MOST WANTED: Jamón Ibérico

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

By ASHLEIGH VANHOUTEN

Photo by Luther Caverly

Photo by Luther Caverly

A plate of sumptuous charcuterie is a treat any way you slice it. But if you’re looking to increase the decadent factor at your next dinner party, jamón ibérico is a must. This rare cured ham is made in Spain and Portugal from the meat of special free-range pigs — pata negra, named for their black hooves. The animals roam freely through the forests and fortify themselves mostly with fatty acorns. The salt-cured meat follows a highly regulated aging process, often drying for up to four years.

It’s pricey, but jamón ibérico is worth every penny: it is beautiful to look at and emits a rich, nutty aroma; on the palate, the taste is intensely salty-sweet. The creamy, acorn-enriched fat literally melts in your mouth. Be sure to enjoy it at room temperature, not chilled, with some simple bread and a splash of good olive oil. A robust Spanish red would pair well, as would a sherry, but a crisp beer will do just fine.

$199/kg.
La Bottega Nicastro,
64 George St., 613-789-7575.

 

DesBrisay Dines

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

DIY GOURMET: Chef Part of Les Fougères shares his recipe for maple-soya salmon

This article first appeared in the 2014 edition of Eating & Drinking, which is on newsstands until spring 2015. Order the 2014 Eating & Drinking Guide, and we’ll mail it you or a friend in time for the holidays. 

The Chefx tagline says it all: Recipes. Ingredients. Delivered. Launched in the fall of 2013, the business is a brilliant partnership between local entrepreneur Jeff Heaton and the who’s who of chefs around town.  Here’s how it works: you subscribe to the service and Heaton shows up at your door each week with chef-tested recipes (with easy-to-follow directions),  a cooler-full of ingredients, and a wine pairing suggestion.

In other words, you pay a bit of a premium and, in doing so, get to forgo running all over  town sourcing the ingredients to create those dishes you drool over at the likes of Mariposa Farm, Les Fougères, Whalesbone, and Black Cat Bistro.

Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can try these yourself at home. Here, Charles Part of Les Fougeres shares a favourite, and versatile, recipe.

Maple-soya glazed Salmon
With Pink Grapefruit, Parsnip, Greens
& Toasted Hazelnuts

Photo by Christian Lalonde - PhotoluxStudio.com

Photo by Christian Lalonde – PhotoluxStudio.com

Chef Charles Part has been at the helm of the iconic Les Fougères restaurant in Chelsea for two decades now, serving up flavourful cuisine inspired by the bounty in the surrounding gardens. He chose this salmon recipe for Chefx knowing that the vibrant flavours would seduce the city’s home chefs. “You can use wild coho salmon, fresh arctic char, even trout. It’s a very versatile recipe,” explains Part. Still, don’t expect to find it on the Les Fougères menu every day. The chef likes to change things seasonally, challenging himself and keeping things fresh (though he does concede that he rotates a few favourites through the menu for the benefit of his gratified regulars).

  • 2 fillets sockeye salmon (skinless)
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 4 parsnips
  • 2 baby bok choy
  • 6 hazelnuts
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 2 tbsp sherry
  • 1 /8 cup cream
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp + 1 tsp soya sauce
  • 1 / 8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • butter ( 1 tbsp + 1 tbsp)
  • vegetable oil ( 1 tsp + 1 tsp)
  • salt and pepper

Read the rest of this story »

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Ace Mercado

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.

 

Scallop ceviche. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Scallop ceviche. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

“There Goes the Neighbourhood” was the opening slogan of Ace Mercado, punctuated with cartoon dynamite booms. There went my ear drums that first visit. And the next. The volume of the music played at Ace has waxed and waned a bit over my three meals here, but is generally at ear ringing level by eight o’clock. We move to the back room and find we can just hear each other if we holler.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Do I like this? Nope. But maybe I’m just out of touch with the way the cool kids want to eat out these days.

