A TRULY HIDDEN GEM

As often happens, we were lazing around wondering where we should go for dinner. I don’t know how we managed to come across it, but once discovering Stonegate Bistro online, and checking out the reviews, it was obvious that we had to go!

I believe the bistro opened in Februray of this year, so it is still fairly new. I really hope that they manage to make a name for themselves as, it could just be me, but I think their location may work against them. I do hope I’m wrong. I hope that downtown Kitchener will somehow find a way to bring people in and keep them coming back. At least Stonegate has plenty of signage to direct you down to their classy little cavern! And who knows, maybe they will be one of the things that keeps people coming back, I know I will definitely be visiting them again.

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Our meal was spectacular from beginning to end. To start we were presented with a basket of pita pieces and bread along with oil for dipping.  I found that I liked the pita with the oil, but the bread on its own. Somehow, for me, the herbs in the bread just didn’t seem to go with  the herbs in the oil. Next up was my soup, the starter from my 3-course prix-fix theatre menu selection. The soup of the day was a creamy tomato and lentil soup. It was so seriously deliciously creamy. I could probably live without the lentils, but I would still have that soup again any day! My mate didn’t order a starter, but the chef was making complimentary salads that day so we decided to share it. With neither of us being to big on our veggies, we were both very surprised at how much we enjoyed the mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet vinagrette with goat cheese (or feta, but I think it was goat). As you may have noticed, I especially play it safe with salads, generally going for the caesar variety, as they can be so touch-and-go. But this one was certainly a winner.

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For my main I selected the atlantic salmon with a lemon dill sauce. I was expecting it to arrive with garlic mashed yukon gold potatoes, so I was surprised to find wild rice beneath the fish on my plate. Apparently the chef had made an executive decision to switch them out because the potatoes were too dry, so we were told. Even if this was the case, a heads up about the change would have been nice but, regardless, in the end I was glad to have had the rice instead. I think it was much more flavourful and added some neat textures; from soft to crunchy! The grilled veggies the meal came with were not any that I would typically choose: asparagus (which I was not brave enough to try), zucchini, tomato and eggplant. I decided to be a little bit brave and sliced the zucchini and eggplant into teeny tiny pieces and mixed them up with the rice. That way I got at least some of my veggies without tasting, or feeling, them! My mate’s main was the prime rib with the mashed potatoes and the same veggies I had. The au jus it came with looked more like a gravy to me (what we both prefer anyways) and had much more going on than most au jus out there. It is obvious that the chef takes inspiration from all over the world. Even the sauce on my salmon had much more seasoning than just lemon and dill. Although it is obvious that the flavours come from all over, the menu still features mainly American style dishes so it is easy for someone like me to find something I’d like and then to be pleasantly surprised by how much more sensational these dishes are than other similar ones around. I found that, for fine dining, this restaurant has much more on the menu that I would actually try, and probably like, than most others of its kind.

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For dessert I chose the chocolate cake from the three options my theatre menu provided. My mate also ended up with a dessert that the chef graciously provided on the house due to the unannounced switch-up of my potatoes. This turned out perfectly as I was having a hard time deciding on whether to get the apple crumble or the cake, and this way we were able to try both. I think I am more a fan of apple crisp as opposed crumble. There is something about the added crunch for me. The crumble was soft and warm though, which is still very comfortable with an accompanying cup of tea. The chocolate cake was of the drier variety. But the various drizzles on the plate helped to moisten things up for me.

Overall, the meal and atmosphere were exactly what we needed on what had been an otherwise lackluster day. From what I have heard, I believe Stonegate does the majority of their purchasing from the Kitchener Market. For this, and many other reasons, I would really like to see this bistro succeed. Thus, I would like to make two small suggestions; 1- invest in proper menus, even just a simple folder that allows for pages to be switched out would be better than what is currently being used, and 2- add some signage to direct diners to the washrooms from the main seating area. I think those two, seemingly minor, details really do have a big effect on people, and right now they are not giving the most desireable impression.

Our whole meal, including 2 pints of Rock Cut Baysville Lager, one theatre menu 2 (included my soup, salmon and chocolate cake), one 12oz prime rib, and complimentary salad, apple crumble, tea and coffee, came to $72.04. It wasn’t until writing this up that I realized that our coffee and tea had not been charged to us. I believe this may have been due to an unfortunate scene that had been caused by a very rude, belligerent man at another table. The chef was obviously embarrassed and was very appologetic. He offered us each a drink on the house but we were just finishing up our meal so we declined.  I believe that is why the coffee and tea were not included on our bill. I hope that it hadn’t been an unintentional oversight as it was certainly unintentional on our part to have walked out without paying for them!

