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DESBRISAY DINES: Kouign Amann at Macarons et Madeleines

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Kouign Amann. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Kouign Amann. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Kouign Amann … found at last, at Macarons et Madeleines.

I was going to write about éclairs — about the forgotten pleasures of bronzed choux pastry filled with pastry cream and iced with chocolate. And then I saw it, at Macarons et Madeleines, minding its own business in a basket next to the ubiquitous pain au chocolat, two away from the tray of éclairs.

When you haven’t tasted (nor even seen or thought about) in thirty-some years, a once favourite pastry, discovering it in a new-to-the ‘hood patisserie… well, you gasp. And you order it stat. And you wait for it to be warmed up and you sit in your parka in the sunshine and feel twenty again.

Macarons et Madeleines new shop on Wellington. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Macarons et Madeleines new shop on Wellington. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

And because it doesn’t look quite like you remember it looking, you ask if it’s the genuine article.

Is this really Kouign Amann, you ask the young woman behind the counter at (the newly relocated) Macarons et Madeleines?

Yes, she says, indulgently. We just roll it a bit differently.

It’s sort of pronounced ‘queen-a-mon’. In the Breton language, kouign means cake and amann means butter. Not sure what the Breton word for sugar is, but there’s no doubt that it’s part of the package too. This is a pastry-bread-cake thing that’s been around since the mid 1800s, apparently, and in some parts of North America, I’m told it’s seeing a revival.

A yeast-risen dough layered, puff pastry style, with salted butter and sugar and baked such that the butter puffs the dough, and the sugar in the folds oozes out, caramelizing the top and sides and bottom. At Macarons et Madeleines, it’s baked in spiral rings, a bit like a sticky bun.

Éclairs also available at Macarons et Madeleines. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Éclairs also available at Macarons et Madeleines. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

It arrives gooey and bronzed, crisp and oozing butter, served with a knife and fork. A big cake, eminently shareable. So bring a friend. And leave with an éclair for later.

$8 for a more-than-single-serving Kouign Amann. 

Macarons et Madeleines, 1323 Wellington St. W.
613-680-7887

 

 

 

DESBRISAY DINES: The Canadian Culinary Championships Edition

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Garland and Currier Introduced at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Garland and Currier Introduced at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Eleven Canadian chefs from eleven Canadian cities converged in Kelowna, BC this past weekend and cooked their hearts out. Ottawa’s competitor, Patrick Garland of Absinthe Cafe didn’t end up on the podium, but he and his team should be incredibly proud of their performance.

Battling it out, from east coast to west, were Mark McCrowe (St John’s), Renée Lavalée (Halifax), Antonio Park (Montreal), Patrick Garland (Ottawa), John Horne (Toronto) Luc Jean (Winnipeg), Chris Hill (Saskatoon), Milton Rebello (Regina), Dave Bohati (Calgary), Ryan O’Flynn (Edmonton), and Kristian Eligh (Vancouver) — each were winners in their respective citys at the regional Gold Medal Plates culinary cookoffs.

The national competition began on Thursday night with the presentation of a mystery wine and an envelope of cash. Each chef was given $600 with which to purchase ingredients from Kelowna shops to create roughly 500 small plates for the Friday night crowd and a further thirteen for the judges. So a bit under a buck twenty per person.

Pat Garland of Absinthe Cafe made  2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Pat Garland of Absinthe Cafe made an Irish stew with rich jus that incorporated the mystery wine for the first event of the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We ate quite a few beets, which happened to go very well with the mystery wine. It turned out to be the 2012 Pinotage from Stoneboat Vineyards (Okanagan Valley, BC). The winning chef ended up using beetroot six ways on his plate. One chef gave us a beet and barley salad. Two chefs found blueberry notes, others smoke, and created plates with those flavour elements.

The Absinthe team — who figured out the wine, clever them — chose to make an Irish stew, braising lamb shank with warming spices (clove, cinnamon) and spooning the soft meat on a peppery rosemary-scented biscuit. The rich jus on the plate was a reduction of the wine, with the added campfire flavour of smoked hock. Tucked beneath the biscuit and meat, a refreshing  salad of snap peas, tarragon, and slivered fennel — a welcome belt of crunchy green. A perfect parmesan tuile lent the salty, rich umami the wine demanded.

Saturday morning, a bus load of bright-eyed chefs, sous chefs, and knife kits headed to Okanagan College kitchens for the Black Box competition. In past years, the six items found in the BB were all used to fashion two dishes. This year, the box was bigger. In it were ten ingredients, of which the chef was invited to choose any six, and make one plate for each judge.

The Black Box at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The Black Box at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

What was in the box? Yams, fresh ricotta cheese, a bag of lavender, turnips, Golden quinoa, BC hazelnuts, seabuckthorn berries, Okanagan apples, a whole Muscovy duck, and two lobsters.

