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.

 

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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

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DESBRISAY DINES: Segue

By ANNE DESBRISAY

 

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Fried chicken. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

One of the best restaurants to open this year is one that’s slated to shut down (Can’t remember when exactly — sometime this winter) to renovate.

The name of this new place might tip you off that it’s an ephemeral affair. Segue, it’s called (written with the gimmick of braces around the word.) Its tagline is “a kitchen in transition.” Which might suggest a chef that’s still working things out. Not, I would offer, a good message to send the paying public. Nor, as it turns out, an accurate one.

Two meals at Segue confirm that both the front and back of house are very good at their jobs. Service has been strong and charming, and the food delicious. The wine list is well chosen to match the dishes, thanks likely to Beckta’s former service manager (and “Cheese Whiz”) Steve Whittaker. As for the look of the place, I imagine the Segue folk are keen to be rid of the Fratelli feel. This used to be the original Glebe location of the once five strong — now two, for now — Italian chain, but the place, as is, is fully functional, warm, and inviting.

The Segue principals all have strong bonafides. There’s former Beckta chef Rich Wilson, former Fraser Cafe server Lindsay Gordon, and restaurateur Ion Aimers, who used to own The Works, and now holds a chain of ZaZaZa pizza eateries, along with interests in Fraser Cafe, Table 40, and Wilf & Ada’s.

The menu is a nice, manageable length. The opening move could be oysters, served with grated horseradish, a lively mignonette, and a spicy-thick ketchup. An elegant salad of yellow tomatoes in perfect September condition arrive supported with knobs of creamy burrata cheese, dressed with olives and buried with a rough chop of parsley and arugula nicely dressed. A softball-sized serving of fried chicken is soft and moist within a thick, crisp coat, anchored to the plate with a buttery cauliflower puree and (presumably to trick us into believing the decadent dish was healthy), a pile of wilted kale.

The puck of steak tartare, though well seasoned and classically served with an egg yolk topper, would have benefitted from a finer chop — its chunkiness made for too much chew.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Steak tartare. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.to

A backyard smoker is put to good use. Pillows of gnocchi, baby beets, and lengths of pickled fennel bring an earthy, tart balance to a smoked mackerel, while the assertiveness of the fish is tamed with a vinaigrette enriched with beurre noisette. A salsa verde, based on house-smoked tomatillos is fine on a lovely piece of trout, propped up on a cake of kohlrabi. Another night, a loin of pork is the star, the meat luscious, well cooked to pink, sliced and fanned on a smooth puree of squash, with purple cauliflower, pink beets, beans and shiitakes, and, to remind us that winter is coming, a pile of pickled red cabbage. And full marks for the vegetarian entry: scored and roasted King Eryngii mushrooms with blobs of goat cheese melting beneath, plus pickled, smoked and grilled elements — zucchini, yellow beans, broccoli, tomatoes, and gingered kale — each contributing mightily. Roasted filberts lend a crunch.

Smoked mackerel. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Smoked mackerel. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Lined with a tart lime curd and a buttery-good shortcrust, the tart on offer was lovely, but for the raw, under-ripe peaches. Salted caramel ice cream on a chocolate stout cake is so good we order it twice.

Get yourself to Segue before they close. (Then go again when they reopen.)

Mains $25 to $32

Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

749 Bank St., 613-237-1658 segueottawa.com

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DESBRISAY DINES: Mariposa Farm lunch required for local food devotees

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Terrine of chicken, served with pickled vegetables and crostini. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Some meals should be required eating: a learning lunch on a working farm, complete with a lesson on sustainable farming practices and a viewing of days old piglets.

Think that sounds too much like a school trip? To that i say, how many of those begin with foie gras and end with panna cotta?

This is the property that Ian Walker bought and built up when he was barely out of his teens. That was over 30 years ago. Today, Mariposa Farm co-owners Walker and his wife Suzanne Lavoie raise Barbarie ducks, Embden geese, and crossbred pigs on their pretty Plantagenet property. They keep chickens and a dairy cow, and have a thriving commercial vegetable garden. They used to raise wild boar, but quit that. They were, apparently, a “pain in the ass.”

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QUEST: Raspberry Rhapsody

BY CINDY DEACHMAN

Originally published in the September 2014 edition.

RaspberryRhapsody

Heirloom Cafe Bistro’s smoked paprika and cumin spiced Berkshire pork tenderloin with grilled peach and raspberry-red onion jam. Photo: Christian Lalonde

Remember picking raspberries out in the countryside as a kid? The fruit, with its velvety feel, fairly burst against the roof of your mouth, didn’t it? Although perfection was right rare. Either a hard unripe berry would not come free of its white cone (the receptacle), or the fruit was dull red and past its peak, or birds had picked the bush clean. Thank goodness raspberries have gone commercial, then. (Not to say they’re not still prone to dampness, mildew, and overripeness.) So sweet when prime — sprinkle with sugar, pour a little cream over. And as Edward A. Bunyard in 1929 understated the matter in The Anatomy of Dessert, “I find the smallest drop of a fine champagne in [this] simple mixture is acceptable to many.” Although, c’mon, raspberries can be awfully fun to dress up even more!

