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

 

 

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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 

DESBRISAY DINES: The Rex is now open for dinner

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne Desbrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Former Urban Pear sous chef, back when Ben Baird was in charge, Cody Starr named his new place in honour of his grandfather and has created in a former pizzeria on Adeline Street, an intimate, old world space with homespun charm.

I took the Rex for a lunch time spin six months ago, when it was pretty brand new. That was back when the noon crowd — Rex is close to the Rochester office towers — was the focus of the kitchen. Evening-opening was in the thinking-through process. And now the dinner gong sounds, but only on Friday and Saturday nights.

On our Friday night, the place was packed.

Rex offers a limited dinner menu, which is always a pleasure for those of us decisioned-out by end of week. There is some choice — between two starters on our night (Cobb salad or crab cakes) and two mains (trout or brisket) for the set price of $35.

Nothing rocked our world, but it was all pretty solid. If I had a quibble, it would have less to do with the quality of the food or the mix of flavours and more about portion and presentation. The Rex dinners seem to be trying on a simple, family style, come-as-ye-be sort of vibe. So modern, composed plates don’t feel quite right.

The Rex Fish Cakes. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Crab Cakes at The Rex. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The Cobb salad featured eggs, still soft at their yellow core, crisp lardons, a bit of Boston lettuce, avocado, tomato, and a sharp dressing, but the poster child for composed salads could have had a few more elements and been a bit more generous. The crab cakes were meaty, well seasoned, served on a few greens with a dill remoulade and pickled red onion.

Other than the odd choice of plate and fork (rather than bowl and spoon) to serve the fish and clam chowder, this was a lovely dish. It was just a bit tricky to eat.

The cooking of the trout was well judged and the chowder starred three meaty Quahogs, steamed to just-open, with traditional mates of corn, carrots, celery, and soft leek and with crispy rings of leek for pleasing chew, in a rich cream sauce perfumed with clam juice, fresh thyme and anointed with leek oil.

The second main was the ultimate Sunday supper comfort food — brined spiced brisket, slow braised to fork tender, with a sturdy caramelized edge, served with roasted carrots and brussels sprouts, and with horseradish spiked mashed potatoes. A whole grain mustard sauce finished things with an extra little zing.

Fish and Clam Chowder at The Rex. Photo By Anne DesBrisay

Fish and Clam Chowder at The Rex. Photo By Anne DesBrisay

For dessert, the Johnny Cakes combined a cornmeal pancake with ice cream and rhubarb-maple compote and the Boston cream pie — dark shiny chocolate sauce, solid cake, well flavoured pastry cream, bittersweet caramel sauce — gets full marks.

Three course table d’hôte, $35 on our night.

Open Monday to Friday for lunch, Friday and Saturday for dinner.

40 Adeline St., 613-695-9739, therexottawa.com

LUNCH PICK: Full marks for the Arctic char at Shore Club

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Arctic char. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Arctic char. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

 

I came to the lobby of the Westin Hotel for the Shore Club’s “Shore Lunch.” When I was a girl fishing with my dad, shore lunch meant just-caught pickerel, cooked on a hibachi grill in a door knob of butter with a side of Libby’s brown beans. Best lunch on the planet.

When my Shore Club server described their “Shore Lunch”  as walleye (pickerel), panko-crusted, I lost interest. It was probably perfectly delicious, but it wouldn’t have conjured memories. Nobody I knew brought Japanese breadcrumbs on a northern Ontario fishing trip.

Seafood chowder. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Seafood chowder. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

I went jigging through the menu again and settled on the SC’s three course table d’hôte for $25. Choice of soup or two salads, two mains, homemade cookies and coffee/tea. I chose soup (a well made but otherwise unremarkable seafood chowder) because the Arctic char came with salad (a jumble of lightly minted vegetables — tomato, peppers, cucumbers — with orange sections, on greens, very pretty, very fresh, more mint would have been welcome). The fish was beautifully cooked in what tasted like that door knob of butter I craved, the skin crisp, the flesh wet and pink, the flavour piqued with a terrific pesto featuring sundried tomatoes. Full marks for the fish.

The promised cookies arrived in the form of one soggy looking chocolate truffle, which didn’t do it for me. When you want a cookie, you want a cookie. It was removed and my coffee got upgraded to a cappuccino, no charge.