This was the year of pickled things on plates — the charcuterie craze, you know — and though one chef made pasta, another a soup, we had a lobster salad, and a couple played with surf and turf, most chefs handed us plate after plate of seared duck breast and puréed yam.

Garland was chef number eight to lift the lid on the Black Box. He worked with Absinthe sous chef Mark Currier, choosing the duck breast, turnip, ricotta cheese, apples, hazelnuts and those brilliant orange seabuckthorn berries with which he fashioned a gorgeous gastrique. He made a purée with the turnip and ricotta — into which he folded the (chopped, toasted) hazelnuts. His duck breast was seared, served very rare, and scented warmly with star anise, fennel, and cinnamon. Next to the duck, a perky, colourful slaw with beets, carrots, turnip, and apples. The final element on the plate was a very successful hazelnut brittle, lightly sweet and scented with rosemary.

Garland's Black Box plate. 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Garland’s Black Box plate. 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

Last night, at the finale, all chefs recreated the winning dish that had earned them a berth at the CCC, paired with the same wine. For Pat Garland that meant the Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Gewürztraminer (Vinemount Ridge, ON) with his quail two ways — the breast stuffed with foie, the thigh beneath, braised and aromatic, then lightly panko-ed, served with grapes (“lovingly peeled”). There were frittered rings of shallot and chewy cinnamon cap mushrooms on the plate, and wobbly jellied cubes of the wine (Garland told the judges he’d put “an ungodly amount of Gewürztraminer in the dish”) and in the reduction jus. It was a delicious plate of food and a great match with the wine — the saltiness of the fritter and panko crust tackling some of the sweetness in the Gewurzt.

 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships winner  Chef O'Flynn. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

2015 Canadian Culinary Championships winner Chef O’Flynn. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

At the end of it all, three chefs stood on the podium. Taking bronze, chef Kristian Eligh from Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. The silver went to Montreal chef Antonio Park (Park Restaurant) and our 2015 Canadian Culinary Champion is Ryan O’Flynn, from The Westin Edmonton. (First time since Winnipeg’s Makoto Ono, who won the first CCC in 2006, that the prairies have been at the top of the podium.)

Congratulations to all the chefs. The cooking this year was highly accomplished. And I ate it all with great pleasure. Salads and green tea for me this week.

 

 

DESBRISAY DINES: A Pick-Me-Up at Beechwood’s Red Door Provisions

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

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There’s something about the word ‘provisions’ that seems so quaint and so Canadian. Laying down provisions now means having enough frozen pizza to get you through exam week. But for my grandparents, it meant putting the summer and fall garden into jars. It meant ‘laying things down’ for winter when everything is frozen over for months.

There’s something about a shelf groaning under the weight of winter stores that takes me back to a simpler time. And there’s nothing quite like sticking your nose in a pot of raspberry jam and breathing in July when it’s -26. It’s the smell of a promise. It will come again.

Lauren Power doesn’t make plain old raspberry jam at Red Door. Her provisions are far more exotic and her jars are things of great beauty.

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DESBRISAY DINES: Soca Kitchen & Pub

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

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Soca is the Venezuelan name for the second harvest of the sugar cane crop. We know this because there’s a sign above Soca’s sugar cane juicer machine that says as much, and because co-owner Gustavo Belisario is happy to elaborate. He is Venezuelan. His family farms sugar cane. Photographs of the fields and cane harvest line the stairs. A shot glass of the grassy, slightly sweet, lightly foaming juice comes from the bar, by way of welcome and, I suppose, to support a sense of place.

Belisario’s partner and fiancé is chef Daniela Manrique. She’s Venezuelan-born, Montreal-raised, and Miami-trained. They’ve moved to Ottawa (why ever not) and opened Soca in the space where Pho Van Van (now decamped a block south) used to be.

We were seated at the bar, chatting with Gustavo and examining the menu during our second visit. Just as I was about to ask him why Ottawa was the next logical stop for a couple of young Argentine restauranteurs with Caracas, Montreal, and Miami roots, my date knocked over a glass of water.

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DESBRISAY DINES: The Dish List of 2014

Dish List

In Anne DesBrisay’s inaugural year as Ottawa Magazine’s restaurant critic, she witnessed dramatic openings, chef shuffles, and shuttered restaurants. And she ate plenty of amazing meals. Invariably, every dining-out experience sees some standout dishes (and some that fail to impress). So it is DesBrisay’s job to steer eaters in the right direction; she is that friend who guides you through the menu with helpful nods that result in a satisfying meal. This list brings together some of those suggestions. Some have been on the menu for a long time. They’ll likely never be completely bumped off (looking at you, Les Fougères) for fear of facing fan outrage. Others are more seasonal treats.

