DesBrisay Dines

BREAKING NEWS: Art Is In keeps its no-compromise promise. The bakery winds down its wholesale bread division to focus on the expansion of the bakery-café

Never happier than when he's searing foie gras to top a burger for guests at his bakery, Kevin Mathieson plans to continue to indulge his passion for cooking.

When Art Is In Bakery started eight years ago, it was a dream come true for Kevin Mathieson and his wife Stephanie. Their passion for the pleasures of handmade bread, done in small batches with constant care and attention, resulted in a line of breathtaking sourdoughs and savoury Dynamite baguettes that shook the capital out of its sliced-bread complacency.

We’ve never looked back. In fact, many of us (myself included) became European shoppers when it comes to bread: with Art Is In Bakery, we finally had a reason to buy our bread fresh daily (or a least a few times a week).

As anyone who has come to know Kevin Mathieson personally can appreciate, he simply doesn’t compromise. Whether it’s the seasoning in the salad dressing or the sprig of rosemary in the French fries, no detail is too small to overlook. I have always found his dedication to excellence and the pursuit of great food inspiring. He told me recently the same thing he said when he started out eight years ago: nothing is more important to him than the quality of his products.

But here’s the thing about running a wildly popular bakery: Artisanal bread-baking is the work of human hands, not machines. As the company has grown to keep up with the increasing demand for Art Is In breads, it has been a struggle to keep that promise.

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OPENING: Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern, new history in the making (it may even open today!)

Elmdale Oyster House Co-owners Peter McCallum (left) and Joshua Bishop (centre) with Executive Chef Chloe Berlanga

You may have heard that Joshua Bishop the owner of the Whalesbone Oyster House has partnered with his restaurant’s general manager, Peter McCallum, to open the new and much-anticipated Elmdale Oyster House & Tavern. Well, the time has come.

I have been assured the doors will definitely be open by Sunday, but Bishop hinted that they might begin serving sooner — as early as today or tomorrow — without the full menu being available.

Last weekend, they held the Whalesbone staff party in the space, spinning vinyl and slurping oysters among the renovation debris. That night, a who’s-who of the restaurant industry did their very best to help christen the ship and prepare it for launch this week.

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IN DIGESTION: Discovering “Modern Montreal”—highlights from Ottawa Magazine’s Foodlab dinner

Chef Marek plates the black bass dish designed to evoke the lightness of spring

On Saturday night, I hosted a sold-out City Bites Live event at Urban Element that featured celebrated Montreal chefs Seth Gabrielse and Michelle Marek, the creative due behind Foodlab.

The name Foodlab can be misleading — is it futuristic food? Experimental? Test tube food? On the contrary. It’s revolutionary, even radical, raison d’etre is to be a place driven by a creative mandate, not a financial one — a restaurant built upon the  love of food, a deep respect for ingredients, and food producers, not profit.

If you think about it, pretty much everything we eat has been made with profit in mind. I have often wondered how chefs would cook if they weren’t under the enormous pressure imposed on them by thin profit margins and high-stakes stress of the food business. Foodlab gives us a taste of that.

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YOU’RE INVITED!: Celebrate Young Cuisine with an exclusive Sunday Supper at Table 40 with Ottawa Magazine, March 24

Table 40 is credited with introducing the city to the pleasures of communal dining in Ottawa Magazine's annual 'hot 10' restaurants issue. Photography by Chris Lalonde / Photolux Studio


Sunday Family-Style Supper at Fraser Café’s Table 40

Chefs Simon and Ross Fraser have designed a family-style menu exclusively for up to 40 City Bites readers!

Gather up your friends and family and join Ottawa Magazine food editor and City Bites blogger Shawna Wagman for an exclusive 4-course dinner at Table 40, the #3 spot on this year’s HOT-10 LIST of Young Cuisine.

Last year, brothers Simon and Ross Fraser, co-owners of Fraser Café, decided to take over a neighbouring convenience store to create a funky private dining venue  based on the trendy new dining concept was made famous at places like Ruby WatchCo in Toronto and Ad Hoc in California. Table 40 is Ottawa’s foray into the world of casual and convivial “family-style” dining. It’s inspired by the same things that make a great dinner party — great food, casual ambiance, and even a chance to make new friends.

