Friday, November 30, 2012

Do not Hide at the Hidden Manx

Reviewing the selection of Ottawa restaurants on, I noticed The Manx (370 Elgin Street, Ottawa) was ranked number two. The restaurant also has over 1,000 votes with close to 90% approval rating which is excellent for a restaurant.

My wife and I headed over early for dinner to ensure to get a seat.  We were glad we did as the place filled up quickly and during our meal several prospective customers entered, looked around and left for another place.  Sadly, those customers probably had a better time than we did.

The Manx isn't exactly the easiest place to find despite being on Elgin Street next door to the Elgin Street Diner (which I have reviewed as well).  I have probably walked by this little Pub a hundred times and didn't even know it existed.  The only way I found this place was on listings and with a little sleuthing using Google Streetview. The main issue in finding the location is because it is tucked away in a basement, thus the place lacks large signage and traditional restaurant windows like the diner next door. 

We entered at 4:50 P.M. to a three quarter filled Pub.  Sure the place was almost full when we arrived, but you would be to with about fifteen customers and three wait staff inside the setup of someones large recreation room  with oversized bar.  Yes the bar is oversized as it takes up a good portion of the room.  Calling this place "cozy" is being generous. It was hard to hold a conversation due to how loud it was down there in The Manx's rec room. Yes I would call it a "rec room" as restaurant doesn't seem to fit as it is in the basement of a building and looks like someone's kitchy dimly lit rec room complete with bar set up.  The lighting alone made the menues hard to read.

But first before you can obtain said menu, you have to be seated.  We stood at the front door looking a little lost looking for a little direction like a sign that says "Please seat yourself" or "We will gladly seat you".  Dumbfounded we decided to seat ourselves.  Just as our behinds were about to sit down the pair of ladies that arrive after us were welcomed by one of the servers and shown to another table. and handed menues.  The server stopped by our table and handed us the lunch menues. 

We reviewed the lunch menues for five minutes.  The waitress to came by and took our drink order and advanced to another table to gather their drink order.  We were then waiting for the waitress to return with our drinks so we could place our order.  Sadly, we were interrupted and inquired by a waiter if we would like to order drinks.  Yes, he asked for drinks.  We replied that the waitress had taken our order for drinks. 

He said we had the menues for lunch and would be right back with dinner menues.  We gladly gave him the menues and he went around to the other tables to pick up the other lunch menues.  It was easily another five minutes before he returned.  The maddening part was he decided to deposit the lunch menues in a cupboard somewhere and stop by a table with two ladies and baby.  He spent the entire time there talking up the ladies and making googly eyes at the baby all the while holding the dinner menues he had promised the entire rec room he would be right back with the dinner menues which was far from the truth. 

Eventually the waiter returned and handed us the one page double sided menues.  We reviewed them only to find the exact same limited selection of items.  The only difference between the lunch and dinner menues was each price had been raised by a dollar and the line: "See the chalkboard for the daily specials".  We hunted for the daily specials on the chalkboards on the walls.  Sadly these had drink specials and other items that were not specials.  The menues themselves are quite limited as appetizers and main course items are on one side and the full drink menu is on the reverse.  I at least had an option.  My wife though was less than satisfied: "I felt forced to make a selection from a menu of items I didn't really care for."   After not finding the specials,ordered what we originally had before the "switching menu" fiasco.

We flagged down another waitress who took our order without writing it down.  Considering what we had just been through, I was worried what would happen next.  Would the kitchen screw it up? Would the waitress come back two minutes later to ask what we ordered?  Fortunately this part went right.  She had everything memorized, but then again with such a limited selection and only two customers at this table  it really is hard to forget what is ordered. 

The Order: 1 Club Sandwich with Fries and a Coke and 1 Chicken Wrap with Fries and Ottawa's finest  glass of tap water.

The food took about ten minutes to arrive at our table. Things started to look up as the plain white round dinner plates were filled with food. 

The Club Sandwich platter I had was well put together. The sandwhich was split in two sections but was all there.  Fresh chicken and vegetables were there.  It tasted better and fresher than those at the Filly & Firkin in Aurora.  The mayonaise was perfectly in sync with the lettuce, chicken, tomatoes and bacon.  A true Pub Club Sandwich. 

The fries I would hardly classify as "fries" in the McDonald's or Elgin Street Diner sense.  These were actually potatoes wedged with the skin on and deep fried.  I enjoyed them with a nice potato taste to the middle.   The only concern was that, along with sandwich, there optically might not be enough fries to be filling.  This feeling is also reinforced when you have just had the price of your meal jacked up due to a menu fiasco.  But in the end the Club Sandwich and Potato wedge fries were sating in quantity and taste. 

The Chicken wrap my wife said was o.k. but then again she was not happy in having to choose one of the five lesser evils for her meal.   She also had the"fries" which she classified as being too greasy for her taste.

After finishing our meal we had to find a server, male or female, to flag down to obtain the bill.  It took a little bit of a wait as the waiter always seemed to be working the room talking to the customers.  The waiter was more interested in playing host to a rec room full of friends who came over for a special occasion than actually ensuring his paying customers were being served properly.  We eventually flagged him down and he returned quickly with the bill. A total of $34.00 for a chicken salad wrap with fries, club sandwich with fries and a Coke?  Seems a little much considering the atmosphere and poor service.  Good thing we didn't need change for our bill as we probably would still be there as of this writing waiting for the change to arrive. 

Overall, it is hard to believe that The Manx is rated number two on in Ottawa.  There are many more better places in Ottawa that have good food and way better service.  Sure the food was fresh and had some variations on it that other restaurants do.  But the unorganized service, overpricing, cramped and dark & loud rec room feel leave a lot to be desired.

Even Lord Vanier Wouldn't eat at B.K. in Vanier

Thought I'd grab the Burger King coupons I've been hoarding and find a Burger King somewhere downtown.  There used to be a Burger King at Rideau Centre, but it closed years ago and replaced by a Forever 21 store. There used to be another one in the Byward Market, but it as well closed years ago.

So I ventured along Rideau Street, across the Cummings Bridge, down Montreal Road and stopped at Hannah Street.  There was a Burger King (199 Montreal Road, Ottawa). 

This section of Ottawa, Vanier, isn't the best area to grab a hamburger. Vanier has seen better days with the same run down storefronts and buildings present from when I went to university in 1998.  The people on the street look a little sketchy as well.  Even the bus ride on OC Transpo's Route 12 from the Rideau Centre along Rideau Street was sketchy.  The two people beside me had cracked open a beer and it wasn't even 11:30 A.M.

I entered the restaurant and walked up the cashier, handed over my coupons and ordered.

The Order: 1 Junior Whopper Combo (Junior Whopper, Medium Fries and Medium Coke)

There were three servers behind the counter and presumably one in the kitchen. The two on drive through retrieved my food and drink.  This was because the cashier was pulled away from her job in order to serve another customer to explain the bathroom door wasn't locked now.  I presume this is because there is an automatic button installed at the counter to allow the Burger King Employees unlock the bathroom doors remotely in order to prevent any funny business from going on. 

I gathered my condiments and had a seat at a table.  The tables were clean with the odd newspaper laying about but no crumbs or stray fries evident. 

I opened my Whopper Junior and was expecting a smaller edition of the more popular Whopper. That is exactly what I got but was surprised at the rest.  The Whopper Jr. had probably twice to three times the amount of mayonaise as required.  Thus, I ended up with a Mayonaise burger Junior instead of a true Whopper.  There was only one sad looking tomato as well.  Not sure what the specifications on a Whopper Junior are, but one tomato seemed a little lack lustre.

The fries tasted better than the old cardboard ones they used to serve back when Burger King focused more on their burgers than the fries. So at least that was a step forward.  They were warm but definately not freshly prepared.  Quantity wise, it was a little depressing.  I double checked my receipt to ensure that the meal came with a "medium fries".  Yes, it was punched in properly.  If what I received was a medium fries, than I hate to see what a "small fries" is.  McDonald's "small fries" are about the same the size as a Burger King "medium fries."

Overall, the coupon proved to be a rip off.  For a "1 can dine for $3.99" I was left hungry and went home to have an apple.  This Burger King location is in a low end neighbourhood with detiorating food standard quality. It is a wonder they are allowed to call themselves "Burger King" when a "Burger Knight" would have served better.  It's sad really how the mighty have fallen since the middle ages.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"To Go" or "Not To Go" That is the Question on Rideau

This morning I headed down to the Rideau Centre to investigate the Tim Hortons (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa) offerings at the mall. 

