Thursday, May 8, 2008

Where's the Bean?

Summer is just around the corner, and I've been harassing my local Starbucks baristas about the upcoming feature flavours for frappucinos. I'm desperate for my beloved red bean frappuccino, which I indulged in daily while in SE Asia.
I don't actually see it as too far a stretch to expect it will eventually come to Canada, especially since red beans, or Adzuki, are poised to be touted as the next big super food. Until then, I've got my sweet memories, and red bean ice with condensed milk. A girl can dream...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Best Fries in K-W?

Confession: I have a terrible weakness for chip wagons. The smell of warm grease and starchy fries can be positively bewitching.
Since coming to Kitchener, I've been pretty restrained, but finally we've made the 4 minute trek from our house to the locally-reknowned Manitou Take-out.
Monday(as in, today) is burger special day, so Argie and I both got a burger, fries, and a pop for $5.95. As nice as something that simple could be, we both decided to fancy up our take out fare. Argie opted for fried onions, cheese and chili on his burger (an additional dollar), and while I had a plain burger (tomato, grain mustard and ketchup), I added chili to my fries- yum!
The food was suprisingly not super oily, the burger was juicy, and the chili was delicious, just a hint of heat, lots of beans. Manitou Takeout also has an interesting selection of beverages, including Birch Beer, which tastes like a combination of cream soda and old fashioned root beer, suprisingly tasty!

There is a different special every day of the week, so I'm sure this will become a semi-regular quick meal place for us. Check them out!

Manitou Takeout 45 Manitou Drive, Kitchener
(519) 895-1730

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

And They Have Chandeliers!

My friend S. and I regularly meet up to have a meal and talk about work, family, what's wrong with the world, etc. One of our frequent haunts is Pho Ben Thanh at 10 Pinebush Road in Cambridge. Ben Thanh isn't far from where either of us live, but it is technically in another city, so naturally we were quite excited to see that a location was opening at 500 Fairway Rd in Kitchener. I thought it would be prudent to let them get their bearings in the new location, so before we investigated, I spent a good month daydreaming about my favourite BT foods first: crispy shrimp cyclone rolls, yellow curry vermicelli, warm mango sticky rice and sweet Japanese green tea bubbles, which tastes like green tea ice cream with tapioca pearls in it.
This week we went to the new location, initially marvelling at how chic and classy it looks inside. I looked down at my hoodie shirt and jeans, and looked up at their chandeliers, recessed into the ceiling...
Our visit began rather unfortunately, we came in for an early (5pm-ish) dinner, and found the place empty except for two other tables. Our host seemed confused about where to seat us (so many empty tables!!, so many choices!!).
Once we were seated, I requested a pot of tea (which generally arrives unasked for at the Cambridge location). Our server told us the tea selections, and when I asked for Jasmine, he said, "oh did I say Jasmine, yeah we don't have that". It was then I noticed that a pot of tea at this location costs $3.95. Forget that. We decided to order specialty drinks instead, S. having her usual coconut milkshake, and me a green tea bubbles. To eat S. had the stir fried lemon grass chicken with rice and I ordered a rare beef pho.
Our perplexed server trundled back to the kitchen, and then arrived at our table with a different drink than I had ordered, placing it on the table by saying "This isn't what you ordered, is it?"
Our meals came shortly after I sent him back to try my drink order one more time, S.'s Chicken dish consisting of some bell peppers, 4 pieces of chicken and an entire white onion, cut into enormous chunks. Bravely she picked at it for awhile, before giving up, stating "This is terrible, don't even bring this home for Argie!"
My beef noodle soup had the aroma and flavour of leftover dishwater, sparingly seasoned with thin sliced beef and onions. The worst part was that I couldn't even douse it in hot sauce, because the sriracha had been carefully plated on a small saucer.
This is the first time I have posted a negative review of a place. I am reluctant to do so, because taste is relative, of course, and everyone has different expectations for their dining experiences too, but from start to finish this was a pretty crappy meal, that could have been saved if it wasn't for the inattentive (and not terribly knowledgeable) staff. I would have been much happier to make concessions for the food quality if I thought I was a valued customer. As it was, we didn't even stay for dessert.
Armed with this knowledge, I can safely say it continues to be worth the drive to head to the Cambridge Ben Thanh!

P.S. I would like to apologize for the lack of photos - I was so surprised by the whole meal that I forgot!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Jia Jia Lok: Hong Kong Style in Waterloo

When we first moved to the Kitchener-Waterloo area, we spent a great deal of time and energy looking for places to satisfy our cravings for various styles of Chinese cuisine.

