DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Wandee Thai

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 Wandee Thai queue snakes along the woody side of the open kitchen and out the door on this mid-week noon hour. The sleet has let up, so that’s nice for the hungry hopefuls.

We have done two clever things: chosen to eat in and showed up at 11:30. Other than a table of construction workers (pad Thai and Cokes for all!) we have our choice of the five tables. There’s space for about a dozen to dine in, on benches and chairs, but given there is no table service, water is only available in plastic bottles, food arrives in take-away containers, and the only tea served is in a cold can from the beverage fridge, it’s pretty clear Wandee works better for take away.

What’s also clear, once we start tucking in, is that the food is very fresh, very good, and generously served. The queue is more understandable.

Thai rice paper rolls. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Thai rice paper rolls. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Wandee moved in here back in late March, taking over the former location of the (short-lived) Beechbone Luncheonette (the fried-fish-in-a-bun, sandwich/burger shop run by The Whalesbone/Elmdale Oyster House folk.)

We over-order, as we do everywhere, and we like it all, as we rarely do anywhere: The freshly rolled, generously stuffed rice paper wraps with a peanut sauce of some depth; a first rate Pad Kee Mau, or ‘drunken noodles,’ which knocks any pad Thai out of the park; a garlicky stir fry of vegetables — lots of them — and firm tofu in a slightly sweet (but not too much) lightly fired up sauce. We like the snappy long beans and eggplant in the green curry but it’s probably the least memorable dish.

Pad kee mau or 'drunken noodles'. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Pad kee mau or ‘drunken noodles’. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The queue seems a bit chaotic from my vantage. The three women in the kitchen are juggling many demands. There is an option to pre-order for pick up, and this may be the way to go — particularly if April keeps raining ice pellets.

Welcome Wandee! Let’s hope she does well in a space that seems to suffer a bit from its tucked away location.

Lunch mains $8.50 to $8.75, combos $13.95

Open Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Delivery hours ($2 charge, waived if over $50) Monday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

40 Beech St., 613-237-1641

www.wandeethai.com

 

 

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Behind the scenes with Essence Catering Chef Jason Laurin

In this web exclusive, OTTAWA MAGAZINE editor Dayanti Karunaratne chats with Essence Catering Chef Jason Laurin about his menu for our April wedding feature, the life of a chef, and the allure of the standing meal.

For photos and details of the menu of braised beef short ribs, roasted beet and pear canapés, and dark chocolate pots de crème, as well as more great Ottawa wedding sources, check out this page.

Chef Jason Laurin of Essence Catering

Chef Jason Laurin of Essence Catering

Ottawa Mag: Tell me about your inspiration for this menu. Let’s start with the phyllo canapés.
Jason Laurin: The inspiratioan was just to come up with something we have in abundance. We’re on Parkdale, and I’ve been an avid support of the Parkdale Market forever — we have a lot of beets down there, and it pairs well with goat cheese. So in that you have a local product that’s visually appealing, that’s available year round. Plus, I’m always trying to come up with vegan and vegetarian bites. In Ottawa we have a lot of the population that would eat vegetarian most of the time if they could.

OM: And the beef short ribs?
JL: That’s the larger bite. You know, when we first started out it was either canapés or dinner parties. Along the way, people started to do more standing meals. To do it all in canapés is pretty difficult. We started translating plates of food into a Cosmo cup. And I don’t know anyone who eats meat that doesn’t like beef short ribs — the parsnip offers an interesting starch.

Menus are often about maximizing the product to the customer, in a format that’s portable and is also easy on the kitchen staff. The braised short ribs have a high taste impact — those cups come back licked clean!

Laurin's wedding menu. For more details on the dishes see http://www.ottawamagazine.com/society/2015/04/22/party-planners-guide-everything-you-need-to-know-to-make-your-wedding-extra-special/

Laurin’s wedding menu featured braised short ribs, roasted beet and pear canapés, and dark chocolate pots de crème

 

OM: And the dessert, sounds amazing. Is this a favourite of yours?
JL: Well, we won a chocolate competition with that one! People want something interesting. I grew up in the 70s, when pudding was a pretty common dessert. This is an an adult verion of Bill Cosby’s pudding. It has such a nice mouth-feel — crunchy, sweet, with a bit of acidity.

