Author Archive

LUNCH PICK: Teatro Café puts on a grand show

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Teatro Café's Lamb and fig skewer. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Teatro Café’s Lamb and fig skewer. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

It’s been a long time coming, but the little café space on the ground level of the Great Canadian Theatre Company seems to have grown and found its groove. This based merely on lunch, mind you, but it was a good one.

Mook Sutton is the chef at Teatro Café. New to Ottawa, Sutton is a New Zealand native whose career has taken him to Toronto, B.C. and the Cayman Islands. I first heard of him when a fellow judge at the Canadian Culinary Championship was extolling the virtues of a weekend he’d had at Galiano Island’s Bodega Ridge , where Sutton was then in charge of the kitchen.

Two dishes to tell you about. An elegant chicken liver paté, appropriately smooth and rich and unctuous, its surface lightly bruléed for a bit of crunch and sweet, served with fruit compotes and crostini. This was followed with a skewer of lamb — a substitute (with warning and approval) for the bison that hadn’t shown up. The meat was seared and perfectly ruby-pink. It shared the stick with marinated figs, bronzed and boozy. Beneath the lamb, there was a row of braised heirloom carrots and a healthy dollop of whipped feta. A red wine gastrique patterned the plate, and lent tang, and the dish was finished with a squirts of smoked paprika oil and a flourish of micro greens. Appropriately dramatic looking for a theatre café.

I’m looking forward to an encore.

1233 Wellington St. W., 613-699-1020 teatrocafe.ca

DESBRISAY DINES: Elegant salads and splendid mains at new Preston Street resto Salt

By ANNE DESBRISAY
Salt's pierrogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Salt’s pierogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

This big corner space of Preston Square has had two fairly short-lived restaurant tenants. The latest is called Salt, and I rather hope it’s third time’s the charm for this one.
Salt is a tall, dark, mod space, divided into bar, dining room, and patio. The design is generically industrial, though the  chandeliers and custom iron work lend lustre. One wall is all windows framed with dark drapes. It overlooks a corner patio with  fire pit, lounge furniture, and a nicely tended vegetable/herb garden in full swing. Another wall introduces a built-in of backlit spirits around a slick electric fireplace. The lounge at the front has a marble bar-top curved around a baby grand piano. The dining room proper is very dark, the walls and ceiling painted black. (Or possibly navy to match the drapes; hard to tell.) Outside the kitchen pass is a handsome shelving unit, loaded with carefully considered bits of culinary nostalgia (an old Joy of Cooking, a few ‘we love the whole pig’ cookbooks, many jarred preserves). It all looks designer-great.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Two problems marred my initial enjoyment of the place. One, was the pong of bleach, or some sort of industrial cleaning solution. (Not an unusual whiff at bars and restaurants these days, but a regrettable one: doesn’t whet the appetite.) And two, it was freezing cold. And quite dark. It was a welcome that had me bracing for a middling meal and a final bill that looked like it would be hefty.
The cold was dealt with by a gracious server. The smell faded (or we got used to it). The bill was indeed sizeable, but the food, as it happened, was disconcertingly delicious.
That may have to do with the fact that Salt, which is open 18 hours, seven days a week, has three chefs: Aaron Wong, most recently at Play; Jessica Hendren from Town; and Ryan Edwards, formerly of Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar. Three great restaurants.
The dinner menu is divided into small and large plates, and steaks. The pricing is a bit confusing. Small plates range from $12 to $39; large plates start at $16 and climb to $32.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We began at the bottom, with an elegant salad starring house cured and smoked salmon. On a long plate were three moist piles of the fish on a bed of pea shoots, dill fronds, carrot tops, and spinach, topped with pickled pearl onion, fennel, and jalapeño, injecting a bit of heat. Piped blobs of a luscious avocado mousse lent richness, and oiled caraway toast, crumbled overtop, gave crunch.
And then a dish so rich and good I ordered it again for lunch. (Partly so I could see it enough to photograph.) Billed as ‘pierogi gnocchi,’ these were big, bronzed pillows of gooey smoked potato, seasoned with a whiff of garlic, the soft texture within offset by the crisp out. On top were scattered hunks of blue cheese and strings of caramelized onion, some young arugula leaves, while creme fraiche perked up with pink peppercorns was the moisture beneath.
We loved the dish called “Kraken vs Halibut” and though the name suggests the fish would arrive wrapped in the octopus tentacles, the two elements were kept apart. I’ve had lousy halibut of late. Dry and dull. But this was a splendid finger of the fish, with a powerful sear and soft, moist petals of flesh set on a carpet of minted summer peas. Other successes included the salt brick chicken infused with lemon and bathed in brown butter, and a dry aged 20 ounce striploin for two with choice of sides and sauce.
Salt has a climate-controlled, dry-aging room — the only restaurant in the city with one of those, our server tells us — and their cuts are reported to hang for at least 45 days. This was a very fine steak, the meat musky, grilled to rare, sweet in places, and with a pronounced flavour of ripe cheese.
The one dud came at lunch with a so-whatish bolognese, the fresh pasta overcooked, the basil puree served as a streak on the plate, rather than mixed in where it would have done more good.
The wine list offers lots of bubbles by the glass, which is very good of them, and a generous, well chosen list of reds and whites in two pours. There’s a good craft beer list and though I can’t vouch for the ‘craft cocktails’ the young women chatting up the bartender appeared to be happy with them.
Salt’s a fine addition to an ever more interesting Preston Street.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Large Plates, $16 to $32
345 Preston Street, 613-693-0333 saltottawa.ca

