KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Trish entertains a surprise visitor from Russia. Plus hearty Ukranian Borscht.


An Actuary from Russia

By Barbara Sibbald

 

—   So, what’s happening with Anne? asks Trish.

Fiona’s two friends have met a few times, but failed to connect. Anne’s too serious for Trish, not artsy enough. As for Anne, Trish reminds her of her most needy patients. Still, they have a lively interest in each other’s lives, via Fiona.

—   She and Georges have gone away for a couple of weeks, says Fiona. To Paris and then Tuscany. To try to sort things out.

—   Must be nice!

—   Yeah, well, I wish them the best. And I’m really glad Luc had a chance to talk to Anne before they left.

—   What about?

—   He actually apologized for not telling her what he knew, and for putting me in such an awkward situation.

—   Luc apologized, Wow!

Uke Russian Roll

Fiona laughs, but feels a bit miffed by Trish’s insinuation that Luc is incapable of apologizing.

 

—   He does sometimes, you know. So, what’s up with you?

—   I have a Russian woman coming to stay with us.

—   What? Who? asks Fiona.

—   It just sort of happened, I didn’t plan it, says Trish. I guess I’m too soft-hearted.

—   Or soft-headed, says Fee, grinning.

—   On Sunday, I was coming home on the train from visiting Joanne and I saw an empty seat beside this huge woman. She looked interesting, and it’s a long trip. She’s a giant really, well over six feet, with these huge hands: old Ukrainian stock, it turns out. And she was dressed like she was a hundred and eight: drab grey suit and sturdy scuffed black shoes. Soviet issue I suppose. But it turns out that Iryna’s very well educated — PhD in law — and she’s been sent to Canada by the Russian government to look into types of insurance systems. Think of it, under the Soviet system, there was no insurance. None.

—   Of course. How strange.

—   Yeah, but now people have private property, so suddenly there’s this need. And that’s just one small thing, one thing that we totally take for granted.

—   I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Russia.

—   Me neither. It seems so exotic to me. Chatting with her was like visiting another country: she told me all about things — things you wouldn’t find out even if you visited. She told me about their life, about how, in the old system, personal success was unimportant and personal development meant everything. And how people were so well educated — with two, three degrees. Now illiteracy is a problem. On the plus side, they don’t have to line up for food anymore and can buy anything they want. If they have the money. But of course, most people don’t have the money. Unemployment — another thing that didn’t exist before — is high. And so is crime. And there are people playing instruments in the subway — they might as well be beggars, she said, all disapproving like. But some of them are members of their national orchestra who have to busk because their salaries are so low.

—   That’s just shameful, says Fiona.

—   Especially for Russia, because she says they love art: theatre, ballet, everything. Their metro is filled with sculptures, chandeliers, marble floors. It’s all about the aesthetic, but it’s for everyone, not just the intellectual or social elite, like it is here.

—   What do you mean? We have public galleries?

—   Yeah, but you have to pay to get in. And you and I both know it’s only certain people who go. But in Russia, Moscow anyway, where Iryna lives, the art is everywhere. Banners with poetry on them lining the streets. A sculpture of Pushkin. I mean where’s our sculpture of Birney? Even their chocolate bars wrappers feature iconic paintings. Imagine if Mars bars were wrapped in a Tom Thompson painting!

—   So what did you tell her about Canada?

—   I talked about what it means to be a young country, a country of immigrants. So after all this chat, when we arrive in Ottawa, naturally I offer to give her a lift to her billet. And she asks for my phone number, says she’d like to meet up with me again because I explain things so well. I was flattered, so I gave her my phone number, said we should get together for lunch.

—   And she calls.

—   Of course. She asks me to meet her at her office on the seventh floor of this building on Laurier. So after work, I go to the seventh floor and when I get there, I realize I don’t even know the name of the outfit she’s with. I wander around asking people and, of course, no one’s ever heard of her.

—   Sounds like a scene in a Kafka novel!

