jealous of, someone whose schooling combined with natural talent has allowed him to achieve near-perfection with his food.  I have substituted and bolded Aaron's name in place of the Chef originally being described.  Those of you who have eaten at Bijou will understand why...

"Everything on [Aaron's] plate is edible.  It's food, first and foremost, to be eaten, not looked at - though his presentations are inspired.  Try and imagine the clean, unfussy integrity of Japanese cuisine, with the unrestrained flavors and soul-food heartiness of a well-remembered Grandma's best dish.  He was braising economy cuts.  He was taking greasy, oily fishes that nobody wanted and making magic.  He was presenting it in big bowls in pretty stacks where - if you jammed your fork through all three layers - you got something that combined to actually taste good.  He wasn't piling food on top of itself because layer one looked good on top of layer two and three.  It tasted good that way.  And those big bowls? At [Bijou], when something comes in a big bowl it's because there's gonna be sauce left in the bottom; chances are, you're going to be running a crust of bread around in there and mopping it up when the entree has been eaten."

Bijou is a favourite of many local restaurant 'grunts'; those of us who know food and love food, love the hidden 'culinary gem' that is tucked away behind the Erie st. parking lot.

Check out the Local-Come-Lately's experience at Bijou.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Weekly Linkage: Trends, Ronald McDonald, Tipping, Cheese and more!

Here are a few things food and/or Stratford related that have caught my eye recently on the interwebs.  Some are new, some are old, some are local, some are not, but I think they're all pretty interesting.  The plan is to do this weekly.  Hope you like it!

First off are a couple links offering opinions on some items we've discussed in previous posts:
  • Jay Rayner (one of the best food columnists in the world, in my opinion - and a top chef judge!) has his take on unruly children in restaurants.  If you missed it, here's part one of The Chew's take.
  •  A very interesting article on what makes us tip.  Large breasts and candy?  hmm...
  • Mark Schatzker at the Globe and Mail talks about his experience with sending food back.  He consults a chef, an American and his wife to get their opinions on the matter.
  • Local food plus talks about the Certified Local Sustainable tag and how it relates to items with multiple ingredients (ie. can local apples be combined with sugar and spices from further away and still be called local?)  
And the rest...

After a brief sojourn out of the spotlight, Ronald McDonald has decided to resume his career brainwashing small children.

Toronto Life has an article outlining their take on the past year's food trends.  Also (a feature I look forward to every year), their best new restaurants 2011 is out with some interesting profiles.

Want to lure the Chew? set out some of this!

Finally, if you haven't seen this Stratford Festival promotional video, now you can!  I think they nailed it.  Can't wait for summer!

Friday, April 1, 2011

c'mon, play fair...

Wow, I'm having trouble deciding how I feel about the latest 'event' posted by Bentley's.  With a large colour spread in the Beacon Herald this is quite the move for an established business. I can in some ways appreciate the flashy marketing - offering deals at the expense of a newcomer to the Stratford bar scene who has in most respects been here before, but it's more than a little callous.  In fact given the history between Kim Brander and Bentley's it could be called down right petty and vengeful.

I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to any new place in hopes that it will be of good quality and it is important for me to support the community of Stratford's independent operators.  Even if this place has been around before under different names, locals have always had a love-hate relationship with the grungy upstairs bar, after all it's a great place to 'shake your booty'.

To be fair, I will give the 'new' place a try and promise to review it in the coming months and I will certainly be boycotting Bentley's for the 7 days.  But I can't help giving a slight nod to them for their cohones. Slight.

sending it back!

The dilemma involved in sending something back in a restaurant is a tough one.  Both for server and guest.  As in many other aspects of life, 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease' and often the most obnoxious complaining customers get their meals paid for, while the quiet, unsatisfied individual says very little and vows never to return.

Servers have a responsibility to read their guests, it's not always about what someone is saying out loud, sometimes it's about how much food is left on the plate - are they taking the rest home?, how many times the guest said 'fine' - one should never strive for 'fine', it's lacklustre and often shows that someone is unhappy.

Tone, body language, conversation at the table, these are all things a server should pay attention to, not to mention using your own sense of judgement regarding the food you are serving.

You are the last pair of eyes evaluating a dish before it makes it to the table.  Are the edges of the garlic bread burnt?  Does the dish look like it has sat under the heat lamp too long?  Is there a film building on the sauce/soup?  Is there enough dressing on the salad? Too much?

Build a relationship with your kitchen staff so they trust your judgement, be critical but fair.

As for the guest responsibility, don't eat something that is terrible just because "you're paying for it".  Remember, there is a difference between poorly made and not your taste, so know which is which.  If the kitchen is putting out food that is inedible (burnt, dry, raw, congealed, over-seasoned, etc.) don't be afraid to send it back!  Politely of course, but you are paying for a dining experience and should not have to eat sub-par food.  A restaurant SHOULD appreciate the feedback if you are being reasonable and pleasant.

Servers, don't belittle the guest.  Yes of course sometimes they are wrong but LISTEN!  CARE!  These people are ultimately paying your wages (plus your tips) and it's your responsibility to make them happy.  Too many times a guest leaves the majority of their dinner on the plate and doesn't want it wrapped up and the server just says "ok, just the bill?"  Not acceptable.  As a server you should judge what the guest is really saying and take the time to ask again, "was it not to your liking?".  You'd be surprised what you can get out of a guest with a little earnestness.  And perhaps you could offer a free dessert, or discount the appetizers at the table as a gesture of care.

Of course if someone is being an idiot, sending back food that is exactly what they asked for and perfectly executed, don't always buy them dinner, they probably wont be back anyway.