 

ANNE’S PICK: More of a plea (buzz off!)

By ANNE DESBRISAY

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“And how are our first bites this evening?” Just 30 seconds ago, our server had dropped two plates in front of us.

“Fine, thank you.”

We carry on our conversation.

Three minutes later, she’s back. “Does everything continue to be to your liking?”

Yes, “Thank you,” we say through gritted teeth.

“Excellent. I’ll tell the kitchen.” And off she goes.

Delivered shortly after the next course, my favourite line yet: “And how are our flavours suiting your palate?”— I kid you not. That’s what she said.

It took remarkable restraint not to shoot back: “Actually, dearie, the first bites, the fourth bites, and the eleventh bites are all fair to middling, if you truly want to hear it, though you may read all about it in next week’s column. But if my soup happens to be stone cold or the salad studded with earwigs, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, kindly LEAVE US ALONE.”

When did these maddening quality check rounds become de rigueur in restaurants?

You would think the constant querying smacks of gross insecurity. (Do you like me? And what about now… Do you like me still?) And while service style in modern restaurants tends to be approachable, casual, personal — none of which I have a problem with, nor do I have a problem with a server describing my dish, or asking if there’s anything else I might require before leaving me to tuck in — this constant servility seems faux. More self-seeking than genuine.

Except, may I tell you, at Le Baccara. There, at fine dining room of the Lac Leamy Casino, the disruptive bob-ins were noticeably absent, and the lack of them noted and appreciated.

I would suggest a server at Le Baccara wouldn’t think (a) to interrupt a conversation and an appreciation of the dish, and (b) that the plate that’s just been created and assembled for me would be anything other than marvellous. You might find that arrogant. I think it’s more likely confidence from the kitchen, which in turn generates confidence from the eater.

My Baccara server and server’s assistant dropped by my table many times, quietly pouring wine, refilling water, noticing the house churned butter had been gobbled up and delivering, without a word, another round. I was not left alone. And I could have —  should I have felt the need — voiced a concern. (I didn’t. There were none.)  But at a recent five-course menu degustation, I was not asked, not even once, how were my first bites. And yet the service was attentive and polished, thoughtful and kind.

Which begs the question: when did we start training servers to be so much a part of our meal? Can we please be rid of the constant lickspittle quality assurance check ups?

How’s my meal?

We’ll let you know… buzz off.

DESBRISAY DINES: Introducing Fiazza Fresh Fired

By  ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

A few weeks back I had come to the ByWard Market with my son to pay our respects to Domus Café. He had celebrated a thirteenth birthday there, along with another family feast to mark a university graduation. We noted the massive ‘For Lease’ sign, and we shook our heads and we sighed. We cupped our hands around our eyes and peered through the windows into the empty space. Then we smelled pizza — and I spied a face that was familiar to me, delivering the pizza to an outdoor table. So we crossed the street.

The last time I saw Luigi he was handing me a rabbit. A very nice stew, as I recall. I still have the 2003 review of the dish. That was at (the late) Zibibbo Restaurant on Somerset Street, owned by Luigi Meliambro.

I liked the short-lived Zibibbo; I liked its second floor lounge (TheCamarilloBrilloUpstairs) but the place closed ten years ago, and Luigi moved on. To Kanata, I believe. And then across the river. Friends in Chelsea and Wakefield were Friday night regulars at his pizza joint, Cheezy Luigi’s, though I’d never had the pleasure.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meliambro has moved back to Ottawa now, and has a new venture. Pizza, fired in one of those crazy-hot ovens in something like 140 seconds. The pies are created to order, assembly line style (a la Subway) while you wait. Fiazza Fresh Fired is found on Murray Street in the spot where Pecco’s bike shop used to be.

