DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Kouign Amann at Macarons et Madeleines

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.

Kouign Amann. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Kouign Amann. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Kouign Amann … found at last, at Macarons et Madeleines.

I was going to write about éclairs — about the forgotten pleasures of bronzed choux pastry filled with pastry cream and iced with chocolate. And then I saw it, at Macarons et Madeleines, minding its own business in a basket next to the ubiquitous pain au chocolat, two away from the tray of éclairs.

When you haven’t tasted (nor even seen or thought about) in thirty-some years, a once favourite pastry, discovering it in a new-to-the ‘hood patisserie… well, you gasp. And you order it stat. And you wait for it to be warmed up and you sit in your parka in the sunshine and feel twenty again.

Macarons et Madeleines new shop on Wellington. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Macarons et Madeleines new shop on Wellington. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

And because it doesn’t look quite like you remember it looking, you ask if it’s the genuine article.

Is this really Kouign Amann, you ask the young woman behind the counter at (the newly relocated) Macarons et Madeleines?

Yes, she says, indulgently. We just roll it a bit differently.

It’s sort of pronounced ‘queen-a-mon’. In the Breton language, kouign means cake and amann means butter. Not sure what the Breton word for sugar is, but there’s no doubt that it’s part of the package too. This is a pastry-bread-cake thing that’s been around since the mid 1800s, apparently, and in some parts of North America, I’m told it’s seeing a revival.

A yeast-risen dough layered, puff pastry style, with salted butter and sugar and baked such that the butter puffs the dough, and the sugar in the folds oozes out, caramelizing the top and sides and bottom. At Macarons et Madeleines, it’s baked in spiral rings, a bit like a sticky bun.

Éclairs also available at Macarons et Madeleines. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Éclairs also available at Macarons et Madeleines. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

It arrives gooey and bronzed, crisp and oozing butter, served with a knife and fork. A big cake, eminently shareable. So bring a friend. And leave with an éclair for later.

$8 for a more-than-single-serving Kouign Amann. 

Macarons et Madeleines, 1323 Wellington St. W.
613-680-7887

 

 

 

1 Comment

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Beckta Dining & Wine Bar

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.

The new Beckta at 150 Elgin St. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

The new Beckta at 150 Elgin St. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Unless you’ve just emerged from a cave you will know the most venerated fine dining restaurant in the capital has moved from a modest house on Nepean Street to a mansion on Elgin. The 140 year-old Grant House is where the 12-year-old Beckta Dining and Wine Bar has been reincarnated, in a space last occupied (for some 37 years) by Friday’s Roast Beef House.

The renovation is outstanding, done with elegance and deference. What hasn’t been remade, happily, is the comfort of the Beckta dining rooms, staffed by those who understand the art of running a welcoming restaurant.

When Stephen Beckta opened his first restaurant in 2003, it was notable for many things, good food and wine chief among them. But it also injected in our emerging restaurant scene a different way of doing the right thing. It delivered service that was as polished and professional as you’d find at any temple of haute French dining, but friendly and unpretentious.

That hasn’t changed. What is a bit different is the menu.

Sablefish. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Sablefish on roasted spaghetti squash and shaved cauliflower. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

In the two dining rooms at the front of The Grant House, there are now two options for dinner: a mix-and-match, five-course tasting menu and a three-course prix-fixe. (If you want a more casual approach, you head to the blue and brick wine bar at the back, which has its own vibe and menu.)

Read the rest of this story »

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Meat in the Middle

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.

Meat in the Middle's smoked meat on rye with potato salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meat in the Middle’s smoked meat on rye with potato salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

If you like your smoked meat piled high and served neat with ball park mustard on soft light rye, you shouldn’t look past item number one on the blackboard menu. If you like your potato salad not at all like Mom made it (that is, better), you’ll want to try Meat in the Middle’s skin-on red spuds rolling around in a great aioli with a gremolata topper. Put them together and you have quite a meal for $12.50. You can even wash it down with a Beau’s Lug Tread poured on tap.

But I was really taken with the slightly more complicated smoked pork sandwich. Thickish slabs of warm, fragrant, roast pork tucked into a ciabatta bun with a pile of arugula and superior lubricants — grainy honey mustard and more of that good aioli. I’d get rid of the wan January tomatoes in the wheatberry-kale-feta salad, and would love to eat it at room temperature, but these are minor moans.

Meat in the Middle pork sandwich with wheat berry salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Meat in the Middle pork sandwich with wheat berry salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Meat in the Middle. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meat in the Middle. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meat in the Middle moved in when a Quiznos on Bank moved out. The principals — chefs Jeremy McDonald and Bruce Robitaille — clearly take the brining, spicing, smoking, and roasting of meat seriously, and the proof is between sliced bread. Plus, there are veggie options that don’t feel like an afterthought.