Stonegate Bistro on Urbanspoon

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DESTINATION: DESSERT

Being on an active job hunt has found my time very occupied and my mind very distracted. Believe it or not, these little posts take considerable effort to create (mostly due to the not-very-user friendly nature of wordpress itself). Having a couple of interviews lined up for next week has allowed me to relax a little, allowing me a chance to try to pump a few more of these out, before I forget my experiences completely! Today’s topic is dessert, with two different destinations.

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First up, The Cake Box. I had been anticipating a visit here for a while now. Ever since I had that last to-die-for cupcake, I was hoping to find something similar closer to home. Unfortunately I had no such luck. Yes, the sign out front of the shop is cute, and I’d have to say that my mind uses that same logic on a regular basis (‘chocolate covered raisins have fruit in them, therefore they are healthy!’), however, one of these cupcakes is not nearly large enough to satisfy a breakfast need, let alone a dessert need. They were all so teeny tiny. And at $2.50* a pop I cannot say that they are worth it. Sure, the vanilla cake was soft and sweet, but the icing on top, of which there was too much for the size of the cupcake, I can certainly live without. I seem to recall from childhood that the icing was always my favorite part of any kind of cake-like item, and I have no idea what all these different cupcake shops are using for their icing, but I rarely ever like it. It always leaves me feeling sick. I swear that, like fondant on cakes, they are all going for looks now and not flavour. So not my kind of thing. Then, to add to my disappointment, was the tip-of-my-pinky sized dollop (I’m not sure I can even use that word in this case!) of raspberry filling. Most of my bites, of which there were very few, were just vanilla and frosting. In future, when I want to stay close to home, I’ll just ask my mom to make me some cupcakes. Hers taste way better, and I love her icing!

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Since I was left so unsatisfied, I decided to journey on to find some other form of soft and fluffy sweetness to quench my craving. So, I made my way to Sablétine. To be honest, I doubt I will visit this place again, but that is mostly due to my finickiness. There was not much there that looked good to me, and there were less desserts than I expected. They actually have a little dining room and they serve things like salads and paninis with European flair. They just aren’t my style in flavours, or price (a little too much for me). But, what I did get, a combination of chocolate chip cookie and brownie, was totally tasty and quite large. I loved that the cookie part was soft and the whole thing was slightly chewy. This dessert item was $2.99* and considering it was one of the few things I would get there, and not being a first choice of dessert for me, I doubt I will make another trip specifically for another one.

*pre-tax

Posted in Bakery, Breakfast, Dessert, Independent, Kitchener, Snack, Splurge, Waterloo | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A SECONDARY LOCATION THAT’S BETTER THAN THE FIRST

If you’ve ever spent time in the Uptown Waterloo nightscene, you are probably familiar with McMullan’s. I know I have certainly been there more than a few times for their pizza and pitcher deal to share with friends. A few years ago another location popped up, in a very different setting, on Highland in Kitchener. I was skeptical at first, a pub in a plaza isn’t what I would call ideal, but I was also curious. Turns out that I like the new location better than the original. To start, this location is not a university student hang out, which is wonderful for me. I am so over the cliquey vibes of those kinds of crowds, so perhaps a plaza in the middle of suburbia isn’t such a bad spot!

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The food, on the other hand, left something to be desired. I ordered a pub standard: chicken fingers with plum sauce and fries. The chicken fingers seemed like they arrived frozen in a box. However, the prices kind of allow for some wiggle room with quality. I have never seen a menu with such low prices. Every single item was under $12, minus the combos that come with a pitcher of beer. With prices like that it might be a bit much to expect anything to be house-made. That said, I had been contemplating getting the taco salad instead. My mate got the buffalo chicken wrap, and after catching a whiff of it, I am sure that the salad would be better than the chicken fingers. For the price, I am sure I will be back to find out.

Chicken Fingers + Buffalo Wrap + Gravy + Plum Sauce + Coffee = $26.05

Mcmullas on Urbanspoon

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TOOK ME OVER 2 YEARS TO GET IN HERE!

A girl I used to work with is the sister of one of the owners. Ever since she told me about it I’ve been meaning to visit, but being out by the St Jacob’s market, I don’t travel that way often. A few Saturday’s ago we ended up at the market just before close. We popped over to the outlet mall quickly afterwards, and by the time we were done we were both hungry. Finally, we were in the right place at the right time and were able to hit up Crazy Canuck.