It works like this: you queue up, read a lot, and hem and haw while the kids in their Fiazza Fresh Fired T’s and food service gloves wait patiently for instructions. You may order one of the dozen suggested combinations, or you create your own based on a lengthy list of toppings. There are two bases — regular and gluten free. The sauce, we are told, is made with (the lionized) San Marzano tomatoes. There are seven cheese options, including blue, feta, goat cheese, fior di latte, or the house blend. All cheeses, we are told, are locally sourced. Toppings come in two categories — the traditional (mostly vegetable, at $1.25 each) and specialty (mostly meat, along with organic mushrooms). The “After Fired” options — fresh basil, chilli flakes, oregano, evoo drizzle — are on the house. Once you’ve placed your order, you can watch them load it on and fire it up, or sit down and have it delivered.

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DESBRISAY DINES: Mamma Teresa in Chelsea

By ANNE DESBRISAY

 

The original Mamma Teresa on Somerset Street West may not be the power ristorante it once was, but the walls tell a tale. Framed, signed portraits of the movers and shakers who supped here still guard the vestibule and line the stairs — the ones that lead to the private dining rooms where, legend has it, much of the nation’s business was once conducted.

Pickled peppers to start. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Pickled peppers to start. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

When owner Guiliano Boselli retired, he sold Mamma Teresa to two long-serving employees who had worked their way up the ranks. And now Frank Schimizzi and Walter Moreschi have opened a second Mamma Teresa — out of province. On the former home of another long serving restaurant, L’Agaric, they’ve constructed a handsome wood- planked-chalet sort of place, green-roofed and red-trimmed, and they’ve brought Mamma’s portrait and stuck her in the front lawn.

If you are a Mamma Teresa Ottawa regular, you will know well the wide-ranging menu. Nothing trendy on it; black olives and pickled peppers to start; warm buns; a crisp and ample Caesar salad with a gutsy dressing. There was a soup du jour with an admirable broth and al dente vegetables, and we ordered a serving of calamari so generous is fed four, crisp and tender and not the least bit greasy.

Linguine pescatore. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

The presentation of the house carpaccio could use some refinement, and we’d have preferred the parmesan come in shards, rather than the pile of gratings we received. The dish was also missing an anointment of some sort — a drizzle of oil, a bit of aioli or a lemon wedge would have been welcomed — but the beef itself was clearly sliced to order, the meat rich and red and good, strewn with capers and bits of pickled onion.

Veal was disappointingly tough, though the clam linguine that came with it was perfectly judged. Indeed, pasta might be the way to go here. The linguine pescatore featured al dente noodles and lightly cooked seafood united in a rich creamy sauce. And the gnocchi were pillowy pleasures, bathed in a fragrant tomato-basil sauce. Portions invite doggy bags.

I have always had a soft spot for Mamma’s cake, so we ordered that, along with the tiramisu. Again, a no nonsense presentation, but fresh, tasty desserts.

The service we received was top notch.

Pasta/mains, $21 to $39. Open daily, lunch through dinner.  

254 Ch. Old Chelsea, 819-827-3020, mammateresa.com

ANNE’S PICKS: Gianduja at A Thing for Chocolate

By ANNE DESBRISAY

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Chocolate-hazelnut spread, otherwise known as gianduja , is made from scratch at A Thing for Chocolate. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Chocolate is having its day. Dark is best, and pure is super-best and a square (or three) of the dark pure stuff every day means you’ll live long and prosper. Or at least you’ll live what you’ll live but you’ll live it much happier.

There’s a new — to me — chocolate shop on Wellington West. I popped in to A Thing for Chocolate (such a clever name) for breakfast the other day. Had the bacon and egg made-to-order crepe, which was really very nice, though I’d have preferred it be served with fruit than greens (drizzled with what tasted like bottled balsamic), it being morning and all. But what really turned my crank was the stuff on the end of the spoon I was handed.

“Try this,” the charmer holding the handle said. The first taste was of rich, clean, creamy chocolate. And then the hazelnut hit me and my spirits instantly dropped, only to be lifted again once the purity of flavour sank in.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of gianduja. Which does, I agree, make me a bit of a freak, but there you go. I like chocolate. I like hazelnuts, I just don’t like them together. Too many cheap gianduja fillings perhaps, with added sugar and emulsifiers and so forth, are to blame, but man oh man, I liked this stuff — really liked this stuff — which is, I believe, a tribute to its quality. It was so fresh, so pure, and so clean.