They may be on; they may be off; they may have been tweaked a bit. Some plates are complicated don’t-try-this-at-home triumphs, and other tastes are as humble as well-made pie. Read it as you would a tourist guidebook — if you’re here, order that — and, because menus change frequently and some of these dishes are no longer offered, they are ones to look for should they appear on a specials board or a tasting menu. Herewith, the dishes DesBrisay suggests you take for a spin when you’re next noshing at one of these fine establishments.

See the full list >>>

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DESBRISAY DINES: Lunch at Beechwood Gastropub

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

 

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Gnocchi with kale and parmesan. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Two forks up for two lunch dishes at the new Beechwood Gastropub. I plan to do a proper review of the place in due course, but this first sortie was encouraging. It was a Friday, which might explain the crowd, but the place was packed and the feeling merry.

The look hasn’t changed much since it was Farb’s Kitchen, other than a wall that’s been boarded up with ye-ole barn beams, and a brush that’s coated another wall with teal.

Two dishes to praise: a comfort sandwich, well executed, and a yummy bowl of gnocchi. The Cubana — a classic sandwich, reworked — was a ciabatta loaf sliced and stuffed with fine ham and a slice of melty Jacobsons cheddar, but also with thin slices of the house porchetta, the right amount of fat drooping out, and a smear of a crunchy pickle-mustard that delivered excellent smack. It came with fine fries, an aioli for dunking,  and a little salad dressed with a (too-sweet … for me) tarragon vinaigrette. 

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DESBRISAY DINES: Hot chocolate at Truffle Treasures

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Actually, DesBrisay Doesn’t Dine. At least not this week. For as long as I’ve done this job, I have resolved that pre-Christmas reviews must be charitable. They must be gifts. And about the places I’ve been lately I am nothing but grumpy: An Italian restaurant of long standing with graceless service, phoning it in and charging a big bill; a west end Indian restaurant where the flavour and fragrance are lacking; and a new place I’ll return to in a few  weeks, hopeful the kinks will have been worked out.

And so I’ll tell you instead about chocolate. Liquid chocolate to be precise. Belgium Callebaut dark chocolate bars — imagine it — melted into steamed milk that’s been infused with fresh ginger and orange zest, served in a big blue mug, straight up. Unadorned with cream. (I’ve never liked the peaks of cold whipped cream chilling the upper lip, undoing the effects of the warm creamy molten chocolate beneath.) There were other options for infusions — Aztec, with chilies and cinnamon; hazelnut; caramel; mocha; pumpkin; peppermint. And there was hot chocolate unembellished, milk, dark or intensely bittersweet.

Truffle Treasures is now owned by Céline Levo, of the great (Calgary-based) company, Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut and the newer Cococo Chocolatiers (of the ‘Good Clean Fun’ brand of bars and biscuits).

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Levo, it seems to me, after downing my hot chocolate and treating myself to a box of six truffles (for the walk home) has continued to honour the impeccably high standards of Truffle Treasures’ founder, Lara Vaarré, who opened her flagship Westboro business in 2002, and its sister location on Bank Street in 2007.

Lara died, far too young, on Boxing Day 2012. But I’d like to think she’d be pleased with the caring hands still crafting the exceptional TT chocolates, and pouring the sort of luxurious hot chocolate that makes you very jolly indeed.

Hot chocolate, $5.50
Truffle Treasures
314 Richmond Road, 613-761-3859
and 769 Bank Street, 613-230-3859
truffletreasures.com

 

DESBRISAY DINES: Juniper Farm’s smashing sauerkraut

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

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Juniper Farm’s sauerkraut. Photo: Anne DesBrisay

Kale is so yesterday. At least that’s what the smarty-pants people who purport to know these things are telling us.

The it vegetable of last year is losing its lustre. It’s worn us down with its perfect properties. I grow weary of seeing a kale salad (often requiring 68 chews per forkful) on every restaurant menu. With any luck it’s taken its toll on chefs as well…

We are supposed to be ditching kale, apparently, in favour of its cousin. Cabbage is the new sexy veg.

My grandmother would be laughing her head off. She grew many heads every year and dutifully put down the cabbage crop in brine.

But did she ever think to mix it with beets? Or fennel? Or with salted shrimp and fish sauce and menacing little red chilis? If she had, I might have eaten it.

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DESBRISAY DINES: Asian Alley

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Photo by DesBrisay

Photo by DesBrisay

Here’s to the curative powers of a steaming bowl of fragrant pho. The head throb eases, the throat is soothed, the spirit lifted, and the wallet lightened (but just a little).

