Monday, November 22, 2010

The Bauer Kitchen - Waterloo

On a recent road trip to the Kitchener-Waterloo region, we took in brunch at The Bauer Kitchen, one in the suite of restaurants owned by The Charcoal Group. We had a reservation for 11:00 am on the Sunday after the clocks changed back so we were expecting to be seated among a buzz of well rested fellow patrons. I am almost certain we were the first to arrive. First pour of the coffee would be the freshest, right?

The menu for brunch isn't teeming with choices of the 'breakfast' variety. Something we knew before going since we had cased it out on-line. This is not the place to go if you are looking for the diner experience of 2 eggs over easy, 3 strips of bacon, hashbrowns, rye lightly toasted. It is catering to a finer plate presentation - eggs benedict, waffles, french toast, 2 different omelettes, steak and eggs. The lunch side of the menu is better represented with sandwiches, salads, appetizers and even what I would call light dinner fare.

The website says that "The Bauer Kitchen's fair trade organic house coffee is a proprietary blend of three estate coffees from Nicaragua, Ethiopia and Sumatra". Which I suppose that's why it is $2.95. It was good, but not memorable. Though I am sure it was doing what it needed to be doing to get us primed for the day. (Perhaps I carry my loyalty to Bridgehead Coffeehouse, Ottawa too far.) Although it was Noon, 'old time', we all seemed to be dragging. Interestingly, if you are looking to bring their caffeine experience home, you can purchase their coffee (whole bean or ground) or get it next door at Vincenzo's.

They say their bread is baked using local grains and no additives or dough enhancers. That sounds like a good thing. It is baked on-site in the Bauer Bakery and can be purchased for take-home as well.

Our first mistake was ordering the sticky bun ($1.95 each). Two to share among the 4 of us. Although, there wasn't a whole lot of sharing. The mistake you ask? Well, let's just say the thing is gigantic and there is a reason that this picture looks like it covers the whole plate. It's because it does. It was a meal in and of itself. (Shouldn't good wait staff stop you from making bad decisions like that?) The fresh tender sweet bread was covered in much cinnamon, butter and sugar. (Not a nut or raisin to be found.) It was pretty yummy but I still continue the search for the 'best' sticky bun in the world.

I decided to go for the Smoked Salmon Benedict on a fresh biscuit with hollandaise, poached eggs, homefries and fresh fruit for $13.95. I try to pick salmon whenever I can. What a great idea to match it with the bennys. It really was lovely but I wished I had been more hungry than I was. Darn that sticky bun.

The teenager went off brunch and headed for lunch tastes, starting with the Romaine Salad with garlic anchovy dressing, Heidelberg double-smoked bacon, olive oil croutons and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for $7.45. He absolutely LOVED it. It had that big garlic flavour he was looking for. He commented on the great bacon (quantity and taste) and the big splash of cheese shavings.

He then moved on to the Bauer Butcher Burger with Heidelburg double-smoked bacon, mustard scallion mayonnaise, aged cheddar and grilled onion on a multi-grain bun. It came with a handsome serving of sweet potato fries. All for $13.95. His eyes were bigger than his stomach and he admitted defeat early and opted for a doggie bag. He says he quite enjoyed the burger and the fries were done to perfection. (I can agree. To the fries.)

The mister and our guest had Eggs Benedict on a fresh biscuit with peameal bacon, arugula, poached eggs, hollandaise, homefries and fresh fruit for $11.95. Our guest moaned a lot through her meal. When it came time to clear the plates, hers had a look of 'licked clean'. The sticky bun mister gave his meal a valiant try!

The Bauer Kitchen opened in December 2009. They describe themselves as "an energetic up-market 'bistro' set in a SoHo inspired, restored felt factory". Who can argue with that description! (SoHo, a neighbourhood in Manhattan is 8 hours and 800 kms away. Wow! The power of inspiration.) The interior is impressive with its high ceilings, high wall shelves, cement floors, table dividers of industrial steel and reclaimed wood. The restaurant space is massive so getting a cozy feeling is tricky. This was my second time here and I still haven't felt it. It actually reminds me a bit of Milestones Grill + Bar, though it is hard to beat the Bauer Factory history seeping through.

Executive Chef, Michael Hodgson is a hometown boy and I often read about the healthy competitiveness and camaraderie among the chefs in the region that I can't help but think keeps them all sharp at their game.

