Dining out -
84 Monroe St.
Monroe Take-Out is nothing but a take-out and it doesn't pretend to be anything more than a take-out. You realize that as soon as you see the place.
Inside you go to a simple counter (in a plain, worn, dated room), you order, you stand and wait (there are no chairs), you pay in cash and then you leave. I was fortunate to be flush with cash the day I was there. Usually I don't carry cash, relying far too much on my debit card, credit card and the kindness of friends and relatives. (And yes, I do pay them back.)
The "cash only" restriction became obvious shortly after I'd found Monroe Take-Out, which was tucked away amongst the private dwellings on Monroe Street, a street less travelled. I saw no evidence of the ubiquitous debit card PIN pad swiper. Then I noticed the words "No Interact" and "No Visa" at the bottom of the menu pamphlets on the counter. Panic ensued but I calmed down when I found three twenties in my wallet and realized I wouldn't have to ask the fellow standing next to me for a loan of 50 bucks.
Monroe's menu of Chinese dishes is not as extensive as some other ones I've seen. For example, with the exception of the specialty dish, Singapore-style rice vermicelli with shrimp, pork, chili and hot curry, there were few Szechwan-style dishes. Neither do they sell spring rolls, items like butterfly shrimp, Mongolian beef nor anything with my beloved cashew nuts (not the end of the world I suppose, but close).
So-called "Canadian" food makes a fair showing. Monroe sells all the usual suspects: fish and chips, chicken and chips, hamburgers, hot turkey sandwiches and even poutine.
Monroe's egg rolls were crunchy on the outside with a fresh taste throughout. They were the plump kind, nicely filled with cabbage, bean sprouts and celery.
Any time you get whole shrimp in shrimp fried rice it's a good thing. Sometimes when I order shrimp fried rice the shrimp is almost invisible with the exception of tiny bits mixed up with the rice. Monroe's was the best kind. It contained several whole shrimp about the size of a quarter.
We had two chicken dishes. Chicken with vegetables contained two-inch strips of chicken along with pieces of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. The juicy chicken broke apart in the mouth easily and the vegetables were still slightly crisp. Figuratively speaking it had a "guilt free" label that rarely comes with take-out food.
Monroe's lemon chicken was on par with most - lightly battered deep-fried chicken with a pot of bright yellow, starchy, lemon-flavoured sauce. The batter was a tad greasy.
Tofu is still a slightly hard sell in these parts but it's a staple in Chinese cuisine. The tofu with Chinese vegetables was about as authentic as any dish you're going to get at a Chinese take-out restaurant. It had rectangular chunks of fried tofu with cauliflower, onions, broccoli, bean sprouts and carrots. I love the texture of the less firm type of tofu they used in this dish. The tofu had a golden brown crust on the outside and a soft, springy interior. It was a great contrast to the crisp and flavourful "Chinese" vegetables (which looked suspiciously like the garden variety vegetables known as cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and onions.)
Cantonese chow mein is one of the great take-out dishes. It's got it all as far as I'm concerned - flavour, variety, taste and texture. Monroe's version was an admirable effort. There were slices of beef, chicken, snow peas, a few medium sized shrimp, some scallops, carrots, bok choy and, of course, an ample bed of fine Chinese noodles. Our meal for five at Monroe Take-Out cost approximately $50 and was well worth it.
The annual Cabot Club Dinner is no more. With new ownership comes a new approach. Management at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland tell me that a replacement event is being planned. It promises to be a little less stuffy, more relaxing and fun. It will be called the Children's Wish Foundation Fundraising Dinner and Auction. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 13th in the Sheraton's Avalon Ballroom. Dress will be business attire this year as opposed to black tie. Tickets are available for $175 per person with $100 from each ticket going to the Children's Wish Foundation. (The foundation will issue tax receipts.)
Sheraton executive chef Roary MacPherson outlined details of the planned menu for me.
"We start with a golden corn and pepper veloute with salt cod croquettes. The second course is organic greens with Anjou pear and partridgeberry dressing and a crouton wrap. Then it's a main course of AAA Alberta beef tenderloin steak with cipollini onions and tomato confit, with a parsnip and carrot puree, buttered asparagus and a roasted garlic potato terrine with bordelaise sauce. Dessert will be a mirror glazed peanut butter and chocolate mousse dome royale."
I asked MacPherson what the auction items might be.
"Well, we're trying to keep some of it under wraps for now. Some of the silent auction items could range from household equipment and appliances to kitchen equipment. We're in the process now of securing some of those auction items."
Marion Parsons, past chairwoman of the Children's Wish Foundation, told me there'll be a lineup of Newfoundland talent performing at the event. Performers include: Jimmy Thomson and Rick Hollett, Take Note Music School, School of Dance Performing Group and Earl Howell, accompanied by Rennie Gaulton.
Tickets for the Children's Wish Foundation Fundraising Dinner and Auction can be obtained by contacting the Sheraton's Ken Richards or Dwayne Stratton at 758-8195 or 758-8194, respectively.
Karl Wells is a restaurant panellist with enRoute and judge with the Cuisine Canada/University of Guelph Culinary Book Awards. He is also co-host of the Rogers TV show "One Chef One Critic." To reach him, log on to his website: www.karlwells.com.