Smoked Paprika and Cumin Spiced Berkshire Pork Tenderloin with Grilled Peach and Raspberry-Red Onion Jam
Imagine cooking turkeys with raspberries in the combat zone! Yet that’s what 17th-century founder of French cuisine Pierre La Varenne suggested in Le cuisinier François in the chapter “Cooking With the Army.” On the other hand, Richard Kletnieks, chef and co-owner of the Heirloom Café Bistro, dreamed up a raspberry-red onion jam to accompany tender, juicy Berkshire pork tenderloin. Spicy sweetness — there’s ginger in the jam — together with the loin and its smoky paprika-cumin rub makes for one great combo. Grilled peaches add a surprise element to this well-thought-out dish. $26.
Heirloom Café Bistro, 7 Mill St., Almonte, 613-256-9653

Mozart Torte
Mozart Torte, an old German recipe, is “a balance of flavours,” says Margret Stubbe of Stubbe Kanata. That concept matches the well-tempered music of Mozart. Thus we have the harmonious notes of almonds, chocolate, and raspberries. Stiffly whipped egg whites give the sponge cake lightness. Then instead of flour, ground almonds make up this gluten-free number, giving not only substance but fine taste. Dark chocolate glaze enrobes the whole of it, while dark chocolate ganache fills the four layers. The raspberry filling in the middle?  Pure brilliance! Eine kleine Nachtmusik, indeed. $35.
Stubbe Kanata, 500 Hazeldean Rd., 613-435-4336

Raspberry Lemonade
Union Local 613 (finally a hip spot that doesn’t take itself too seriously!) produced its own pop from the beginning. Therefore it’s no surprise that they make their own raspberry lemonade from scratch. “It takes a boatload of work!” says co-owner Ivan Gedz. So is it worth all that bother of mixing juiced lemons with made-in-house raspberry syrup and mint syrup? We say yes! Lively, fresh, with a touch of raspberry. For a honey-caramel version, Union 613 adds Wild Turkey bourbon, which is cured in oak casks. The corn makes it sweet. $4; with whiskey $10.
Union Local 613, 315 Somerset St. E., 613-231-1010

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Clover Food and Drink

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Clover's corn chowder. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Clover’s corn chowder. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

There’s a spartan look about Clover. High school chairs, bare benches, caged industrial lights, walls of open brick and plywood (sanded and varnished, but still plywood) are either indications of a work in progress, or the carefully considered props for the homespun look this new Bank Street restaurant seeks. It makes the warming touches — the pots of sage on the tables, the white linen napkins, the amber glassware — all the more appreciated. Come winter, the addition of some visual drama, some colour, (and certainly some padding, ahem), might help.

But the frugal decor and the bum-aching-bench whinging evaporate once the food starts to arrive. This restaurant is taking interesting culinary risks. And the pleasure of Clover is that the risks taste very good indeed.

Clover chef West de Castro — bee keeper, honey farmer, and most recently sous chef of Zen Kitchen — chose to work with smelts as her fish. Sourced from The Whalesbone, these were big (boned, floured, and fried) guys, and they were absolute champs. She set them on a warm salad of tomatoes, zucchini, shaved fennel, leeks, and cucumber, with black olives, fennel fronds, and a marvellous avocado aioli. A big hunk of grilled sourdough bread finished the plate.

After smelts we had a puffball. Have you ever seen puffball featured on an Ottawa menu? Neither had I. Paired with grilled broccoli and roasted fingerlings, the outer bits of the big white mushroom find had been cleaned and diced and fried up. These were meaty textured. The inner bits were surprisingly soft and creamy, almost custard like. Beneath the mushroom was a pea purée, and strewn overtop bacon, almonds, fresh sage.

Some dishes were less out there and no less pleasing. The corn chowder was gossamer, a great rendition of the classic late summer soup, with chewy lardons of smoked bacon bumping up the pleasure factor. A gazpacho was like slurping up the September-garden. It arrived properly chilled, with good acidic balance and well seasoned. Having drunk up an assertive marinade, bison flank steak was grilled to rare, sliced in thick chewy strips and set on wilted greens. It came with a hunk of very commendable corn bread.

Pea and lovage soup

Pea and lovage soup. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Lovage is an unloved herb. I can’t recall the last time I saw it on a menu, or tasted its distinct flavour. But there it was, featured in Clover’s daily soup at lunchtime: fresh pea and lovage. It was a regal green, with a pretty swirl of creme fraiche and a bump of snipped chives. The flavour of fresh peas was clear and bright, but so too was the parsley-like, celery-ish and slightly anise flavour of the herb. A panini that featured zucchini was more on the dull side, and though there were parts of the grilled romaine Caesar we enjoyed (the egg mimosa, say, and the terrific dressing), the unwieldy hunk of grilled baguette and the bitterness of the wilted lettuce meant this dish was less of a thrill.

But we were grinning again by dessert time. De Castro’s panna cotta infused with thyme and lemon, and topped with stewed peaches and rhubarb was simply gorgeous, with edible flowers, fresh raspberries, and chopped pistachio crowning the glistening custard.

At my visits the restaurant had been largely empty, but this will surely change.

Panna cotta. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Panna cotta. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Wines are all Ontario VQA (Niagara and PEC) and beer on tap is from Beau’s, Kichesippi, and Covered Bridge in Stittsville.

Clover is open weekday lunches but only Fridays and Saturdays for dinner.

Lunch mains, $8 to $15; dinner mains, $18 to $23

Open Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

155 Bank Street, 613-680-8803, cloverottawa.ca