The big bad Bauer Kitchen

The Charcoal Group owns a number of mid-range restaurants around Waterloo; from the feisty gastropub, Beertown Public House, to Italian dels Enoteca Pizzeria, and the upscale Charcoal Steakhouse. I had the chance to visit The Bauer Kitchen (TBK), the yuppie-hipster member of the Charcoal family.

The seating plan is divided in a variety of small to large tables, along with a large number of booths adorned with faded brown ostrich leather upholstery that added a chic and stylish touch. Even without the music at its moderate levels, the restaurant can be noisy at times, especially on the weekends at the peak of capacity. A small candle dimly lit each table, creating a dark but warm mood suitable for dates while being more than appropriate for larger and louder gatherings. The restaurant had a beautiful industrial interior and rustic/farm motif; a lot of bare walls and exposed pipes are visible around the restaurant, adding an interesting sight to the meal. 

Served in a mason jar, the bourbon for apples is knob creek bourbon, with berentzen apple liquor, brown sugar syrup, and apple juice. Fortunately, the complex flavours from the combination of multiple substances were not lost by the near-overwhelming sweetness from the syrup and apple flavour.  The bitterness and sweetness were well balanced and is a definite recommendation for building up appetite.

For lunch, I had the banh mi turkey burger with a hoisin glaze, pickled daikon and carrot, cucumber tomato relish, cilantro, and roasted chilli lime aioli. The turkey was dry and burnt, the grilling process took away any remaining hints of the true animal it came from. My search for a redeeming factor from the rest of the entreé was unfruitful as well; the bun was slightly stale, rendering the overall experience from this dish a laborious effort.

At dinner time, my server recommended the house favourite Bauer Kitchen salad, a salad with mixed greens base and pears, mandarin oranges, sunflower seeds, pecan granola, goat cheese, dried cranberries, and white balsamic vinaigrette. The salad had a formidable texture and layers of flavour that took time to identify. The fragrant goat cheese stood out and set a strong savoury taste, while the sourness of the vinaigrette strengthened the duller sweetness of the fruit. An extra order of chicken breast on the side is also available, but even at its basic meat-less version it is very filling and an exceptional deal at $8.45.

I also had the chance to try the duck confit. A slow-cooked duck leg with crispy-bronzed skin, the duck confit sounded amazing on paper, but was underwhelming and disappointing on the plate. First, the sides were dull and heavy; the five spice sweet potato purée and julienne vegetables were bland and textureless. The strong sour flavour and bitterness of the incoherently placed pink ginger and radish only served to distract my palette while adding no value from either an aesthetic or flavour standpoint. The duck itself was moist and evenly cooked as a result of its slow-cook process, however, lacked the appropriate level of gaminess I was positively hoping for.

At TBK, the illustrious descriptions of the culturally diverse menu items only serve to create a heightened level of expectation. However, the lack of sophistication in some of their more advanced dishes invalidates it as a beginner’s attempt at quasi-fusion cuisine.