I usually do not to pay much attention to restaurant prices, at least not in a picky way. I tend to think if you had a really outstanding experience, a percentage point or two doesn't really factor into your make or break decision. But I did feel the prices at TBK are a bit on the high side compared to other places of this calibre.

I do prefer chef-owned restaurants versus those run from 'head office', but I can happily say that our overall experience was positive and I do want to come back again. There is so much to the place, I think it will take a few tries to soak it all in. Perhaps on a future visit we will be out on their large outdoor patio. Here is hoping that the place is having a solid following as it approaches its first anniversary.

Whether I like it or not, Waterloo appears to be growing up.

The Bauer Kitchen
187 King Street South #102
Waterloo, ON
519. 772.0790
Twitter: @thebauerkitchen

Open seven days a week.
Weekday Lunch: 11 am - 4 pm
Dinner: Mon & Tues: 4 pm - 11 pm
Dinner: Wed & Thurs: 4 pm - midnight
Dinner: Fri: 4 pm - 1 am
Dinner: Sat: 2 pm - 1 am
Diner: Sun: 2 pm - 11 pm
Weekend Brunch: 9 am - 2 pm

The Bauer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is There Room For Food Bloggers In The World Of Food Writing?

Ever since I started food blogging, I have noticed from time to time criticism on Twitter, Facebook and through on-line articles about the state of food writing in the 21st century and who is actually doing it. A traditional print model of newspapers and magazines publishing food writings has existed 'forever'.

In this day and age, it is quick to set up a web page and begin blogging. Now with such social media tools as Twitter and Facebook, it is also effortless to get the word out. Anybody can publish, if they are so inclined.

Here in Ottawa I faithfully follow close to 25 food bloggers, thanks somewhat in part to a food aggregator site called The Food. (Though I would venture to say the list of food blogs in Ottawa is probably nearing 100.) My reading list includes such notables as the Ottawa Citizen's blog by food editor Ron Eade called Omnivore's Ottawa. As far as I know, their food critic, Anne DesBrisay does not blog but does go digital with a website called Capital Dining, where her printed reviews are posted on-line, 'blog style'. I regularly catch Lunch Rush by Shari Goodman at MetroNews. Shari also has a personal food blog called Whisk. Shawna Wagman is consistently sharing foodie morsels over at Ottawa Magazine through City Bites. But many food blogs I read are done by amateur writers receiving no remuneration for what they post.

The blogs seem to come in all shapes and sizes. Some really look quite sharp. Downright artistic. Others, plain and basic. There is the clean look vs. the very cluttered. Some writings are short and sweet, bordering on poetic. Some are more the story-teller. There are those that struggle with their prose. And then there are the ones that come at you like 'I just had 3 Red Bulls!!'. You might find some choose to invite you into their family and kitchen. Others keep arms length and choose just to inform. Some are pushing vendor products on their behalf. Some are helping to distribute press releases. Some want all the world to follow. Others, just friends and family (but would tolerate the odd voyeur). Some blog once a day. Others blog once a year. Some read like they are dying to get paid one day. Others, hold tight to 'getting paid' means 'selling out'. And for some, this is just a great place to store their favourite recipes and restaurants and lucky you if you want to skim through it too.

With food blogging being so ubiquitous in the nation's capital, it has raised so many questions for me. The obvious one being, is there room for everyone's voice to be heard?

And then the questions start to tumble (none of them unique to Ottawa-Gatineau) ....

What qualifications are required, if any, to be a food blogger? What should be the 'rules of engagement? Are there some areas that are off limits or inappropriate? Are there some things about food blogging that is just downright WRONG? Do restaurateurs and chefs see a place for food bloggers or are they a blight on the print sheets of food writing? Should they cover a breadth of topics or do they create 'topic fatigue'? Are food bloggers being exploited for their readership to push someone else's food agenda? Are they too critical or not critical enough? Sure, there is the Food Blog Code of Ethics, but is there more to this conversation than this 'Magna Carta' of food? And what about the BIG question, does anybody really care?

Please weigh in. I would love to hear what you think. Is there room for food bloggers in the world of food writing?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tales from the 'Snack Lab' - Garlic Butter Crostinis with Melted Cheese, Shredded Apple and Chives

I am not sure why some days the lunch appetite seems to be all but vacant. Common sense tells me I should have something to eat anyway, even if it is just a 'little something'. I quickly consider a fast trip to Edgar in Hull, but get the bad news on Twitter that the brioche was all scooped up by one client! Not that Marysol's now famous bacon date brioche should have been my lunch - my 'little something', but it may have made a nice finish. The bad news tweet is probably an omen telling me I need to fend for myself.