—   Yeah! Except this is the twentieth century in Canada. So finally, it dawns on me that I can just call Iryna’s cell. It turns out she’s on the seventeenth floor. She’s holed up with the Canadian Insurer’s Association Anyway, she tells me how much she’s learning and how great it is, and that she’s decided to stay another two weeks. But she has a problem: She can’t stay where she is because it costs too much, and she wants to know if I know of any inexpensive place she might stay, because she doesn’t have very much money.

—   Oooh, tough one!

—   I know! And I’m thinking I’ve become a sort of ambassador of good will for Canada, so before I even think about it — without even asking Craig — I ask if she’d like to stay with us, I have a spare room. Well, it’s supposed to be my office, but I usually take my laptop to the living room anyway. And there is the futon couch in there. Until the crib arrives. So, Irnya accepts; I mean why wouldn’t she?

—   Yikes, what did Craig say when you told him?

—   He was incredulous at first, said I had no right, should have asked him first, et cetera et cetera. Everything I expected him to say, all of which is true. But then when I told him what she’s doing and that she’s respectable and all, well he’s still pissed that I didn’t ask first, but what’s done is done. He came home with a Russian phrase book yesterday, so I think he’s okay with it.

—   When’s she coming?

—   Tomorrow.

—   Maybe she’ll teach you how to make borscht*.

Russian dolls

 

 

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/russia-seeks-risk-insurance/218691.html

 

*Ukranian borscht

Four servings

 

1 ½ cups potato, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

1 cup sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

1 cup beets, peeled and chopped into 1/3″ chunks

2 tablespoons butter

1 ½ cups chopped onion

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Vegetable stock (from cube) to top up beet/potato water to make 4 cups

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1 stalk celery, washed and sliced

3 cups cabbage, chopped

black pepper

1 bay leaf

¼ teaspoon dill weed

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey

1 cup tomato puree

sour cream

1 tomato, chopped

 

  1. Place potatoes and beets into a saucepan, cover with water and boil until tender. Strain, saving the water in a large measuring cup.
  2. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, caraway seeds and salt. Cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent.
  3. Top up water from beets and potatoes with vegetable stock, to total 4 cups.
  4. Add stock, celery, carrots and cabbage to pot and cook until vegetables are tender.
  5. Add potatoes, beets, pepper, bay leaf, dill weed, vinegar, honey and puree.
  6. Cover and simmer 30-plus minutes.

To each bowl add a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of dill weed and a couple of tablespoons of chopped tomato.

 Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa MagazineVisit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new installment — and a tested recipe.
 

LUNCH PICK: Head to Ginza for real ramen

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Spicy Tonkotsu ramen. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

I used to head to this address when I had a cold. There was a certain special something in a bowl of Jo Moon Ting congee that went to work on sore throats and self pity. And while I was there, I’d pick up a roast duck or slab of barbecued pork from the line of burnished meat hanging in Jo Moon’s street side window. But JMT shut down sometime in 2011 and Three Kings moved in, offering their particular gifts for a few years. (I recall  a scrumptious platter of pork cheeks in garlic broth and a disappointing crab soup.)

But enough with the history lesson. The Kings have gone now, and as of about a month ago, 832 Somerset St. is the new home of a second location for an Elgin Street restaurant called Ginza Ramen. Its downtown big brother sells more things — sushi, vermicelli dishes, pho, and a longer list of appetizers — and it has a liquor license, which is ‘in the works’ at this location.

But the Chinatown location’s focus is more on ramen. There are six varieties here — three based on pork broth, two on chicken, and one vegetarian broth that’s miso-based and a bit grainier. They were out of chicken broth — which seemed odd given it was early evening — so we ordered a spicy Tonkotsu Ramen (with enough pow of chili heat to make upper lips sweat) and the vegetable ramen.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Gyoza tops the list of snacks at Ginza Ramen. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Their presentation reminded me a bit of the Korean bibimbap, with quadrants of colour and texture that you gaze upon for a moment before plunging in chopsticks and mucking up the pretty surface. But you want to get at it before the soft boiled soy-marinated egg has over-cooked in the heat of the plunge. You want the molten yolk still to be free to run into the liquid, enriching the broth. Other than egg and the chewy strings of ramen noodle (not made in house, but fresh tasting) you find bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, scallion, nori, and thin shavings of crisp and fatty pork belly. The miso soup adds corn, bean sprouts, and bok choy.  Based on our server’s suggestion, we tossed in some of the pickled ginger from the pot on the wooden table.