OM: How do you approach the process of building a menu?
JL: Everything is done via consult with the client, but I do have menu standards. Very rarely do we have a kitchen, so we start by looking at the event site to get a sense of what we can accomplish. The crew —  that is, the budget — dictates the time we can put into each component without creating line-ups, cold items, wait times … mensu are a lot about logistics.

And balance — if we go for the short ribs, we can spend more time on canapés. And there are always going to be some vegetarian items.

 

OM: How do you make guests feel comfortable to actually eat and enjoy the food?
JL:
I’m really, really fortunate that my service staff have been with me a long time. Some have been with me since the first day and they know how to use tongue-in-cheek names, explaining everything that’s in it. They have a disarming quality — I would make an awful server — not cajoling, but breaking down the barriers that people can put up when offered good food. And when we bring a new bite, they always taste it.

 

OM: I understand you have also worked as a restaurant chef. What is about catering that appeals to you?
JL:
I started working in kitchens in 1990 in Montreal and Toronto when I was in university. My former mother-in-law suggested the cooking thing — it was something I was good at. So I worked my way up from prep to line to sous chef, then  took a hotel restaurant course in Dallas. But my wife at the time really needed to get out of Texas, so we came back to Canada. We didn’t want to move to Montreal or Toronto, so we split the difference and settled in Ottawa. I went on to Le Condon Bleu and worked at some restaurants, but found there was a big difference between here and the United States, and wasn’t able to find a way to make the restaurant business work in Ottawa, so Essence was born. We do one thing, and we do it well: we do receptions.

 

OM: What advice would you give for a rookie in the catering business?
JL:
It’s really tough. It’s taken me nine years and I’m finally only making a living now. And that’s because my segment of the market is narrow. So I would say ‘narrow your focus. Choose a segment that’s important to you, and be the best at it.’

 

CITY BITES INSIDER: Career Change Sees Creation of Luxe Takeout Food

BY SARAH BROWN

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OCCO’s thing of beauty: their “premium” burger & fries. Photo: Courtesy of OCCO

 

Meet Mark Steele, the Marriott Ottawa’s former executive chef makes a big career change, launching a catering biz (and creating deluxe comfort food to go) at OCCO Kitchen in Orleans (OCCO stands for Orleans Catering Co.).

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OCCO’s “premium burger”. Photo: Courtesy of OCCO

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DESBRISAY DINES: Back with familiar ‘pow’, Flavours of the Caribbean

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.

Caribbean snapper. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Caribbean snapper. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

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Inside Flavours of the Carribean. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

He’s back folks! Chef Frederick White, who started his Caribbean Flavours restaurant in a little house on Somerset West more than a decade ago (then moved it, for a short while, to Carling Avenue after a 2006 fire ravaged the Chinatown location), has resurfaced after a hiatus from storefront cooking. He’s set himself up on on York Street in Lowertown, with a familiar menu and a back-to-front name.

The original Caribbean Flavours is now Flavours of the Caribbean! The corner restaurant is homey, cluttered, brightly lit, with a cobbled-together, bits and pieces sort of feel. The requisite Bob Marley poster and reggae tunes are here (do we ever get tired of “Buffalo Soldier”?) and so are the colours of the Jamaican flag on walls and counter. There’s also a roll of paper towel on every table, which you will find useful.

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TASTING NOTES: Celebrate World Malbec Day with four fine wines

1272062_74634759BY DAVID LAWRASON

This article was originally published in the April 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine

April 17 is World Malbec Day. Just what every grape needs — its own day! Given that there are 10,000 varieties of grapes in the world, I suggest we call a halt to this idea.

Malbec, meanwhile, gets its day in the sun. Indeed, it is the marvellously sunny growing season in the high deserts of eastern Argentina that has brought this grape to prominence. It has become the face of red wine — the brand. It creates an expectation that one will be opening a bottle of full-bodied, fairly soft, rich, and plummy red wine that pairs nicely with beef in all its incarnations.

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DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Treats at Taqueria Kukulkan

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.