Sandwiches, $7.95 to $9.50. 

Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.

311 Bank St., 613-422-6328

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Navarra Tasting Menus

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.

Navarra Octopus. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Navarra Octopus. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

In the past Navarra’s tapas menus sometimes confused me: $9 olives next to $24 ‘Macaroni Carbonara’; $22 ‘Rioja Potatoes’ and $29 for a bigger portion of beef tartare. Granted, it was all pretty delicious stuff, but what to order, how much to order, and the unpredictable size of the final bill all made me nervous.

So may I just say how totally delighted I am about Navarra’s decision to ditch its small plates menu in favour of a tasting menu. Two menus, in fact. One is more Mexican, the other Spanish leaning. One is four course, the other five. Snacking at Navarra’s bar is still an option if you can’t commit to the whole enchilada. But I think you should commit.

Rene Rodriguez’ food has always been avant-garde, sophisticated and technique driven. It deserves the choreography a tasting menu offers. It allows for a parade of plates that have links, a meal that has an arc to it, that explores flavour and texture, and has a logical beginning, a few middles and an end.

That’s how tasting menus ought to work. The worst make you feel like the prisoner of a misunderstood genius who delivers plate after plate of exhaustingly show-offy dishes, more about the chef’s pleasure than yours.

This didn’t feel like that.

Read the rest of this story »

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: The Canadian Culinary Championships Edition

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.

Garland and Currier Introduced at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Garland and Currier Introduced at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Eleven Canadian chefs from eleven Canadian cities converged in Kelowna, BC this past weekend and cooked their hearts out. Ottawa’s competitor, Patrick Garland of Absinthe Cafe didn’t end up on the podium, but he and his team should be incredibly proud of their performance.

Battling it out, from east coast to west, were Mark McCrowe (St John’s), Renée Lavalée (Halifax), Antonio Park (Montreal), Patrick Garland (Ottawa), John Horne (Toronto) Luc Jean (Winnipeg), Chris Hill (Saskatoon), Milton Rebello (Regina), Dave Bohati (Calgary), Ryan O’Flynn (Edmonton), and Kristian Eligh (Vancouver) — each were winners in their respective citys at the regional Gold Medal Plates culinary cookoffs.

The national competition began on Thursday night with the presentation of a mystery wine and an envelope of cash. Each chef was given $600 with which to purchase ingredients from Kelowna shops to create roughly 500 small plates for the Friday night crowd and a further thirteen for the judges. So a bit under a buck twenty per person.

Pat Garland of Absinthe Cafe made  2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Pat Garland of Absinthe Cafe made an Irish stew with rich jus that incorporated the mystery wine for the first event of the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We ate quite a few beets, which happened to go very well with the mystery wine. It turned out to be the 2012 Pinotage from Stoneboat Vineyards (Okanagan Valley, BC). The winning chef ended up using beetroot six ways on his plate. One chef gave us a beet and barley salad. Two chefs found blueberry notes, others smoke, and created plates with those flavour elements.

The Absinthe team — who figured out the wine, clever them — chose to make an Irish stew, braising lamb shank with warming spices (clove, cinnamon) and spooning the soft meat on a peppery rosemary-scented biscuit. The rich jus on the plate was a reduction of the wine, with the added campfire flavour of smoked hock. Tucked beneath the biscuit and meat, a refreshing  salad of snap peas, tarragon, and slivered fennel — a welcome belt of crunchy green. A perfect parmesan tuile lent the salty, rich umami the wine demanded.

Saturday morning, a bus load of bright-eyed chefs, sous chefs, and knife kits headed to Okanagan College kitchens for the Black Box competition. In past years, the six items found in the BB were all used to fashion two dishes. This year, the box was bigger. In it were ten ingredients, of which the chef was invited to choose any six, and make one plate for each judge.

The Black Box at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The Black Box at the 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

What was in the box? Yams, fresh ricotta cheese, a bag of lavender, turnips, Golden quinoa, BC hazelnuts, seabuckthorn berries, Okanagan apples, a whole Muscovy duck, and two lobsters.

This was the year of pickled things on plates — the charcuterie craze, you know — and though one chef made pasta, another a soup, we had a lobster salad, and a couple played with surf and turf, most chefs handed us plate after plate of seared duck breast and puréed yam.