I recognize a well made broth — one that begins life with bones in a pot and spends ages burbling away — and I don’t dispute its merits, but if you’re used to the sweet, fragrant pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) you will find this broth cloudier, richer, less sweet and certainly more piggy. The noodles used are the Japanese wheat noodles, rather than the rice vermicelli of pho. The flavour of the broth starts off heavy, and for me, a bit off-putting. But the flavour grows, the garlic hits, the richness lightens, and the porkiness becomes more pleasant.

Other than soup, there are a few snacks at Ginza Ramen: gyoza (best of the bunch), chicken karaage, and deep fried squid legs wrapped in the same crunchy, golden coat, and furnished with a wasabi mayonnaise. All are tasty enough but none memorable or, I would suggest, made in house.  There’s also two fried rice dishes, neither of which we tried.

But if your only encounter with ramen has been in a dorm room with a kettle, a Mr. Noodles package and its glittering silver ‘flavour pouch’ you might want to get yourself to Ginza and see what all the fuss is about.

In a post-Momofuku noodle-mad era, much has been made about the ramen rage, and Ottawa looks to be getting a taste of that, with Ginza locations leading the charge.

Ramen (generous bowl) $10.95 – $11.95

832 Somerset St. and 280 Elgin St., 613-233-2888,ginzarestaurant.ca

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: What happens when loyalties are split. PLUS easy baked risotto

By Barbara Sibbald

Loyalty

 

—   I know I accepted your conditions, Luc, says Fiona angrily. I agreed not to tell Anne, but what choice did I have? I mean really?

—   Fee, do we have to talk about this now? I just want to relax and read the paper while the risotto* bakes.

—   Luc, I’m steaming. You put me off last night.

—   I didn’t get home until eleven!

—   Well, we need to talk about this.

He shrugs, wearily.IMG_4300

—   The way I see it, you left me with no choice, continues Fiona. If I hadn’t accepted your conditions, if I had told Anne that Georges was screwing around…. Well, you said it yourself, you’d feel I was being disloyal to you.

—   Well, you would have been.

—   So basically, my choice was being loyal to you and not telling Anne, or vice versa. Either way I’m the big loser.

—   It’s not quite so black and white, Fee, he says. You know you didn’t want to tell Anne, not really. You wanted to save her the pain of knowing, and if Georges had just quietly broke it off, well so much the better.

—   What? No harm done? Are you kidding me? Of course there was harm. There was harm from the moment Georges decided to have it off with Giselle. Before he even did it. And, yes, I am a bit of a coward when it comes to breaking bad news.

—   More of a Pollyanna, he says, grinning.

—   Whatever, she retorts tersely. The fact is, I avoid it at all costs. But this time, I should have done the tough thing, because that was the right thing. Anne had a right to know, and to make her own decisions about this. The secrecy has just made it so much worse. Now Anne’s not only been betrayed by her husband, but also by her best friend.

—   And you blame me?

—   No, not entirely, of course not. But Luc, you did put me in a terrible position.

—   By telling you about the affair in the first place?

—   Yes.

—   So it would have been better if I kept it a secret? To keep secrets from you? My partner?

—   Yes. No. Well, no, but you should have thought it through more thoroughly. About what it meant to tell me, and whether telling Anne was the right thing to do, no matter what the repercussions were for your friendship with Georges. Look what’s happened now! You and Georges are still fine friends and Anne and I have had a total blow-out over this. So basically, my friendship was sacrificed to save yours.

—   How was I to know that would happen, Fee? It’s certainly not what I wanted.

—   What did you want?

—   I wanted to save both friendships, and maybe their marriage as well.

—   Aren’t you the noble one! Don’t you think that was just a tad controlling, Luc?

—   Not that again! he says. It always comes down to that for you, doesn’t it Fee? Any argument we have, over sex, or Gavin, or the house, it always comes down to me wanting to wrest control. Don’t you think there might be more to it than that?

