Being an international student hailing from the Middle East, I had never really celebrated Thanksgiving until I arrived in Canada. A day of celebration where you stuff food in your face while enduring extended family members? Sounded like pretty much every other Sunday dinner back home to me. But the biggest thing I could never understand about Thanksgiving was the turkey. Seeming to exist as a mere centrepiece, turkey I’ve had over the years has always been one thing: consistently disappointing. Cold, dry, and sadly flavourless, I could never understand nor justify the amount of effort and time it took to cook the damn bird. But one place finally changed my mind this Thanksgiving weekend: The Bauer Kitchen in uptown Waterloo.
The Bauer Kitchen was all in all an elegant affair; jazzy, upbeat music lightly played in the background amidst the gentle backdrop of chatter in a restaurant that was unexpectedly crowded for Saturday evening in an otherwise ghost town. Free bread — yay! — warm and fluffy, was offered and refilled plenty of times at our table which my dinner companion happily indulged in, while I began my three-course Thanksgiving meal with the Kitchen’s arugula salad. Disappointingly presented inside a simple cereal bowl, I was expecting a lot more out of the trendy restaurant. However, the salad ended up being fresh and fragrant and had a lot more going on than I’d thought. Shaved golden and candied striped beets were beautiful once I dug them out from under the arugula, and the salad was very light and balanced with a tangy shallot peppercorn vinaigrette, Grana Padano cheese, and gorgeously cooked bacon. Toasted walnuts, pickled Peruvian peppers, and Granny Smith apples added further mini-flavour explosions, and there was no way to taste every ingredient at once, but everything paired so well together that each bite was a new experience. I believe that this was literally my first time in a long time that I got excited about a salad, and as a self-confessed carnivore, that’s really saying something.
I had by now warmed up to the place and was excited to see what the Bauer Kitchen would do next with my Thanksgiving dinner. Enter a beautifully composed and restrained plate of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and roasted vegetables, with a delicate bowl of cranberry sauce on the side that was so different from the sloppy dinners I’d had in the past. This girl was blessed. Almost everything on the plate was delicious and perfectly cooked; the vegetables were enjoyably chewy and flavourful, and even the brussels sprouts, an archenemy to my palette, had lost their bitterness. The mashed potatoes were of one note, buttery and creamy, but the turkey — oh, this turkey, the best I’d had in years — was flavourful, tender, and moist, the latter of which is a word that is solely reserved for good turkey, but is one that should never be said out loud. It was a lovely meal, and the only part where it fell short, unfortunately, was the stuffing, which is normally my favourite part of every Thanksgiving everywhere else. A gloriously crumbly and flavourful carb-y mess everywhere else, the stuffing at the Bauer Kitchen just felt like chunks of bread momentarily soaked in gravy with a few dried berries thrown in. Not that I don’t love bread soaked in gravy, but this serving of stuffing somehow lacked that “I’ve been in the oven inside a turkey for 12 hours and it shows cause I’m damn delicious” feeling.
After that, the dinner rounded out to a close with a simple pumpkin tart with a dollop of whipped cream on top. A little cold and impersonal, just like my own Thanksgiving, I paused to reflect on all the ones I’d been to over the years. Although my own had been so much more refined and composed this year, I somehow missed the awkwardness of a full-out family brawl happening at any moment over a table groaning with the weight of food. Maybe that was the ingredient my meal was missing. At any rate, I couldn’t complain about my experience at the Bauer Kitchen — well, except for my waiter who only seemed to appear every time I complained about him, like some strange sort of swooping demon, but that’s another thing entirely.
Want to change the hands of her fate and decide where Lenore should eat next? Send an email to email@example.com or tweet @Lenore_ramirez — she probably won’t bite (unless she’s really hungry).