 Taqueria Kukulkan Churros. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Taqueria Kukulkan Churros. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Churros are as good as they are bad for you. And I’ve found some good ones at Taqueria Kulkulakan on Montreal Road.

Churros are Mexican/Spanish-style donuts, long, tubular, and ridged, deep fried and sugar dusted, typically served with a sauce of some sort. They are as ubiquitous to a Latino sweet at the end of the meal as creme brûlée is to a French meal.

They are also a good test of a Mexican kitchen’s prowess. I’ve had gorgeous looking churros that crunched right, only to reveal oozy dough in the centre. I’ve had tough churros, cakey churros, limp churros, soggy churros, and ones where the ratio of dough to sauce was off — some deluged, others thirsting for more. But a great churro with a great sauce is a rare treat, one found at the new Mexican restaurant Taqueria Kulkulkan.

You can have them with the ubiquitous chocolate sauce, or drizzled with the more interesting capeta, a Mexican caramel made with goat milk. If I had a complaint it would be for more of that. A pot of it, in fact, for dunking.

There’s much more to this new restaurant than churros, and I intend to return. But I started with dessert, this visit, and will work backwards soon enough.

1730 Montreal Rd., 613-680-5055

 

CITY BITES INSIDER: Connor McQuay to head up 150-seat Italian resto in Gatineau’s Hilton

By SARAH BROWN

At the end of March, Back Lane Café’s Connor McQuay announced his departure after two years as chef in charge. The 28-year-old’s new gig? Executive chef at DoubleTree by Hilton in Gatineau. He admits it’s going to be a steep learning curve, going from running a 40-seat café to launching a new, 150-seat Italian restaurant, as well as managing the hotel’s second restaurant and banquet facilities. As McQuay hustled to finalize the menu at Sopranos ahead of its May opening, Ottawa Magazine caught up with him just long enough to discuss his new direction.

Connor McQuay

Connor McQuay in the Back Lane Café kitchen

 

City Bites: How did this new job come about?

Connor McQuay: The owner of the hotel, Pierre Heafey, was a regular at Back Lane and got to know me and my cooking. He wanted to open an Italian restaurant at the Hilton. At some point Pierre asked George [Monsour, owner of Back Lane] if he knew of a chef who was talented enough to run his hotel operation and run a restaurant at the same time. That’s when my name got put in the mix. It all happened so quickly. I went into work one day this spring and George said ‘I think I should let you go and do this.’ Within a week I had a job offer from the Hilton. A week after that I was moving into this new adventure.

The Doubletree by Hilton in Gatineau

The Doubletree by Hilton in Gatineau

CB: You previously worked with Chef Michael Blackie in a large operation at the NAC. What did you learn from him?
CM: I still consider Michael Blackie and John Morris to be mentors. When I was going in for the interview for the Hilton job, Michael was the first person I called. I asked him what I was getting myself into and for advice on how to sell myself because as an executive chef I have never been in such a big company with so many different venues.

CB: What will you be running?
CM: There will be the new 150-seat Italian restaurant, Sopranos, which opens May 1 if all goes according to plan, as well as the casual Bistronome. And banquets and weddings. Oh, and the golf course. It’s a big jump from Back Lane Café!

CB: So it’s a huge learning curve.
CM: It is. But being the age I am — 28 — I see this as a stepping stone. Michael Blackie told me that opportunities in this industry are big stepping stones — it’s hardly ever a gradual climb. You get to one spot and you plateau there for a bit and then a big opportunity comes your way and you have to decide whether to go for it.

CB: What have your first couple of weeks been like?
CM: I’ve been figuring out staffing. Opening up Sopranos is top of my agenda. But I also have to get my head wrapped around banquets and we already have 30-odd summer weddings booked. It’s going to be a pretty big staff!

I’ve also been going full speed contacting suppliers — figuring out who I want to use and in which direction I want to take the food.

CB: Anything you can tell us about the menu at Sopranos?
CM: My background is Canadian-Irish-Italian so I’m really having fun. There are definitely ideas from Back Lane coming this way. We’ll be making our fresh pizza dough inhouse — I’ve got six different pizzas on the menu. Right now, I’m working on 15 different pasta recipes. Gnocchi will be definitely be made inhouse. And other pasta. The menu will be quite large. It’s hard to write a small Italian menu!