—   Of course there’s more, but that is the root of a lot of this. And besides, you’re changing the topic.

—   Which is…?

—   Why can’t you admit that we made a mistake in November when we decided not to tell Anne? I can admit that now.

—   Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty. Fee, we’ve just gone through this, the whole circle. You didn’t want to tell Anne any more than I did. You accepted my solution gratefully, you know you did.

—   So I’m solely responsible?

—   Architect of your own actions. If you’d stood up for telling her, if you’d insisted, even if you’d followed-up on Georges and Giselle and the fact that it kept going on for two months….

—   Hey, don’t stick me with that too, says Fiona, pointing her finger at his chest. That was your piece of the ultimatum. You said you’d talk to him. You should have followed up on that.

—   Well, the fact is that neither one of us did. So, yes, I take some of the blame for that.

—   And what about telling me in the first place. Don’t you think you should have given that a bit more thought, for the situation you dumped me in? persists Fiona.

—   You aren’t going to let this go until you have blood, are you?
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/07/16/why-relationships-change-after-marriage-and-why-loyalty-brings-happiness/

She stares at him, her dark eyes flashing angrily. Luc sighs.

—   Yes, I probably should have thought it through. But Fiona, one of the best things about our relationship is that we do tell each other everything. We believe in that.

—   Yes, we do, she says, and that’s a good thing. But sometimes we have to think before we speak, appreciate what the information will mean to the other person. In this case, what the moral implications were. And that there may be a price to pay, on both sides, for being honest.

—   I did pay a price, I lost Georges’ friendship for a while.

—   And now I’ve lost Anne’s, and I’m not sure she’ll come back.

—   She will. You guys are tight.

—   Maybe. You don’t know that. And I’ve really hurt her. Deeply.

—   I am sorry about that, says Luc.

scrambled-eggsFiona can hear the sincerity in his voice.

—   Do you think it would help if I talked to her? he asks. If I told her it was my idea not to tell her.

—   You’d have to apologize too, you know, for being paternalistic about it, for putting your friendship with Georges ahead of their marriage and my friendship with Anne.

—   Phew, that’s a lot of weight.

—   I’ve taken my hit for the team, says Fee.

—   Yeah, yeah. And Fee, I am sorry I put you in that position. You’re right, I didn’t think it through.

—   Well, Georges shouldn’t have told you either, says Fiona. It’s not all your responsibility. Just because he was lying to his wife, doesn’t mean he should have assumed you’d lie to yours.

—   I don’t think he thought of it in those terms, he just wanted an alibi.

—   Purely selfish then.

—   Yeah.

—   So you’ll talk to Anne?

—   Yes. I’m really sorry about what’s happened, Fiona. Really sorry.

He takes her hand across the table and she looks up at him.

—   One thing’s for sure, she says, Georges’ selfishness isn’t going to make us fall out.

—   No, he says, giving her hand a squeeze.

 

*Easy bake risotto

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 types of vegetables, washed and chopped, about 2 cups in all (choose from red pepper, leek, garlic, onions, mushrooms)

1 cup Arborio risotto

3 cups vegetable stock (from cube is fine)

Fish (haddock, salmon or trout, no skin) or vegetable (broccoli, asparagus or cauliflower)

2 tablespoons grated parmesan

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
  2. Heat oil in medium, oven-proof pot. Add 3 types of vegetable and rice. Sauté until vegetables are fairly tender.
  3. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
  4. Cover and put in the oven for about 15 minutes.
  5. Put fish or veggie on top, sprinkle with parmesan. Cook another 5 minutes. Serve with green salad.

Thank you to Josefine Lami for this recipe.


LUNCH PICK: Lunch At Oyster Bay

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

Who knew a first-rate clam chowder could be had in a sushi joint on Merivale Road?

 
Chowder at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Chowder at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

I had come here for the (new-to-me) Oyster Bay Restaurant’s (new to them) lunch service.  My plan was to check out the sashimi/sushi combo platter at this Japanese replacement for the long running MHK Sushi and Asian Fusion Restaurant. But Oyster Bay’s menu’s has a funny mix of things, so along with the usual raw fish and rice snacks of various permutations, you find spaghetti and meatballs, fettuccine with seafood sauce, Thai beef carpaccio, and clam chowder.