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COFFEE BUZZ: New digs and a new chapter for Happy Goat Coffee Company

Henry Assad (L) and Pierre Richard (R) have partnered to meet the demand for Happy Goat coffee

Coffee connoisseur and a self-proclaimed perfectionist Pierre Richard built Happy Goat Coffee from the ground up (pun intended!!). He began roasting top-quality green coffee beans directly from small farms in very small, fiddly batches in his Mechanicsville garage a few years ago.

Coffee lovers flocked to the quirky address for some of the freshest, crisp and clean, utterly complex cups of coffee around. This is the kind of java that creates a cult following and gets people talking like drunken sommeliers — describing coffee’s floral aromas, hints of jasmine, and bittersweet dark chocolate notes.

Happy Goat devotees (including all three Ottawa Magazine food writers) are bucking the trend in home brewing towards single-serve pod coffee makers by embracing and celebrating the craft brewing experience. In large part, we can thank Richard, who has made our coffee addictions easy to feed; bags of freshly roasted beans are available in good food shops around town as well as offering online shopping with free home delivery and subscriptions.

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SHAWNA’S PICKS: Bread & Son’s Hamantaschen — fruit-filled triangular cookies for Purim — or anytime

Have you ever had a hamantaschen? Here's the one to try: marscapone dough with a boozy blueberry filling.

What? You’ve never had a hamantasch? Don’t worry. Until this week, I would’ve said to consider yourself lucky. Purim’s traditional triangular cookies are not what I’d call one of the Jewish culture’s culinary highlights. They often consist of thick, bland dough and a cloyingly sweet gummy fruit filling. It’s the kind of thing you eat purely out of a sense of childhood nostalgia.

Kids get to dress up in costumes for their annual Purim carnival (what one friend calls Jewish Halloween), all part of the retelling of the Peach story featuring a villain named Haman. Joan Nathan, the authority on Jewish food, says Hamantaschen most likely originated in Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic, just two or three centuries ago.

This year Purim ended on Sunday evening but, due to popular demand, baker Yoav D’vaja, the owner of Bread & Sons, will continue to make his tasty twist on hamantaschen at the bakery. Jewish or not, it seems everyone who tastes them comes back for more. One bite and I could understand why.

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TASTE TEST: Disenchanted, disillusioned, disappointed… by Hintonburger’s breakfast burger

The hard-boiled egg on the breakfast burger was a big disappointment.

Hintonburger, the neighbourhood joint with a loyal following, recently began serving breakfast on weekdays, starting at 6:30 a.m. I decided to check it out.

When I called to see what was on the menu, the guy on the other end of the phone said they offer a breakfast burger in addition to a breakfast sandwich (essentially a BLT with egg and cheese). He said he also had a couple of crepes left and if I wanted one of the breakfast sandwiches he’d have to start cooking some more eggs.

Huh? Is he joking?

Isn’t this the beloved place with the tagline: “fresh, local and handmade”? Surely, the eggs are made-to-order. And a crepe made at 6 a.m. wouldn’t be served at 10, would it? I told the guy I’d be by in about an hour.

When I arrived, I was the only customer in the place. I ordered the breakfast burger — which the menu describes as a 3 oz beef patty on a bun with egg, real Canadian cheese, local maple-smoked bacon, fresh lettuce, and tomato.

When I took the first bite, I discovered not fried egg, not poached egg, not scrambled, but a few slices of  hard-boiled egg. For me, a fresh handmade breakfast sandwich must be made with a freshly-cracked egg. Cold disks of egg are an insult. Then I noticed the bacon seemed flabby: was it re-warmed? The cheese beneath the burger was barely melted, which made me question the freshness of the patty. Why don’t I smell any food cooking on the grill? Was this made in the basement?

I had asked for a cup of coffee but was deterred by what seemed like reluctance on the employee’s part to brew up a fresh pot. I told him to forget it.

Sitting in a booth inside the empty former KFC, looking out the window at the blowing snow, I began to meditate on this term “fresh,” a word that is a used to describe almost everything we eat: the philosophy of every restaurant, every loaf of bread in its cellophane bag, every slippery slice of luncheon meat at the supermarket. Its meaning is lost. Or at least open to vast interpretation. It has become the container into which we place our desires.

