• Welcome

    Karl is an award winning food writer and restaurant critic for the St. John's daily, The Telegram. His Dining Out column is one of The Weekend Telegram's most popular features. Karl Wells is also host/producer of the very popular Rogers TV show, One Chef One Critic and a restaurant panelist with enRoute magazine. Karl has written for Harry Magazine, enRoute, Newfoundland Quarterly and other publications. He is a senior judge with Gold Medal Plates and a Canadian Culinary Championship judge.
     

Restaurant Review: Skipper Ben’s, Cupids

Review of Skipper Ben’s is now available on the Video Channel.

Skipper Bens, 408 Seaforest Drive, Cupids

Skipper Bens, 408 Seaforest Drive, Cupids

Visit Skipper Ben’s website to view their menu, hours of operation, etc.

A Review of Magnum and Steins

Magnum and Steins Building

Magnum and Steins Building


329 Duckworth St.
St. John’s
Ph. 576-6500

Most St. John’s restaurants stay the same year after year. Same menu, same décor. Lately though a handful of restaurants have actually done things to freshen up their menu and “look.”
Whether this is because of an evolving competitive restaurant scene, or the realization that customers do actually get bored with the same-old-same-old, I do not know. But I’m happy to see the changes.

Magnum and Steins, for example, has built a new long bar (that seats eight) in one of its upstairs dining rooms. Behind the bar is something wine lovers will appreciate, an Enomatic wine dispensing system. It keeps wine in opened bottles as fresh as when the bottles were first opened. Now a single glass of wine at Magnum and Steins should always taste fresh.

Wine bar at Magnum and Steins

Wine bar at Magnum and Steins


A wine and bar menu has been developed and the dinner menu appears to have been streamlined. Mind you, there’s much more on offer than what’s written. Magnum and Steins has always been one of those restaurants that requires its servers to rattle off a long list of daily specials – even when one or two have been daily specials for years (their Mediterranean style fish soup comes to mind).

Salad
I find most leafy salads to be pretty mundane. Occasionally I taste one that rates a mention because of a dressing or the use of an interesting ingredient. The combination of ingredients in Magnum and Steins’ fresh apple and pear salad got my attention. In addition to the fruit and greens there were pralines and whipped goat cheese.

Apple and pear salad

Apple and pear salad


Using whipped goat cheese was very smart I thought. So often a salad that should be light and refreshing is weighed down by heavy, dense, monochromatic, mono-flavoured goat cheese. The light, silky smooth cheese, instead of taking away from the salad, bestowed extra satisfying taste and texture.

A perfectly balanced apple cider vinaigrette brought this salad to the level of genuine culinary art. (Art doesn’t have to be elaborate.) Just the right amount and kind of vinegar was used. We’ve all had salads where the chef went a little too heavy on the vinegar. That perfect, sweet spot must be sought and found, and it was in this case.

Fish taco

Fish taco


Fish taco
Tacos are the perfect street food. You can dress them up with pretty chive flowers and the like, but they will always be for casual, eat-with-your-hands dining. Magnum and Steins’ fish taco looked precious, a grilled flour tortilla as a plate for fried cod, pico de gallo and shaved cabbage dressed in chipotle lime crema. I hesitated only slightly, to admire the tiny flowers sprinkled over the top, before I did what the taco was screaming out for me to do.

I folded it, picked it up in my hands and started munching on the tortilla and contents. Cave Springs Riesling – the wine recommended on the menu – helped wash it down. It was very good eating, with crunch, zest, spice and refreshing flavours.

Pork belly and watermelon salad

Pork belly and watermelon salad


Pork belly and watermelon is not a coupling I’d have thought would be particularly effective. Our server, Gillian Thorne, recommended the appetizer because she’d enjoyed it so much. So did I. (The watermelon was pickled by the way.) Next time I’d prefer the pork belly had more of a braised texture, as opposed to baked. It was a tad dry.

Wine
The menu’s suggested wine, a glass of Château de Sancerre, with floral overtones and excellent minerality did help neutralize the insufficient succulence of the pork.

I’ve had pho (Vietnamese soup) many times. It’s spicy stock with noodles and bits of meat. Magnum and Steins had Vietnamese pho wings on the menu as a bar snack or appetizer. Three chicken wings coated with a ginger and lemongrass glaze were presented with torn basil, mint and sliced scallions.

Vietnamese pho wings

Vietnamese pho wings


If the ingredients had instead been placed in a pot with bubbling stock, I suppose, you could call it pho. At any rate, despite good supporting ingredients, this very salty dish left me unimpressed because of the wings. They were the opposite of plump and juicy. I also picked up a hint of taste I associate with meat that’s perhaps been frozen too long.
Halibut with root vegetables

Halibut with root vegetables


A prize piece of beautifully cooked halibut fillet, resting on roasted potatoes and other vegetables made a positive impression. Halibut is a meaty fish and it took well to Chef Christopher Mercer’s weighty, buttery, herb-tinged sauce that had been carefully poured over one half of the fillet. (A sauce that would have enhanced several other types of fish, or even fowl.)

Veal cheek
I’ve never been much for the surf and turf style dish. Most of the emphasis is placed on the steak and how it’s cooked, with the shellfish treated as an afterthought and usually overcooked to the point of leathery. My view on butter poached lobster with braised veal cheek is quite different, thanks to Magnum and Steins.

Butter poached lobster and braised veal cheek

Butter poached lobster and braised veal cheek


Nestled on a plate, in a bed of creamy herbed polenta, were butter poached lobster (shelled tail and claw) lemon and thyme sautéed asparagus, and braised veal cheek finished with demi-glace. Server Gillian suggested I try two different wines with the main, Syrah by Sorrel Hermitage and Chardonnay (Wynns, I think).

The surf and turf was brilliant. Delicately poached, juicy lobster joined by slowly braised, beyond tender veal cheek. Both elements revealed very true flavours and worked well together. As for the wines, the Chardonnay helped lift the dish but the Syrah did not. Red wine is a risky choice with lobster. Syrah is too bold and knocks out the subtler flavours of the shellfish.

Several hits and a few misses at Magnum and Steins on this visit, but the Duckworth Street eatery still remains one of the city’s better dining spots.

Rating:
* * *

Price:
Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip – $200.00 (approx.)

Sound level:
Moderate

* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Contact him through his website,
www.karlwells.com
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells

Restaurant Review: The Tea Garden, Holyrood

Review of The Tea Garden is now available on the Video Channel.

The Tea Garden, 328 Conception Bay Highway, Holyrood

The Tea Garden, 328 Conception Bay Highway, Holyrood

Visit The Tea Garden’s website to view their menu, hours of operation, directions, etc.