I’ll be honest, it was not what I was expecting. For some reason I had thought it would be similar to Moose Winooski’s or something, but it turned out it’s quite small inside, with only a few tables there, but they have a huge covered patio with more tables outside. The indoor decor was a little bit strange to me. The walls and tables are plastered with record covers and there is a ring of the actual vinyl’s around the walls. I’m not sure what records have to do with being Canadian, but at least they chose a theme and stuck with it. The young man who took our order was super friendly so, although there were many flies buzzing around on that hot day (remember those?!), the atmosphere overall was positive and fun.

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It took me a little while to decide what to get, but in the end I saw a plate go by to another table that looked like something I needed to try, and thus I found myself ordering the boneless dry ribs. These definitely have a different flavour than anything I’ve ever eaten before. They are very tangy, I might go so far as to say that they had a bit more lemon than I would prefer in a main dish, but they were still scrumptious! My mouth is watering just thinking about them! I suppose I would describe the sauce as a lemony ranch or caesar type ‘canuck sauce’. And as much as I really did love them,  I think in the future I would order this dish to share as an appetizer. It was just too much tang for me to handle eating it all again, not to mention that it is literally just a bowl of meat! Sure, there was the salad on the side, but I think I need a carb in the mix too, to soften the sour blow a little! That said, I really did love them. The taste is something so different and refreshing, you really should try them at least once!

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My mate went for the pulled pork sandwich with a side of poutine. As you can see, they certainly give a healthy serving! And, although I didn’t try it, I love that the sandwich comes with cajun coleslaw on it! I love the crunch that cabbage adds!

The pulled pork sandwich with poutine, boneless dry ribs with caesar salad, and two pints of beer came to $39.25.

The Crazy Canuck on Urbanspoon

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TRAPPED ON HESPELER ROAD

There is certainly no shortage of dining options on Hespeler Road. In fact, there are a relative plethora of options out there, many of which I have travelled specifically to Cambridge to visit. On this trip though, we were looking for something quick, easy, healthy-ish and cheaper. Plus, there is actually someone on this planet who is pickier than I am, thus we ended up at Angels Diner.

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Simply put, I really can’t be bothered with this place, except maybe for breakfast. I feel this way about all of the similarly styled restaurants in the tri-cities. There is a reason I try not to enter any of these places after noon. The Angels Salad Wrap that I ate is a very good example of just that. I promise you, even with my extremely limited skill, I could have made something much more palatable myself. It was described as containing chicken, ham, bacon, two cheeses and lettuce tossed in ranch. First of all, nothing was ‘tossed’ in ranch. Everything, including the lettuce, was bare and there was the smallest amount of ranch I have ever seen added on before the wrap was closed. The bacon bits were just that – bacon bits, like the kind you can buy in a resealable bag at the grocery store. The cheeses were also the sort you can buy in pre-shredded, two cheese blends. Due to the severe lack of condiments, and overly generous amount of cheese, there was very little flavour other than ‘cheese’ and it was so dry that it was difficult to finish. In short, this was the plainest, most boring wrap I’ve ever had. Although this wrap will probably be remembered as one of the least appetizing things I have ever paid to eat, without even containing any ‘offensive’ ingredient (along with this similarly disappointing wrap), the meal itself did have one redeeming element: the beef and barley soup. I admit that I am highly skeptical about whether or not this was made in house (considering they do not seem to be able to cook their own bacon, let alone shred their own cheese), but it did look and taste as if it was. It had lots of barley, the flavour was full, but it didn’t have the greasy layer on top that canned beef soups often have.

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My mate went for the hot roast beef. The difference in quality between these two dishes is a little bit crazy to me. A restaurant that puts no effort into its wraps will take the time to fry up their veggies with seasoning, not just steam them?! I don’t get it. Regardless of whether this dish was good or not though, the consistency is obviously not there, so I am not too eager to come here again.

Our meal, consisting of the wrap, the hot beef and a coffee, came to $26.16

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SPECIAL FEATURE!!

Unfortunately for the rest of you, this item is not available in any restaurant (that I know of!). This beautiful dessert came from the kitchen of my mother!

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This fruit pizza is half the size of what she usually makes, but I had asked for one to be made for me, personally, so full size would have been a bit much. Though, I have no doubt that I still would have stuffed it all in before the fruit went bad, even if I did make myself sick! I can only handle so much sugar at one time and really, if I’m going to over-indulge on anything, this pizza is one dessert my system can tolerate. It really isn’t overly sweet. With the top layer of fruit (coated in fruit juice glaze to maintain freshness) covering the middle layer of cream cheese mixture, all atop the sugar cookie-like crust, it’s just right. This dessert has been gracing our table tops since I was a child, and probably even before I was born! Like many children, I had a very particular way of eating this pizza and I still eat it the same way to this day. That is to say, first I remove all of the fruit and eat it in order of least favorite to most. Next, using the smallest dessert fork I can find, I smooth over the top of the cream cheese mixture, and then I eat it from tip to edge in small little bites so as to savour it for as long as possible. And I always makes sure the final crusty bites are connected to some cream cheese still. The combination of the two is just so perfectly delicious. And really, for such a tasty dessert it is relatively healthy. I could probably eat this every day and never get sick of it! I just love it!