Ace Mercado is loud in other ways. The wall graffiti makes a statement, the Day of the Dead decor is edgy, the service is almost aggressively casual, and the open bar scene can bully the room.

But none of these grumblings of mine should take away from the food at Ace, which is mostly very good. Or the drinks program, which attempts to take frat-boy tequila shots to a much higher plane, dispensed from a centre-of-the-action bar, crowded with premium spirits, house infusions, and handsome young mixologists.

The food menu, created by Navarra chef (and Top Chef Canada 2014 champ) René Rodriguez (executed by chef de cuisine Trish Donaldson) has evolved since that first visit. It’s a bit longer, and seems more focused on sides, sharing plates, tacos, and less on main dishes.

If you only order tacos here — we liked the braised lamb with queso fresco most and the bland and fishy red snapper least — you will miss the best bits. Sophisticated dishes like the scallop ceviche with passion fruit seeds and smoked hibiscus salt. Yes, a very pretty plate, but it was the balance of tart-sweet, soft-crunch, and chili-rev that was so beautifully judged.

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ANNE’S PICKS: Kothu Rotti

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.

Kothu Rotti. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Kothu Rotti. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

There are a few stools for perching at a counter, and one small round table, but most people use Kothu Rotti — probably with good reason — for take away or delivery. I’ve passed this one-year-old Dalhousie Street hole-in-the-wall many times, but this was the first time I noticed Kothu Rotti’s subtitle: ‘by Ceylonta Restaurant.’

We all know Ceylonta. It’s the long-serving Sri Lankan restaurant on Somerset West (with a second location in a little yellow house on Carling Avenue) that serves affordable, flavourful south Indian food and proffers a popular lunch buffet.

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CAPITAL PINT: Seasonal suds brewing this autumn

BY TRAVIS PERSAUD

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.

Sweater season is here. This means not only a wardrobe transition but also a shift in what you’ll find on tap. This past summer was dominated by craft breweries releasing session ales, which are lighter beers that are full of flavour but pack less alcohol punch, making them more palatable (not to mention safer to down an armful of bottles under the hot summer sun). By contrast, this fall were are seeing more and more options that are richer and more full-bodied than their summertime siblings. Here, a look at what the locals are brewing this autumn.

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DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Soif

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

If you want to watch a nail-biter bit of YouTube video, check out Véronique Rivest’s final exam at the 2013 World’s Best Sommelier Competition. It will give you an inkling of what a brilliant Canadian treasure we have in our midst. (And it really is edge of the seat stuff.)

Having secured wins at the Best Sommelier of Quebec competition in 2006, the national sommelier contest and the “Best Sommelier of the Americas” in 2012, Véronique Rivest, from Restaurant Les Fougères in Wakefield, Quebec, headed to Tokyo for the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde, a competition held every three years. It was her third attempt at the big one, and this time was the charm. Rivest made it to the finals, the only woman ever to reach that level, and ended up placing an unprecedented second.

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QUEST: 3 crave-worthy dishes enlivened by herbs

This article was originally published in the October 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.

By CINDY DEACHMAN

Costolette d'Angello. Photo by Giulia Doyle.

Costolette d’Angello. Photo by Giulia Doyle.

Herbs can be thought of as more than just a garnish for a dish such as Cephalonian hare. Find the unkempt vegetation in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Oberon, king of the fairies, says, “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows.” This, the bed of Queen Titania. And what of medieval mystic Saint Hildegard of Bingen, offering her sage recipe? “Take sage and pulverize it. Eat this powder with bread and it will diminish the superfluity of harmful humours in you.” (Hildegard maintained one was healthy when the humours — bodily fluids — were in balance.)

Of course, it has been known forever that herbs will invigorate any dish. The volatile compounds are what count. Dill — well, we can’t help thinking of pickles. Holy basil, with its scent of cloves, elevates pad Thai to another plane. And where would we be without wormwood? Up the creek without our necessary glass of absinthe, right?

