Dining with the Audience at Fernwood’s Newest Gem
“Bet you dinner we have the restaurant to ourselves by 8:30,” I say to my date as we slide into the last available table at Kulu Restaurant in Fernwood. Sitting a stone’s throw from the Belfry Theatre, the place was full of smartly dressed over-50s gathered for a very reasonably priced dinner in the neighbourhood’s predominantly Taiwanese-inspired bistro.
Having already wined the early evening away at Stages with glasses of Laughing Stock, La Vieux Pin and Burrowing Owl, Kulu’s wine list with Jackson-Triggs and Mission Hill dominating the selection seemed relatively shy. That said, a bottle of Red Rooster Merlot can be brought to your table for a mere $28 (prizes for double gold All Canadian Wine Championships and Gold 2010 Pacific Rim International Wine Competition are featured on the menu). The Red Rooster Chardonnay for $24 and the Louis Latour Bourgogne Chardonnay for $30 are also highlights.
Sake, hot or cold, and import beer (Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin) were all $5 and cocktails were all under $8.
Sake and soju — a Korean liquor similar to vodka — form the signature staple among the cocktail list. The Sake Naked (sake, gin and lychee) and the Pink Lady (sake, light rum, cranberry juice, tonic and Triple Sec) looked interesting and the Tropical Asia with soju guava juice, orange juice, mango juice and the Soju Ball with soju vodka, orange juice and melon liquor would surely drench you in some sort of vitamins fix if a cold is springing your way (perhaps the rule of checking with your doctor applies here).
In the end, we were happy with a glass of Phillip’s Blue Buck and a fragrant glass of plum wine (both $5).
For starters, we tried to order the basil clams ($11), lightly fried in garlic, sake, chicken stock and Taiwanese herbs with lemon zest, but failed to beat the crowds on that one. They were out. We followed our server’s recommendation of the Pan Sear Bacon Wrap ($4.50), a flavourful bouquet of enoki mushrooms tied with bacon, tonkatsu sauce and Japanese mayo. The smokiness of the bacon, creaminess of the sauce and crunch of the enoki mushrooms provided a delectable little one-bite combo.
We also tried the Baked Potato with Kimchi ($7), with sliced potato, kimchi with soy cheese and house-made white sauce baked in a small ramekin reminiscent of scalloped potatoes. The kimchi added a sharp little kick that did not go underappreciated.
As the restaurant cleared out just after 8 p.m., we confirmed I was going to dine for free. Diners stood to pat down hair and smooth dinner jackets before freeing themselves to the courtyard, with a few meandering up the Belfry steps while others seemed to be headed for home, leaving us to view another of Paul Shepperd’s landscape paintings positioned like windows to inhabited lake fronts and inlets along the corridor of walls.
From 8 to 10 p.m. on some weekdays, there are a few specials on offer: $10 on Tuesdays will get you Edamame, a Bacon Wrap and beer, and for $12 on Wednesdays, Curry Chicken Nuggets and Kimchi Tofu will arrive by your side. Although I don’t know if I’d make the trip especially, I would probably stop by after gardening or a walk with the dog in the park if I lived in the neighbourhood.
When it came to mains, we missed out again with the Dancing Basa, but the Tsurai Chicken Steak ($12) was a good recommendation, cooked in a ‘unique’ spicy sauce, with onigiri and seasonal vegetables. I had the Unagi Cake ($15) in a fried-rice patty, tamago, avocado, topped with unagi (eel) and a drizzle of house sauces. Although the unagi was a bit on the salty side, the avocado provided some intermediary smoothness and the presentation was beautiful.
For casual evenings on the patio, the P’rice Burger ($14) looked like a coveted option, with a pork patty served on a rice bun with kimchi avocado, soy cheese and baked yam fries. The Veggie-Crepe ($13) with Taiwanese green onion, zucchini, peppers, soy cheese, and baked yam fries also looked appealing.
“There’s no dessert, but we have tea,” our server told us unapologetically as the evening waned past 9:30. We were too stuffed to utter a complaint. Cups of Japanese Cherry Blossom tea ($2) sipped silently in the empty restaurant furthered our meditative state, making me think we came in at the perfect time, to observe the theatre and then be left to our own culinary meditations. M