Sunday, 30 March 2008

One last toast...

Posted by Bonita

It has certainly been a busy time of the year for me. With only two more weeks left to the school year (and my undergraduate career!), I’ve been buried behind a mountain of notes and books, and my computer screen, churning out those papers, or at the very least attempting to churn out those papers. Needless to say, it’s meant that I haven’t had much time to cook anything special, surviving mostly on salads, soups, and lots and lots of chocolate chips (Yes, I didn’t even feel like going out to buy myself some cheap chocolate, which resorted in dipping into and finishing off all my chocolate chips!). I’m certainly not painting a pretty picture of myself right now, but then again, I’m not a pretty picture during essay time. So it was definitely a nice change of pace last night when I was able to trade in my sweats for a cute skirt, slap some make-up on and look like a human being again, if only for a few hours.

Last night, my Italian friends and I (or the “foodie four”—we’re still working on a group name for ourselves) decided to go to The Tasting Room Bar & Bistro. I’ve driven past this restaurant a good number of times these past four years, so when Vincent and I were chatting during a study session a month ago, we thought that the place had our names written all over it. Plus with the (almost) end of term, Vince’s upcoming birthday, and the fact that all my friends will be heading off to Europe next year, we thought it would be a great way to celebrate together one last time before the summer.

What’s unique about The Tasting Room is it features different wine flights, allowing patrons to try out four different wines at one sitting. Their extensive appetizer list also allows patrons to share the dishes while trying out the wines, thus adding to the whole aspect of “tasting,” as suggested by their name. They do have a dinner menu as well, however, and we opted to have the best of both worlds; that is to say, to try out some appetizers together and have a meal as well. Who says you can’t have your cake (or more appropriately, steak) and eat it too?!?

None of us ended up trying one of the wine flights. We ended up ordering a French Beaujolais, which was light and smooth and very easy to drink. After much deliberating (and sending our waiter away about five times), we settled on sharing the Wild Boar Bacon Wrapped Shrimp and the Seared Ahi Tuna Loin as our appetizer. The appetizers were absolutely delicious, and a great way to start off the evening. I especially loved the wild boar bacon; it wasn’t as salty as your regular bacon and it was leaner too, while not overpowering the shrimp. The ahi tuna was also delicious as well, crusted with white and black sesames and seared to perfection; it melted in the mouth. We were also very fascinated with the butter that was served with our bread. After trying to figure out what was in it (Squash? Apricot? Ginger? Basil for sure…), we found out that it was a Sweet Chili and Basil Butter. It was so good that Dana was eating the butter…with some bread.

For the main course, I ordered the Honey Walnut Rack of Lamb. The lamb was cooked perfectly, and the rosemary jus that accompanied it was nice, with a slight sweet kick to it. I did find that the walnuts were a little lost on me; it would have been nice if they had a few chunkier bits of walnuts in the crust for some contrast in texture. We did try a bit of each other’s dishes though, since everyone ordered something different and they all looked delicious. Dana had the special of the evening, Lemon and Parsley Tilapia, Kait had the Crab and Lobster Stuffed Chicken and Vince had the Beef Tenderloin. I’ve recently been really big on tilapia; it’s a mild fish that holds well together when cooking, but also melts in your mouth. Kait’s chicken was also really nice; the crab and lobster stuffing added great flavour to the chicken, and put a new spin to “surf & turf”. Vince’s beef was also cooked very well, and the mushrooms that accompanied it were delicious together with the beef.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the evening, then, was dessert. Which is really a shame since it is always the last thing a customer will remember, and you always want to end your evening with a bang, particularly when the rest of the meal was going so well. Firstly, their dessert choices weren’t really amazing. Personally, from the sound of the dessert offerings, the restaurant doesn’t have an in-house pastry chef, which probably explains why the desserts are all cake-based and pretty common cakes at that, like chocolate cheesecake, carrot cake, lemon and poppy seed cake, etc. However, I could be wrong; perhaps these cakes are all made in-house, but it would have been nice to see more variety in their dessert menu. I ended up trying the Maple Walnut Apple Torte, which didn’t really impress me all that much. They warmed it a bit beforehand, so the sides were kind of “toasted,” which I found kind of odd on a cake/torte.

The atmosphere of The Tasting Room is pleasant enough. It's not a very big establishment, and its décor gives off a warm and inviting feeling the moment you step into the restaurant. The one thing we noticed was that this restaurant is very loud, and only seemed to get louder as the evening progressed, despite our going later in the evening. And despite our slightly inept waiter, we still had a good time out. The meal itself, with the exception of dessert, was pretty good, but more importantly, it was the great company. I honestly believe that no meal, no matter how fabulous the food is, is a great meal without great company to enjoy it with. I’m definitely lucky to have three fabulous friends who enjoy food just as much as me. Of course, a part of me is saddened that we’ll all be going our separate ways next year, with two of them heading off to Europe, the other possibly to Africa or Spain, while I’ll be moving to (“who needs Europe when I’ve got”) Toronto. But this is certainly not the last time the “foodie four” will be getting together; our food adventures are only just beginning!

Name: The Tasting Room Bar & Bistro
Address: 483 Richmond Street, London, ON
Cuisine: Continental/Fusion
Price Range: Dinner $20-30 (entrée)
Accessible: Most seats (but not washrooms)

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