Three course table d’hôte $25

Open for lunch Monday to Friday, dinner daily.
The Shore Club at the Westin Hotel, 11 Colonel By Dr., 613-569-5050

DESBRISAY DINES: Gy Resto offers meaty mains with a French approach in new home

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Fiddlehead salad with parmesan crisp. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Fiddlehead salad with parmesan crisp. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

There are times when only a real belt of French nostalgia will do and Gy Resto — since February 5th in new digs — delivers on that front. Formerly found on rue Laval in a compact upstairs room, Gy has moved to rue St-Jacques in the space where Bistro St-Jacques used to be. It’s a bigger home for the Gatineau restaurant, and a more visible one from the street.

Upon entry, the first thing that grabs your attention is the pillar. It’s wrapped in chef’s whites — a collection of coats from all the kitchens Gyno Lefrançois used to work in, stapled down in a white jumble the length of the pole.  The rest of the room is less cute: blue walls, yellow flowers, white napery, tiled floor, and an elevated patio that will seat 25 when it opens in early June.

Gy’s opening gifts on our nights were tasty, seedy house buns the size of ping pong balls, a pot of hummus impaled with sweet potato crisps, a pile of cumin-studded poppadum, and neat triangles of a luscious game terrine.

From there, it was a minefield of rich French food and we embraced it lustily, particularly the starters, which tended to please more than the mains. Beginning with foie gras, it was ordered for the promised asparagus ice cream — a dish that ate better than it read. On toasted brioche (a bit soggy from too generous a puddle of demi glace) were poised two lovely lobes of liver, seared and rare, lightly fragrant of truffle oil, and with a thawing ball of the pale green ice cream. The deluge of sauce notwithstanding, I liked the cool of the glace and the hot of the liver, and how the two creamy elements worked so well together.

Foie gras with asparagus ice cream. Photo by Anne Desbrisay.

Foie gras with asparagus ice cream. Photo by Anne Desbrisay.

I was less convinced of the marriage of cranberry ice cream with a puck of steak tartare, though the tartare (served with toasties and sunchoke chips) was gorgeous.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

A trio of scallops came next, curry-stained and caramelized, plopped on a pillow of soft leeks with a thatch of fried leeks. And then some green relief: tête de violon — the first of this year’s fiddleheads — steamed crisp and served as a cool salad ringed with a berry vinaigrette, and paired with the sharp, crunchy notes of a parmesan tuile.

Emphasis on the main menu and on the chalkboard that rolls around the room is toward steak — beef, venison, bison — and the approach is French (well seasoned, the meat grilled to rare, covered in shallots, served with potatoes, and fussed over seasonal veg). The steak we stabbed into was well executed and came with a generous serving of roasted fingerlings.

There were noodles both nights: ravioli of lobster, the pasta rolled thin and admirably delicate, the soft pink meat scented seductively with tarragon, and with fresh and snappy shrimp paddling about in a pink sauce. This dish might have secured top marks had there been a whole lot less salt in the sauce. One week later I’m still thirsty.

Another night, cannelloni with the same impressive dough, but stuffed with shredded beef cheeks braised for hours and hours, and perfumed with coriander seed and a judicious amount of truffle oil — very rich (quite the theme of this place) and well executed. Main plates came with side plates of vegetables, a maçedoine of turnip, a wedge of roasted beet, a purée of parsnips, some julienned snap peas.

Precious few non-meat choices on this menu. No doubt the kitchen could whip-up something, but vegetarians should probably head elsewhere.

Sweeties included a chèvre cheesecake with strawberry coulis and a banana cake topped with a milk chocolate mousse sandwiched with a layer of dulce de leche. Both hit the spot.

Service warmed a bit as the evenings progressed, but I did find Gy failed to meet the gracious service standard one would hope for in a fine French restaurant. Still, these are early days in a new home, and perhaps what I see as a certain aloofness is more an anxiety with a bigger space and numbers. Still, I think service has been an issue at Gy since day one, and I do hope the restaurant works on the welcoming factor, especially when so much else is going right.

Mains, $16 to $35; Open for lunch, Tuesday to Friday; dinner, Tuesday to Saturday.

Gy Resto: 51 rue St-Jacques, Gatineau (Hull sector) 819-776-0867, www.gyresto.com.