DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Anne Finds Yak and Other Pleasures at the Winter Market

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

Katie of Needham’s Market Garden. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

They have lots of pretty things at Whole Foods, but they don’t have Tibetan yak. If you need yak this week, you need to do this. Head to Whole Foods and buy a few things. They need to add up to twenty five bucks (won’t take long). Get your parking pass stamped, return to your warm underground car, deposit your purchases and walk the five minutes to the Cattle Castle, where you can spend the rest of your 90 minutes of validated parking spending the rest of your money to support local producers.

The second stall on the right as you enter the grand old building is where you’ll find artist-farmer Rosemary Kralik and her pasture-raised Tibetan yak. The meat, that is. Rosemary famously (at least that’s what put her on my map) partnered with chef Jamie Stunt (then of Oz Kafé) for his winning Gold Medal Plates 2012 dish. The plate featured loin of yak along with a special bottle of Ashton Brewing Company’s beer. (And a lot of other things as well, but this post is about the Farmers’ Market.)

Jamie Stunt visits with a yak at Rosemary Kralik’s farm. Photography by Luther Caverly.

 

Kralik sells her yak (plus Highland beef, smoked lamb and other treats) on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., bringing wares from her farm, Tiraislin Fold, in Maberley, Ontario.

The Winter Farmers’ Market in the Aberdeen Pavillion was launched last Sunday. It seemed to me about a fifth the size of the summer version, which meant we could hit most of the stalls.

Other than yak, we bought frost-sweetened carrots and Jerusalem artichokes from Rainbow Heritage Garden, winter kale from Acorn Creek, squashes from Bryson Farms, venison from Trillium Meadows, honey from the Kositsins of Ottawa Valley Honey, Beau’s-Wurste sausages from The Elk Ranch, apple cider from Hall’s, freshly rolled oats from Castor River, plus beets, corn salsa, and a container of spicy edamame hummus from Katie at Needham’s Market Garden. Then before heading for the canal, we joined the winter queue (much shorter than the summer one) for a loaf (or three) of Art-is-In bread.

The music is much better at the Farmers’ Market too. They were playing Adele at Whole Foods. We got King of the Road on double bass at the Cattle Castle. All under the same roof where you can buy yak. How’s that for a splendid Sunday outing?

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro

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

 

She was putting on her winter coat and helping an elderly woman into hers. And then she walked the few steps to my table and said this to me: “My mother would like you to know that she thinks you order very well.” (Mom was nodding and smiling.) “She’s been watching the food come to your table and she says you order like a Vietnamese person.”

A week later I’m still chuffed! 

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DesBrisay Dines

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

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

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

 

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WHY EAT OUT? Shawna Wagman on The New Rules For Eating Out

This article first appeared as part of The Encyclopedia of Eating Now in our Winter 2014 issue.

Why eat out? It’s a question that challenges assumptions and calls restaurateurs to make their pitch, which is exactly what Shawna Wagman was trying to do when she invited five insiders from the city’s foodie scene to gather at Urban Element earlier this year. As Wagman wrote in her introduction, cooking for chefs — and probing them with questions about the industry — was an exhilarating and frightening experiment. In fact, the same words might be used to describe running a restaurant. This past year was a particularly tough one for the industry, but hard economic times don’t appear to be stifling the creativity in our city’s kitchens. While many were saddened to see the end of Domus, this year also saw the opening of five new restaurants on Bank Street alone. So it would seem Ottawans have plenty of answers to the question on our cover.

In this story, Wagman rounds up some of the comments made by her guests for a tongue-in-cheek list of directives for restaurant-goers.

Stephen Beckta, Shawna Wagman, and Marysol Foucault discussed the local restaurant scene at a private gathering this past summer at Urban Element. Photo by Miv Fournier.

Stephen Beckta, Shawna Wagman, and Marysol Foucault discussed the local restaurant scene at a private gathering this past summer at Urban Element. Photo by Miv Fournier.