At one point, I actually went through the yellow pages, inquiring if any local establishments served congee, a savoury rice porridge. One person who answered actually laughed at me, and said "nope, but my grandma makes it." Helpful.

One fortunate day in our first winter here, we noticed a small unassuming establishment just down the plaza from Argie's favourite tech haunt, Canada Computers. Jia Jia Lok Chinese Restaurant is a tiny place, but its bustling!

Packed with regulars from the nearby universities, Jia Jia Lok serves HK style casual meals, such as Fried Pork Chops on Spaghetti $7.95, Beef and Preserved Egg Congee $6.99 (a bit much for congee if you ask me, but worth it if you're really jonesing). My favourite dishes at JJL are Deep Fried Pepper Squid $7.99 and Chicken and Salted Fish Fried Rice $9.95. The squid is served hot, not too oily with a salty spicy coating on top of a light, almost sweet batter. The portions are enough for two people, we usually order the two together, along with a veggie dish like Pan Fried Chinese Broccoli with Garlic $7.95 (mostly for the health/guilt factor).

The couple who run JJL are very friendly and helpful, often singing and making jokes as they prepare and serve your food. Make sure you have cash though, because they don't have a debit machine!

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Jia Jia Lok (519) 888-9926
255 King Street N, Waterloo (just north of the University intersection)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pho Nam-Thanh Restaurant : Fuel for man and his vehicle!

What do you get when you cross a gas station and a Viet-Thai restaurant? Really good food, apparently. From the outside, this little restaurant on busy King St. in Cambridge, Ont. is a delightful find. A diamond in the rough if you will, but make no mistake, the food is anything but rough.

How the heck did we end up here? Elsie just informed me that we drove past it on the way to the mall that one (fateful) time. I think we actually took the chance on a lark, since we didn't really give much thought to it. Hey--we were hungry, and in need of some comfort food. And Pho is truly comfort food.

The outside is somewhat uninspired (it IS after all connected to a gas station), and really easy to miss. Inside doesn't really get any better. The walls are Pepto-Bismol pink, and well, there really isn't anything that pulls your attention (other than the fact that it looks like it was a converted dough nut shop, complete with drive-in window). So if you are looking for some Southeast Asian inspired "cultural" or exotic motifs, then you're in for a disappointment.

What it lacks in decor, it makes up in the actual food. Call me crazy but I would rather eat somewhere that has great food over decor. For those who are Viet-style restaurant virgins, a little primer on how to order is needed. A server (or waiter) brings you a menu and paper wherein you write down your orders. Simple. Ok? Cool. Now on to the food that we've tried.


Spring rolls ($3.25 CAD for 2 pieces)

Fresh shrimp and pork rolls ($3.50 CAD for 2 pieces) is a Vietnamese-style fresh spring roll that is part salad, part noodles, and part pork and shrimp, wrapped tightly in a clear wrap, then dipped in an accompanying peanut sauce. It may look a bit strange at first, especially if you are used to the deep fried variety of spring roll. I suggest picking it up with your fingers (rather than struggling with chopsticks), when dipping it in the sauce, then taking a nice bite. It's delicious with a nice peanut-sweet taste.

Noodle soup

Pho Tai ($4.75 CAD small, $5.75 CAD medium, $6.75 CAD large) is rare beef with rice noodles. This is what we come here for. I admit, I love noodle soup. I do. I grew up eating it. It's comfort food. This here has got to be one of the best. Ever. I first had Pho in Mississauga a long time ago (1990?), and over the course of the decade we've gone to countless ones in North York, Scarborough, Richmond Hill/Markham, Spadina Chinatown, and Gerrard Chinatown, but the broth here, we think, is the best.

Pho Tai Nam Gan ($4.75 CAD small, $5.75 CAD medium, $6.75 CAD large) is rare, well-done, and beef tendon with rice noodles. It's the same broth as the one above, but as you can see, with different cuts of beef.

Service is excellent. It's pretty quick (when not busy), and the staff is generally friendly. Honestly, you get your money's worth. No, it's not a 5 star hotel with a waiter serving you hand and foot, but this is authentic street food at its finest served in the comforts of a restaurant (as opposed to the side of the road).

When eating rice or noodles off of a FLAT plate, use a spoon to scoop up the rice, and a fork (or knife) to push it into the spoon. Trust a lifelong gourmand, its easier than chopsticks! Simple logic says that on a flat surface its much more efficient to have a shoveling action, thus ensuring you can clean your plate--Something you will definitely want to do at Nam Thanh!