The lunch combo ordinarily came with miso soup. For three dollars more I had the option to upgrade to the clam chowder. So lunch at Oyster Bay turned out to be a classic, creamy clam chowder with a sushi/sashimi chaser.

I’ll have more to say about Oyster Bay in a few weeks once I’ve thoroughly mined its long and disparate menu. But for now, know that both the soup and the sushi were total winners. Possibly the shock of discovering a really good bowl of Boston style clam chowder in a Japanese restaurant added to the pleasure… still, here was a generous bowl of fat clams, firm potatoes, onion, celery, carrots and fresh herbs – cilantro, basil, thyme – in a thick, clean-flavoured broth enriched with cream. Full marks.

 

Sashimi, nigiri and maki at Oyster Bay. photo by Anne DesBrisay

Sashimi, nigiri and maki at Oyster Bay. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

The sashimi, nigiri and maki were pretty on the plate and cool and clean in the mouth. The cold fish was generously draped over perfectly calibrated, slightly warm and loosely packed rice. Again, top marks.

Looking forward to dinner… and the extensive oyster bar.

My soup and sushi/sashimi lunch cost $20.

Oyster Bay, 1519 Merivale Road, 613-680-5555
Open for lunch 
Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
http://www.oysterbayottawa.com 

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Is keeping quiet the same as lying? PLUS spice it up with cauliflower curry

Betrayal

By Barbara Sibbald

There’s a tap at the back screen. Fee turns from chopping up cauliflower for a curry* to see Anne standing outside, pale and frowning.

—   Anne, she says, rushing over to open the door, what’s up? You look upset.

—   I am upset, she says tersely. May I come in?

—   Of course, of course, says Fee, stepping aside. Please sit down.

Her radar is tingling. Why’s Anne being so formal? What’s going on? Omigosh, has she found out that we knew? Please, no!

IMG_4287

—   Glass of wine? Fee offers.

Anne shakes her head.

—   I need to know the truth, Fiona. Georges let it slip in therapy that he’d talked to Luc about the affair. I guess in my heart I sort of suspected as much. I asked him if you knew too, and he just shrugged. Did you know Fee? Did you?

Fiona’s heart pounds. She’s been dreading this conversation, rehearsing it in the middle of the night, oscillating between telling and not telling, unable to decide but knowing she’d have to sooner or later. Anne’s too smart not to figure it out. Now the hour has come, and Fee knows she has no choice.

http://www.ted.com/talks/marco_tempest_the_magic_of_truth_and_lies_on_ipods

—   Yes. Yes, I did know. I didn’t want to know. When Luc told me, I said he’d put me in an untenable situation, but we talked about it and he said he’d give Georges an ultimatum: either break up with Giselle or we would tell you.

—   When was that? Anne asks cooly.

—   Near the end of November, I guess. I told Luc that I wouldn’t lie, that if you asked me, I’d tell you everything I knew.

—   But otherwise, you wouldn’t say a word.

—   I didn’t see what would be gained, Anne. If he was breaking it off any way.

—   How can you make a call like that for me, Fiona? It’s so paternalistic. Don’t you think I had the right to know? You of all people. I mean if Luc were having an affair and I knew, wouldn’t you expect me to tell you so you could make your own decisions?

—   Yeah, I guess so. Yes, I would.

—   Why didn’t you think of that when you were discussing this with Luc?

—   I did. I told him you were my best friend and my loyalty was to you. And he said if I told you it would mean the end of his relationship with Georges, his best friend, and that I should be loyal to him…to Luc that is. He can be pretty persuasive, so I agreed, but only on condition Georges broke it off.

—   But that was in November….

—   Well, then Christmas came and Mom and Neil’s visit and well, yeah I did lose track for a bit. And….

—   So November to February? You cut him that much slack?

—   Luc thought Georges had broken it off. That’s what he told me in January — the day after that crazy night of cards. Still, that was well over a month after Luc gave the ultimatum. We should have set a deadline, and I should have followed up.

