bits and pieces

Friday, May 25, 2012

Restaurant Review, Regina: Simmer Leaves me Cold.

Having recently returned from Asia and having spent six months living in Little Asia (Vancouver), I was excited to see a hot pot place open up in Regina. We may be a small town kind of city, but in my opinion the level of a city’s awesome often correlates to the diversity of food. Don’t get me wrong – I like Earls from time to time too, but the option of going for Japanese, Indian, Afghani, or Caribbean food is a testament to the growth and dynamism of our little city. 

Hot pot cuisine is a bit of a mixed bag (or pot). From Northern China to Japan to Thailand –this style of creative eating has a long history. Claimed to originate from Northern China, hot pots are often enjoyed communally over a lengthy, lengthy meal. A wide variety of meats, veggies and condiments can be added to the broth, although some regions have their own ‘classic’ ingredients - such as the Sichuan pepper, from guess where?


My first impression of Simmer was the décor. Unfortunately, like many restaurants in Regina Simmer is located in a small strip mall on the corner of Broad and 14th. In my humble opinion, whomsoever decided that the strip mall was a good building design should be exiled. Needless to say, the outside of this former coffee shop was not promising. The interior however, while not to MY taste – was plush and warm. LARGE regal looking chairs are surprisingly comfortable and once you enter, the exterior and location were completely forgotten. 

I went with a group from work and we arrived at 5, before the restaurant was actually open. Oops. Luckily they sat us and brought us drinks and nibblies. Simmer offers a variety of hot pot options from seafood, to mushroom, prime rib to greens. Our group of 6 ordered a range of them and settled in with our wine. Prior to the main event, our server (who was lovely) brought us some sweet sesame buns, and pickled garlic and daikon radish. The buns were either stale or just dry buns, but either way were not my favourite. The pickled crudités were delicious however. As long as you don’t mind eating actual cloves of garlic (none of us did) these were great. 

The food itself was a bit slow to come out considering it wasn’t being cooked. The hot pots came out first, and were set aflame and eventually began to simmer. See what I did there? Eventually the food came out. I had the mushroom dish which had cremini, enoki, button and king oyster mushrooms. My first thought was ‘KING OYSTER MUSHROOMS! WHERE DID YOU GET THESE FRESH?’ My second thought was ‘wow, there’s a lot of food’. There were probably about 4-5 cups of chopped and sliced mushrooms as well as a bowl of vermicelli, a little bowl of sesame-spicy-soy sauce-stuff and some assorted bits of lettuce and things. My companions who had ordered the beef and/or greens were in the same boat – a MOUNTAIN of food. 

After selecting some mushrooms, popping them in my pot with some greens, garlic and noodles, I sat anxiously awaiting my meal. After an indeterminate amount of minutes, I scooped it out, dumped some sauce on it and……… bleh. It tasted like boiled noodles and mushrooms. Likely as it WAS boiled noodles and mushrooms. There is absolutely no flavor to the broth. I asked our server and she said the broth was flavoured with scallions and ginger, however, if they were in there, they were completely invisible. My other carnivorous companions felt the same. I can’t even imagine what the green-eaters felt like. Boiled iceberg lettuce? No thanks. 

There’s not much else to tell. I tried filling my pot with garlic and the soy sauce concoction to no avail. Eventually I filled up on radishes and garlic, ate as much of my mushrooms and noodles as I could, and paid. Paid far too much. While recognizing that service was good and the price includes a bun and pickled things, 18$ for boiled mushrooms is at least 6$ too much. After wine, tip, and tax paying 40$ for boiling some vegetables in water is not my idea of a good time or money well spent. 

Though recognizing that hot pot cuisine is a bit of a novelty here, there is no reason the broth should be that flavourless. This is a restaurant where you cook your own food. The kitchen slices meat and vegetables. Simmer could invest some research and a bit of time into making a broth or two, or even providing more condiments or spices to the table. Even some basil or cilantro would have been appreciated. I was actually stunned that a restaurant would serve plain, boiled lettuce – not even spinach or kale or something with some flavor – but actual lettuce. 

While I’m clearly not an expert on hot pots, I’m fairly certain the argument can’t be made that Simmer’s dish style is traditional either – everything I’ve managed to read about hot pots indicates that it should be a stew-y soupy bowl of delicious flavor and ingredients. A quick google image search of the term hotpot (it’s safe, don’t worry) brings up a myriad of better looking dishes. Not a single one resembled our Simmer-ing pots. 

Simmer has an opportunity to improve. The restaurant was inexplicably packed by the time we left. Ensuring your restaurant offers good food is not only smart, it shows integrity. Currently, Simmer comes off as a cash grab gimmick likely to stick around for a year or two, but no more. 

Bottom line? While Simmer successfully makes you forget you’re in a strip mall off of Broad and has friendly and accommodating staff,  paying upwards of 20$ to cook your own food in water is certainly not worth your night out.  Save your money and your time. Walking out of a strip mall 40$ poorer, hungry and unimpressed is a very very sad way to end a Friday night.  

Food –1/5 - the 1 is for the garlic and radishes
Service –  3/5
Value – 1/5

Simmer is located at  2201 Broad Street in Regina, Saskatchewan

2 comments:

  1. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thanks for reading! I'm going to have a bunch new reviews of restaurants and catering companies coming out this month. I get so frustrated with Regina restaurants sometimes..

    ReplyDelete