The trick is finding good pho. The sort that doesn’t lift the spirits temporarily and then keeps you up all night, jittering and guzzling buckets of water —  nor the kind that requires many squirts of hoisin and hot sauce to find flavour. Last week, deflated and defeated, post-Christmas shopping for man-boys, bags bulging with athletic socks, I discovered Asian Alley on ByWard Market Square. I plunked down at one of its three communal tables, ordered rolls and beef noodle soup, and within minutes I was a new woman.

Photo by DesBrisay

Photo by DesBrisay

It’s mostly Vietnamese on offer at Asian Alley, but they toss in a pad Thai (plus something they call a pad Thai summer roll), to be competitive, I suppose. Must. Have. Pad Thai. It’s the sweet noodle plate that is to south east Asian restaurants what butter chicken is to all Indian. The star player, the blue plate special, the must-have-for-the-occidentals dish. Why? I have no idea. But Asian Alley distinguishes itself from all other Asian fusion type places in this city by what it doesn’t offer — specifically, a seven page menu — and by the uncommon depth of flavour in its pho.

And I suppose, by its penny floor. One hundred and fifty thousand now-useless pennies, repurposed, laid out by hand, beneath a shiny lacquer, surrounded by a commissioned graffiti skyline by local artist Sssnakeboooy and friends. (Check out this post on the Ottawa Mag Facebook page for a peek at the mural.) “I gave them free rein,” owner Hoang tells me. The long, narrow room vibrates with colour and edgy-charm.

Photo by DesBrisay

Photo by DesBrisay

A steaming cup of Genmaicha tea (green tea with roasted rice) arrives with the grilled pork and chicken rice wraps. Clearly made to order, the meat is fragrant and warm (makes all the difference) within the soft packages. Lettuce gives them crunch, green herbs (basil and cilantro) lend perfume, and the peanut sauce is more savoury than sweet, clearly not made from the usual Skippy jar.

The food on the one page menu (hurrah!) was good enough to bring me back for dinner — Bun cha ca and lemongrass pork, firecracker shrimp, and vegetarian spring rolls. Plus another bowl of pho, the dark broth brimming with those warming spices, the chunks of meat from the flank clearly a cut above, the big blue bowl filled in with al dente rice noodles, shredded cabbage, carrot, bok choy, and Thai basil, served with a  side of chili oil. Full marks.

Photo by DesBrisay

Photo by DesBrisay

We like the housemade fish cakes — thin medallions of minced fish and shrimp, flavoured with dill and chili oil — soft but with bouncy chew, though the shrimp within their over-sized crackling covers were small and tough.

The grilled meats had marvellous flavour. Boned and flattened, with big grand hits of lemongrass, ginger and garlic, the pork and chicken both had good char, and came with rice, salad and a bowl of nuoc mam.

Hydration (for now?) is restricted to juices, pop, and tea.

Soups, rice and vermicelli plates, $11 to $14

8 ByWard Market Square, 613-860-9889 www.asianalley.ca

DESBRISAY DINES: Lunch at Dumpling Bowl

Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The Bubblicity Tea Shop on Somerset West once cornered the market on bubble teas. “But then everyone started doing them, and we began to lose business,” the young guy who delivers my lychee shake with squishy tapioca pearls tells me.

Don't worry, you can still get your bubble tea fix at Dumpling Bowl. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Don’t worry, you can still get your bubble tea fix at Dumpling Bowl. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

So the owner, I was told, munched his way through Montreal, came home deciding to change direction, and hired a dumpling maker for his shop.

Last fall, the Bubblicity Tea Shop reopened as Dumpling Bowl, with a food menu. Bubble tea lovers need not despair — customizable teas and smoothies remain on offer — but you can now pair your drink (nothing stronger than tea here) with nine varieties of handmade dumplings, served boiled or pan-fried.

We’ve scarfed down pork and cabbage potstickers (fried on one side), chives and shrimp (also fried), and ones filled in with zucchini, mushroom, and mung bean (boiled). The sauces provided may be housemade, but they could use some work: the peanut sauce is icky-sweet, the spicy mayonnaise nothing special. We splash on the black vinegar provided on the table and find it the best match with these doughy-treats.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Beef broth with ginger, Shanghai noodles, scallions, chiles, bok choy, and beef brisket. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We follow these with the house special soup, an aromatic beef broth filled in with chunks of ginger, fresh, chewy Shanghai noodles, scallions, chiles, bok choy, and marvellously tender beef brisket. Full marks.

Dumpling Bowl earns pretty high marks for ambience, too. Service is pleasant and food arrives quickly.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Dumplings, $6 to $7.50 for 10; $8 to $10 for 15.

Open daily from 11 a.m.

730 Somerset St. W., 613-845-0880, dumplingbowl.com