—   There’s lots you should have done, says Anne. The least of which is to tell me what the hell was going on. What I don’t get is how you could have pretended nothing was wrong. Remember when I found out and I came here? I cried at this table and you sat there and you lied to me. You said Luc didn’t know.

—   I never actually said it.

—   Well you implied it. You didn’t fess up. I feel so betrayed, Fiona. How could you? I thought we were friends.

—   We are. Oh, Anne, I’m so sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing, balancing my loyalties to you and to Luc.

Kitchen-Chronicles

She pauses, gazes out the kitchen window, then back at Anne.

—    I knew it was wrong, she says quietly. I’ve had nightmares about you finding out. But Luc…well I shouldn’t blame him, but he did give me a sort of ultimatum too: him or you. It was hard to see what was right with him pushing his view. I knew it was wrong of him, and in retrospect I was wrong to accept it. And we were both wrong to let Georges linger so long. We should have given him a week, end of discussion.

—   I’ve been a good friend to you, Fee. I’ve helped you with Gavin, with finding this house, with Neil…. I just don’t understand how you could be so disloyal. It hurts. It hurts a lot. I’ve been such a fool.

—   No, no, I’ve been the fool, Anne, says Fiona, the tears welling in her eyes. I’m so so sorry, please, please forgive me.

 

 

Anne stands up.

—   I can’t talk about this anymore. I need to think, she says.

She walks out the door without saying goodbye.

Fiona sits at the table, staring at the Formica, tears slowly trickling down her face, knowing she shouldn’t blame Luc, but unable to bear the full brunt of the responsibility herself. Will Anne ever forgive me? she wonders.

*Cauliflower curry

Serves 3-4

1 ½ pounds cauliflower (2 medium heads)

3 potatoes, peeled and diced

3 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cayenne

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon coriander

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

1 clove of garlic, peeled and put through a press

½ cup water

1 ½ cups peas (fresh or frozen)

2 tablespoons torn cilantro leaves

2 tomatoes diced (fresh or canned)

 

  1. Wash the cauliflower and break into small (bite-sized) flowerets.
  2. Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high heat and add all the spices. Stir.
  3. When the spices are warm, add the cauliflower, potatoes and water. Stir and cover tightly.
  4. Steam until the cauliflower is almost tender.
  5. Add peas, cilantro and tomato. Cook another 5 to 7 minutes, stirring gently from time to time with a wooden spoon.
  6. Serve with yoghurt and mango chutney.

 

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa MagazineVisit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new installment — and a tested recipe.

BEER: It’s what’s for dinner!

This article is part of the Ottawa Magazine 2014 Eating & Drinking Guide,  on newsstands now until Spring 2015.

By TRAVIS PERSAUD

It’s time to give beer centre stage on your dining table. Instead of grabbing something from the Vintages section tonight, wander over a few aisles to see what’s brewing. The beer section at the LCBO features creative styles packaged with sharing in mind. Here, a primer on great sharing bottles to get your evening started right.

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: The Rex is now open for dinner

By ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne Desbrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Former Urban Pear sous chef, back when Ben Baird was in charge, Cody Starr named his new place in honour of his grandfather and has created in a former pizzeria on Adeline Street, an intimate, old world space with homespun charm.

I took the Rex for a lunch time spin six months ago, when it was pretty brand new. That was back when the noon crowd — Rex is close to the Rochester office towers — was the focus of the kitchen. Evening-opening was in the thinking-through process. And now the dinner gong sounds, but only on Friday and Saturday nights.

On our Friday night, the place was packed.

Rex offers a limited dinner menu, which is always a pleasure for those of us decisioned-out by end of week. There is some choice — between two starters on our night (Cobb salad or crab cakes) and two mains (trout or brisket) for the set price of $35.

Nothing rocked our world, but it was all pretty solid. If I had a quibble, it would have less to do with the quality of the food or the mix of flavours and more about portion and presentation. The Rex dinners seem to be trying on a simple, family style, come-as-ye-be sort of vibe. So modern, composed plates don’t feel quite right.