Thanks Mom!

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NEW AND EXCITING

At least it’s exciting for me! I love when new restaurants open up near by that are so passionate about what they do that it is obvious just by looking at the exterior of the place. I love it when this is even further exemplified upon entering the establishment. This is the feeling I got on my first visit to Gastropub No. 29.

This pub is located in a surprising, likely less than ideal, location at Ottawa and Weber, yet this doesn’t seem to be taking too much of a toll on them just yet. In my lifetime I have seen multiple restaurants open in this very spot, each of them closing after a fairly short run. It is my hope that the Gastropub survives for much longer than its predecessors. If the food provides any kind of foresight into the situation, then I’d say they’ll be around for a while.

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We started our meal with Mac and Cheese Fritters. For the price ($9), I would have liked to see more of these tasty balls on the plate, especially since uneven quantities of things are just difficult (and, honestly, annoying) to split for sharing. Also, I need to make a real mental note to request no green onion on, or in, my food. I very seriously hate green onion and I am so sick of constantly having to pick it out of everything, but for some reason I can never seem to remember to tell the servers that I don’t want it. Thankfully it was easy enough to remove this time. My favorite part of this appetizer was the cilantro sauce. I wouldn’t have ever said that I specifically like cilantro, but in this case, without it, I fear the fritters may have been somewhat bland.

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Uncharacteristically for me, I decided to give the No. 29 Crispy Chicken Club a go. I do not believe I have ever had a club sandwich before. I can’t say that this was a bad way to start! Normally I refrain from ordering sandwiches that have breaded meat on them, but since it was described as tempura chicken I figured it might be a bit of a lighter batter than most, and it just sounded so good, that I had to give in and try it. I am glad that I did, even though the batter plus a bun did still prove to leave me feeling much more stuffed than I had wanted, which is exactly why I usually avoid that combination. To be fair though, I did switch out my fries for the Tankhouse Ale Cheddar Bacon Soup. This soup was creamier in taste than others that I’ve had, it didn’t contain any spiciness that I could detect, and it actually had chunks of bacon and cheddar in it! Unless I had been thoroughly disgusted by it, I could never leave any beer and cheddar soup behind! So I may have overdone it a little. But considering how satisfying my meal had been, I was able to handle the fullness without being too upset. Having never seen the portion sizes here before, I now have a better idea of what I can comfortably fit in my belly next time!

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My mate chose the burger, which was also a decent size. And yes, I had a bite. And yes, it was moist and delicious! It is certainly something I would consider on another visit, and I am not a big fan of ‘real’ burgers. My one complaint with the Gastropub, that could indeed prove to be its downfall if nothing is done about it, was the service. That is not to say that it was exceptionally horrible, but it was not congruent with the expectation set upon seeing the place. The pub appears to be a classier joint, but the service is not quite up to snuff. At first we were being served by, I believe, the bartender. Then, without warning or introduction, we were being served by a female who had just arrived with a friend (boyfriend?) in tow. She arrived, and proceeded to serve, in black yoga-type pants and a jean jacket. Yes, I even cringed while I wrote that! The yoga pants could have been pulled off if the rest of the attire had also been black. The jean jacket though… So unprofessional! The owner, and chef, himself is a friendly fellow, who also takes a somewhat casual approach when chatting with patrons. This can be good for creating a feeling of community, but there is a fine line between feeling welcomed and feeling too familiar. It is my hope that the staff here pick up their game a little bit and realize that they need to come to work and act like they are proud to be there, and not like they are happy to be chilling at their favorite hangout. I would hate to see this business follow suit and go under simply because the appearance and the atmosphere are not cohesive. (Just to be clear, I am not saying that either is inherently bad, they just don’t go together. They need to make a decision on what the over all feel is to be for their customers, and once they decide, they need to stick to it.)

Our meal of Mac and Cheese Fritters, the No. 29 Crispy Chicken Club, a burger with a side of gravy, and a coffee came to $44.07.

Gastropub No. 29 on Urbanspoon

Posted in Appetizers, Average, Dinner, Independent, Kitchener, Less-Than-Exceptional, Pub | Tagged | Leave a comment