Rideau Centre mall has two Tim Hortons locations with one in the food court and one on the first floor of the mall opposite Shoppers Drug Mart just inside from Rideau Street and  the crosswalk to The Bay.

The Mall location, opposite Shoppers Drug Mart, is a great location if you are passing through to stop off at buses outside on Rideau Street or are headed to the Mackenzie King Bridge from Rideau Street as it is on the main route between the two major OC Transpo stations for pedestrians.

The Rideau Centre Food Court Tim Hortons location is great for those that either want to duck out the door quickley or are in the mood to stay in the food court in a rare Tim Hortons downtown Ottawa location with quite a lot of seating. 

I chose the food court location so I could not only enjoy a coffee but also review how well served the customers were for a little bit. 

I joined the line of about 10 customers waiting for their daily dose of Tim Hortons.  The line moved semi fluidly with one step, pause, one step, pause, one step, pause, etc. With three cashes open the Tim Hortons team moved us quickley.  Good thing to, there were lots of people to serve, if this had a happenned there might of been war:

I stepped up to the counter and provided my order.

The Order: 1 Medium Black Coffee

I had already had breakfast that day so nothing to eat was fine with me.  The server also didn't try to upsell me.  But then again, Tim Horton's has learned not try and upsell people in the morning as they can be pretty grizzly with a "Just give me my dam coffee buddy!" type of attitudes. 

The coffee was exactly as any other Tim Hortons location would provide and all Canadian have come to expect.  The tables were also pretty clean, but these are cleaned on a regular basis by Rideau Centre contracted cleaning staff.  Thus it is a good place to enjoy a morning coffee and read the paper as you can usually find a quiet place in the food court away from other people who may be conversing. 

I eventually left the food court and ventured over to the other Tim Hortons opposite the Shoppers Drug Mart on the ground level of the mall.  I sipped my coffee and watched the same line move at a decent clip rotating the customers through.  It seems both the mall and food court locations have their staff fully trained on what each part of the operation is supposed to do and how each employee can fulfill that role with managers and supervisors filling in when needed.

Overall, Tim Hortons has figured out that two mall locations are needed to be open in order to serve the masses that traverse the Rideau Centre mall in the mornings.  Good service and coffee that is up to Tim Hortons corporate standards are what is required.  It is refeshing to see that a coffee chain cares so much about its clientele that it has reviewed the operations at Rideau Centre to ensure they are in tip top shape under anything they can control.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Timothy's Needs New World Coffee

This morning I stopped off at Timothy's World Coffee (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa) in the Rideau Centre to investigate their coffee selection.

But before I visited the cafe, I had to find it.  I had walked past it several times and mentally bookmarked it.  Unlike the other coffee shops, this one is not near a major trip generator like the Mackenzie King Bridge or off of Rideau Street like the Second Cup or Starbucks. Thus, the morning commuter traffic by this location is lesser than it's coffee shop brethren. 

After entering the mall from the Mackenzie King Bridge entrance and wandering around to where I thought it was and realized I had no clue.  I consulted the map at the Rideau Street & Sussex entrance and noted the coffee shop was on the third floor right above me.   I strolled up the escalator to find the coffee shop and walked in. 

I placed my order with a single Barista working the shop all by herself. A single Barista working the counter during the morning rush is a good indicator this location is not normally busy.  I suppose for a coffee shop this could be a little concerning. 

The Order: 1 Medium sized Medium Blend Coffee. 

After placing my order it was inquired if I would like anything to eat with my drink.  I replied "no thanks" to the obvious upselling tactic.  The Barista then went to load the coffee machine with grounds and reset the machine.  She then poured my coffee, apoligized for the slight delay and asked if I wanted to answer the trivia question on the wall.

I declined to answer "what instrument was Beethoven's Christmas Sonata written for?" which turned out to be the "Piano".  Really? a trivia question? It may be fun to ask your regular customers but because this is the first time I'm there, you've taken your sweet time in pouring my cup of coffee (which you have acknowledged via the apology) you then ask me about a trivia question?  Not sure how Timothy's has trained it's coffee Baristas, but obviously they have too much time on their hands to come up with a trivia question instead of serving their customers coffee.  I could see perhaps running a contest of a free coffee on your next visit type of campaign if you can answer the question at perhaps a Starbucks, but this seemed to be an everyday occurence with no marketing advantage.    

She finally rang up my coffee, $2.25 including tax.  The coffee itself was optically a similar size to Second Cup's medium but bigger than Bridgehead's Medium.  Both of those are $2.05 and $2.00 respectively, so why the difference of $0.15? 

The coffee didn't taste any better than the major competitors, in fact to me it tasted worse than other coffee chain coffee including Tim Hortons.  There really was no different taste that would set it apart from even the unique taste of Tim Hortons.  With McDonald's and even Mac's stores upping their game in the coffee wars, you would figure a company that prides itself on selling coffee like Timothy's would have it's own unique tastes for even it's plain medium roast coffee.  Apparently not. 

The only unique taste Timothy's World Coffee has is either in it's specialty taste brewed coffee like Second Cup's French Vanilla or Caramelo coffees. Timothy's also provides specialty blends through the sale of their coffee beans or grounds just like the other stores.  What I can't figure out is why Timothy's coffee on average is $0.15 more per cup yet tastes mediocre compared to Second Cup which is in the same mall. 

Overall, this Timothy's World Coffee location is not worth stopping by for a morning coffee brew.  Other chains serve better coffee at better prices no matter if you are looking for flavoured or just a regular coffee.  Nothing special to see here, please just move along.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bridgehead not very Satisfactory

This morning I decieded to go on an adventure on Elgin Street before starting my morning.  I headed down to Bridgehead (282 Elgin Street, Ottawa) for a morning coffee.  I normally enjoy Bridgehead coffee and have reviewed two other of Bridghead's locations (Metcalfe & Sparks and Bank & Albert).  So I figured I would be in for a treat. 

I entered the coffee shop to find one person in line but a Barista ready to serve me. 

I previewed the baked goods investigating to see what kind of muffin I would want.  Normally Bridgehead doesn't have a whole bunch of types of muffins to choose from like Tim Hortons, but does has at least three to choose from.   Not this time, the only muffin there was the Pumpkin Spice Muffin.  I have a general rule of thumb about baked goods at coffee shops involving pumpkin.  It is fine from mid September to very early November to enjoy those products in Canada.  (Aside: Pumpkin products later if your American because Thanksgiving, for whatever reason, falls in late November).  This is because usually bakeries fire up their pumpkin making recipe fueled machines and turn out item upon item of fresh pumpkin goodness.  The items you see at end of November usually are the Pumpkin items they a) made to much of and have been sitting for a while or b) someone thought "hey these sold well, let's make some more" and then after Halloween sales dove.  Thus, I normally stay away from the Pumpkin products at this time of year as they are probably stale dry forms of what they used to be. 

Without any other options and the customer ahead of me served, I stepped forward and gave my order.

The Order:  1 Medium Sized Medium Blend Coffee.

I exchanged my money for a freshly poured cup of coffee. 

I put my gloves on and headed out the door for a walk bound for downtown.

A couple steps up the street I took a sip and stopped.  Was my tongue fooling me?  Nah, couldn't be, must be the cold temerperature outside and the warmth stunning it.  I tried another sip, yup, not really good coffee.  It tasted stronger than usual with a slight burnt taste to it.  I slowly walked up the street hoping the coffee would get better, no luck.  This was probably the worst coffee I had from Bridgehead ever.  Not that the coffee was old gas station percolating since last night coffee either, this was just Bridgehead slightly off coffee. I will probably return to this location again to give them the "hey we had an off day, please return so we can reattempt" type of courtesy visit. 

Overall this Bridgehead location may have dissapointed a little bit for not living up to their standards for coffee, but this location does have other things going for it.  Based on Elgin Street in an area filled with bars, this location does have a hidden patio running paralell to the MacLaren Street sidewalk.  The patio appears to be quite a slightly shady spot to enjoy a coffee on a nice summers day after work or just before hitting the nearby pubs and bars for dinner.  I will ensure to retry this location again as Bridgehead, courtesy of their Twitter feed, have announced they have changed the recipe for their Triple Berry Muffins to include Oatmeal and so far the replies on Twitter have been positive.  Hopefully the Elgin Street location will decide to stock the new Oatmeal Triple Berry muffins and pull up their socks on the coffee as well.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Another Chapter at Starbucks

Today I stopped off for a little coffee and browsing in downtown Ottawa at Starbucks (47 Rideau Street, Ottawa).  Browsing? This Starbucks is located within a large Chapters bookstore.  Thus, an added bonus to this location is after obtaining your favourite Starbucks beverage of choice is to browse the literary (and non literary) offerings of Chapters.  