Costolette d’Agnello
Robust, spiky-leaved rosemary is pungent with minty pine. So what better match for the herb than lamb? Italian restaurant Giovanni’s offers a rosemary rack — the best in the city, I’ll wager. “If you treat it right, [the meat] shines through,” says chef Filip Szardurski. Rosemary, garlic, house-made demi-glace, and olive oil give this seven-rib rack of lamb superb flavour. So tender, so juicy! The sparkle comes from lemon. No fancy-dancey here, just classic cuisine at its best. “A dying art,” Szardurski opines. Best hurry down to Preston Street, am I right? $44.95. Giovanni’s Ristorante, 362 Preston St., 613-234-3156.

Matcha Black Sesame Caramels
For years now, the Japanese have been flavouring sponge rolls, ice cream — marshmallows, even! — with their ceremonial green tea. Well, why not caramels? Robin Coull, owner of online confectionery Morsel, says she “completely fell in love with matcha” while living in Japan. Coull’s matcha black sesame caramels are made through the slow cooking of cream and sugar. Bite into one — not too hard and not too soft. Butterscotch flavour is followed by the nuttiness of black sesame seeds and the grassy herbal qualities of the matcha. All flavours then roll into one. Sweet. $6.95/pkg. Morsel, 613-601-6764.

Chinese Chive Pancakes
Frank Pay, owner and chef at Harmony, calls these gems pancakes — they remind us all too well of calzones. Jiucai hezi (chive pockets) are popular in Pay’s hometown of Dezhou in northern China. “Some put meat in them, but we like chives,” Pay declares. These turnovers are pan-fried to a golden brown until the dough is as crisp and light as pastry — with a bit of tug and chew. The garlicky bright green Chinese chive filling, with traces of scrambled egg throughout, is piping hot. Feel free to down anytime. Two/$4.95. Harmony Restaurant, 769 Gladstone Ave., 613-234-9379.

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Fauna

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

So it’s happened. The highly anticipated new restaurant, Fauna, is finally feeding folk. It’s taken two years — and they don’t sound like pleasant ones — but enough ink has been spilt on Fauna’s struggles that I won’t bore you with a recap. Suffice to say, the window wit (‘Opening … Slowly’) is now down, the Bank Street doors are unlocked and we all want to discover if the interminable wait was worth it.

All of which must put considerable pressure on executive chef Jon Svazas. And perhaps on the restaurant critic as well. How can you kick a guy (if a kicking is required) who’s already been getting a licking for two years?

No need. The Bank Street former shoe shop has morphed into a solidly good place to eat. The room’s a beauty, taken back to its handsome brick bones and filled in with wood, metal, statement lighting, a zinc covered bar, and just enough visual drama such that the space seems confidently modern, rather than gimmicky. It’s a room with a great vibe and energy, packed on both our nights. Service was smooth, confident, and friendly.

The comfort Canadiana that Jon Svazas was dishing up at Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar is evident on the plates, though with various Asian inflections and modernist moments.  He’s chosen a small plates formula (nothing more than $19) of no particular culinary core. Sort of Nouveau Canadian cuisine with bits of this and that — French, Italian, Korean, Malaysian, Japanese — applied to quality local ingredients. Flavours are well-balanced and dishes are pretty on the plate.

Elk Carpaccio. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Elk Carpaccio. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

If I had a quibble, it would be with the chemistry — some of it was welcome, other bits felt contrived and irrelevant.

The opening menu had been tweaked a bit between visits, and I think I’ve worked my way through a good chunk of it. We begin with a winner of a pumpkin soup with warming Thai flavours. And then a dish of elk carpaccio, presented as a log might be found on the forest floor, with pickled mushrooms growing beside, the plate garnished with dots of a pungent black garlic aioli, and a sweet sticky miso reduction. More raw protein with the tuna plate, the cool and fatty-rich crudo left in log-like segments, set on a coconut-kaffir cream, and paired with sections of pink grapefruit dusted with black sesame seed. Also on the plate, a powdered chili oil — which added whimsy as well as heat — and a few wilted scallions and bitter greens.

