Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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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.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

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

Easy_Pour_(20_of_43)_150425

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.

Easy_Pour_(31_of_43)_150425_HDR

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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What We Do in the Shadows on Easter Weeknd

Easter weekend this year looked like a lot like Christmas: Sunday we awoke to a coating of snow. It was pretty (and gone by Monday), but not really what you expect in April.

So it seems appropriate that I served up an Easter dinner of very hardy foods: Maple-Dijon roasted root vegetables, potatoes in duck fat, and herbed lamb chops. Served with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Peller Estates.

Easter Dinner!

Everything turned out well. Not the prettiest-looking meal I’ve ever made, but still more photo-worthy than citrus cake I made for dessert. Poor thing looked so sad, starting with the fact that my two cake pans aren’t quite the same diameter, so it had an odd shape, with ominously dripping cream cheese icing. (It’s occurring to me I could have cut the larger circle to fit the smaller, but that does sound like a waste of cake.) Tasted great, though.

I had vampires on the mind somehow :-) so we also took in a movie at the Princess called What We Do in the Shadows. It’s set in New Zealand, and purports to be a documentary about the lives (or unlives?) of vampires. Specifically, that four vampires of varying ages who share a flat agree to be interviewed and filmed as they go about their usual activities.

My feminist self will point out that this yet another movie that over-casts men. All the leads are men; the women in it are side characters, servants or girlfriends.

With that complaint out of the way, though—this is a really funny movie! Very enjoyable. These are your classic vampires who can’t eat food, wear silver, or go out during the day. but who can fly and transform into creatures. The centuries-long age differences cause some tensions among the roommates, which are only exacerbated when they are joined by a newly sired vampire who can’t resist telling everyone that he’s “like Twilight.”

(“Keep a low profile?” he complains, when called on it. “You have a whole documentary crew following you around!”)

What We Do in the Shadows official trailer

Jean enjoyed it as well, declaring it “weird but good”.

And that was Easter this year: Snow, vampires, and lopsided cake.


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Back to Bhima’s

Last weekend we went out for our “late for me, slightly early for him” birthday dinner. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to on Bhima’s Warung, a restaurant we hadn’t been to in a few years.

It was much busier than we remembered! We asked the waitress if that was unusual, but she was said no, it was typical—even on weekdays. It’s not that big a place; the couple seated next to us joked about how we were basically dining together, our tables were so close.

Bhima’s offers the cuisine of Asia prepared using French culinary techniques. Definitely makes for an original menu.

This day they were also offering a surprise six-course menu based on the foods of Sumatra, for $47. Partly just out of laziness, Jean decided to go with that. I was not obliged to join in with him on it, though, so I puttered through the menu, which was made even more complex by the addition of three special appetizers and entrees that day.

Since we don’t get to Bhima’s that often, I wanted a sampling of items. The waitress described my ordered amount as somewhat “challenging” in terms of quantity. But she did point out that most of their dishes taste even better reheated the next day.

We didn’t take notes, so there’s no going through everything we eat (which is probably a relief to you). I will say that everything was very good, marking an improvement over previous visits, where the food could be uneven.

And we do have some photos.

Oysters at Bhima's

Oysters times two

Oyster are ordered by the piece, so we went with two from the regular menu, in warm lemongrass, ginger, chili, and garlic sauces, and two that were specials of the day: an oyster shooter in vodka.

Squid with rujak salad

Squid with ‘rujak’ salad

I also tried the regular menu sotong goreng sama rujak, or tapioca and garlic fried squid in roasted chili, lime, and hoisin glaze with ‘rujak’ salad. Very nice; great texture on the squid.

Shrimp items

Shrimp and ?

One of Jean’s courses featured shrimp and… Stuff we can’t remember.

Monkfish and lobster ball

Another Jean menu item: This one was monkfish and lobster ball

My main involved rabbit done three ways (a special), and it did indeed make a fine leftover. :-) Dessert for me was a tapioca and ice cream concoction, while Jean’s menu concluded with ice cream made of something we’d never heard of and now can’t remember—but tasted very good—along with some sort of pastry or apple or something. (Look, it was a lot of food!)

Bhima's dessert

Mystery ice cream with mystery other things

It’s not a fine dining experience, but the dining was still quite fine. We should notify Where to Eat in Canada that Bhima’s is once more worthy of inclusion.

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