Articles Tagged ‘anne desbrisay’

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

ANNE’S PICKS: The Real Thing at SuzyQ Donuts

A six-pack of SuzyQ Donuts last, taste-tested and photographed by  Anne DesBrisay.

A six-pack of SuzyQ Donuts last, taste-tested and photographed by Anne DesBrisay.

By Anne DesBrisay

Yes, yes. Much has been written about the temptations of Suzy Q, a bit of it by me. But when my youngest son, with his freshly inked learner’s license, rounded a corner on Carling Avenue and very nearly smashed into the snarl of immobile cars queuing up for a drive thru double double and a chocolate dunker at Tim’s — I saw red. How is it possible people line up for these ‘freshly frozen’ flavourless rings?

The kid then made the mistake of admitting he quite likes Tim’s donuts. It was a learning moment if ever I met one. I made him drive straight to Suzy’s for a taste of the good life.

We picked up a six pack for us, and one for the carpenters at our new home — Tim Horton’s fans all. When we arrived to deliver the treats, the tile guy had beat us to it. The Timmy H boys had turned into Suzy Q fans. It was the maple bacon that clinched it.

Six donuts $10. 

SuzyQ Donuts. 99 Wellington St. W. 613-724-2451.

 

LUNCH PICK: Comfort food and sweet service at Backdrop Food & Drink

Cornbread . Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Grilled cornbread with beer-spiked cheese sauce. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

By Anne DesBrisay

Lunch this week takes us to a brand new restaurant for the Centretown neighbourhood, in the place where the Italian restaurant Chianti used to be,and to a second project from the good people of Grounded Kitchen and CoffeeHouse on Gloucester.

There’s little of Chianti left. The look at Backdrop is more nightclub than restaurant, all cool in red and black with an odd sort of theatrical-space theme going on. And the sound was a bit much for lunch. The music on my visit was played at a level that required some shouting to chat.  But the service was sweet and the food I sampled, really good.

Backdrop is located at 160 Metcalfe. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Backdrop is located at 160 Metcalfe. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Particularly good was the crunchy winter slaw of Napa cabbage, carrot, and red onion warmed with sesame dressing; and full marks to the grilled cornbread with beer-spiked cheese sauce. I could eat this every day: moist, just sweet enough and with a fine corn flavour, spiked with jalapeño and drizzled with a nippy cheese sauce made with Vanilla Stout (likely from Ashton Brewing Company?) Next time, I’m having it with a pint.

Looking forward to returning at night. Maybe the space works better in the dark. I’ll let you know.

Salad and the bread were considered ‘small plates’ but together, they made a big lunch. Cornbread $8, salad $9.

Backdrop Food & Drink, 160 Metcalfe St., 613-321-4623

 

 

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Brothers Beer Bistro

 

Chestnut stuffed ravioli with .  Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Chestnut stuffed ravioli with currants, pine nuts, lemon zest, and cinnamon cap mushrooms. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

By Anne DesBrisay

This place continues to surprise me. Lunch last week was no exception.

It’s much about beer, of course — beer factors in every dish the kitchen prepares — which struck me as gimmicky when BBB first opened in 2012. Brothers and beer in the Byward Market … oh goodie. No doubt there’d be bacon ice cream. I was thoroughly prepared not to like it much.

But I was quite wrong. The food was very good, the breadth of craft beer on offer is impressive, and so is the service, which knows its food, its beer matches, and its booze.

 

There’s a thirteen dollar lunch at BBB, and I popped in to check it out last week. As you might expect from a beer bistro, there’s a burger on offer, and things like a ham sandwich and a steak frites.

But then there’s this little number: chestnut stuffed ravioli with currants, pine nuts, lemon zest, and cinnamon cap mushrooms. Beer’s in the butter sauce, ‘cause beer’s in everything’ — as I might have mentioned — but it’s remarkably light and elegant, and other than the unfortunate fact that the outer edges of the pasta were undercooked, this dish was brilliantly considered. The stuffing had great flavour and that meaty, nubbly texture of roasted, pureed chestnuts. The mushrooms continued the woodsy chestnut theme, the pine nuts gave crunch, the currants a bit of sticky-sweet and the lemon zest lifted the dish. I didn’t want it to end.

Dessert  . Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Pumpkin creme brulée with candied kumquats and smoked walnuts, served with gingerbread biscotti. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Thing is, I was still a bit hungry, given the uneaten pasta edges. Which meant there was room for two desserts: a lovely pumpkin creme brulée roofed with candied kumquats and smoked walnuts, served with white chocolate drizzled gingerbread biscotti (very nice dunked in tea as it turned out); and a not-too-sweet apple cake with cheddar cheese crisps, exemplary house ice cream, and Cortland apples cooked down in retro cream soda. (What? No beer?)

