Sunday, August 16, 2009

Report from - Dinner at Rundles in Startford ... August 13, 2009

I have been a regular Stratford Festival attendee for the past 20 years, I catch at least one play each year - more likely 2-3. This year I saw Colm Feore in Cyrano de Bergerac and Brian Bedford in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of being Ernest - both excellent productions. On August 13, we (my fiancee Erica and I) attended Brian Bedford's reading of Oscar Wilde's letters called 'Ever Yours, Oscar, afterward we were invited to Rundles Restaurant by sommelier Richard Maloney, who informed me that he is proud of their Ontario wine content and intends to add more.For those who have never been to Rundles, let me try to describe it ... better yet, let's just go for the description of the front - I'll let the pictures of the inside (below) fill the other thousand words. Rundles is located at 9 Cobourg Street, which is a side street populated with houses and apartment buildings; it is hidden near the end of the street tucked behind an abundance of foliage in a very contemporary building. Now remember, I have been attending performances in Stratford for 20 years, I have walked it's streets, I have partook in quite a few of its restaurants, so when I asked how long Rundles had been around I expected to hear an answer like '2-3 years'. So you can imagine my shock and amazement to learn that Rundles has been around since 1977, "It's our 33rd year in business", I was told. I guess I didn't know Stratford like I thought I did.
Rundles restaurant is split into two parts: the main restaurant at the front, which seats about 50 people; and the Sophisto Bistro at the back, which seats about 25. The Bistro is in its second year of operation and was a response to those who wanted a little more choice in their prix fixe menu, for less dough. We ate in the Bistro - trust me when I say you sacrifice nothing by going for the more relaxed and fun atmosphere, its the same chef with the same great quality of food.
Richard presented me with the wine list - and also the Bistro menu, pointing out the house wines: Rosehall Run (from Prince Edward County) 2007 Riesling and 2007 Sullyzwicker Red, both excellent wines for the price - and great to see a restaurant offering Ontario wines as their house wine. "I wanted to showcase the local wines," Richard said to me, "local meaning Ontario of course". Perusing the wine list I noticed quite a bit of Ontario aromatic whites (ie: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris) and dessert wines, the only places lacking were in the Chardonnay, Sparkling and Red departments - there was one Chardonnay and a couple of reds, as oppose to the half and half split in the aromatic whites listing. Richard told me those are areas he intends to beef up next year. Rundles is only open for "the season", May to October from 5-8 (dinner) and lunch on the weekends - closed Monday. I gave him a few recommendations.

But if I could find a small fault with the wine list I could find nothing wrong in the food department, all created by chef Neil Baxter, we had an excellent meal. Starting with a tasting of the Lobster Bisque and salt cod croquette - mind you this was just a sample tasting.We then moved on to our appetizers: Belgian Endive and Roquefort Sald with roasted walnuts (with a sour scream and roquefort dressing with hunks of cheese sprinkled on top).
Along with a 'sampling of Rundles Charcuterie which includes cured meats and various types of sausages' - all made in house by the chef.As we waited excitedly for the main course we met the staff: Emily (Bistro Senior and resident name speller) and Curtis, who kept foisting the best homemade bread onto us, they were like Lay's potato chips, "betcha' can't eat just one"-slice ... I ended up calling him "the bread pusher" though I know he performed many other duties. We were also told about Kiki Sontyart (the bread maker) and Serene Choo (pastry chef). While we waited and learned chef Neil Baxter sent out an extra little bit of excitement taken from the main restaurant menu: 'A tartare of lightly smoked salmon garnished with Florence fennel and sour apple, and salmon roe', plus a plate of 'Shrimp, Dungeness Crab and Cucumber Roll with orange and ginger essence, and tobika (flying fish roe) coloured with wasabi. Both dishes were stunning in their presentation and delicious.

Out came the mains: Erica was served a Sweet and Spicy Vegetable and Israeli Couscous fresh ulses and summer squash in and exotic stew, which is sprinkled with toasted almonds and raisins. Myself, I ended up with the most succulent dish of Beef Short Ribs Braised in red wine and garnished with bacon, mushrooms and horseradish cream. The meat literally melted in my mouth and I savoured every bite.

Finally, as if we hadn't tried enough already, here came the homemade desserts, everything created from scratch: Dark Chocolate Cream pralines espresso granita, and "Indian Summer" zabaglione for her; Poached Apples and Candied Apple Ice Cream with crisp farina croquettes for me ... honestly after that I could not pack away another bite.

Unbelievable. I learned from watching Top Chef Masters that everybody remembers dessert, but I'd have to say the whole meal was memorable, from the first glass of wine (Riesling) to the last spoonful of ice cream (candied apple). Thanks to Richard Maloney (sommelier) and James Morris (owner) for a fabulous evening and I look forward to seeing the improvements to the wine list to include more Ontario wines to pair right beside this extravaganza of food excellence.

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