The Rex Fish Cakes. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Crab Cakes at The Rex. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The Cobb salad featured eggs, still soft at their yellow core, crisp lardons, a bit of Boston lettuce, avocado, tomato, and a sharp dressing, but the poster child for composed salads could have had a few more elements and been a bit more generous. The crab cakes were meaty, well seasoned, served on a few greens with a dill remoulade and pickled red onion.

Other than the odd choice of plate and fork (rather than bowl and spoon) to serve the fish and clam chowder, this was a lovely dish. It was just a bit tricky to eat.

The cooking of the trout was well judged and the chowder starred three meaty Quahogs, steamed to just-open, with traditional mates of corn, carrots, celery, and soft leek and with crispy rings of leek for pleasing chew, in a rich cream sauce perfumed with clam juice, fresh thyme and anointed with leek oil.

The second main was the ultimate Sunday supper comfort food — brined spiced brisket, slow braised to fork tender, with a sturdy caramelized edge, served with roasted carrots and brussels sprouts, and with horseradish spiked mashed potatoes. A whole grain mustard sauce finished things with an extra little zing.

Fish and Clam Chowder at The Rex. Photo By Anne DesBrisay

Fish and Clam Chowder at The Rex. Photo By Anne DesBrisay

For dessert, the Johnny Cakes combined a cornmeal pancake with ice cream and rhubarb-maple compote and the Boston cream pie — dark shiny chocolate sauce, solid cake, well flavoured pastry cream, bittersweet caramel sauce — gets full marks.

Three course table d’hôte, $35 on our night.

Open Monday to Friday for lunch, Friday and Saturday for dinner.

40 Adeline St., 613-695-9739, therexottawa.com

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: A legacy of bitterness. PLUS barbecued tandoori chicken

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa MagazineVisit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new installment — and a tested recipe.

 

Will He?

KITCHEN CHRONICLES WILL HE?

 

Fiona slams through the back door. He’s such an asshole, she thinks.

—   Luc, she calls out, mustering her inner sweetness so she doesn’t sound as bitchy as she feels.

—   I’m home. Luc?

—   Be right down, babe, he calls from upstairs.

 

She plunks her heavy courier bag on the table and rummages through it, pulling out a letter. She takes it out to re-read.

—   Asshole, she mutters.

—   Hope you’re not talking about me, says Luc, coming in and giving her a kiss on the cheek. What’s up?

—   I got this letter from Dad. At work no less, because after nearly a year he still doesn’t have our home address straight. Shows you how much I mean to him.

—   Whoa, Fee. What’s up? What does he want?

—   It’s a note really, and a copy of his will. Basically, Neil and I get nada. Nothing. It’s all going to wifey two.

—   Nothing?

—   A few family trinkets. Neil’s getting grandpa’s piano for chrissakes. How’s he supposed to move that from Vancouver to Halifax? And Neil doesn’t even play anymore. It was Dad who was keen on that. As soon as he left, Neil quit. Basically, Dad knows nothing about us.

—   What’s he leaving you?

—   The family silver, which I suppose is worth something, but I’ll never use it. I hate it. After polishing it every Saturday morning for years and years. Never quite to his standards, mind you. I’d have to line it up on a cloth on the kitchen table for inspection and he always make a big joke out of rejecting a few pieces. But it was no joke to me.

—   So some silverware with bad vibes, and that’s it?

—   Yeah, that’s it. He says his first obligation is to Lorelei. We’re young and can look out for ourselves, but she’s got rheumatoid arthritis now so he wants to make sure she’s okay.

—   Well, he does have to look after her. Especially if she’s sick. But his track record for truthfulness is kind of shaky.

—   So what happens when she goes? I guess her kids will get everything. It’s so friggin’ unfair.

—   A legacy of bitterness, says Luc.

—   You’re so right. I’m furious. I mean what about Neil? He’s sick too. Doesn’t he even consider his own son? And there’s Mom, too. She’s not exactly rolling in it. He might leave her something. She is the mother of his children.

—   How old’s your dad? Eighty-five?

—   Eighty-four. But he’s healthy, as far as I know. He’s probably just getting things in order. I don’t know why he decided to tell us about the will now.

—   Maybe it’s a trial balloon, to see how you’ll react. Wills can be changed.