1. Before you write a negative review online, contact the chef or restaurant owner to give them an opportunity to handle the complaint. Stephen Beckta (Beckta, Gezellig, Play) says, “If someone chooses to contact me directly, I will turn around their experience.”

Marysol Foucault. Photo by Miv Fournier

Marysol Foucault. Photo by Miv Fournier

2. Do not be afraid to ask for what you want. If you want a table by the window, ask for it. If you want to be left alone for 20 minutes before considering the dessert menu, tell your server that you are in no rush.

3. Order something you might not normally think you’d like. There is no other way to develop and expand your taste vocabulary, and it’s a great way to encourage chefs to be more adventurous. Marysol Foucault of Chez Edgar says, “People are curious, and that’s the best thing you can ask for.”

4. Do not expect every bite of restaurant food to transform your life. The Food Network is a fantasy, and it is warping our expectations of what kind of religious awakening should be happening in our mouths.

5. Say goodbye to the super-size mentality.Recognize the value of a little less of something that is top quality.

Stephen Beckta. Photo by Miv Fournier

Stephen Beckta. Photo by Miv Fournier

 

6. Recognize that food, cooking, and hospitality are human endeavours. As Beckta admits, “Sometimes we screw up.”

7. When you spend money on food, think like a European and factor in the whole package. In other words, think of it as a fee for renting a tiny piece of real estate and some hospitality for a few hours.

8. Do not let parking or poor weather dictate where and when you eat out. Make dining out and socializing an important part of a balanced and civilized urban life. Sometimes the extra effort to make it happen makes the experience even sweeter.

9. Vote for hospitality with your dollars. Dine at the places that make you feel great.

10. Eat out early on weekends. If you go early, you get more attention from the server, the music may be quieter, and it’s probably easier to find a parking spot. Pat Garland says Absinthe has a no-7 p.m. reservation policy on weekends and adds, “The reason you can’t get a reservation at seven is because everyone else in Ottawa has a reservation at seven.”

 

DesBrisay Dines

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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TASTING NOTES: Wines of great note, just in time for the Holidays

BY DAVID LAWRASON

This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec print edition of OTTAWA Magazine

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The results of the 2014 WineAlign World Wine Awards of Canada were announced in late September. It’s a competition that focuses on value, with wines judged in three price categories (under $15, $15 to $25, and $25 to $50). They are further split among grape varieties and country categories, but the crucial tallies are the best values in the three price categories — and many of the notable wines are currently available at the LCBO.

I could simply have listed my personal best values for this article, but it is always fascinating to see what is revealed through blind tasting by several experienced tasters. And when those results line up with my personal assessments, all the better. So here I present some great values — double-checked, as it were, by a panel of peers. The selections, ratings, and comments are my own.

One final note before turning you loose on these libations. Blind tastings are focused on quality; i.e., purity, balance, complexity, and depth of flavour. Personal preferences are not what judges are asked to express. You, of course, are completely free to like or dislike what you please. I ask only that as you read each review, you try to decipher whether it is a style you prefer. If you do, you should be very happy indeed. And even if you don’t, these might win you over.

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QUEST: A crepe by any other name

BY CINDY DEACHMAN

This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine

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Masala Dosa from Coconut Lagoon. Photo: Giulia Doyle

When it comes to crepes, we might be forgiven for automatically thinking of Suzette. The theatrically flambéed dish gripped our collective unconscious years ago. But the pancake’s definition can be stretched, no? The Dutch pile their fine flensjes into a “cake,” filling the layers with grated Gouda, then serving wedges with molasses. We also have soft Norwegian lefse, flattened with a grooved rolling pin and filled with lingonberries; Vietnamese paper rolls, whose wrappers of rice batter are steamed, then dried; and Scottish wafer-like oatcakes, the homemade ones thinner than Walkers. And a documentary out there shows a Moroccan woman in a dark room crouching down to an overturned wok-like pot on a fire. She swirls batter on top and momentarily cooks it, producing her first filo-like werqa to make bisteeya, an extravagant chicken pie with saffron. Even back in France, pan-fried courgette fritters, thick as Canadian pancakes, are still considered crepes.

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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