Chocolatier Omar Fares uses only quality organic hazelnuts and toasts them until they’re golden and fragrant. There’s a bit of cream in there, as well as chocolate and puréed nuts, so don’t forget to keep it in the fridge. Once mixed, the smooth brown goo is jarred with a fetching green rubber ringed lid. So you won’t get lost in the fridge. My jar has a small spoon imbedded in it. To facilitate the quest to live long and prosper.

Gianduja spread, $8.99; breakfast special $6.99

A Thing for Chocolate, 1626 Wellington St. W., 613-695-3533 

 

Looking for more ways to enjoy chocolate?

 

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Click here to learn more about pairing chocolate with beer!

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Learn about Dick’s triple-chocolate hand-dipped milkshake !

 

 

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Find more OTTAWA MAGAZINE  chocolate listings here 

 

DESBRISAY DINES: Café My House

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

The banh mi tacos topped the list of Café My House offerings for Anne DesBrisay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

 

 

A few months ago, the vegan/vegetarian/raw food restaurant Café My House packed up all its grating/grinding/whirring machines and moved from suburban south Bank  to the happening Hintonburg neighbourhood.

The new place looks nothing like the old. I remember a green and white space, with a bright and cheery homespun look.  The new Café My House is none of that. A long, narrow room, it’s quite dark — black really — inside and out, which you either find edgy and contemporary or somewhat gloomy and oppressive. I must say I was in the latter camp. Worried, too, that if the feeling was a bit bleak in June, how would it seem in December?

For now, the back patio is open and quite sweet, and that’s where we found ourselves at a second visit. At our first, we sat as close to the front windows as we could.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Summer lasagna. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

The menu begins with a page of CMH Mixology — cocktails ‘without processed ingredients’ — and I gave the one called ‘Japan’ a go, intrigued by the description (anise pickled beets, dry sake, pear bitters, ginger beer). It was pretty, I’ll give it that, but the flavour was underpowered. Too much ice, perhaps, melting too quickly in the heat…

But underpowered pretty much sums up my feeling about the food as well. It certainly looks striking. Dishes arrive layered, multi-coloured, fussed over, very pretty. But with a few notable exceptions, the flavours were wan and the texture at times flabby, at other times unrelentingly crunchy.  And some dishes suffered from a general temperature trouble — sauces served only tepid when they should have been hot, for example. 

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ANNE’S PICK: Takeaway from Brampton Meats

Barbecued curried chicken from Brampton Meats. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Barbecued curried chicken from Brampton Meats. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

 

It’s called Brampton Meats because the two families that own this new business are recent transplants from the city of Brampton — wooed here by Ottawa friends, I was told, and to escape the glut of competition they felt from the suburban GTA.

I rather stumbled upon this place when gassing up. I was hungry, it was lunchtime, and as I was feeding the tank on the corner of Woodroffe and Meadowlands, I spied a red and white sign that that read Brampton Meats.  A new butcher shop? And then beneath that big sign, a second, smaller announcement that required closer inspection: Authentic Indian Takeout.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Chicken legs marinating at Brampton Meats. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The takeout I sampled — a vegetarian thali and a ‘non-vegetarian’ thali — though generous, certainly affordable, and with the exception of a fabulous goat curry, turned out to be pretty average. But in the display case were a half dozen trays of marinating chicken legs of various hues. A visual feast. I asked for an explanation and was led through the options.

I chose the darkest two:  Bhatti da murg and the Bengali dish murg (chicken) “chingari.” I took home my legs, let them marinade a few more hours, and then grilled them over low heat on the ‘cue.

The Bhatti birds were robed in a ginger-garlic paste with no shortage of red chilli power, and were fragrant too with cloves, cardamom, coriander seed and with a vinegar tartness. The Chingari was darker, soothed a bit with coconut milk, and tasted as though cinnamon were in the mix of spices. Still, both marinades tasted complex and both had plenty of lip tingling pow.

There were gentler versions — a so-called lemon chicken, say, and something called ‘mild BBQ chicken’ — but we were after authentic heat and flavour and feel we were delivered of both in immensely satisfying fashion.

They fed a family of four and cost $12.33

Brampton Meats, 178 Meadowlands Dr. W., 613-695-9915, bramptonmeats.ca
Open daily from 10 a.m.

LUNCH PICK: Head to Ginza for real ramen

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Spicy Tonkotsu ramen. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

I used to head to this address when I had a cold. There was a certain special something in a bowl of Jo Moon Ting congee that went to work on sore throats and self pity. And while I was there, I’d pick up a roast duck or slab of barbecued pork from the line of burnished meat hanging in Jo Moon’s street side window. But JMT shut down sometime in 2011 and Three Kings moved in, offering their particular gifts for a few years. (I recall  a scrumptious platter of pork cheeks in garlic broth and a disappointing crab soup.)

