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Three cities, three suppers, one price

“What? Where is this place?”

Timmins, Ontario is not exactly known as a fine dining destination. So when jean posted photos of us eating items such as lobster bisque, caprese salad, rack of lamb, and crème brulée, some of the locals couldn’t believe the meal was had in Timmins.

Rack of lamb at 1800

Rack of lamb

Creme brulee at 1800

Amaretto crème brulée

The restaurant is relatively new. It is called 1800 Restaurant, and it is located in the somewhat tired-looking Ramada Inn on Riverside. (When we went for dinner, the hotel seemed eerily quiet, as though almost no one was staying there.) But they’ve done a reasonable job of sprucing up the dining room, even if the cushioned seats were a bit low for the vertically challenged.

And the food was… pretty decent, actually. Jean’s lobster bisque had a good base, but was too salty for our taste buds; it might have been fine for some people. Caprese salad is admittedly an easy dish (as long as you have good tomatoes), but some restaurants still manage to get it wrong. This one didn’t. Our dining companions seemed to enjoy their appetizers of seared scallops and fried rice balls, respectively.

As my main, I had pickerel almandine—pickerel being a local fish. My brother reported that on an earlier visit, that dish had been too salty. They have rectified that problem. My only issue was the lemon seasoning not being applied consistently to the fish, so in some spots being too intense. Overall it was still a good dish, though, with crisp vegetables and mashed potatoes. (Will note that one diner judged the mashed potatoes too dry, but I was fine with them—matter of taste, I guess.)

Seafood cappelini and goat cheese at 1800

Two people had the seafood cappelini with goat cheese, which was quite nicely executed.

The house-made desserts of creme caramel and creme brulee, each infused with a different type of alcohol, were successful, the brulée slightly more than the caramel.

The service was acceptable, but by no means fine dining levels. For example, the bottle of German Riesling we ordered (just $35) was opened for us, but not poured. Just plunked on the table. That seemed really odd. And getting our bill at the end took ages—a good 45 minutes after we were done—as staff kept disappearing into back rooms. Our waitress was perfectly pleasant all evening. But the service was just… not refined.

Still, I do hope this place survives, particularly if they keep improving, as they seem to be.

On our drive back from Timmins, we stayed in the sleepy town of Singhampton and dined at Haisai. We’ve been to Haisai several times before, but hadn’t been for dinner in several years. All the dim sum items available at lunch are also on offer for dinner (though the wood-burning oven pizzas are not), but since we’d already tried a number of those, we decided to go the more traditional appetizer / entree / dessert route.

Jean declared his zucchini soup the best ever and—I can’t remember what my appetizer was. But I’m pretty sure I liked it as well. They had only three entree items on the menu. I went with the white fish, while Jean had the suckling pig. Both were well-prepared, seasoned, and arranged. Delish, For dessert we shared the peach and almond tart with chantilly cream.

Suckling pig entree at Haisai

Our mains at Haisai, as always built around local ingredients

Talking with Hermann Stadtlander, restaurant host, we found out that the future of Haisai is somewhat in doubt. Several of the kitchen apprentices are moving on, and Hermann himself is off to apprentice in Europe for about a year. So it’s far from certain that the restaurant will even be open this fall and winter.

Le sigh.

My hairdresser had mentioned a new restaurant called Fork and Cork that she thought was downtown Kitchener. When I looked it up, though, I found that it was actually on Weber East, near Fairview Mall.

But it sounded kind of promising: Chef trained at Stratford cooking school, with past experience at Toronto’s Buca, offering a menu with a focus on local foods. So we rather spontaneously decided to go eat there on Friday.

The place was larger and busier than we were expecting. It also had those wonderful open ceilings that make rooms noisier than they need to be! Yay! Jean described the overall atmosphere as somewhat industrial. (Nice detail, though: They seem to have their own water spritzer, so you can get carbonated water without paying San Pelligrino prices.)

But they do know how to cook here. Jean continued his soup run, and declared the corn chowder with pork hocks the best he’s ever had. (That’s two “best ever” soups within two weeks, if you’re counting.) I had the lamb skewers, which were nicely seasoned and cooked. It is a bother to have a pull meat off sticks, though.

Best corn chowder I've ever had :)

Fork and Cork appetizers

We are all about the pasta for our mains. Both the spaghettoni with braised duck leg and the ravioli stuffed with peas and goat cheese were pretty amazing, really. And the Italian ripasso we picked out went well. (They have quite a few local wines also, and pretty reasonable prices—many bottles around $40. The ripasso, at $62, was one of the most expensive.)

Main courses at Fork and Cork

Not sure what I’m pointing at here…

The only slightly disappointing item was one of the desserts. The peaches with ginger ice cream and sesame brittle sounded great in theory, but the ingredients didn’t work together in practice (though they all tasted fine on their own). The flourless brownie was just delicious, though.