Garland was chef number eight to lift the lid on the Black Box. He worked with Absinthe sous chef Mark Currier, choosing the duck breast, turnip, ricotta cheese, apples, hazelnuts and those brilliant orange seabuckthorn berries with which he fashioned a gorgeous gastrique. He made a purée with the turnip and ricotta — into which he folded the (chopped, toasted) hazelnuts. His duck breast was seared, served very rare, and scented warmly with star anise, fennel, and cinnamon. Next to the duck, a perky, colourful slaw with beets, carrots, turnip, and apples. The final element on the plate was a very successful hazelnut brittle, lightly sweet and scented with rosemary.

Garland's Black Box plate. 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Garland’s Black Box plate. 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

 

Last night, at the finale, all chefs recreated the winning dish that had earned them a berth at the CCC, paired with the same wine. For Pat Garland that meant the Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Gewürztraminer (Vinemount Ridge, ON) with his quail two ways — the breast stuffed with foie, the thigh beneath, braised and aromatic, then lightly panko-ed, served with grapes (“lovingly peeled”). There were frittered rings of shallot and chewy cinnamon cap mushrooms on the plate, and wobbly jellied cubes of the wine (Garland told the judges he’d put “an ungodly amount of Gewürztraminer in the dish”) and in the reduction jus. It was a delicious plate of food and a great match with the wine — the saltiness of the fritter and panko crust tackling some of the sweetness in the Gewurzt.

 2015 Canadian Culinary Championships winner  Chef O'Flynn. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

2015 Canadian Culinary Championships winner Chef O’Flynn. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

At the end of it all, three chefs stood on the podium. Taking bronze, chef Kristian Eligh from Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. The silver went to Montreal chef Antonio Park (Park Restaurant) and our 2015 Canadian Culinary Champion is Ryan O’Flynn, from The Westin Edmonton. (First time since Winnipeg’s Makoto Ono, who won the first CCC in 2006, that the prairies have been at the top of the podium.)

Congratulations to all the chefs. The cooking this year was highly accomplished. And I ate it all with great pleasure. Salads and green tea for me this week.

 

 

QUEST: Sha-moking Delights at Meat in the Middle, Brothers Beer Bistro, The Swan

This article first appeared in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

By CINDY DEACHMAN

Typically, smoke is the unwanted and unloved by-product of fire. Unless, of course, you are smoking bacon, Laphroaig Scotch whisky, or sticky buns (as some have been known to do).

Know your wood, and know that breaking down its three main components — cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin — by fire will give you flavour. The sweet, fruity, buttery molecules in caramel are the same sugars found in the skeleton of a tree wall (cellulose), and the filling in that plant’s wall is hemicellulose. Lignin, the “glue from hell,” gives off phenols — aromas running from flowery to nutty to malty. (Another naturally occurring phenol, for instance, is the cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon.)

The chemistry of smoking is elemental. The method? Neanderthal.

S'more from Brothers Beer Bistro. Photo by Christian Lalonde

S’more from Brothers Beer Bistro. Photo by Christian Lalonde

S’mores
Adrienne Courey, pastry chef at Brothers Beer Bistro, aims to recreate the iconic campfire treat with double-smoked s’mores. Here the classic roasted marshmallows on a stick with chocolate and graham crackers is deconstructed. Courey makes her own marshmallows with smoked German beer, then smokes them with apple chips. The final touch? Torching. As for the chocolate sauce, it takes guts to offer one that’s not too sweet. Courey used her mother’s 1970s recipe, which makes for an extra thick sauce. Who needs a cold, hard campground to appreciate such nostalgic pleasure? $5. Brothers Beer Bistro, 366 Dalhousie St., 613-695-6300.

 

Smoked Meat on Rye
“See Colonel Sanders there on top of the oven?” Jeremy McDonald of Meat in the Middle asks. The statuette serves, he says, “as a reminder to not do that.” McDonald and his business partner, Bruce Robitaille, certainly don’t want their joint to turn corporate. Because their food ain’t so fast. Smoked meat, one of their tastiest offerings, is brined for 10 days, encrusted with herbs, then smoked for an hour and slow-cooked for up to 10 hours. Slapped onto Rideau Bakery rye, slathered with hot dog mustard, and served with a dill pickle, the meat drips with flavour — just enough fat, just enough lean. Don’t worry — big corporate worlds can’t even come close. $8.50. Meat in the Middle, 311 Bank St., 613-422-6328.

Apple-Wood-Smoked Baby Back Ribs
If there’s any smoking happening, make it baby back ribs. Popular or what? Although Joseph Thompson, chef and co-owner at The Swan at Carp, has been smoking these puppies for 20 years, it’s only recently that he has done it to different meats and seafood. As for the ribs, the smoking is done with a light touch. “Nothing worse than chewing a cigar,” says Thompson. Afterwards, the meat is dabbed with barbecue whisky Dijon mustard sauce. Tender, juicy meat, falling off the bone — I’m at one with the majority, for once. $17.95. The Swan at Carp, 108 Falldown Ln., Carp, 613-839-7926.