It’s broken down like a typical Italian menu: antipasto, then risotto, then pizzas, then pasta, then fish and meat dishes and, finally, dessert.

CB: What’s the price point?
CM: Pretty medium, especially the pizzas and pastas. The most expensive item is the rib-eye steak and that’s $28. We’re looking at $9-$14 for antipasto and $13-$22 for pizza, pasta, and risotto.

CB: Are you looking beyond the hotel crowd with Sopranos?
CM: Totally! Hotel guests alone aren’t enough to support a 150-seat restaurant. I want Sopranos to become a place where residents from Ottawa, Gatineau, and Aylmer come by for fresh, Italian food. I want Sopranos to be the Italian restaurant in the area.

CB: What are you most excited about?
CM: The opportunity for a broader audience to see me as a chef. It’s great to be able to put my food out there. Hopefully it opens even bigger doors for the future.

 

 

 

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Lunch at Quan Viet Fusion

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.

Quan Viet Fusion's House made sausage. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Quan Viet Fusion’s House made sausage. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

I quite liked ThaiPas, the restaurant/lounge/nightclub that used to call this address home. But I quite like its replacement, Quan Viet Fusion, too. Still with a clubby vibe about it — dark walls, dark tables, matching wooden benches and stools, a pink-lit bar, racy red bar chairs — though the ‘tapas’ formula of Thaipas has been replaced with an appetizer heavy, grazing-friendly, pan-Asian menu. More Vietnamese dishes, on balance, but the menu also delivers popular Chinese (salt and pepper squid), Japanese (sushi, sashimi, teriyaki salmon), Korean (bulgogi), and Thai (pad Thai) plates as well.

Salt and pepper shrimp from Quan Viet Fusion. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Salt and pepper shrimp from Quan Viet Fusion. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Lunch was a filling pleasure and something of a bargain (at $12) given the shareable quantity of food. We ordered the Quan Viet Special — pho and rice rolls — and though the rare beef wasn’t rare, it was very tender and heavily scented with ginger. The pale broth tasted clean and meaty, perfumed with cinnamon and star anise. Rice noodles were firm. A plate of the usual stuff — bean sprouts, basil, lime wedges, bird’s eye chilis — added bulk and options. All lunch specials at Quan Viet Fusion are packaged with a choice of fryer spring rolls or fresh rice rolls, both impressive.

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DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Pizza at Les Fougeres

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

Duck confit pizza with spinach, goat’s cheese, pear, thyme, and orange zest. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

I found myself in Chelsea last week, in search of white snow. Weary of the melting March mounds, crusted black and coughing up doggy detritus, I needed a reminder of how stunning early spring can be.

I found it at Les Fougeres, at a table overlooking the garden and woods beyond, the village of active bird feeders, and the snow maiden, with her mop head and lemon eyes, remarkably robust for late March. A groundhog loped by.

White snow at Les Fougeres. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The snow maiden at Les Fougeres. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

And crouched over a smoker, a chef who wasn’t Charles Part. But someone I knew I knew, from somewhere. Turns out it was Lucas Hornblower — he of the fabulous name! — whose food I so enjoyed at (the late) Bistro St-Jacques, now part of the Part team in Chelsea.  

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QUEST: Easter Treats — let’s eat our way into spring

BY CINDY DEACHMAN

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Various Chocolates by Cococo & Truffle Treasures. Photo: Christian Lalonde

What with bunnies, hens, and eggs, Easter puts us in very good spirits. Of course, a little chocolate never hurts, right?

Ditch the theory that Easter eggs symbolize new life. Eggs in general might, but Easter time is another story — and a prosaic one. Because eggs aren’t allowed during Lent for the fasting faithful, they have to be gobbled down beforehand. Then, when Easter is at hand, eggs can be eaten to one’s heart’s content.
Special Easter treats are on the menu too. Sicilians sculpt darling little sheep, called pecorelle di pasta reale, sheep of marzipan. Over here in Canada, we can’t get enough hot cross buns. But don’t forget the chocolate!

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