Spring in Burlington Ontario

Spring in Burlington Ontario
Discover Burlington this Spring

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Taste of Burlington Restaurant Review

Bold tastes and good value could be the mission statement of Burlington’s winter food festival, A Taste of Burlington.  The city’s growing reputation as a dining destination is showcased as the fixed-price plates program hits its third year.  The three-week 2011 version running to March 13 has 24 restaurants on board, up from 17 in 2009 when it was introduced.  And that means many, many innovative tastes as chefs fashion fixed-price menus that cover a wide range of budgets and culinary styles.  It is well-timed, too, coming as winter is wearing out its welcome and bright new tastes hold the promise of spring.

For 2011, A Taste of Burlington teamed up with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on a promotion which gives diners a chance to win a week’s holiday, airfare included, at the popular Canadian destination. Entry forms for the contest are available at all participating restaurants.  And some of those spots picked up on the southern theme with the Taste of Burlington items they are offering. Others simply let their imaginations run with three- and four-course combinations running from $15 lunches to $40 dinners.  And with Wine Country Ontario as the program’s presenter, many of the restaurants are pairing dishes with local wines from award-winning vineyards.  Here are three of the 24 dining options available in the 2011 program which illustrate the range in food and pricing:

480 Brant Street
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and 6 p.m. to midnight Saturday.

The Alex is a sleek and stylish newcomer to Burlington which has drawn excellent reviews with a small-plates philosophy and plenty of imagination in the kitchen.  Chef Matthew Kershaw’s mission is spelled out on the restaurant’s website. It says “if you love chain restaurants, you probably won’t love us. And that’s OK.”  But it’s love at first bite for many. And the $40 Taste of Burlington dinner we checked out delivered with virtually every forkful.  And The Alex is kind on the eyes as well, with deep-wine banquettes, dark wood tables in long narrow space that seats 30. Big windows on two sides let the room breathe and the dark brown walls feature bold art for sale. 

Kershaw didn’t make the choosing easy with the opening options of pheasant truffle espresso with wild mushroom cigars, shrimp done a la Grecque, with avocado salad and bacon-wrapped or the Kitchen Sink Salad.  We love a mystery and the first listing was revealed as a small cup of a vibrant pheasant and truffle broth with choice chunks of the game bird loitering at the bottom.  The ‘cigars’, meantime, were two crispy wraps filled with sautéed mushrooms. They sat on a little salad of baby greens and julienne of zucchini treated to a mild vinaigrette.  The wraps came with a server’s suggestion they could be dipped in the lovely and sharp broth.  That worked just fine.  This right-sized starter featured lots of textures and tastes at work and was followed by sparking cranberry Sambuca as a palate cleanser. It proved a light and fruity interlude as preparation for the next course.  I opted for the pan-roasted skate wing dish, despite heavy competition from the petite tenderloin of beef, which came with Cambazola cheese potato gratin, French beans and truffle jus, and the roast Muscovy duck. It boasted an accompaniment of braised duck and mushroom risotto with roast garlic broccolini.  Fish just seemed right this night and the skate wing, a member of the shark and ray family, got the royal treatment with a ball of deep-fried lemon butter at the top of a heap of flavours.  The dish came in a deep bowl with two ‘wings’ of the lightly breaded and delicate fish draped over leeks, French beans, pink fingerling potatoes cloaked in a lobster finish and tiny and pristine green beans.  And that lobster component came with real chunks, by the way.

All told, it met the high standards The Alex has established in ringing up unique taste combinations. Service was knowledgeable, fun and fast, meaning the apple croissant bread pudding came quickly after the fish dish. The two moist slices were slathered in a warm and decadent butterscotch sauce. So, ring up another triumph for The Alex.

390 Brant Street
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch Monday to Friday, 5 p.m. to close Monday to Saturday for dinner.

Latitude owner Barry Michael chose to stick with a southern spirit with his Taste of Burlington menu at Latitude, beginning the four-course, $35-dinner offerings with blackened tiger prawn with spicy stewed tomatoes and sour cream, then offering options across the next three stages.  The jumped-up shrimp, which came on the heels of an opening bread basket with thick slices of excellent baguette and room-temperature butter, was a fine start.  The two seafood specimens were large, rich and juicy with slivers of lemon and the spicy tomato and sour cream playing off each other.

Latitude strikes a nice ambiance, embracing folks interested in fine wines, an appetizer or a full meal in a setting with a dark rich decor strategically lit with a soft glow.  Interesting photo art grace the walls, there’s a choice of low or high tables and bar seating and classic pop plays subtly in the background.

For a second course, field greens with southern ranch dressing won out over the house Caesar and it was presented as a three big cup-shaped radicchio leaves holding a mix of romaine, julienne of carrot and crisp spinach. The lighthouse-made ranch sidestepped the pitfall of the cloying commercial versions, letting the salad components sing out.

For course No.3 the options included blackened tilapia, chicken-fried steak, linguini with shrimp and a roasted chicken breast with a southern-accented sauce.  I selected the latter and the big boneless chicken breast was treated to a honey and hot red-pepper basting that was memorable.  It was semi-sweet and semi-spicy, not drowning out the protein and came with rich mashed potatoes sitting in the grasp of big leaf of radicchio and a crisp, lightly-buttered bundle of green bean, zucchini and carrot tied with a green-onion band.

The final course was the French Quarter Crème brûlée, a small but vivid conclusion. The burnt-sugar crust gave way to a decadent pudding with the surprise of a blackberry at its centre. An arc of ever smaller blueberries provided an arty garnish flanking the tub of dessert.
Latitude delivered excellent value with four courses, all offered with a flourish. 

1235 Fairview Street
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

This roadhouse operation offers some value pricing with $15 lunch combos and $20 dinner options in a setting featuring an adobe-look décor and country music.

On a visit for lunch, I took the soup over the salad and was rewarded with a nice minestrone that was chock full of crunchy green beans peas, carrots and pasta in a lively broth.  Bowls of corn tortilla chips are standard warm-up acts here and the bowl came with a mild salsa that held hunger off until the first of three courses arrived.
For Taste of Burlington mains, Santa Fe listed a wide range of options from a quarter-order of ribs to burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, fish and chips and steak sandwich.  I was swayed by the ribs option and in short order a reheated slab arrived at the table, sizzling on a vivid green plate with colourful bowls containing coleslaw, refried beans and a sharp BBQ sauce ranged around it.  The meat fell almost too easily from the bone, making for no-fuss eating and was mostly rich and moist save for a few overdone bits.  With the sharp slaw and moderate beans, it was a substantial meal. And dessert hadn’t yet been selected.  The apple dumpling seemed a bit more virtuous than the chocolate brownie and was a fine conclusion, a made-in-house blossom of pastry with filling containing chunks of apple. A dollop of ice cream closed the deal.
For the $20-dinner menu, Santa Fe offers a soup or salad start, mains like a half-rack of ribs, 10-ounce steak, lemon-pepper tilapia as well as the options of fajita, enchilada and burrito with a dessert choice to finish.

By JOHN KERNAGHAN, Guest Blogger
John Kernaghan is a food and travel writer based in Oakville. He was a restaurant reviewer for The Hamilton Spectator from 2000 to 2010 and has written about food and travel for 30 years. Visit his Taste of Burlington Restaurant Review Blog. 

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