The fridge is going through a food diet right now, which means I am refusing to buy groceries and I am slowly working my way through the selection of raw ingredients, trying to be as creative as possible with the combinations.

So today out came 14 McIntosh Osgoode Orchards apples, still left from my bushel that I had picked up at the Parkdale Market. I am thinking apple sauce. Lots of apple sauce. I am thinking pie. Probably two pies. Two award-winning apple pies. Neither really constitutes a 'little something' for lunch. I am stuck. Next, out comes a small brick of 'whenever did I buy this?', but still happy mozzarella cheese. Still not committed.

I expand my search and go down into the freezer. Here I find a small bag (well sealed!) of Ace Bakery baguette slices leftover from a recent dinner party. From the pantry I pull out the last vestiges of my locally grown garlic purchased from Jacobson's on Beechwood, of all places.

I am now feeling ready to play and experiment in the 'Snack Lab'. The bread slices get very lightly toasted, slathered with garlic butter and then covered with a small parcel of grated mozzarella cheese. Back under the broiler until they bubble up to a light golden brown.

Meanwhile I peel one of those still crunchy apples and shred it. When the garlicy, cheesed-up crostinis come out of the oven, I garnish them with a sprinkle of shredded apple and a few snips of chives for colour. I go in for the taste. Jackpot! I love the crunch of the bread, the nip of the garlic, the sweet and salty in the goo of the cheese, the bright freshness of the apple. I love the pretty of the chives. It is complex but complementary.

Voila! Today from the 'Snack Lab' I bring you the Garlic Butter Crostini with Melted Cheese, Shredded Apple and Chives!

I am feeling quite pleased with my 'little something' lunch. A possible hors d'œuvre for the upcoming book club Christmas party? I think so!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill - Waterloo

It has been 4 days now since our party of five dined out at the Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill, located at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, Ontario and I am still pondering the experience. This is one of five O & B Café Grills in Ontario. So a chain, I guess. Not something I usually do when dining out. But this collection of restaurants is just five in the larger family of Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini eateries. Of the other six, Canoe and Luma are the more well-known, both situated in Toronto. As I contemplated whether I would go to a 'chain', I acquiesced knowing it came with a pedigree.

I sometimes catch a glimpse of Michael Bonacini on Citytv's CityLine but I am most fond of his TV presence from his time on Chris Knight's production, Cook Like A Chef. What is it with Welsh men? They are just so darn charming. And a celebrity chef so calm, cool and collected seems virtually unheard of in this industry. Shea Robinson is the Chef de Cuisine at the Waterloo location. No word on HIS disposition!

With all this goodness, what could I possibly be pondering? What I can't figure out is why Waterloo. The other Grill locations are more Toronto centric with the exception of the other outlier, Blue Mountain. And if Waterloo, then why the Conestoga Mall. And if Waterloo's Conestoga Mall, where is everybody? I get that Kitchener-Waterloo has a high student population with two universities but surely there are enough people in the area with some okay coin to go out to dinner once in a while. Perhaps we can just chock it up to being Sunday night in a town that still closes its doors sometimes for 'the day of rest'. For us it was a lovely evening and I just hate to see people missing out! I so hope a Waterloo presence can work for them.

Annie greeted us like family on our arrival. Our service was consistent, cheery and attentive. The interior is beautiful. So many details that speak to a very urban style, not typical of restaurants I have been to in Waterloo in the past. High ceilings. Large tables. Banquettes. White and bright everywhere. Fashion forward plates. Their handicap washroom borders on posh. Check out the website gallery section to give you a better sense of the mood of this place.

We all shared the chicken & leek potstickers with maple ponzu sauce. Lovely bundles with an asian accent.

The teenager first dug into the small caesar salad with focaccia croutons, maple bacon, creamy garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dressing. Another guest started with this dish as well. They both had the same comment - the dressing seemed diluted. He was looking for a rich garlic punch. High praise for the bacon though!

The teenager then moved on to the Tuscan onion soup with caramelized onion broth and bocconcini and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. This was his favourite dish. All the onion flavour he was hoping for. He recommended it and wants to come back for more!