At that point, the guy poked his head through the pick-up window and offered me a free cup of coffee. He held up the pot that had presumably been sitting there since the first wave of customers arrived hours earlier and declared: “it’s still hot!”

I took one sip and tossed the bitter brew — and the burger — in the trash.

Cost: Breakfast Burger, $7.50.

Breakfast hours: Monday to Friday 6:30 a.m. – 11 a.m.

Hintonburger, 1096 Wellington St., 613-724-4676.




RISING STAR: Is Natali Harea Ottawa’s next great bread baker?

The face of Nat's Bread Company is one that is rarely seen. Natali Harea works from midnight until noon, baking breads in the basement of gezellig.

You know you’re talking to a serious baker when their sourdough starter has a name. “Stan” is what baker Natali Harea calls her container of culture that flavours and leavens her dark, super-tangy sourdough loaves.

You might say that Stan is part of the reason that customers are swooning over the bread baskets at a some of the foodiest restaurants, including gezellig, play, and Navarra.

She came up with the name Stan while chatting with her friend and fellow chef, Katie Brown at Beckta Dining & Wine (Harea worked at Beckta for a year and a half before dedicating herself exclusively to bread baking). She had finally tossed out an old sourdough starter that Harea says never properly matured (“I hated it and it died”), but says her new starter has been wonderful and tremendously forgiving. “I don’t even have to feed it and it’s just incredibly reliable.”

The two chefs decided a man like that would be called Stan.

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BE MY VALENTINE: When you think romance, think…Diefenbunker?

Celebrate love 75 feet underground with a delicious nuclear dinner and a love story bridging the 1960s and 1990s.

The folks at the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War history museum, are offering a unique way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Grab your honey and head to Carp for dinner and a movie in the comfort of the Diefenbunker cafeteria!

Katie Balmer, Diefenbunker’s visitor services coordinator, says the atmosphere will be relatively casual, adding “We’re not immune to romance simply because we are a bunker!”

Balmer says tables will be set for 6 (so that those who are arriving as groups can sit together and to allow for a bit of socializing) and decorated to suit the Valentine’s Day theme.

“It certainly isn’t your typical candle-lit romantic evening, but something altogether unique and fun.”

The 3-course dinner will be provided by The Swan at Carp. Guest will be offered appetizers; a choice of chicken roulade, classic pot roast, or a vegetarian pasta; and then a chocolate truffle dessert.

While the cafeteria can accommodate up to 200 people, Balmer says they will be accepting reservations for up to 70 people to keep the atmosphere intimate and ensure everyone can see the movie — A Blast From the Past, starring Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone. It’s a romantic comedy about a naive man who comes out into the world after being in a nuclear fallout shelter for 35 years.

Balmer says the romantic revelers can look forward to some other quirky aspects (as if dinner and a movie in a bunker isn’t quirky enough), such as a photo booth from Flashpoint Photography, and DJ service.

Sounds like a blast!

When: Thursday, Feb. 14, 6 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Cost: $55 per person, $100 per couple.
 (Diefenbunker members receive a 10% discount)

To reserve, call or email: 613-839-0007;


IN THE NEWS: Ode to St. Albert’s Cheese after the fire

Great news! The cheese curds will be back.

As I placed a handful of those smooth rubbery nubs—St. Albert’s cheese curds—into my daughter’s lunch box this morning, I realized how ubiquitous that label with the elongated cartoon cow has become in my life.

I confess I have been feeling rather smug since discovering that the blocks of St. Albert’s medium cheddar, a staple in my fridge, is sold at my local drug store for at least a dollar cheaper than I’ve seen it anywhere else. Not much of a bargain-hunter normally, it always gives me a thrill.

But yesterday the gut-wrenching news came about a fire that gutted the St. Albert Cheese Factory in the village of St. Albert southeast of Ottawa. A gasp of grief could be heard across the region and beyond. Its squeaky curds have become synonymous with poutine, and a short-hand for quality for the purveyors who advertise the cheese by name.

I am not the only one who was relieved to hear the reports that the factory will indeed be rebuilt. The factory’s former general manager has even guaranteed that the annual Festival de La Curd held in August — now in its 20th year — will take place as scheduled.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off the drug store to stock up.

Read the full report in the Ottawa Citizen

DesBrisay Dines