Today I entered the location via the bookstore entrance to find a moderate line in length.  A short wait and I was up to the cashier.  I have been to this location a couple of times over the past week to sometimes find a moderate line or no line at all.  One time I found a moderate line and one of the Baristas adjusting the products on the shelves on the customer side of the counter pretending not to notice the line.  Like really?  There is a line here, why not help your coworkers work the line and then adjust the product.  It is maddening at coffee shops really when this happens. 

The line up today though moved at a steady pace with the usual 3 Baristas behind the counter.  1 taking the order and your payment, 1 doing the runaround to gather the quick poured coffees and baked goods while the last one prepares the drinks that require a little more preparing (e.g. lattes, etc.).  Thus the service is pretty friendly yet decent in speed.

The Order: 1 Medium Sized Medium Blend Black Coffee.

The payment made, the pour was quick and I was off to the races to browse at Chapters.  For some reason the Medium blend on tap at Starbucks lately is a "Pike" coffee. The blend is supposedly their  "smoothest coffee ever".  It is better than their regular coffee which is quite strong, so it is a nice adjustement.  But I'm still not feeling the blend and prefer the nearby Bridgehead for freshness and taste or the old stand by Tim Hortons for a taste all Canadians have come to enjoy.   Thus, I'm not really sold on the Medium blend Starbucks and wouldn't make it "I need Starbucks in morning" type of place for coffee. 

Overall the Starbucks does provide a unique atmosphere, the ability to purchase a hot or cold beverage of choice while visiting Chapters to peruse a book.  The coffee is decent but not a "go to" local for high in demand medium roast coffee.  Most of the people at this location that I've seen in line are those that just want to be seen drinking Starbucks (e.g. reporter, student with high fashion, etc.). The baked goods are overpriced ($2.50 for a muffin) but regular drinks are fairly priced.  If your looking for a decent drink to warm up while downtown with some paperback eye candy, this place is for you, otherwise, keep on trucking.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pho Thu Do they Definately Do

Since moving to Ottawa my wife and I have been on a quest to find a good place for heartwarming pho.  Since leaving Toronto and our old Pho standby of Pho Xe Lua, we have been to a couple of Vietnamese restaurants looking for the national dish of Pho.  We have come away somewhat dissapointed, nothing could hold a flame to the good beef broth and decent thick noodles of Pho Xe Lua.  That is until today. 

The main problem with Ottawa's Chinatown is the plethora of Pho places.  Where do you go that is good and where to avoid?  We were looking for a place with guarenteed good Pho before branching out to try others.  So we turned to one of Ottawa's experts on food and of course the authority on books in Ottawa.

We took out the book Capital Dining from the Ottawa library from the former Ottawa Citizen Food Critic, Anne DesBrisay.  She had mentioned the Pho Thu Do's Pho (781 Somerset Street West, Ottawa) as "...pretty darn terriffic" (Page 133).  So this seemed promising. 

We ventured down to Chinatown shortly after noon to find it bustling with people coming and going on a cold day.  We visited the old victorian storefront, went up the short front steps and inside to find the small  restaurant packed.  But there was one table for two in the front.

The waiter quickley wiped the table down, retrieved some menues an order note pad and tea.  We perused the menus for a little while noticing the long listings of Pho dishes.  We were impressed there were more Pho choices than even Pho Xe Lua has in Toronto.  It was hard to choose, but we eventually and signalled for the waiter to come over and pick up the order note pad with our orders written on it.

The Order: 1 #14 Pho Tai Bo Vien (Medium Rare Beef with Beef Meat Balls in Rice Noodle Soup) and 1 #15 Pho Tai Gan Sach Bo Vien (Medium Rare Beef with Beef Tendon, Stewed Beef Tripe, and Beef Meat Balls in Rice Noodle Soup) and tea.

Within five minutes our order arrived to our table.  Service was excellent at this restaurant with three servers working the floor at all times welcoming guests, fetching things from the kitchen and cleaning whenever needed. 

The Pho Tai Bo Vien was excellent.  The beef broth was slightly different from Pho Xe Lua's broth but still tasty enough.  The broth was not watery like at other places where restaurants might be watering it down to save on costs.  The beef was prepared well and tasted excellent.  The piece de resistance though is the quality and quantity of noodles.  The noodles were thinner than Pho Xe Lua's but buried in that bowl was chop stick upon chop stick loads of noodles.  It is a wonder if there was more beef broth by volume or noodles.  Nonetheless the noodles were well prepared (i.e. not overly or under cooked).  The meatballs though were cut in half as opposed to Pho Xe Lua's whole meatballs. 

My wife enjoyed the Pho Tai Gan Sach Bo Vien.  I'm not one for Tripe or anything not North Americanized in terms of beef.  Thus, I skip this type and go with what I know.  I've tried it once before and didn't really care for it.  It is a personal decision really and not against any restaurant's preparation.  However, my wife said this type of Pho was good.  

The bill came pretty quickly as well when requested.  Service, again is quick and on the mark when requested. 

Overall, Pho Thu Do may become our new Go to Pho place.  We will probably poke around at a couple of others in the area.  But right now this one tops our lists in terms of price and quality of Pho served. 

No Need to be Witch at The Scone Witch

UPDATE: The Albert Street Scone Witch location has moved to 150 Elgin Street, Ottawa)

Visited The Scone Witch (388 Albert Street, Ottawa) for the first time.   Since moving to Ottawa my wife and I had heard about the Scone Witch being one of the "must visit" food places according to Ottawa Magazine  and former Ottawa Citizen food critic Anne DeBrisay in her book Capital Dining.

So during a relaxing Sunday afternoon in Chinatown, my wife and I decided to make the very manageable walk up Lyon street to Albert and the Scone Witch.  The only problem with enjoying the walk and then entering The Scone Witch on a cold day is they fog up your glasses immediately causing you to blinded.  You are left with no sight and the sweet smelling aromas of freshly baked scones, coffee and tea wafting by your nose.

We entered to find, after defrosting our glasses a coffee shop set up in an old Victorian home.  Nicely painted and decorated insides with many customers sitting at tables chatting enjoying the days freshly baked goods.  We weren't sure if this was a sit down place where they serve you or whether you visit the counter first to order.  We eventually walked to the back where, kinda hidden, is a chalkboard hanging from the roof with large "Order Here" letters written on it. Below was the counter before the bakery where the scintillating scones are made.

We scoured the three chalkboards on the wall to investigate what we wanted and then place our order with the friendly smiling lady behind the counter.

The Order: 1 Cranberry-Orange Scone, 1 Lemon-Poppyseed Scone and 1 Currant-Ginger Scone. 

In less than a minute the lady put three scones into a small paper bag and we were off to the coffee and tea counter to pay.  We paid the gentleman there and left for our trek home on the bus. 

On the way to the bus we split the Cranberry-Orange scone in half and shared it.  It was still warm and slightly moist to the taste. The Cranberry taste was quite noticeable but not overpowering.  The orange though was a little more subtle and your taste buds have to concentrate to pick it out.  Quite delectable. 

After arriving home and boiling a little of our own tea we tried split the other two Scones.

The Lemon-Poppyseed had my tongue confused.  Poppyseeds are usually associated with bagels, as in Poppyseed bagels, while Lemon is associated with a variety of baked goods.  So my eyes were saying scone while my tongue was arguing it had no idea what it was because there were poppyseeds.  The Lemon taste mixed with the Poppyseed  did provide an interesting context between the two.  The Lemon provided the usual "zing" that lemon does while the Poppyseed provided a peppery taste.  A great combination for your tongue to investigate.

The Currant-Ginger Currant Scone was more of a traditional Scone to me.  I couldn't really taste the Ginger, but my wife said she could and appreciated it.  Currants? not really tasting it either.  Out of the three scones, this would be my least favourite. Too traditional, no real zing to it and turned out to be fairly crumby in terms of what ended up on my shirt. But considering I ate the whole thing, the third best scone could have been a heck of a lot worse to be terrible. 