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: A Pick-Me-Up at Beechwood’s Red Door Provisions

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

-5

There’s something about the word ‘provisions’ that seems so quaint and so Canadian. Laying down provisions now means having enough frozen pizza to get you through exam week. But for my grandparents, it meant putting the summer and fall garden into jars. It meant ‘laying things down’ for winter when everything is frozen over for months.

There’s something about a shelf groaning under the weight of winter stores that takes me back to a simpler time. And there’s nothing quite like sticking your nose in a pot of raspberry jam and breathing in July when it’s -26. It’s the smell of a promise. It will come again.

Lauren Power doesn’t make plain old raspberry jam at Red Door. Her provisions are far more exotic and her jars are things of great beauty.

Read the rest of this story »

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Soca Kitchen & Pub

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

IMG_1411
Soca is the Venezuelan name for the second harvest of the sugar cane crop. We know this because there’s a sign above Soca’s sugar cane juicer machine that says as much, and because co-owner Gustavo Belisario is happy to elaborate. He is Venezuelan. His family farms sugar cane. Photographs of the fields and cane harvest line the stairs. A shot glass of the grassy, slightly sweet, lightly foaming juice comes from the bar, by way of welcome and, I suppose, to support a sense of place.

Belisario’s partner and fiancé is chef Daniela Manrique. She’s Venezuelan-born, Montreal-raised, and Miami-trained. They’ve moved to Ottawa (why ever not) and opened Soca in the space where Pho Van Van (now decamped a block south) used to be.

We were seated at the bar, chatting with Gustavo and examining the menu during our second visit. Just as I was about to ask him why Ottawa was the next logical stop for a couple of young Argentine restauranteurs with Caracas, Montreal, and Miami roots, my date knocked over a glass of water.

Read the rest of this story »

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Anne Finds Yak and Other Pleasures at the Winter Market

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

Katie of Needham’s Market Garden. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

They have lots of pretty things at Whole Foods, but they don’t have Tibetan yak. If you need yak this week, you need to do this. Head to Whole Foods and buy a few things. They need to add up to twenty five bucks (won’t take long). Get your parking pass stamped, return to your warm underground car, deposit your purchases and walk the five minutes to the Cattle Castle, where you can spend the rest of your 90 minutes of validated parking spending the rest of your money to support local producers.

The second stall on the right as you enter the grand old building is where you’ll find artist-farmer Rosemary Kralik and her pasture-raised Tibetan yak. The meat, that is. Rosemary famously (at least that’s what put her on my map) partnered with chef Jamie Stunt (then of Oz Kafé) for his winning Gold Medal Plates 2012 dish. The plate featured loin of yak along with a special bottle of Ashton Brewing Company’s beer. (And a lot of other things as well, but this post is about the Farmers’ Market.)

Jamie Stunt visits with a yak at Rosemary Kralik’s farm. Photography by Luther Caverly.

 

Kralik sells her yak (plus Highland beef, smoked lamb and other treats) on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., bringing wares from her farm, Tiraislin Fold, in Maberley, Ontario.

The Winter Farmers’ Market in the Aberdeen Pavillion was launched last Sunday. It seemed to me about a fifth the size of the summer version, which meant we could hit most of the stalls.

Other than yak, we bought frost-sweetened carrots and Jerusalem artichokes from Rainbow Heritage Garden, winter kale from Acorn Creek, squashes from Bryson Farms, venison from Trillium Meadows, honey from the Kositsins of Ottawa Valley Honey, Beau’s-Wurste sausages from The Elk Ranch, apple cider from Hall’s, freshly rolled oats from Castor River, plus beets, corn salsa, and a container of spicy edamame hummus from Katie at Needham’s Market Garden. Then before heading for the canal, we joined the winter queue (much shorter than the summer one) for a loaf (or three) of Art-is-In bread.

The music is much better at the Farmers’ Market too. They were playing Adele at Whole Foods. We got King of the Road on double bass at the Cattle Castle. All under the same roof where you can buy yak. How’s that for a splendid Sunday outing?

 

DesBrisay Dines

DESBRISAY DINES: Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro

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

 

She was putting on her winter coat and helping an elderly woman into hers. And then she walked the few steps to my table and said this to me: “My mother would like you to know that she thinks you order very well.” (Mom was nodding and smiling.) “She’s been watching the food come to your table and she says you order like a Vietnamese person.”

A week later I’m still chuffed! 

Read the rest of this story »