But enough with the history lesson. The Kings have gone now, and as of about a month ago, 832 Somerset St. is the new home of a second location for an Elgin Street restaurant called Ginza Ramen. Its downtown big brother sells more things — sushi, vermicelli dishes, pho, and a longer list of appetizers — and it has a liquor license, which is ‘in the works’ at this location.

But the Chinatown location’s focus is more on ramen. There are six varieties here — three based on pork broth, two on chicken, and one vegetarian broth that’s miso-based and a bit grainier. They were out of chicken broth — which seemed odd given it was early evening — so we ordered a spicy Tonkotsu Ramen (with enough pow of chili heat to make upper lips sweat) and the vegetable ramen.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Gyoza tops the list of snacks at Ginza Ramen. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Their presentation reminded me a bit of the Korean bibimbap, with quadrants of colour and texture that you gaze upon for a moment before plunging in chopsticks and mucking up the pretty surface. But you want to get at it before the soft boiled soy-marinated egg has over-cooked in the heat of the plunge. You want the molten yolk still to be free to run into the liquid, enriching the broth. Other than egg and the chewy strings of ramen noodle (not made in house, but fresh tasting) you find bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, scallion, nori, and thin shavings of crisp and fatty pork belly. The miso soup adds corn, bean sprouts, and bok choy.  Based on our server’s suggestion, we tossed in some of the pickled ginger from the pot on the wooden table.

I recognize a well made broth — one that begins life with bones in a pot and spends ages burbling away — and I don’t dispute its merits, but if you’re used to the sweet, fragrant pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) you will find this broth cloudier, richer, less sweet and certainly more piggy. The noodles used are the Japanese wheat noodles, rather than the rice vermicelli of pho. The flavour of the broth starts off heavy, and for me, a bit off-putting. But the flavour grows, the garlic hits, the richness lightens, and the porkiness becomes more pleasant.

Other than soup, there are a few snacks at Ginza Ramen: gyoza (best of the bunch), chicken karaage, and deep fried squid legs wrapped in the same crunchy, golden coat, and furnished with a wasabi mayonnaise. All are tasty enough but none memorable or, I would suggest, made in house.  There’s also two fried rice dishes, neither of which we tried.

But if your only encounter with ramen has been in a dorm room with a kettle, a Mr. Noodles package and its glittering silver ‘flavour pouch’ you might want to get yourself to Ginza and see what all the fuss is about.

In a post-Momofuku noodle-mad era, much has been made about the ramen rage, and Ottawa looks to be getting a taste of that, with Ginza locations leading the charge.

Ramen (generous bowl) $10.95 – $11.95

832 Somerset St. and 280 Elgin St., 613-233-2888,ginzarestaurant.ca

LUNCH PICK: Lunch At Oyster Bay

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

Who knew a first-rate clam chowder could be had in a sushi joint on Merivale Road?

 
Chowder at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Chowder at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

I had come here for the (new-to-me) Oyster Bay Restaurant’s (new to them) lunch service.  My plan was to check out the sashimi/sushi combo platter at this Japanese replacement for the long running MHK Sushi and Asian Fusion Restaurant. But Oyster Bay’s menu’s has a funny mix of things, so along with the usual raw fish and rice snacks of various permutations, you find spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine with seafood sauce, Thai beef carpaccio, and clam chowder.

The lunch combo ordinarily came with miso soup. For three dollars more I had the option to upgrade to the clam chowder. So lunch at Oyster Bay turned out to be a classic, creamy clam chowder with a sushi/sashimi chaser.

I’ll have more to say about Oyster Bay in a few weeks once I’ve thoroughly mined its long and disparate menu. But for now, know that both the soup and the sushi were total winners. Possibly the shock of discovering a really good bowl of Boston style clam chowder in a Japanese restaurant added to the pleasure… still, here was a generous bowl of fat clams, firm potatoes, onion, celery, carrots and fresh herbs – cilantro, basil, thyme – in a thick, clean-flavoured broth enriched with cream. Full marks.

 

Sashimi, nigiri and maki at Oyster Bay. photo by Anne DesBrisay

Sashimi, nigiri and maki at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

The sashimi, nigiri and maki were pretty on the plate and cool and clean in the mouth. The cold fish was generously draped over perfectly calibrated, slightly warm and loosely packed rice. Again, top marks.

Looking forward to dinner… and the extensive oyster bar.

My soup and sushi/sashimi lunch cost $20.

Oyster Bay, 1519 Merivale Road, 613-680-5555
Open for lunch 
Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
http://www.oysterbayottawa.com