Overall, the Scone Witch is a pretty good coffee shop and bakery to enjoy some fresh baked Scones with a spot of tea.  If the Queen were to visit, she may have someone stop off here for a few scones and spot of tea.  The Scones are delicious and fresh baked daily.  Just watch out walking in the front door as your glasses are guarenteed to fog up while your nose will be attracted the aromas of freshly brewed coffee, tea and freshly baked scones.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Don't Terminate this Tim Hortons on Terminal

This morning I visited Tim Hortons (535 Terminal Avenue, Ottawa) for a little breakfast.

I arrived at 7:30 A.M. to find the drive thru lined up around the front of the store.  I was worried what I would find inside the store during the breakfast prime time rush.

I entered the restaurant, combined with a Wendy's, to surprising be only second in line. Interesting that with the cars lined up out front to visit the drive thru that inside it is calm and hardly anybody in line.  It is the weirdest thing about coffee locations with drive thrus. I waited less than a minute and a Tim Hortons associate was available to take my order.

The Order: 1 Cinnamon Raisin Bagel toasted with plain cheese with a 1 medium black coffee.

I paid, picked up my coffee and headed for the bakery to find my bagel.  At the bakery, the lady smiled at me, put cream cheese on the bagel and handed to me wrapped.

One of the interesting things about Tim Hortons locations in Ottawa is they always give you everything wrapped in to go packaging.  It does not even matter if you order it for here, most times they give you everything wrapped.  There are minority of times where the Tim Hortons workers may coordinate themselves to give you a bagel on a plate, but do expect your coffee to be paper cupped.  In fact, your coffee is most likely to be double cupped.  This is different from the Toronto area where most of the time the Tim Hortons employees insist on you telling them whether your order is "for here" or "to go" before you can even say the word coffee. 

Following the bakery, I then headed over the seating area to find a seat.  The tables looked pretty with the exception of the odd wayward crumb.  I sat down at a table by the window and dug into my bagel while watching the cars at the drive thru continue to spew exhaust. 

The cream cheese bagel was the usual tasty bagel with just more than enough cream cheese to make it extra tasty.  The coffee was as you would expect it from Tim Hortons, not as strong as Starbucks, but don't expect anything too special like a certain flare.  Tim Hortons has become the standard coffee in Canada and they don't ruin it.   This location does great justice to the Tim Horton's coffee, I've been to this location five times and never had a bad cup of coffee, not even a stray coffee ground. 

Overall, this Tim Hortons location provides decent service and a good inside customer experience.  The drive thru at rush hours can be a little maddening, but make sure if you are about to get in line at the drive thru, to check inside first.  It might surprise you that the line up inside is much shorter than the drive thru.  The packaging issue where the Tim Hortons is perhaps a little wasteful, but this may be a local area district supervisor's instructions as all locations in the Ottawa area seem to be following this practice.  With that being said, this Tim Horton's location provides the usual experience all Canadians have come to expect.

A Tank at Merivale McDonald's

Recently in the Ottawa Metro newspaper I came across a story of a group of high school age friends who built a tank during the summer.  Upon completion they thought they would provide some delight to those at local fast food drive thrus including Wendy's, Harvey's and McDonald's.

The visits to Harvey's and Wendy's went decently with the staff playing along.  In fact the Harvey's manager even enjoyed it so much they brought the teens coupons for free hamburgers for future visits. 

The McDonald's manager though (at the 1675 Merivale Road, Ottawa location), whose underwear must have been to tight or ran out of secret sauce for the Big Mac's laid into these teens for not having a vehicle and thus could not order anything from the drive thru.   Apparently the manager had no sense of humour that these teens had the artistic imagination to dream up building their own tank out of cardboard.   It is sad really that everything at retail food establishments comes down to policy and some exceptions are not made based on employee judgement.  

But at least the teens have gotten what they wished, their video is just starting to go viral.  Koodos to them.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Starbucks Greeting you with a Cup of Java on the Rideau

On the way downtown today I stopped off at Starbucks (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa) for a coffee.    I trekked through the Rideau Centre mall to the Rideau Street & Colonel Bye Drive entrance to get the Starbucks location.

When I arrived, I was third in line.  The first customer was inquiring about change for her large dollar bill.  She was willing to buy a drink but didn't have a bill smaller than $100.   The Barrista opened the cash, but didn't have enough change.  The other Barrista was making the drink and was almost finished.  In the end the customer received a free drink on the house as it was already made.  The customer insisted she would pay, but the employees would not have anything do with the cash.  This service truly made the customers day.  

The next customer easily placed his order and moved over to the drink station to have it made to order.  I was next, and was greeted by the friendly Barrista who cheerily, but not obnoxiously,  inquired how my day was.  I gave the usual smile and said it was going fine so far and placed my order.

The Order: 1 Tall Medium Blend Black Coffee.

A quick exchange of the cash for a drink and I'm good to go. 

Normally Starbucks is known for their strong coffee that borders on motor oil.   However, I thought I would attempt to order a "Medium blend" which is what I normally target at places like Second Cup.  

The coffee was pretty good at this Starbucks and actually is ten cents cheaper than at Second Cup ($1.95 vs $2.05).  The only downfall is there is no flavours aloud at Starbucks without an upcharge unlike Second Cup.  So I'm torn, for flavoured coffee Second Cup price wise is there but for regular coffee Starbucks wins between the two. 

Overall, this Starbucks location provides excellent customer service and great regular coffee at a high traffic location.  This is hard to do due the high volumes of customers going through.  But this Starbucks location pulls it off with friendly experienced staff who listen to what the customer wishes and tries to fulfill it as best as possible. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

St. Hubert: Nothing to Cluck About

Tonight for dinner we thought we would try an old Quebec favourite dining establishment, St. Hubert (1754 St. Laurent Boulevard, Ottawa).  

We arrived at 4:00 P.M. to a building exterior that looked like it had seen better days.  There was a billboard out front on the traffic island advertising new condominiums.  Thus we originally thought the St. Hubert had closed up and was now being converted to a condominium sales centre. The paint was peeling from the roof wooden roof shingles and the exterior looking and it looked like an old fast food burger joint with a mexican hat added.  

We got closer to find people inside eating, so we attempted the first door we found, facing St. Laurent Blvd, wrong it was the takeout.  We wandered around to the back and went inside to find a confortable tastfully decorated dining room similar to a newly updated Swiss Chalet restaurant. Talk about a mismatched exterior and interior! 

We were warmly welcomed by a hostess who quickly seated  the us a nearby "U" shaped table that could easily have seated eight people.  We perused the menues to see what St. Hubert had to offer but wanted to check out their chicken dishes that St. Hubert is renowned for.

Our waitress came over and greated us in English and French.  We ordered our drinks and she dissappeared and came back quickly.  She dropped off our drinks and inquired if we were ready to order. 

The Order:  1 Quarter Chicken Leg Dinner with Rice Pilaf and Water. 1 Quarter Chicken Breast Dinner with Fries and a Coke.  Both dinners accompanied by Creamy Coleslaw.

Our waitress dissappeared and returned again with two bowles of creamy Coleslaw.  The Coleslaw itself was pretty average at best with nothing special.  The menu though promised something special with the Coleslaw, unlimited Coleslaw with almost every entree serving.   Never was offered more Coleslaw the entire meal even though the empty bowl sat there. The Coke and water though were refilled numerous times by our attentive waitress. 

The Quarter Chicken Breast was decently cooked but nothing special. It was mediocre at best and tasted similar to what you would find at Swiss Chalet or Scores. Juicy chicken rotisseried and placed on a plate to arrive at the table in medium temperature.  This may now be mediocre considering there seems to be a lot of competition in the chicken restaurant industry in the Ottawa area with Swiss Chalet, Scores, KFC, St. Hubert and possibly others clucking for your restuarant dining money. 

The Quarter Chicken Leg however was dissapointing.  It was dry and getting to the point of crispyness.  Not sure how this happened or who let it out of the kitchen.  Heck, the chicken may have been dehydrated before it even arrived from the farm. 

The fries were mediocre at best and could easily have been found at a high school cafeteria or worse, from the frozen food section at a supermarket deep fried.  No effort  was made to try to set the fries apart from the competition at all. 

The bun was also dissapointing, a bottom half of a hamburger bun tossed on the plate because the competition was providing a breaded product to go with the sauce. 

