There's nothing we like better than visiting an old favorite and finding a couple of new gems on the menu. That's the delightful situation we found ourselves in recently when we dropped in on Cardwell's at the Plaza.

It was a cold night, so we started with the two soups offered. The Russian Shchi soup ($9), was just the thing to take the chill off. It was full of root veggies in a hearty beef broth, and served with a chunk of dark pumpernickel bread. This is one of those dishes that starts slow, without a ton of flavor happening at first, but finishes strong once you start hitting the earthy vegetables in the mix. The Onion Soup ($9) basically is a variation on French onion soup but with a lot more sweetness than we're used to. It could have used a bit of acid to knock back the sweet, but had a nice texture and tons of gruyere cheese on top.

We've usually enjoyed Cardwell's more traditional steak and seafood offerings on past visits; but this time around, a couple of Asian-inspired dishes caught our eye: the Stir Fry ($23) and the Thai-Style Seafood Stew ($26). The stir fry featured a colorful selection of vegetables seasoned with cilantro, lime and a ‘spicy Vietnamese sauce’ that had a nice, slow-building heat. We added shrimp and scallops for an extra few bucks, which really bulked the dish up. The bowl that came to the table was full to bursting with chunks of fish, scallops, tender rings of calamari and topped with four mussels. In addition, there were peppers, cabbage, snow peas and some some meaty slices of shiitake mushrooms. All of this bounty was served up in a tasty coconut broth. Usually, the downfall of most stews is a dearth of meat; but in this case, our only gripe was there wasn't more of the broth to enjoy. Both dishes paired quite nicely with a glass of Pali Alphabets Pinot Noir ($12) from Willamette Valley, Ore.

The dessert menu this time around was rife with takes on classic sweets like a banana foster brioche bread pudding, apple pie and a moonshine-based ‘grown-up’ root beer float. We settled on a delectable plate of Profiteroles ($8), puff pastries filled with cappuccino ice cream and drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauces. The plate was ornamented with whipped cream, strawberries and shaved chocolate.

For those who haven't visited Cardwell's before, the bar side of the dining room can get a bit loud during peak times, but the opposite side of the room is quite a bit more mellow. Several semi-private alcoves also are available, as is a private dining experience.

Cardwell's at the Plaza is coming up on 20 years, and continues to serve up fine food in an inviting ambience—no small feat in the competitive local restaurant market.

--Cardwell's at the Plaza, 94 Plaza Frontenac, 997-8885,

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