—   Or maybe he just wants to be mean, to bug us. That’s possible too, with Dad.

—   I think you should go to a lawyer, or maybe a mediator. Get some professional advice on how to handle this.

—   You mean figure out how to negotiate with him?

—   Yeah. Let’s assume it is a trial balloon, that it’s not set in stone. I’m sure he doesn’t fully appreciate Neil’s situation. I mean it’s not like you’ve been calling with weekly updates.

—   That’s true, says Fee slowly. Neil hasn’t talked to him since Christmas. I haven’t either.

—   And does he know about our finances? How much we owe on this house? How much we’ve saved — or rather haven’t saved — for Gavin’s university? He might change his mind if you talked to him, if you opened up to him a bit.

—   I don’t know, says Fee, shaking her head, he’s friggin’ stubborn. And cheap.

—   But he does love you.

—   I guess he does. Yeah, he does.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001467/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_balloon

IMG_4372

 

 

She looks up at Luc, grinning.

 

—   How did you get to be such a smarty pants? Okay, I’ll go and talk to someone, work out a way to broach this with him so he doesn’t go ballistic.

—   Stick to the facts. He’s a lawyer, he understands facts.

—   Thanks, Luc, says Fee, giving him a full hug. My voice of reason.

—   Chief cook and bottlewasher too. Shall I fire up the barbecue for the tandoori*?

 

 

 

*Grilled Tandoori Chicken

Six servings

Note: Needs to marinate at least 8 hours.

1 ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

¼ cup low-fat plain yoghurt

1 ½ teaspoon fresh ginger root, minced

¼ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

2 ½ pounds chicken breasts, bone in

Juice of half a lemon

 

  1. Place mustard in bowl, add oil, drop by drop, whisking until well blended. Stir in yoghurt.

  2. Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind the ginger root, cumin, coriander seeds and turmeric to form a paste. Add lemon juice and mix well. Stir into yoghurt mixture with chopped chili.

  3. Remove skin from chicken. Make very small cuts in the meat. Arrange in a shallow dish and pour the yoghurt mixture over. Flip to coat all pieces. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours (up to 24 hours).

  4. Barbecue chicken 15 to 20 minutes on each side (15 if the top is down on the barbecue), or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork. Watch carefully and turn to prevent burning.    

WINE PICKS: David Lawrason’s best bargain barbecue reds

This article is part of the Ottawa Magazine 2014 Eating & Drinking Guide, which is on newsstands until Spring 2015.

By DAVID LAWRASON

The quality of less expensive wines continues to climb amid intense global competition. These modern reds are fruit-driven and casual, yet distinctive. Stock up ahead of grilling season.

Click on the thumbnails for a slideshow of affordable wines to serve this barbecue season.

ON NEWSSTANDS! Eating & Drinking 2014 features new food shops, best restos, wine + beer, plus chef recipes and more

 

On the cover, Chorizo at Chevre Noire's Jos Louis, from Shawna Wagman's Trend series. Photo by Giulia Doyle.

On the cover, Chorizo at Chevre Noire’s Jos Louis, from Shawna Wagman’s Trend series. Photo by Giulia Doyle.

EAT
New and Noteworthy: Fifteen of the tastiest new additions to the culinary landscape.
By Shawna Wagman | page 13

Best Restos
Our authoritative guide to dining in the city features 25 must-try restaurants.
By Anne DesBrisay | page 21

Trends By Shawna Wagman
Veggie Love | page 23

The Iceberg Wedge | page 27

Throwback Desserts | page 29

Jalapeño | page 33

Chocolate | page 69

 

 

Festive gourmet: An overview of the next 12 months of finger-licking celebrations. | page 28

Chloé Berlanga's recipe for Paella Mixta is featured in Ottawa Magazine's 2014 Eating & Drinking Guide. Photo by Christian Lalonde.

Chloé Berlanga’s recipe for Paella Mixta is featured in Ottawa Magazine’s 2014 Eating & Drinking Guide. Photo by Christian Lalonde.

By Sarah Brown

Budget gourmet: Dishes that are easy on the pocketbook and pleasing on the palate. | page 32
By Robin Levinson

Read the rest of this story »