Saturday, 7 September 2013

Nom here! @ Hot Wheels Tea House

The young 17 and 18 year old froshes running around this fall marks my seventh year here living in Waterloo.  In 2006, I was surprised at the amount of Chinese students, yet disappointed by the amount of bad Chinese food in the area.  Also, I distinctly remember as a first year student in the middle of midterms or exams that Waterloo desperately needed a Chinese bun store.  

Having grown up in Markham with a very evident Chinese population, Chinese bun bakeries were everywhere.  These fluffy buns were soft, tender, and usually filled with exotic fillings like BBQ pork, red bean etc.  On top of that, they are pretty cost-effective, especially towards the last closing hours when you can get 6 buns for 3$.  For me, they are a comfort food that I didn't realize I missed until I came to Waterloo.    

Seven years later, Hot Wheels Tea House opened!  I was really excited about the long-awaited Chinese bakery, but also cautious about raising my hopes for good buns after having my expectations with Chinese themed restaurants repeatedly crushed in Waterloo.  I will not deny how I feel about the name, it seems off with the theme and type of restaurant.  It reminds me of the little toy cars they used to advertise on commercials when I was growing up in the 90's.

When we entered the bakery, the buns were immediately to our left.  There was a bunch staple Hong Kong style buns like the pineapple custard bun, BBQ pork bun, egg tarts, etc.  Not only do they have buns, they also have many Hong Kong styled noodles and toasts for brunch.

I also ran into an old acquaintance there that knows the owner, Vicky, who seems like a very sweet lady, greeting her regular clientele amicably in Cantonese.  The restaurant is open and has a relaxed feeling.  There was also something nostalgic about the bakery that reminded me of the Chinatown bakeries in Toronto when we used to visit as kids.

We picked up a pineapple custard bun for 1$ and a Banh mi (Vietnamese-style subway)+beverage+salad combo for another 5$.  A very good deal that was also not taxed!

Food Review:  I really like this place!  Not only was our meal cost-effective, but very tasty too!

The pineapple custard bun (below) was very good (and I had a lot of pineapple buns in my time)!  The custard filling was silky and on top of that, the "cookie" portion on top had a good balance of sweet, flaky, as well as crunchy. 

The beverage portion of our combo was at a self-served counter with coffee, Hong Kong style tea, or cold green tea as our options.  We made a weird concoction of the coffee and the tea that wasn't very good, but naturally we can't fault the bakery for our failed attempt at being a mad chemist.

For the Banh mi, I had two options: five-spiced marinated meat or Peking duck (below).  I chose the latter and it was delicious!  The Banh mi came out warm and the Peking duck was extremely flavourful.  The combination of hoisin sauce, cucumbers and duck reminds me of the dinners where we had Peking duck carved in front of us at restaurants.  The pate, parsley, onions, and mayonnaise (?) really brought the sandwich back to the traditional Banh mi.

I wasn't a very big fan of the salad, which was mixed greens coated in a creamy ceasar dressing and diced mango on top.  The combination wasn't my favorite and maybe a fish sauce vinagrette would have been a better pairing to counter the sweetness from the mango.

Conclusion: I would definitely come back here for the buns and the other foods.  There is a Hong Kong style noodle soup that I'm looking forward to trying as the days are getting colder.  I didn't look at their complete menu, but I hope that they will have a lot of other Hong Kong style cafe food (e.g., "french" toast, steak and pepper sauce, Portuguese chicken on fried rice, "borsch" soup, beef tong and pasta, etc.)

Update:  I've been talking to a lot of people about Hot Wheels and have issues describing the location since the tea house doesn't really have a sign up yet.  You can find the store where the old Eldon Gallery stood, just south of Beta or north of King's convenience.
Hot Wheels Tea House on Urbanspoon

Monday, 2 September 2013

St. Jacobs in Flames

I'm very sad to hear that the main building at St. Jacobs Farmers' Market has been completely destroyed by a fire (cause yet to be determined) late last night.

To nom or not to nom? @ the Redhouse

The Redhouse

My brother came over for a quick visit on Friday and was starving after a meeting he finished in Kitchener.  When he picked me up from school, he knew he wanted to eat, but didn't know what he wanted.  So I recommended a cute little place on William and Caroline in Uptown called Yukiko's Cafe Bistro.    

To my surprise, the cute little restaurant I was hoping to see has been replaced by the Redhouse. Although the bistro wasn't what I was expecting, I was still excited to try the quaint casual chic restaurant. 

When I looked at the menu, the restaurant was everything I was hoping it would be.  A gourmet restaurant that focuses on quality local fresh food at affordable prices. Since it was peach season, I ordered the peach ginger salad with the added squid.  My brother decided on the home smoked turkey sandwich and the butternut squash soup.  

Our slightly awkward but sweet-as-honey server brought us quartered radishes, cucumbers, and toasted pitas for the complimentary daily hummus.   

Review:  Overall, my brother and I felt a little disappointed with the food, but the service was good. 

My squid, although very tender, was most likely a result of being under cooked.  In addition to that, the squid had a very strong fish smell (which usually doesn't bother me since I'm a seafood lover) and could have benefited from a sprinkle of citrus.  I expected the ginger to be home pickled but turned out to be the same commercial pink preserves that partners your wasabi at a sushi restaurant.

Sadly, the sandwich was not our favorite either.  The turkey itself was delicious, but the beans and corn did not elevate the flavour or texture of the sandwich.  In addition, the bread was too charred for my brother's taste and he had to scrap off some of the burnt bread before he ate it.  

The soup was a little under seasoned and the walnuts sprinkled on top should have been toasted, spiced, or candied just to give the butternut squash a little more oomph.  

The complimentary hummus was probably my favorite dish during our dining experience. 

Conclusion:  Although I'd like to support new upcoming chefs, I felt as though the Redhouse fell a bit short. Conceptually, I think that the menu and the restaurant can go very far, but each plate just needed a little more "something else" to really make the food pop.  I'd like to visit the restaurant again but can not recommend the Redhouse to anyone.  I hope that my second venture in the future will impress me a little more!

Red House on Urbanspoon