The teenager finished off with one of the November Tutta La Pasta specials - handmade ricotta and truffle ravioli with preserved lemon and garlic sautéed Swiss chard, butternut squash and rosemary brown butter. I was able to pull off a taste of this. I enjoyed the creamy filling and the squash base. But the Swiss chard was just a bit too overpowering against the very mellow ricotta and squash. High marks though for being beautifully presented. After all, we do eat with our eyes, don't we?

I had the grilled Atlantic salmon seasoned with olive oil, lemon, sea salt and garden herbs, served with Provençal ratatouille and thyme roasted potatoes. It was a handsome portion and the salmon was cooked to perfection. I loved every bite. The ratatouille was a good match and something I have never had with salmon before.

The mister had the grilled chicken on Japanese Caesar with edamame, roasted shiitake, cashews, wasabi peas, pickled ginger in a lime and soy Caesar dressing.

Our first dinner companion followed her Caesar salad with the strozzapreti (short hand-rolled pasta) with rosemary lamb ragout, spinach and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It was an ample portion and she left most of her pasta. I suspect it overshadowed the ragout.

Our second dinner companion had the fire roasted baby back ribs with jalapeño cornbread pudding, creamy coleslaw, seasonal vegetables and campfire maple baked beans. He just loved these lip smacking ribs!

Our dinner companions shared the Sicilian pistachio ice cream. Creamy goodness! It came from SOMA Chocolatemaker in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District where artisan David Castellan makes handcrafted chocolates and gelato.

The teenager, the mister and I shared one of the O&B Tiniest Desserts - a raisin loaded butter tart. Being a bit of a butter tart connoisseur, I believe no butter tart should have more than ten raisins. I didn't do a final tally but I know there was easily double that count. Thankfully they all sat on top so I could alter this tart to be just pure sugar pie. This probably isn't the place to brag about my own baking prowess, but it was said by both family members that my butter tarts are better! It was still a tasty treat.

The highlights were definitely the salmon, the baby back ribs and the Tuscan onion soup. Waterloo is fortunate to have Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill in their midst. Considering the size of this region now, it needs to have a place to go for a reliable, solidly delivered meal that can serve as a 'go-to' place and also a destination for celebrations. The food preparation is receiving careful attention in its preparation. The ingredients are simple and fresh. Come out and enjoy your gem. I for one would love to go back.

Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill
Conestoga Mall
550 King Street North
Waterloo, Ontario

Open seven days a week.
Lunch: 11:30 am - 4 pm
Dinner: Sun & Mon: 4 pm - 9 pm
Dinner: Tues to Thurs: 4 pm - 10 pm
Dinner: Fri & Sat: 4 pm - 11 pm
Weekend à la carte Brunch: 11 am - 4 pm

Oliver & Bonacini Cafe Grill on Urbanspoon

LCBO Food & Drink Magazine - Holiday Issue 2010

The Holiday issue of LCBO's Food & Drink magazine came out yesterday. My anticipation of its arrival every few months, borders on compulsive. Yep, I even set my alarm to get to my neighbourhood location at Richmond and Kirkwood for their 10:00 am opening. The Holiday issue is probably my most favourite. In our home, my rule is that the Christmas decorations can 'legally' go up the day after Remembrance Day.

Yesterday morning the mister took the liberty of adding the pickup task to HIS to-do list as a gesture of helpfulness but also to be 'efficient'. To not have that hot little number in my hot little hands at 10:05 am pushed me out of my comfort zone, for sure.

But now that I have it, I am dreaming of sugar plums. Okay, well maybe there aren't actually sugar plums dancing in my head, but I have to say the Suppli Al Telefono appetizer stopped me in my tracks. Party Apps by Cobi Ladner and Tonia Wilson will be a go-to article for amping up the yummies at our book club Christmas party. [These gals are regular readers of F&D too!]

Even better, I may finally conquer the construction of the Parisian macaron. I have had these Marie-Antoinette-style sweets straight from Laudrée in Paris, and I am now ready to follow every minute detail on 'mastering macarons' laid out in the article Macaron Magic by Dana McCauley.

A new dinner menu is forming as I ogle the Large Lobster Tails with Dill Butter & Pistachios on Saffron Risotto with Leeks from Dressed for Dinner by Marilyn Bentz-Crowley.