The service was good, our waitress attentive and knowledgeable. The pace of the meal was a bit fast, though. Each course came out a bit more quickly than we were expecting—albeit never before we were done with the last. So this is no place for a long, leisurely romantic dinner or catch-up with friends.

My title says one price, which is a bit of an exaggeration. Of course the totals of each meal weren’t identical, but they were all in the same ballpark for two people, three courses, one bottle of wine (likely the biggest variable). The totals for each including tax and tip: 1800 was $162, Haisai was $176, and Fork and Cork was $185.

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10 things we learned on our Civic Holiday getaway

Mettawas Mediteranean Grill, Kingsville Ontario

Mettawas Mediteranean Grill, Kingsville, Ontario

  1. Even at fairly late date, it’s not that hard to get a hotel room in the Leamington / Kingsville area for the August long weekend, and they accept one-night stays.
    However… when your hotel says it has free wifi, that doesn’t necessarily mean said wifi will actually work. (Too bad, as otherwise we have no complaints about King’s Hotel, which had nice rooms, was a good deal, and conveniently located.)
  2. M.E. and Suzie’s, a wonderful restaurant in Port Stanley, has closed.
  3. The restaurant now residing at the former M.E. and Suzie’s location has some of the worst food we’ve ever had. The lowlights were the supposedly “lighly breaded” smelts that actually were deep-fried mush and the “pork” dumplings that contained something brownish that didn’t really look or taste like pork.
    The highlight of that meal was the wine. (Malivoire “Guilty Man” white.)
  4. Aleksander Winery is fun to visit. They don’t really limit how many wines you can taste. You can opt to have cheese with your wine. (Jean filled up on that after our poor lunch.) The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. And the wines—pretty good! We ended up buying a case of various types. The highlights were:
    • Chardonnay Barique, an oaked Chardonnay that didn’t taste very oaked. It improved as we tasted it. (And it was the first one, so drunkenness wasn’t a factor in our judgment.)
    • Charmbourcin, a less-common, light red wine that originated in France, but isn’t much respected there. Very food friendly.
    • Baco Noir, full-bodied and delicious.
    • Cabernet Franc, lighter than the Baco, heavier than the Chambourcin, and well-balanced all around.
  5. During this last tough winter, Aleksander Winery lost 90% of its grapes. So don’t look too hard for their 2014 vintage in the future.
  6. Cooper’s Hawk winery is also pretty fun to visit! It was busy when we got there so they took longer to get us set up with wine, but then were quite friendly and knowledgeable and not too strict on tasting numbers. We had been here before, and found they were still really good with their off-dry whites. We left with several types of those: a Gewurtz, a Riesling / Gewurtz blend called Touché, and a Chardonnay Musque. But we also quite liked their Cabernet Franc, and the Pinot  Noir Rosé that our server confessed was a really hard sell for them. “People just don’t like it!” It is very dry, which might not be what people expect in a rosé, but I think it’s going to be fabulous with food.
  7. Mettawas Station in Kinsgville is, fortunately, still a good place to have a meal. Very casual, but nice pastas with fresh ingredients, and a decent list of area wines by the glass.Eyeing my Gnocchi!
  8. Thunder can be so loud it rattles your hotel room. The #onstorm that hit KW earlier arrived after midnight there, waking us with a start.
  9. Mango Rock Cafe in Kingsville is great place to have breakfast. Very friendly staff and quite decent, creative cooking here, like whole-grain pancakes with glazed walnuts and steamed apples. Yummy coffee also.
  10. Kingsville is kind of far. It’s a good three-hour drive. It’s really too far to go away for a one-nighter. Be a good destination if you can spare two nights, though. Then we would have had time for more than a brief look at Point Pelee National Park.


Let’s start at the very beginning

Last weekend we went to see Stratford’s production of The Sound of Music, with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who were visiting.

The Sound of Music trailer on YouTube

Critics are correct in their assessment that this is very women-positive production. It’s women-dominant, for one, what with all the nuns, five out of seven Von Trapp children being girls, and the Baroness character. And there is a whole lot of smarts among these ladies: Mother Superior dispensing sage advice, Maria giving the children exactly what they need (despite only faking her confidence), young Brigitta speaking truth to power, the Baroness’ business acumen.

Not bad for a play written by two dudes.

Donna Feore’s direction highlights all of this, and skilfully manoeuvres through the most problematic song of the production, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. During the song, Liesl suppresses giggles at her suitor’s claim of greater wisdom, and delivers her own verse with a smirk, her goal of winning a kiss clearly in mind.

