ANNE’S PICKS: Ceylonta Buffet offers a variety of flavourful curries

By Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The Ceylonta lunch buffet features urid dahl cakes, with its coriander-mint chutney, as well as an assortment of curries. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

I’ve eaten quality dinners in this little yellow house with the neon palm tree jutting out of the snow, but had never considered it for lunch. That is, until I played hooky and went to the movies. A matinee. By myself. And for what I figure would have been the price of a small popcorn and a drink  at the food court, I had two heaping plates from the Ceylonta lunch buffet, before waddling down Carling to catch the two o’clock show.

This is the second (newer) location of the long-running Sri Lankan restaurant on Somerset Street West. The downtown location draws the noon office hungries. The west end Ceylonta seems to be busier in the evening. The space is quite pretty: tamarind coloured walls, batik tablecloths, windows framed with floaty panels of silk. There are upstairs rooms for private parties or overflow.

It’s possible you have to have grown up with fried sprats in order to really love them. But they’re loaded with Omega 3s and all that good stuff, so I take a small pile. The tiny fish are crunchy and paddling in an oily brew of cooked-down onion and chilies. I prefer the mildly addictive urid dahl cakes (lentil flour with onion and cilantro, shaped like mini donuts) that come with an immensely likeable coriander-mint chutney. I take a few donuts to dunk in the yummy green and nubbly goo, along with a bowl each of the soups on offer. Small bowls, but I return for a second round of the rasam. Tamarind juice based, with mustard seed, cumin and cardamom, curry leaves and chilies, it’s a clear, fragrant soup studded with tomato and a few soft vegetables, and has just the right bit of bite.

Read the rest of this story »

ANNE’S PICKS: The Real Thing at SuzyQ Donuts

A six-pack of SuzyQ Donuts last, taste-tested and photographed by  Anne DesBrisay.

A six-pack of SuzyQ Donuts last, taste-tested and photographed by Anne DesBrisay.

By Anne DesBrisay

Yes, yes. Much has been written about the temptations of Suzy Q, a bit of it by me. But when my youngest son, with his freshly inked learner’s license, rounded a corner on Carling Avenue and very nearly smashed into the snarl of immobile cars queuing up for a drive thru double double and a chocolate dunker at Tim’s — I saw red. How is it possible people line up for these ‘freshly frozen’ flavourless rings?

The kid then made the mistake of admitting he quite likes Tim’s donuts. It was a learning moment if ever I met one. I made him drive straight to Suzy’s for a taste of the good life.

We picked up a six pack for us, and one for the carpenters at our new home — Tim Horton’s fans all. When we arrived to deliver the treats, the tile guy had beat us to it. The Timmy H boys had turned into Suzy Q fans. It was the maple bacon that clinched it.

Six donuts $10. 

SuzyQ Donuts. 99 Wellington St. W. 613-724-2451.

 

ANNE’S PICKS: Tongue tacos and other treats at El Camino

Matt Carmichael in the kitchen at El Camino. Photo by Miv Fournier.

Matt Carmichael in the kitchen at El Camino. Photo by Miv Fournier.

By Anne DesBrisay

It wasn’t for lack of trying only for lack of patience that I not yet supped at El Camino. The no reservation policy was the issue. I do hate that. But I suppose I get it. I’d just rather sing for my supper than queue for it — especially at thirty below.

Five-thirty may be an unfashionable hour for dinner, but it would seem the best time to snag an El Camino stool, ahead of the crowds clamouring for a seat in this industrial looking basement space.

So 5:30 it was. And by seven we were heading home, past the shivering masses beaming at our decision to vacate two seats. We were full and happy, and prepared to admit that notwithstanding the mild disappointment I feel when a hugely gifted chef turns to churning out tacos, El Camino is a marvellous addition to the Ottawa restaurant scene. And it’s a marvellous addition because an enormously gifted chef is in charge. The formula (heap-big flavourful food, fair prices, quality drinks, good kids on the floor) speaks of experience and confidence. There’s no shortage of nice staff here.

And now the bit I wish I didn’t have to write because it won’t help the queues. This is the best deal in town. After two tacos, I was full. Tacos cost four bucks. Sure, I kept eating, but I wouldn’t have had to had duty not called.

The take-out window at El Camino. Photo by Miv Fournier.

The take-out window at El Camino. Photo by Miv Fournier.

The Man had a pint of Muskoka Mad Tom and I had a wickedly good Margarita roofed with a thin sheet of lime zest and half rimmed with seasoned salt. We shared three kinds of tacos — tongue, lamb, crispy fish — and could have stopped there but didn’t. Shrimp dumplings and a steelhead trout tartare tostada were brilliant, while the salt and pepper squid featured beguilingly tender squid but needed another few seconds in the fryer: the end flavour was of flour.