The dipping sauce proved interesting though.  My wife and I debated for a while who had the better sauce, St. Hubert or Swiss Chalet.  We both agreed Scores' sauce was no competition as it was watery at times and lacked taste.  St. Hubert though had a decent tasting sauce that my wife preferred while I preferred the tangier Swiss Chalet sauce.  Although, I did enjoy the St. Hubert Sauce. 

Pricing of the meal was also an issue.  The Quarter Chicken Leg  Dinner was $11.35 and the Quarter Chicken Breast Dinner was $13.35.  A similar Quarter Chicken Dinner Meal would have been around $10.00.  Add to this Swiss Chalet offers an option of a white or multigrain roll that also is of better quality.  Scores has similar pricing to St. Hubert, but comes with a full salad bar to choose from.  St. Hubert though only offers Coleslaw and any additional salad is extra.   Not sure why St. Hubert's pricing is significantly higher than their local competitors though, the value just isn't there. 

Overall, St Hubert needs to work on the value of it's meal.  The restaurant is in a tough location with both Scores and Swiss Chalet locations being within 2 kilometres and offering better value for money.  This St. Hubert's exterior is  a lot to be desired for as well with a condo sales centre in back and construction imminently threatening to ruin the ambiance of whatever outdoor dining this location has advertised on it's website.  We probably will not be returning or clucking about this location for quite sometime, not with a decent Scores, Swiss Chalet and other dining options nearby.

A Second Cup on the Second Floor

I have visited this Second Cup (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa) several times during my time in Ottawa.  Usually I'm passing through the Rideau Centre to visit the ByWard Market, pick something up from the mall or visit elsewhere. 

This Second Cup, like others nearby, has superb flavoured coffees on rotation. However, this location seems to have the flavoured coffees brewed in a more timely manner due to the volume of customers passing through.  Thus, unlike other locations where the coffee may sit for hours on end, you are almost assured a fresh cup of flavoured coffee. 

This past Thursday I stopped by for a midmorning snack and joined the line.  The line up at this location tends to be slightly longer than others due to the volume.  Normally there are three experienced employees working the line at a time so it moves quickly and efficently, unless there is a customer that is dumbfounded over what to order.  But that is not usually the falt of the establishment but more the fault of the customer, heck it even happens at McDonald's.

The only quibble I have with this location is the labelling of the baked goods.  Sometimes they have trays of savoury muffins, cookies, danishes and other baked goods tempting customers.  But there are missing labels as to a name and a cost of some of the ones on offer.  This leaves the customer to inquire with the workers about what each one is wasting even more time in line. 

This happenned on Thursday where I was looking at a danish wondering if it was raspberry, cherry or strawberry.  I had narrowed it down that it wasn't strawberry as the jelly looked too dark of a red.   But the customer in front of me in line asked about a muffin on the shelf above the danish.  The muffin turned out to be a Banana Chocolate Muffin.  So much for the danish....

The Order:  1 Medium Paradiso Coffee with 1 Banana Chocolate Muffin.

I placed my order and retrieved my food to retreat to the small seating area in the mall outside the former Sears store

I dug into the Banana Chocolate Muffin.  It was a little dry to the taste.  The chocolate didn't help matters as it was the dried chocolate sprinkled on top.  The Banana tasted like it had been baked in and dried out.  The muffin could have been there for a while I suppose, but normally Second Cup rotates the goodies out of their showcases on a regular basis to bring new tastes in.  

The Paradiso Coffee was normal.  It is the non-flavoured medium roast coffee of Second Cups everywhere. Normally I enjoy Second Cup's medium roasted flavoured coffees like the Belgian Chocolate, French Vanilla, Holiday Blend or Hazelnut.  This occasion nothing struck my fancy, so I went with the plain Paradiso blend.

 The Paradiso though does stand on it's own.  It is weaker than the strong Starbucks offerings and tastes better than the run of the mill Tim Horton's coffee. Thus I find Second Cup's Paradiso blend to be a happy second choice when visiting. 

Overall, this Second Cup location provides fresher coffees than other Second Cup locations.  However, it needs to pull its socks up in terms of focusing on labelling the baked goods.  The location seems to be able to label the coffees on offer without any issue, but somehow the baked goods are forgotten.  This may lead to customers not ordering the goods leaving them to sit for a while.  I still enjoy this location due to the experienced service provided and the convenience for those passing through the mall.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Save a Tree Eat a Beavertail

One of the top things to do when visiting Ottawa is have a BeaverTail. The best location to pick up a BeaverTail is with your skaes in the winter after going for for the first half of your trek on the Rideau Canal Skateway.  But, this being only November and the canal not being frozen, I decided to head to an alternative location. 

When not available on the Rideau Canal, the second best location for a BeaverTail is the regular BeaverTail counter at the corner of William & George Streets in the ByWard Market (69 George Street, Ottawa). 

Today I visited said counter, and got in line. After waiting in line for less than three minutes, I placed my order.

The Order: 1 Cinnamon and Sugar Beavertail.

After leaving $3.75 with the cash and obtaining my BeaverTail covered in Cinnamon and Sugar I ventured out for a walk in the market. 
BeaverTails Counter at William & George Streets

What is a BeaverTail?  A Beavertail is a pastry that is deep fried and then topped the way you like it.  Variations include Killoe Sunrise (Cinnamon, Sugar and Lemon Juice), Banana Chocolate, Cinnamon and Apple and much more. 

Back to my Cinnamon and Sugar BeaverTail, the tail was luke warm which tells me that the pastry was not fresh out of the oil.  Another indicator?  The BeaverTail was served within two seconds of me handing the cash   The Cinnamon Sugar was plentiful, but not so overpowering I needed a napkin to dab it off similar to how some people do the same with pizza grease.   The cinnamon and sugar together with the fried pastry is awesome to the tongue.

Overall, BeaverTails is good afternoon snack, but an excellent snack when coupled with the ambience with the ice skates beneath on a cold winter evening on the Rideau Canal Skateway.  Add other toppings and variations to your pastry and your evening skating will become a weekly endeavour.  If there is one sad thing about spring, summer and fall in Ottawa, it is not being able to obtain your deep fried pastry fix while skating on the canal.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Getting The Works in the Glebe

Today, after visiting the War Museum, we decided to try out The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro located in the Glebe area of Ottawa (580 Bank Street, Ottawa). 

We started our visit  about 12:15 P.M. with a moderate amount of customers inside.  There were a decent number of people in the restauraunt but still tables left.  As our time at the restaurant wore on the numbers increased and the Host had to plead with the customers waiting for the tables to come all the way into the Restaurant and let the doors close to keep the cold out.  This location could easily double in size to handle the rushes.  Thus, it is a good idea to visit early to avoid dissapointment or a long wait to be seated. 

We were fortunate to arrive early enough to be seated right after entering.  Next came the biggest problem with this restaurant, what the heck to order.  According to our waitress' shirt there are about 70 hamburgers to choose from.  But all is not lost, the menu provides step by step instructions on how to assemble your own mouthwatering burger creation.  Once assembled you can place your order with your server.  The issue though is the toppings, there are combinations that include different cheeses, grilled onions, shrimp and much more.  Thus, it takes some time, especially first time customers, to digest the menu options and choose something.

Table Branding at The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro

As we perused our menues, our waitress stopped by to inquire if we would like to order drinks perhaps a milkshake or something from the bar menu.  It was intriguing the delivery of the usual waitress question of "could I take your drink order" or the usual "are you ready to order".  Instead, I felt the waitress' query to include the more expensive and not bottomless milkshake or bar menu items was a way to try and upsell the customer.  Obviously I didn't force the issue.

We ordered our drinks (1 Coke & 1 Water) and I watched the waitress' reaction. No real reaction from The Works' waitress.  Sometimes when we order our usual soft drink and water combination I get a brief scowl or wince.  This usually leads to a little insight into the server who is thinking ("another cheap table who probably won't tip that well").  Nothing of the sort here though. 

We continued to peruse our menues over the many choices.  Our waitress returned with our bottomless water and Coke drinks.  The drinks were delivered in Anchor Measuring cups complete with straws.   Our waitress dropped them off and quickley left for another table.  She did return though in two minutes to retrieve our orders. 

The Order: 1 Stephane's Ticket (Ground Beef with fresh red pepper, swiss cheese, strip bacon & real mayo) with Fries and 1 North of Fifth (Whole Chicken Breast with fresh avocado, diced tomatoes, minced garlic & tiger shrimp) with Sweet Potatoe Fries.

