Monday, August 2, 2010

A Day in Stratford with Dinner at Rundles Sophisto-Bistro

It's rare that we hang around town on long weekends, since we usually make our way back out West, so with the beautiful weather, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to make a day trip. We had heard great things about the town of Stratford so we started asking around about things to do and places to eat. A friend recommended Rundles to us, a highly regarded restaurant in the little town - reviewed by Fodor's and Frommer's. Of course, Stratford is also home to the annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival, a celebration of theatre through classic and contemporary plays and musicals May through early November. The most popular play this year is likely The Tempest starring Christopher Plummer (for those who don't know, he was Captain von Trapp in Sound of Music, and is famed originally for Shakespearean plays). While The Tempest was playing during the Sunday matinee we were hoping for, it was sold out. Fortunately, we found great tickets for Evita. One of the great discoveries we made while researching plays was becoming a Play On member - it is a program designed to promote theatre to those under 29, and offers $25 tickets for great seats at various shows! We ended up with fabulous orchestra left seats, row E, right beside some uber expensive seats and the view was great.

Evita: The show was good and very intense, with scenes moving quickly through. The music, of course, was wonderful, done by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. Although most reviews had celebrated the actress Chilina Kennedy over the play, we loved Josh Young the most, who played Che and narrated the story. The story was powerful and captures just a small part of the glamour and mystery behind Eva Peron, but enough to give you a taste into her strength, determination and ambition. For better or for worse, the story is captivating.

Matinee was the perfect time for a show - we left Toronto around 10am, pretty leisurely for us, and made it to town in time for lunch and a quick walk around. We came out of the play around 4pm and had time to paddle boat along the river before heading to dinner. It was a beautiful day, and we were lucky not only to paddle boat but also to enjoy music on the barge that was going on - a really nice summer day to be out!

Rundles is located right by the river, in a beautiful building - a mix of traditional and contemporary style. We arrived at the restaurant a tad early but they were able to seat us. We originally made reservations for the restaurant (which was actually quite full) and ended up being seated in Sophisto-Bistro. We didn't know this until we saw the menus, but after taking a peek through, we were happy with what we were seeing and decided to stay. Sophisto-Bistro offers a 2 course prix-fixe menu for $44.50 and 3 courses for $55.50.

Lobster bisque with salt cod croquettes - the bisque was light yet flavourful and frothy. I wouldn't normally consider bisques really healthy, but it did seem that way! The salt cod croquettes were also a pleasant surprise - i've never had good ones before, they are normally underwhelming friend dough balls, but these actually tasted of cod and were quite good!

Grilled calamari with shredded green papaya, kohlrabi and mango - the calamari was served on a skewer, grilled to just the right tenderness, and the salad had just a slight kick to it.

The braised short ribs of beef was amazing!
It was tenderly falling apart as it should, and we were given a utensil resembling a fish knife for the meal - a telling sign of its tenderness. We've had great braised beef before, but what took this meal over the top was the fantastic horseradish cream. It looked like whipped butter, and because of the large portion served, we weren't even sure what it was. Eating the horseradish, as Tony said, was like eating a vegetable. It was light and you could put as much as you wanted on the short ribs and not be overwhelmed by its flavour.

I had seared sea scallops with peking duck and green mango salad, in a brown butter flavoured with yuzu. The sauce was amazing and I couldn't get enough. I cut my scallops into little portions to maximize the surface area to soak up the brown butter! Needless to say, I also made the most of my bread to soak up the sauce!

Vanilla-flavoured crème brûlée and chilled lemon grass soup. It was a really complex dish, very fragrant and with an assortment of flavours that all came together nicely in the crème brûlée, the ice cream it was served with, and the lemon grass "shooter" it came with. A truly unique and delicious dessert.

Dark chocolate cream praline, with espresso granita and "Indian Summer" zabaglione (light whipped custard). I LOVED the zabaglione, served with candied pistacios on top. I also dug deep for the dark chocolate, but I guess in my hurry to pick a dessert I skipped by the "espresso" part, and those who know me will know I'm not a fan of coffee. It was all delicious of course, but in the end I swapped for Tony's fabulous crème brûlée so we wouldn't waste the granita as I desperately picked through the top and bottom layer :P

We had a great time at Sophisto-Bistro and wonder how amazing the "restaurant" menu might have been, but just means we should take another trip back. In the end, we were happy with the menu choices and our delicious meals for a really great price.

We had a wonderful day in Stratford, and we were glad to have made the drive out (was under 2 hours), see a show and have a fabulous dinner.


  1. thanks! we had a great time, can't wait to come back :)