The tacos were generously filled — the pulled lamb in particular — and though it doesn’t take much genius to build a great taco, these were those: true, clean, harmonious flavours and texture exactly where you want it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Carmichael. But this underground taqueria with its clever takeaway counter is a keeper.

El Camino, 380 Elgin Street, 613-422-2800 

Closed Monday, open late.

 

ANNE’S PICKS: Festive beet pasta at The Albion Rooms

Fettucini, stained with beetroots . Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Fettucini, stained with beetroots, is served with pistachio pesto and other green adornments that also pack a punch in the flavour department. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

By Anne DesBrisay

Here’s a festive dish. Called “House Pasta” — beetroot stained fettuccine cooked right to firm, clinging to a pistachio pesto, further greened with parsley leaves, blobbed white with chevre, and slick with a pepita and pistachio oil. In addition to looking good, it had a vibrant flavour. The only thing missing was the gold bow.

Merry first Christmas to The Albion Rooms in Ottawa’s Novotel Hotel, and to its team, led in the kitchen by chef Stephen La Salle. Ottawa is the richer for this new place.

House Pasta $15.

The Albion Rooms, 33 Nicholas St., 613-760-4771 

ANNE’S PICKS: Dumplings for dinner

By Anne DesBrisay

Qian Yin Yin of Yen Fung Ding is a dumpling master. If you get the chance to peek in the back you may see her fingers — remarkably long and nimble — working the dough that wraps the fillings of pork and shrimp, pork and chives, chicken and cabbage, vegetable and mushrooms, water chestnuts and Chinese cress. The closest I have ever come to making Asian dumplings is the weekend I spent with Ukrainian friends in Regina “laying down” pierogies. And drinking beer. Yes, we laughed a lot and we filled our freezers and those of a senior’s residence, but I’ll not likely do it again. I wasn’t much good and it seemed so much damn work. But I have a deep appreciation for dumpling makers.

Shrimp and pork dumplings are but one of many kids on offer at Yen Fung Ding Dumpling Shoppe. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Shrimp and pork dumplings are but one of many kinds on offer at Yen Fung Ding Dumpling Shoppe. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Yen Fung Ding Dumpling Shoppe, a family-owned business, is celebrating fifteen years. From its little house on Somerset, it has freezers full of homemade dumplings, pork buns, won ton, and sui mai.  Our Sunday supper was a dumpling feast. I had bought three packages of dumplings from Qian and (roughly) following option two on the package directions — steamed the raw dumplings in a bamboo basket, then fried them in hot oil in a shallow pan. We sat around the table with a sweetened vinegar dip and ate them all.

It cost ten bucks and I didn’t have to do any work. Successful dumplings, in my books.

Yen Fung Ding Dumpling Shoppe, 628 Somerset Street West, 613-233-0660

 

ANNE’S PICK: Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates 2013 is tonight!

By Anne DesBrisay

Roger Andrews, from Relish Restaurant in St. John’s, Newfoundland, chose to stuff squab with chanterelles and pistachios and cook the package sous vide. There were other elements on his competition plate, including a reduction of Labrador tea in his jus. It was a dish that secured the chef — quite handily apparently — a gold medal at the St. John’s Gold Medal Plates late last week.

St. John’s was number nine in the Gold Medal Plates cross country culinary competitions, in support of Canada’s olympic athletes. This makes Andrews the ninth contender who will be moving on to the intense duelling-to-come at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna this February. There he’ll face down regional champs from ten other cities — Vancouver/Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, and St John’s, NFLD/Labrador.

Jason Duffy (silver) Jamie Stunt (gold) Jonathan Korecki (bronze). Photo by Greg Kolz.

Jason Duffy (silver) Jamie Stunt (gold) Jonathan Korecki (bronze). Photo by Greg Kolz.

Tonight, we shine the spotlight on our own. This is Ottawa’s night. I expect it will be quite the glittering party at the National Arts Centre — chefs and winemakers, small plates and matching drinks, along with a star studded cast of Olympic athletes, Canadian musicians, enticing prizes, merry auctions. Indeed, the event has been sold out for weeks, and tonight’s the night we wrest the title of Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates Culinary Champion 2012 from Jamie Stunt (formerly of OZ Kafé) who went on to represent us so well at the national level, bringing home a silver medal from Kelowna.  

Read the rest of this story »

ANNE’S PICKS: Algonquin College partners with Purple Urchin to bring Dirty Duck natural soap to local boutiques

By Anne DesBrisay

Queuing at the cash to settle up on a soup and sandwich lunch at Thyme and Again a few weeks ago, something was smelling pretty good. Competing with the pumpkin soup — no slouch in the smelling good department — was a basket of soaps, each wrapped in whimsical labels. “Natural Hand-made Soap” it read and then, in smaller print, “A product of the School of Hospitality and Tourism, Algonquin College.”