Our waitress dissapeared as we conversed about our morning at the War Museum.  Our waitress returned a couple of times to refill our drinks.  At the twenty five minute waiting mark though I was starting to get concerned.  Had the food been forgotten?  Had the kitchen not received the order? I looked around to see the front entrance full of customers waiting for a tables and the serving staff moving plates and glasses too and from the kitchen area.  We finally received our food just short of 30 minutes.  Normally I start wondering where the food was at 20 minutes, but realized in this case the restaurant was full with recently arrived guests and the kitchen was probably a little backlogged with orders, but at least was moving an understable pace to move food out to the hungry customers. 

Our waitress dropped off our orders minus my wife's North of Fifth Chicken Breast Burger.  The waitress apologized by saying somehow the kitchen received the order as the San Francisco Treat burger.  The kitchen was in the process of fixing the issue and the burger would be out quickley.  We grabbed the ketchup bottles had some fries while we waited.  Less than minute later the waitress returned, swapped out the serving trays and we were away to the races.

Stephane's Ticket Burger with Fries and a Coke.

Stephane's Ticket burger was excellent.  The burger patty was thick and juicy like any well prepared burger should be.  The toppings were fresh and tasted excellent as well.  The melted swiss cheese was delish and completmented the burger.    The only problem with the burger, after all that goodness my tongue still wanted more! 

No worries, there were the fresh cut fries. The fries were well prepared as well. The only issue was they weren't quite exactly freshly cooked as the temperature seemed a little lacking.  But I could tell, based on appearances and taste the fries were carefully made.  The fries look and taste similar to those at New York Fries, but the major difference is they are not oversalted like New York Fries.  The salting at New York Fries is mainly so customers will not only order fries but a drink as well to wash it all down. 

North of Fifth Burger with Sweet Potato String Fries and Water

The North of Fifth burger appeared delicious.  My wife said it was o.k. I would say it was pretty delicious as she also finished quickly without any complaints. 

The Sweet Potato String Fries were intersting as well.  I was expecting them to be the curly Sweet Potato Fries found at other restaurants.  But at The Works the string fries appared to be the same length and width in size as the regular fries.  Thus we are still wondering where the word "string" fits in.  Nonetheless the fries were also excellent but a little lacking in temperature with a classification of "luke warm" being the best descriptor. 

After we were finished demolishing our burgers and fries we inquired about the bill.  The waitress dissapeared and returned with the printed receipt. On the receipt it showed the "San Franciso Treat" burger as being entered instead of the "North of Fifth".  So in the end we saved about $1.00 by the mistype in the bill and the difference in price.

Overall, The Works is a great place to eat.  But make sure to be there early as during regular meal times the wait times for tables  and  food can be longer than normal.  The service is attentive, even with the slite slip up in data entry. The Works truly is one of the best burger places in Ottawa. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Harvey's a Hospitable Hamburger

On Friday I was in downtown Ottawa running a few errands.  I had finished my running around and decided to investigate some lunch. 

I stopped by the Harvey's location at 216 Elgin Street (Ottawa) to order some lunch.  I walked in shortly after 11 A.M. to find no customers and the workers preparing for onslaught of office workers for the noon hour.  

I approached the counter where I was friendly met by one of the employees and placed my order.

The Order: 1 Original Hamburger Combo (Original Hamburger, Regular Fries and Regular Pepsi).

The burger came quickley from the grill to the topping station.  The Burger Barista inquired how I would like my burger topped, and the reply "everything no hot peppers".  Yes, Harvey's is great at ensuring you receive the hamburger topped just the way you like it.  That way you can have your own "Beautiful Thing".

I sat down at a booth, stretched out some reading material printed on newsprint and dug in. 

The hamburger was warm and delicious.  The toppings though, like most Harvey's topped burgers from other locations,  start to slide out.  The toppings slide out presents a challenge as you still want to enjoy your "Beautiful Thing" but are worried the goopy toppings are going to end up ruining your new pants as they drop out of the burger.  Recommendation: lean over your hamburger wrapper on the table to catch the goop. 

The fries were extremely hot.  This was because they were freshly made as I had placed my order. These are the typical Harvey's fries that would be found at any location.  The main difference usually is how hot the fries are and how fast they are available to the customer waiting.

The service at this location I've always found to be pretty good.  However, I have avoided the busier times of lunch and dinner, so it is hard to guage how service would cope with a higher frequency of customers to serve. 

Overall, this Harvey's location provides the usual quality Harvey's experience you would find anywhere.  The only downfall of this location is it is surrounded by Wendy's and McDonald's locations as well as several other restaurants that this stretch of Elgin Street is known for.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Full & Tucked In at Tucker's Marketplace

Last weekend we found a coupon in the Ottawa Citizen weekend paper for a meal at Tucker's Marketplace for $10.95 each with the purchase of a drink.  The only hitch, it was good from Sunday to Thursday and expired on November 8th.

So last night after finishing work we headed over to Tucker's Marketplace (61 York Street, Ottawa) for some dinner. 

Normal office hours in Ottawa are 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Monday through Friday.  So we arrived at Tucker's Marketplace in the Byward Market at 4:30 P.M. to find this location locked up light Fort Knox.  Weird, lots of hussle and bussle in the market as workers were leaving their workplace for the day.  A couple of other probable customers also looked at us and the store mysteriously as to why the front doors were locked.  I scanned the front doors only to find designated hours showing they open at 5:00 P.M. for dinner.    So we turned around and decided to explore the market while another set of customers came by shrugged and went to another restaurant. 

After a whirl about the market, we returned at 4:50 P.M. only to find the front doors were open and at least six tables of customers waiting inside at the front counter to be seated.  We added our name to the list of contestants to have a chance to sit at a table.  The hostess reiterated though, that the restaurant opens at 5:00.  

Fast forward to 5:00 P.M. and the Peace Tower Carillon chimed the hour.  My cell phone also showed 5:00 P.M.   and yet we waited.   A couple of other customers shifted their eyes as the hostess arranged and rearranged her paper list. 

At 5:05 P.M. a parade of servers arrived from the restaurant seating area and gradually took the names and associated parties with them.  There were a few reservations that preceded us who had arrived after us.  So we were a little concerned we had fallen through the cracks.  Ironically enough though when my wife inquired as to our status, we happened to be the next party to be seated. 

After being seated by the hostess, who had earlier taken our names, our waitress arrived.   We handed her our single coupon for the $10.95 per meal with the purchase of a drink.  I ordered my drink (a Coke) and my wife attempted to order her usual ice water.  The waitress said we could use the coupon only if we ordered a drink.  We pointed out to her that I had ordered a drink but we only had one coupon.  The waitress said my wife should order a drink so it would be cheaper.  This only created confusion.  Our waitress explained that each diner at the table could use the single coupon to receive their meal at $10.95, thus each one of us could have our meal at $10.95 for a total of $21.90 plus tax and drinks costs.  Not a bad deal for a Tucker's Marketplace coupon. 

The Order: 2 to belly up to the for the Tucker's Marketplace Buffet with 2 Glasses of Coke.

The waitress offered to bring us both glasses of tap water as well.

Tucker's Marketplace Buffet is layed out in stations.  There is a the usual well stocked salad station, bread station, meat station and a made to order pasta station. 

The salad station is nothing too remarkable as it has the usual garden salad options of lettuce, tomotoes and other vegetables and dressings you would expect.  However, there is also Potato Salad, Caesar Salad, Corn Salad, Pasta Salad and more. 

The bread station has a variety of breads and roles accompanied with three different types of butter to choose from. 

The Carvery, or meat station, usually has a choice of two different meats.  At this location I've seen ham, roast beef, lamb, chicken and other types of meat.  Usually the roast beef is always available with another type provided. 

The pasta station provides make your own pasta that a Tucker's Marketplace is more than happy to prepare. Pasta includes Angel Hair Pasta, Spaghetti and other noodles.  A variety of sauces, depending on the evening, are also available.

The Dessert Station has about 8-10 different flavours of ice cream to choose from as well as Apple Crumble, brownies, Nanaimo Bars and other succulant sweets.

We rotated through the different stations at the Tucker's Marketplace buffet.  The first stop for myself was the salad bar.  Despite the restaurant only just opening, half the Caesar Salad had disappeared.  No worries though, I took some and on my next round it was refilled.  Buffet employees seem to keep everything well stocked as customers come and go from the different stations.   I complimented the Caesar salad with some Potato Salad and the returned to my seat. 