And apart from satisfying the inner feminist, the play was just plain enjoyable. The dance sequences were gorgeous, the singers and performers very gifted (with tiny Zoë Brown a particular delight), and the whole story moves along at a good pace. And it’s an engaging one; the increasing display of Nazi banners as the play progresses is honestly distressing.

Last weekend also happened to be our 23rd wedding anniversary. While Sound of Music didn’t initially seem, to me, an obvious selection for an anniversary (of course, we actually chose the outing more with our visitors in mind), it actually is a very romantic story of Maria and the Captain unexpectedly falling in love. It did the trick!

Having visitors also meant a couple opportunities to go out to dine. We had dinner at Pazzo, in Stratford. The food was very good—my roast duck main was a highlight, but the smoked trout starter wasn’t bad either—but it was crowded and pretty loud until the numbers of diners lowered. Sunday we took in lunch at Wilk’s Bar in Langdon Hall. No problems with volume or food quality here, even if the pace of service isn’t quite what it (presumably) would be in the dining hall.

Oysters from Wilk's Bar at Langdon Hall

Oysters from Wilk’s Bar at Langdon Hall

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How to make a Canadian quilt

In honour of Canada Day, I just installed the Canadian English Dictionary extension for Firefox, so now WordPress doesn’t mark “honour” with a “u” as a typo. Yay!

I also spent some time (badly) photographing possibly the most Canadian item I own: A red and white quilt signed by various Canadian celebrities. My mother won it in a museum fundraiser back in 1997, and I recently inherited it.

Since 1997, some of the signatures have faded, and some of the “celebrities” have become obscure. But a number remain fun to look over.

Mr. Dressup signature and image

Aw, Mr. Dressup!

Jann Arden, Pamela Lee sigzantures

So Pamela Anderson was still married to Tommy Lee in ’97. And an interesting juxtaposition beside Jann Arden’s drawing (yes, that angel is naked. As angels are.).

Pamela Wallin and Jean Chretien signatures

Speaking of Pamelas and juxtapositions, Pamela Wallin was then just a TV journalist, not a disgraced Conservative Senator. The modest signature below hers is that of the Prime Minister of the day, Liberal Jean Chrétien.

Shania Twain, Stompin Tom, and Michelle Wright signatures

Stompin’ Tom was still was us in 1997, and Shania Twain is still with us today. Not sure what’s up with Michelle Wright these days…

Lynn Johson signature

And this one is just lovely

A few more items in Canada’s tapestry:

Google logo, Canada Day

Google’s logo today

Songza’s curated Canada Day playlists.

Raccoon on deck

A recent deck visitor

Trout, spinach, and roseRaspberries, strawberries, and dessert

Some fine local food.

Happy July 1, everyone! Canada flag

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Giving homage to Homage (and some other restaurants)

We recently visited a new-to-us restaurant in Cambridge, Homage. It’s a relatively small place in a heritage building, with a wood decor, and a fairly casual, slightly hipster atmosphere. It mission statement is food that is “rooted in classic techniques, sourced from the community of farms around the area, served with respect and care”.

Homage interior

Homage interior. Not our photo; this is from their website.

We—or at least I—had been hoping to try their five-course tasting menu, but it turns out they now offer that only “upon advance request”. What they had instead was a small printed menu, supplemented with some chalkboard specials.

The menu was so small, in fact, that we all ended up getting the same entree: the vegetarian gnocchi. The other options were beef or sausage focused, which none of us were big on, or roast chicken, which we like, but which didn’t seem special enough.

We almost all had the same appetizer, too—a sweet pea soup. But then I decided to veer off into the sausage and asparagus flatbread.

Every item was very well prepared, quite flavorful, and the waiter was able to give us the farm origin of all key ingredients. Serving sizes were modest, so we had room for dessert. Two of us had the lovely chocolate parfait, another the strawberry marquis. And the bill was also modest: about $135 for the three of us, including a bottle of wine and some coffee.

And the restaurant–while admittedly not packed full–was blessedly quiet. No need to shout out our conversation.

While I’m on restaurants, I’ll mention that Huffpost Canada recently posted their Best Restaurants in Kitchener-Waterloo list.

They have a number that are also on my list:

  • Public Kitchen and Bar
  • Bhima’s Warung
  • Cameron Seafood Restaurant
  • Northern Thai Restaurant
  • Watami Sushi and Sake Bar

And they don’t disqualify any for being too noisy, so both Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 and The Bauer Kitchen are also there.

They also have a number of places that I’ve also enjoyed, but didn’t include because I haven’t been there recently enough: Ellison’s Bistro, Janet Lynn’s Bistro, Borealis Grille & Bar, Masala Bay, and Red House. (I should really get back to some of these…)

Chef Elvis Ellison at his bistro

The charming Elvis Ellison, owner and chef at Ellison’s bistro. Also not our photo; this one is from Huffpost Canada.