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Algonquin College had gone into the admirable business of keeping us clean — and it’s getting the job done using leftovers. It began with a few teachers and students from the Algonquin culinary program wanting to reduce waste. In true nose-to-tail spirit, which seeks to use every bit of the beast (including its wasted fatty bits that are skimmed off the top of a consommé in the making, trimmings from pork roasts, fat rendered from roasting duck, and discarded chicken fat), the school has begun making soaps.

Read the rest of this story »

ANNE’S PICKS: Seasonal doughnuts! Pumpkin Spice Berliners from Art-Is-In Bakery

fjfjfjfjfjfjf

Art-Is-In’s Kevin Mathieson is the king of the doughnut and this seasonal one filled with pumpkin cream is a true treat.

By Anne DesBrisay

There’s an urban myth of long ago, that claims JFK, in a speech delivered in Germany, and attempting to tell the people of Berlin that he was one of them, said “Ich bin ein Berliner” which translates not as he intended — “I am a citizen of Berlin” — but as “I am a jelly doughnut.”

There were some guffaws, apparently. And some don’t believe he actually said that, but the story’s better than the facts, so it lives on.

To be confused with one of Kevin Mathieson’s Berliners would be no great insult, it seems to me.

Mathieson is the king of jelly doughnuts in this town. Berliners, they are called. Or Pfannkuchen, a North German pastry made from sweet dough, sprinkled with shiny sugar, and typically filled in with jam.

And this seasonal one, filled in with pumpkin cream is a true treat, because yes, the pastry itself is fresh and light and not too sweet, but it’s the quality of the pastry cream that’s so fantastic. With the added bonus that he hasn’t gone crazy with the nutmeg. Nothing ruins pumpkin more than an indelicate hand with the nutmeg grater.

Read the rest of this story »

RECENTLY OPENED! Anne DesBrisay checks out Cylie Patisserie and Chocolaterie

Cylie

DesBrisay describes Cylie chocolates as “exquisite, worthy of unabashed indulgence, beautiful to look at, gorgeous in the mouth.”

By Anne DesBrisay

If you consider one of the markers of a great city a critical number of great chocolate shops, then Ottawa, particularly with the arrival of this latest one, must surely now be counted.

Cylie is new. The shop has patisserie in its title, but for now sells only chocolates and a line of teas, and is an amalgam of the names of its owners.

Cyril Nebout and Leslie Yang are life partners and partners in chocolates. They met at the Ottawa campus of Cordon Bleu — he an instructor, she a student — and Cylie is the result of that meeting.

 

Each chocolate....

The coloured designs for each chocolate are hand-painted.

The chocolates are exquisite, worthy of unabashed indulgence, beautiful to look at, gorgeous in the mouth. The coloured designs for each bonbon are hand-painted, the coating is well temperred, shiny, glossy, cracking good stuff. The infused ganaches (dark chocolate and cream with flavouring) are rich and luscious, clean and pure tasting

I bought a box of truffles in every flavour but hazelnut. I’m not a hazelnut girl. And some chocolate coated orange peel. And one robot for the kid. My favourite: the framboise. Or perhaps the caramel beurre salé. Though the piment d’espelette is a kicker.

Check them out.

Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Cylie Artisans Chocolatiers, 204 Dalhousie Street, 613-695-8887.

Choc3

ANNE’S PICKS: Izumi of the North — a vibrant Canadian sake with hints of… wooly socks

fjfjfjffjfjjf

Anne DesBrisay discovered the wonders of Canadian sake while dining at Atelier.

Anne DesBrisay

One of Atelier’s 12 courses — 13 if you factor in the amuse (a sphere of Concorde grape goo on corn bread, with corn pudding and house cured ham) — at a recent Marc Lepine dinner was a dish called “See Spot Prawn” and it came paired with a sake.

The dish was brilliant — a progressive tasting of one bite wonders, united in their focus on BC spot prawns — but it was the sake that commanded equal attention.

Made in Toronto’s Distillery District  by the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company and called Izumi of the North (Junmai Nama Cho) it tasted at first of damp wooly socks. Possibly with a hint of foot odour. Like the smell of my front hall during basketball season. Curiously not unpleasant, actually.

And then woosh… in came softer, brighter notes, like warm blankets with a bit of nutty toasted rice, juicy apples, and autumn pears in the finish. This is a once-pasteurized in the bottle sake, very vibrant tasting, and though I don’t know nothin’ ’bout rice wines, I know I liked this one immensely.

The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company offers tasting tours, if you’re interested in fitting that into a Toronto visit. You can buy the sake at the Distillery brewery. It’s also available through the LCBO and www.wineonline.ca.

Cost for 300 ml bottle of Izumi of the North, $12.95 (12.5% alcohol).