The Caesar Salad was made perfectly to spec, no skimping on the croutons or screwing it up like at Alice Fazooli's, just decently prepared creamy Caesar Salad with the right amount of everything.  

The Potato Salad though needed some work.  It was a little drier and didn't have the certain expected taste.  There was just something about the Potato Salad that wasn't right.  It lacked the creamy texture that the Scores' potato salad had at that restaurant's salad bar.  But the sad part was Tucker's salad even was worse than the Wal-Mart ready to eat salad as well.

On the next round I aimed for the Roast Beef and Mashed Potato.  I approached the servery and had a choice of well done or medium rare.  I chose the latter, scooped myself some mashed potatoes and revisited the Caesar Salad.  Silly me, I missed the gravy or aux jeus sauce. No worries though, on my third round I revisited the Roast Beef and Mashed Potato to ensure I received some gravy.

The Roast Beef was a little fatty and definitely not the best cut of meat.  But this not being a steak house or Montreal Smoke Meat restaurant, it wasn't anything to worry about.  With the gravy, the roast beef was perfect.  The gravy even compleminted the Mashed Potatoes.  A little interesting was the fact on this visit the restaurant chef chose to leave the skins in the Mashed Potatoes. On previous visits the skins were absent. 

In between the second and third visits to the buffet I had finished my Coke and was also sucking on ice cubes from the glass of water.  The waitress promised to refill the glass of Coke on her next return trip from the kitchen.  I left it to her as I visted the buffet for my third time and my 2nd round of Roast Beef.  I devoured that plate.   However, when I returned nothing had been dropped off.  The waitress returned with two kiddie sippy cups for the two children a couple of tables down.  She had gone to the kitchen and returned without my Coke. She had forgotten.  No worries though, a slight glance her way and she promised to get it in a couple of seconds. I contemplated going for another round of main course or to check out the desserts.  While doing this, the waitress stopped by with my new glass of Coke and refilled our waters.

My wife enjoyed the steamed muscles and other seafood offerings.  She also took a look at the asian noodles and seemed to be happy with the quality of both.  Seafood, beyond salmon and breaded fish sticks, was never really my thing.

I made my decision and decided to head for the desserts.  Two other customers were there already.  I checked out the dessert plates and realized they were half the size of the regular dinner plate.  I chose to grab a regular dinner plate and then double back to the dessert station.   From here I always have the Tucker's Marketplace Apple Crumble which is usually warm and goey and absolutely delicious.  Add a brownee cherry tart and assorted fruit (e.g. melon, peaches, etc.) and you have an appetizing plate where your fork doesn't know where to begin.  After dessert we were full to the brim and needed to head home. 

Overall Tucker's Marketplace is a good spot to visit to fill up.  While were on the way out for the evening, a teenage boys hockey team complete with coaching staff and parents rolled in.  As any parent of a teenage boy will know, filling them up can be an expensive challenge.  However, not all buffets are the same, some have large quantities of food that is either terrible or sub par. Tucker's Marketplace though provides large amount of food of decent quality.  Sure the quality is not that great, but if you want great quality food a more focused restaurant would be more your target.  Thus, if you are looking for vast amounts and varieties of food of decent quality, Tuckers is your place.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Dear Rogers, It's Over!

At the end of September and the beginning of October my wife and I moved to Ottawa from our home in Richmond Hill.  The move has gone smoothly with each utility closing our old accounts, opening a new account or transferring our accounts to our new address.   All utilities that is except Rogers.

Way back at the end of August and early September I contacted each utility individually to let them know of the move.  I spoke to many on the phone and sometimes made internet inquiries to relay the information.  Everything worked like clockwork with Enbridge, Powerstream, and Richmond Hill Water. 

Rogers though turned into a nightmare. I called on September 10th to move our services from Richmond Hill to Ottawa.  I explained to the customer service representative what I planned to do.  He started to take down my information (e.g. account number, name, address, etc.) and then his computer crashed.  He apologized and within three minutes rebooted his computer and was up and running.  We restarted the process and worked his way through asking questions and me answering honestly.  Before ending the conversation, based on previous experience, I double checked to ensure that the "move would be free" in terms of activation or other account charges.  The agent reassured me that all was good and no additional charges would be added.  He then ran through all the details to ensure that everything was correct before hanging up. All seemed to be perfect so far.

The next day, September 11th, in the afternoon I received a phone call from a Rogers Technician who sounded like he was outside at some cable box somewhere.  He was inquiring as to why my Rogers services were being switched over when the current occupant was still there and would be losing some of their Rogers services.  I was dumbfounded and explained I had not asked for September 11th, but October 1st.  The technician sighed and said he would rebook the appointment as requested when he returned to the office. 

On Sunday September 16th I received a phone call from Rogers representative who barely spoke English and I had a hard time understanding.  From what I could tell, she said the new owners to be of the Richmond Hill address had booked their appointment to switch their services.  She then went on to inquire if I would like to move my services and add even more.  I replied that I had already moved my services and did not wish to move forward with any other Rogers services due to my past experiences with them.  She said she would be more than willing to help in moving my services and adding more.  I asked to speak to her manager, she attempted again to say she could help, I asked to speak to her manager at least two more times before she put me on hold.  I was on hold for five minutes before the agent returned.  She said he manager was unavailable but she had confirmed my services had been transferred and then hung up on me.

I rolled my eyes and realized I had just been through the full Rogers customer experience.   At Rogers, if you ask to speak to a manager the following will happen:

1. The manager is unavailable due to them being in a meeting.

2. The manager is unavailable due to them being at lunch.

3. Make up your own reason.

Any of the above will result in the customer service agent trying to reassure you they can handle your issue despite Rogers screwing it up before or that they can take a message and someone from Rogers management will call you back (which they never do).

A week later, I spoke to the lawyer handling the closing on our new Ottawa address.  He explained to me that we probably wouldn't be receiving the keys until late on the day of closing.  Drat!  I had booked the Rogers Technician for the day of closing and now needed to move the appointment a day back.

I called on September 17th and spoke to another Rogers agent.  I explained the situation and they said it would be no problem to switch the day.  The Rogers agent made the change even ran through all the details to ensure they were correct, and they were.  We then hung up and I felt satisfied that Rogers had figured everything out on how to not to screw up a move. 

5 minutes later all hell broke loose and my satisfaction disappeared.  The Rogers agent who made the change now had my service being reconnected on the right date, but at my Richmond Hill address.  I called back Rogers absolutely livid.  The Rogers agent who picked up the phone said I could talk to my "Rogers Move Concierge" named Crenda.  I explained my reservations about speaking to someone in their "Rogers Move Concierge" centre because I had dealt with a salesperson before who barely spoke English and had failed to do her homework before calling me to move my services.  They promised that Crenda does speak English and was at her desk to help and then transferred me. 

Crenda picked up and asked me how I was doing, I explained that I was not happy about the service I had received from Rogers.  She promised to do what she could to straighten everything out about the move.  We ran through the details on both my joining Rogers via ACI being purchased (see here and here), my move to Richmond Hill from Aurora (see here) and now the issues with my move from Richmond Hill to Ottawa (noted above).  Crenda proceeded to ensure everything was correct and said a written confirmation would be e-mailed to me momentarily.  She also said the e-mail would include her phone number and if anything occurred she would gladly sort it out on her end.  I inquired again if "moving with Rogers is always free."  She confirmed this was the case, moving was free.  This reassured me that things with Rogers were turning for the better.

I received the confirmation in my e-mail and Crenda's phone number (1-855-810-4284). But there were charges for activation listed on the confirmation, so I called Crenda back to investigate the charges.  She answered the question quickly by saying that she has now control over the charges being listed on the confirmation.  But Crenda did promise that they have been refunded and will show on the next bill as refunded.  I thanked her and hung up. 

E-mail confirmations by Rogers need work.  Rogers Moving Concierge's should be able to adjust the confirmation so that all details of the move, including fees being charged or waived, are included.  Rogers has refused to do this and thus, does not give it's customers the benefit of having a clearly explained written confirmation of the details of the move.  Instead, customers receive a cluttered and confusing confirmation that is useless.

Later that day I received another e-mail from Crenda at Rogers.  This e-mail advertised the Rogers was in the business of home security.  I immediately disposed of it in the recycle bin of my e-mail account.  Good gracious!  Rogers can't even handle activating cable (me in 2009) and can't get the details right on the move of internet (me in 2010).  So how can they be trusted in not screwing up home security services?