Sablefish (Black cod) was the star of the second column. The filet had a strong flavour-charged black crust, while the white flesh fell in wet petals when poked, its cooking perfectly judged. It came propped up on a striking ‘hummus’ of black lentils. Roasted blue fingerlings came with the fish, along with a welcome tang of pickled elements (carrots and daikon).

Few places get quail right. These were succulent little bird bits, lightly bronzed but with lots of juicy meat to pick away at, set on a silky smooth puree of parsnip, which was perfumed fairly headily with vanilla. Pear added some sweet and some sour, Brussels sprout leaves a bitter crunch. Here, the piles of dehydrated bacon wasn’t a trick that worked, at least not for me. Give me chewy, salty lardons with these birds, any day.

We finished with the squash sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce, caramel ice cream, apple compote, and gingerbread dust. Terribly good and refreshingly not icky-sweet.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Squash sticky toffee pudding with caramel sauce, caramel ice cream, apple compote, and gingerbread dust. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The wine list seemed to me well chosen, with decent choice by the glass. Local craft beer, of course, and a slew of expensive, fancy cocktails.

Some might find the noise at Fauna a bit troubling. There are sections — the northeast corner, say, and tip end of the bar — that are sheltered a bit from the centre of the action. Ask for those if volume bother you. Else come early. By about nine, Fauna is deservedly buzzing.

Small plates, $8 to $19

Open Monday to Friday for lunch, daily for dinner (till midnight, Thursday-Saturday).

425 Bank St., 613-563-2862, faunaottawa.ca

 

LUNCH PICK: Holland’s Cake and Shake

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Beef in a Bun. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Tucking into the brown bag lunch at Holland’s Cake and Shake was like a chomp back to childhood, to the days when summer sandwiches came with a side of Humpty Dumpties. I’d pry open the sandwich — any sandwich, PB&J, bologna and ketchup, ham and cheese — and insert the chips. It drove my Manners Matter mother mad, but I loved the crunch and the added salt it delivered. So what fun to find potato chips (clearly of a higher quality than my HD’s) in my Beef in a Bun at Holland’s.

Located directly across the street from the Parkdale Market on Armstrong Avenue, this is a new business for former Atelier pastry chef Michael Holland. It concentrates on soft ice cream and dramatic mini cakes. On most weekdays, there’s a bagged lunch deal, with or without ice cream and mini cakes. I chose with.

Chips weren’t the only source of crunch in the construct. A relish of sweet peppers and onions also delivered acidic tang to the roasted-to-pink, thinly-sliced beef. The moisture came with a generous smear of housemade ‘cheez whiz’ and the guts of the matter were held together in Holland’s beer bread — a dark, malty, seedy bun made with neighbouring ‘Beyond the Pale’s ‘Darkness Beer.’

I upgraded from brown bag sandwich-with-a-cookie to sandwich-with-cake: Cherry Pistachio. And while I waited, was treated to a sample of the two ice creams on offer. Cinnamon and Chocolate, both soft serve and really quite exceptionally good, particularly when muddled together.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Cherry pistachio mini cake. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Holland’s mini-cakes are darling looking, designed to delight, particularly if you’re pint sized. I wouldn’t call them dainty, nor overly girly. But they are certainly one of a kind: layered,  about four inches high, with piping that looks like tiny turrets on a castle tower, dusted with unexpected surprises. They are also very sweet treats. Nothing ‘-free’ about them. And eminently shareable. Fortunately, I was alone.

Brown Bag lunch with cookie/brownie or drink $8.50 (upgrade to cake for $2 more)

Open Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

229 Armstrong St., 613-695-3311, cakeandshake.ca