And, they have a few more that I’m now curious about:

  • Bread Heads: “My vote for best pizza in the region”, it says.
  • The Belmont Bistro. I liked their previous incarnation as the Village Creperie, and the new menu sounds good.
  • Rainbow Caribbean Kitchen. “The top place in town for Jamaican fare”. That would be different, for a casual meal.
  • Timeless Cafe and Bar: With a “unique atmosphere” and “regularly changing menu” of delicious food.
  • The Guanaquita Restaurant, with El Salvadoran food, and dancing, apparently? Hmm.

Then a number that I’m not interested in, because they’re just not my kind of place:

  • The Bent Elbow, “A place of beer worship” where “food is secondary”. (Basically the definition of “not my kind of place”.)
  • Lancaster Smokehouse: Cause it’s all about the ribs, which I don’t eat.
  • Del’s Enoteca (formerly Del Dente). Pizza. But why go here if Bread Heads has the best pizza?
  • Rana Doner Kebabs
  • Holy Guacamole. Isn’t this a chain? (Though it is useful to know that it offers decent Mexican.)
  • Kinkaku Izakaya. I don’t care if it’s better than most all you can eat sushi. It’s still all you can eat sushi.

Then these are the ones that I gave love to, but Huffpost didn’t: Gilt, Bloom restaurant, Sole, Aqua (at the Crowne Plaza—apparently only now “officially” launched), Niko Niko Sushi Roll, along the coffee shops, Death Valley’s Little Brother, Princess Cafe, and Cafe Pyrus.

And their list is strictly KW, so anything far afield, like Langdon Hall or the Easy Pour Wine Bar, is also not there.

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Guide to dining in Waterloo region

I’ve been doing “web stuff” a long time, and some of my old pages come up shockingly high in Google search results. For example, when searching on the best places to eat in Kitchener Waterloo, my page was sometimes on that first page of results. Despite the contents being increasingly out of date.

So I finally decided to write a new one, and post it here: Guide to dining in Waterloo region

It includes only independent restaurants and is based on my personal opinion that:

  • Quality beats quantity
  • Conversation is an important part of the dining experience
  • So is wine (often)

It’s a longish page, but includes original photography, and the opportunity to find out:

  • Where coffee and scotch come together at last, in a place that’s way too cool for me (but I go anyway)
  • Which restaurants have lost my business for being too bloody noisy
  • Which place’s sandwiches make me swoon (and I don’t even like sandwiches)
  • Where to get good sushi (rather than all you can eat sushi)
  • Why it’s sometimes worth the drive to Cambridge—or even Singhampton

And finally—RIP, Marisol. We’ll miss you.

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But we look forward to hearing about chef Jeff Ward’s upcoming new venture in downtown Kitchener.

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Second time’s the charm for the Easy Pour Wine Bar

Although we had no complaints about the food at our first visit to the Easy Pour Wine Bar, the service left something to be desired.

It’s not a high-end, white-linen place; we weren’t expecting anyone to hold our chairs as we sat or to be given a complimentary amuse to start.

But we did expect familiarity with the menu, as it is a bit of an unusual one. It has a list of items “to share”, then some salads, then flatbreads, then a small number of “heartier plates”. So it wasn’t as clear as at appetizer / entree / dessert restaurants how much to order from each category. We needed guidance, and we didn’t really get it.

And it didn’t help the situation any when Jean asked which cheeses were included on the cheese plate, and the waiter didn’t know, and then seem quite startled that Jean expected him to go to the kitchen to find out.

Hence the rather large gap since our last visit. But when some friends wanted to go out for dinner, we thought we’d give them another chance.

And fortunately, we had a much more “on the ball” waitress this time out, who opined correctly on the amount of food we’d ordered, steered in a different direction when we ordered two rather similar items, and gave some good wine suggestions. We decided to share everything, picking among the “to share”, salad, and flatbread categories. We started with the Mixed board, a nice selection of cheese, olives, deli meats, bread, and crackers.

Mixed board

The remaining items were brought out together, per our waitress’s suggestion:

  • Pea seared sea scallops
  • Warm pecan crusted goat cheese
  • Roasted beet salad
  • Truffle mushroom flatbread


Everything was really tasty, good texture, temperature, and presentation.

Our additional request for a special that day, oysters roquefeller, was apparently not heard, but just as well, as the above was enough food, and then most of us had room for dessert. I had the pumpkin creme brulee, which was light and delightful, and Jean went for the more hardy sticky toffee pudding.


The restaurant itself has character, It’s a stone building, not that large, with wood interior and open ceiling to the second floor. It was packed this Saturday night, and that made it a bit noisy, but we still managed conversation. (Although once the musicians started, that became harder, but that was only at the end of our meal.)

Nice night out. Good to know the service issues aren’t chronic.


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