Fast forward to September 30th and onwards.  I received an automated e-mail from Rogers as a reminder that the technician was booked for the date and time requested.  Great customer service, remind the customer about their date and time for the service.   This was followed with a phone call a couple of days later.  Great again, things with Rogers appeared to be looking up. 

Then on the date of the appointment I had arranged to be at the address between 2 and 5 P.M. to wait for the Rogers technician.  Wouldn't you know it, the Rogers Technician pulled in at 2:05 P.M.  I congratulated him on being right on time.  He did a quick tour of the cable, adjusted a few things and ensured I was up and running with Internet before he tap danced out the door to his next appointment.  I was very impressed on how the Rogers Technician provided excellent service and answered any questions I had about the hook up. 

Fast forward to two weeks ago when I received my Rogers bill.  Rogers was billing me for:

1.  Two full months of internet but only providing me with 1.5 months of service.

2. Increasing my monthly rate upwards by $2.00 per month without any notice. 

3. Claiming I had not paid my September 2012 invoice. 

So I called Crenda to investigate.  She wasn't in, so I left her a voicemail as to my billing issues. 

I spent a couple of hours wondering how Rogers could have screwed up the billing on two moves I had (2010 and 2012).  I was seething that I was promised moving wouldn't cost me anything on two occasions in 2012 and similarly on my move to Richmond Hill in 2010 yet when the bill came in the mail the ink on paper told a different story.

I called Crenda again and still got voicemail.  I hit "0" and spoke to another Rogers Concierge. The Concierge reviewed my file and claimed:

1. the charges were proper for the time I was paying. I reviewed it with her again by using my August 2012 bill as an example of 1 months charges and showing how my account was not prorated correctly by Rogers.  She put me on hold, recalculated and came back to say I was correct that my account was not prorated correctly and mathematical errors had been done by Crenda. 

2. that the rates had recently increased by $2.00 per month for my service.  She was also surprised that I had the old rate for that long.  I pointed out that I was originally an Aurora Cable Internet (ACI) subscriber and was promised by Rogers certain rates.  The Rogers agent put me on hold claiming she had to  double checked her library and would get back to me.  No surprise, the Rogers agent claimed that the old ACI guarentee had run out. 

3. the September 2012 invoice was never printed by Rogers.  So they let me pay it once I received my October 2012 invoice.

I was then asked the usual call centre standard question of: "is there anything else I can help you with?" I said "yes" of course there is.  Based on what I've experienced with Rogers previously and during this move I will taking the next couple of weeks to review my internet options.  The agent replied that she since I was going to be reviewing the services and I was obviously unsatisfied with Rogers at this point, she would extend an offer: 15% off my current Rogers package if I stayed with Rogers for 1 calender year on contract.  I said thank you for the offer and I would like to inquire with my wife as to what our next steps would be.  The Concierge said she would note the offer on our account and we could call in anytime to activate it. Before hanging up the Rogers Concierge inquired if I would like Crenda to call me.  Still seething, I said that would be perfect.

An hour later, Crenda called. I explained to her the issues with the Rogers bill.  She reviewed all the charges on the bill and said they were now correct.  I also went over the promotion I had been offered.  Crenda put me on hold to review what other offers there were and came back to say the 15% off was basically what the best out there right now.  I thanked

Considering the service I had received from Rogers over the past 3 plus years, I was torn.  It seemed that any time a change was needed to be made by either Rogers acquiring a company I was with or whether I was moving, Rogers employees and accounting systems couldn't handle it.  I was either signed up for the wrong program or overbilled.  Hours had been spent trying to straighten out Rogers stupidity.  Added to the stupidity, the offer of 15% off my internet if I stayed with Rogers for one year.  The calculation for 15% off my bill? It came out to Rogers offering me $2.00 and change on my monthly bill which roughly came out equal to what I was paying before the recent fee increase.  On top of that, if I had accepted the 15% offer I would also be stuck with Rogers for 1 year.  Finally, after all this time, I had it.

I started to investigate other options.  Bell?  Forget it, after reading the horror stories over the years I would have rather stayed with Rogers.   One of Ellen Roseman's most frequented covered stories has been Bell's awesome customer service antics.

I had also heard about Teksavvy via advertisements on the Toronto area transit systems.  My wife, who had worked at an IT Department recently, said that a lot of her coworkers use Teksavvy and we should look into it.

I looked into Teksavvy last week and was quite impressed at what I saw.  The website has a plethora of options available for internet.  Teksavvy's website even goes has you enter your address information to see what services are available in your area and what price you would receive.  I was impressed at the pricing to Gigabytes of data allowed compared to Rogers.    But I had some doubts how such a small out of the middle of nowhere company would be able to provide reliable internet service. 

To investigate if my doubts were valid I turned to old Google.  Google results came back with some reassuring results.  Discussion threads extolling the virtues of Teksavvy technology and customer service were satisfactory compared to the horrors shown for Rogers. 

What sealed the deal for me though, besides my wife's former coworkers at the IT Department using Teksavvy, was this article by Globe & Mail Technology reporter Michael Snider.  Mr. Snider had left Rogers after reviewing his own options for his own personal at home internet.  The only hitch Mr. Snider ran into was Rogers requires a 30 day notice before shutting down the internet in order to allow a switchover to a company like Teksavvy.  So there was no time to waste.

I reviewed my findings with my wife and we decided to move forward.   On Friday November 2nd I headed down to the Rogers Plus Store at Rideau Centre (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa) for 9 A.M.  Big mistake, the stores don't open until 9:30 A.M.  So I hung around until 9:30 at the Second Cup before scampering back upstairs to the Rogers Plus Store for 9:30 A.M.  I arrived only to find it closed with the lights out.

I waited until 9:35 A.M. for the employees to open the store.  While waiting I headed back towards the Second Cup to borrow the internet in order to check the Rogers website for store hours.  The Rogers Plus Store locator is aggravating as it wanted to know what services I was looking for etc. before showing me my options.  After five minutes I gave up as I saw, in the distance, a Rogers Plus store employee opening the store.   I scampered to be first in line. 

I arrived at the Rogers Plus store to be met with an employee on the phone.  Great start at Rogers Plus, opened late and now on the phone.

Eventually I spoke with Kali at the Rogers Plus store.  She explained that I needed to call Rogers on the phone to speak to representative in order to get rid of my internet service.  I called the 1-800 number provided and went through the "press this for that and that for this" phone centre hell.  I eventually got to "Fahid" who asked how he could help.  Full stop there...

Have you ever wondered why call centres like Rogers ask you to go through pressing numbers to work your way through different options and may even include entering in your 10 to 12 digit account number only to be asked how to be helped by the agent? Um, like doesn't your computer screen say "I don't want your service anymore" or "You overcharged me a horrendous amount of money!"   So why not skip the middle man (the automated phone system) and give me a functional human on the phone and don't waste me time argh....

I explained to Fahid that I was providing the 30 day notice for my internet.  He inquired if there was anything Rogers could do to retain me as a customer.  I thought a free year of internet would help matters, but figured I wouldn't waste my time mentioning it.  I replied there was nothing considering Rogers had put me through issues of migrating me over to their services after the purchase of Aurora Cable Internet, screwing up my move to Richmond Hill from Aurora and now the calmanity that occurred with my move from Richmond Hill to Ottawa.  I said I would like out as of December 2nd.  His reply was that December 1st would be the 30 day notice.  My reply was "hey I'm such a nice guy I'm giving Rogers 31 days notice instead of the required 30 and besides Rogers couldn't prorate a bill anyway.  Fahid said sure we can prorate a bill.  I pointed to my recent billing screw up that showed Rogers couldn't prorate and further said, just make it December 2nd to make things easier for both of us.  Fahid confirmed all the details of the cancellation of my account and hung up.  I thanked Kali at the Rogers Plus store for her help in cancelling my service and left. 

I signed up with Teksavvy once I got home.  It was quite simple, I logged onto the Teksavvy website, chose my options and was away to the races. I'm expecting the beginning of December to be an early Christmas present, no more hassles from Rogers including ever increasing rates. Now I will have Teksavvy with excellent customer service (I called them once with questions on how set up works) and, based on the reviews, excellent internet service.

So Goodbye Rogers! I wish I could say it has been great (IT HASN'T!).  Hello Teksavvy!

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