I know my turkey leftovers are headed for Curried Turkey in Naan Bread thanks to Remains of the Day by Signe Langford and Monda Rosenberg.

I could go on and on. The weight of this magazine alone at 890 grams says it all. This edition is PACKED with everything you need for the holiday season, including a Holiday Playlist on page 38 by Rick Shurman and Earl Torno that mixes the familiar traditionals with some up-beat, peppy numbers.

I am guessing that this is probably their hottest issue of the year. You need to get out now and pick it up!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Edgar - Infectious. Like Bees to Honey.

Today, I paid an impromptu visit to Edgar at 60 rue Bégin in Old Hull. Edgar is the brain-child of powerhouse, Marysol, well known for her food blog she eats bears. I was out of town for the big opening this past Saturday and Sunday. Monday they were closed and so today was my first chance to see the culmination of all the meticulous planning and hard work that went into opening this petit café. Marysol seems to exude boundless energy and determination.

I would be wrong not to mention her number one supporter and fan, Simon, who was ably helping over the weekend and also this Tuesday. What a strong team the two of them make.

When I went today, it was not with camera in hand or with the intent to write. Just to visit, enjoy lunch and to say a hello. There has been quite a few blog posts already, sharing the message of goodness. Maybe my take on it wouldn't be that much different. Great food is, well great food. But I came away with two thoughts that were unshakable as I made my drive home.

First, I don't know Marysol that well, really. We are Ottawa foodie community confrères that share the love of food through personal food blogs, who have met just a handful of times over the past number of months. But she has the darnedest way of making you feel like you have known her forever. Her infectious personality draws you in. Second, the food at Edgar is memorable. Every detail, surgically calculated. Her food is emblematic of that age old phrase 'made with love'.

For those that fall under the spell of Marysol, your life will be enriched. Be you acquaintance, fellow food blogger, Edgar client, supplier of food wares, industry colleague. It is like bees to honey. I bet you even the phone guys liked her in the end, despite all the hassles with installing that debit machine.

For those eating the food here, you will struggle with your decisions and you may not know when to stop. I just can't imagine my experience today was unique. I ROLLED out of Edgar after the most delicious lunch.

I started with a ham, romaine and Jarlsberg cheese panini. So yummy with the Dijon mustard. I had it along side a big bowl of spicy butternut squash and sweet potato soup infused with lemon grass, lime leaves, coriander, cayenne, and curry. It was lovingly garnished with fresh coriander and cucumber cubes.

The compulsion to continue could not be reined in. I just couldn't say no to the now famous orange zesty brioche, that parcels nuggets of bacon and dates. It is best when it is warmed. Simon's suggestion. I went totally sophisticated and ate it with a fork. It seemed wrong to have it without a latte. This would be a chance to give Marysol her sought after practice with the big machines, I thought. Really, I was doing her a favour, wasn't I? She spoiled me with a dash of cinnamon on top. Cinnamon goes well with zesty orange and bacon and dates and briochy flavours. A calculated move on her part? To be sure. As good as she is with the colour palate when making her beautiful art, this lady knows her taste palate as well.

So you think my foodie visit ended with that last drip of emulsified latte milk? Oh no. I was still at the trough. It was now time to pick a treat to bring home to the mister. That sticky apple pecan muffin would bring me high praise. I have been eyeballing it since the blog post of October 9th, where its perfection was unveiled. [For the record, it has vanished already and there isn't even a crumb to be had.] I have been dedicating myself to vigorous product research since mid-summer, searching out the bestest homemade granola in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. 190 grams of granola goodness would be coming home too.

If you are caught up on all the food blogs about Edgar from the opening weekend, you will know that I am confirming that everything the others have been saying is totally true. Be it The Twisted Chef, foodiePrints, heartful mouthful or Rachelle Eats Food. And while you are at it, why not hear what Marysol thinks of it all so far.

Lucky rue Bégin. Lucky Old Hull. Lucky anybody who crosses the threshold of Edgar.

Congratulations Edgar! It must be in the genes.

60 rue Bégin
Gatineau (Hull sector), Quebec

Update to Brunch hours (effective Oct 1, 2011)
Wed to Fri: 10 am - 6:30 pm
Sat: 10 am - 5 pm (Brunch 10 am - 2 pm)
Sun: 9:30 am - 5 pm (Brunch 9:30 am - 2 pm)
Mon and Tues: Closed

Edgar on Urbanspoon
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