Cost: $13 for anything on the BBB lunch menu, served Monday to Friday

Brother’s Beer Bistro, 366 Dalhousie St. 613-695-6300  

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Chapitas at La Belle Verte

By Anne DesBrisay

“Fresh and Earthly Comforting Living Food” is its mantra. Tarot cards are displayed at its cash. The music is appropriately ohm-my, though typically drown out (not so bad) by the whirring of blenders and grinding of nuts and such.

La Belle Verte's Chapitas combine warm and cold elements, as well as . Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

La Belle Verte’s Chapitas combine various textures and tastes for a delicious, and healthy, meal . Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

This is an old time veggie and raw food haven, with decor to match. La Belle Verte’s floors are tiled and worn, its tables and chairs are an eclectic collection — some from grandma and some the side of the road – its walls are four shades of green. And if anyone out there is turkeyed out, stuffed silly, and looking to start the new year on a greener foot, I recommend you make your way to this little Gatineau restaurant for a “chapita.” Wrap Of The Year. And most of last year too. Two green thumbs up.

Building a great wrap is a lot like building a great taco. Attention must be paid to maximum flavour but also to textural contrast. And the bread has to matter.

La Belle Verte is a  . Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

La Belle Verte is an old school veggie and raw haven. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

This was called The Gong. It was spicy and smoky, sweet and sour, crunchy and soft. It had cool stuff (grated carrots, cukes, lettuce, tomato), warm stuff (sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onion), bright bits (fresh mint and basil), acidic jolts (pickled red onion) and soft, rich unctuous parts (mashed avocado). It featured smoked and spicey tempeh which is best eaten, in my carnivorous opinion, with a team of other things on its side. The moistening element — the house chipotle mayo and a Thai chili sauce — added some heat, more smoke and and a slightly sweet finish. It was all contained in an Indian chapati and it was damn good.

All on its own, it costs $9.75, but there’s an option to combine it with soup or salad. Salad struck me as green overkill.  And January struck me as a soup month. So a bowl of dahl soup it was — steaming hot, perfectly seasoned and shot through with ribbons of fresh ginger.

“Chapitas” with soup: $14.95

La Belle Verte, 166 Eddy Street, Gatineau, 819-778-6363 

 

 

ANNE’S PICKS: Tongue tacos and other treats at El Camino

Matt Carmichael in the kitchen at El Camino. Photo by Miv Fournier.

Matt Carmichael in the kitchen at El Camino. Photo by Miv Fournier.

By Anne DesBrisay

It wasn’t for lack of trying only for lack of patience that I not yet supped at El Camino. The no reservation policy was the issue. I do hate that. But I suppose I get it. I’d just rather sing for my supper than queue for it — especially at thirty below.

Five-thirty may be an unfashionable hour for dinner, but it would seem the best time to snag an El Camino stool, ahead of the crowds clamouring for a seat in this industrial looking basement space.

So 5:30 it was. And by seven we were heading home, past the shivering masses beaming at our decision to vacate two seats. We were full and happy, and prepared to admit that notwithstanding the mild disappointment I feel when a hugely gifted chef turns to churning out tacos, El Camino is a marvellous addition to the Ottawa restaurant scene. And it’s a marvellous addition because an enormously gifted chef is in charge. The formula (heap-big flavourful food, fair prices, quality drinks, good kids on the floor) speaks of experience and confidence. There’s no shortage of nice staff here.

And now the bit I wish I didn’t have to write because it won’t help the queues. This is the best deal in town. After two tacos, I was full. Tacos cost four bucks. Sure, I kept eating, but I wouldn’t have had to had duty not called.

The take-out window at El Camino. Photo by Miv Fournier.

The take-out window at El Camino. Photo by Miv Fournier.

The Man had a pint of Muskoka Mad Tom and I had a wickedly good Margarita roofed with a thin sheet of lime zest and half rimmed with seasoned salt. We shared three kinds of tacos — tongue, lamb, crispy fish — and could have stopped there but didn’t. Shrimp dumplings and a steelhead trout tartare tostada were brilliant, while the salt and pepper squid featured beguilingly tender squid but needed another few seconds in the fryer: the end flavour was of flour.

The tacos were generously filled — the pulled lamb in particular — and though it doesn’t take much genius to build a great taco, these were those: true, clean, harmonious flavours and texture exactly where you want it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Carmichael. But this underground taqueria with its clever takeaway counter is a keeper.

El Camino, 380 Elgin Street, 613-422-2800 

Closed Monday, open late.

 

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Evoo Greek Kitchen

By Anne DesBrisay

Lamb gyro with side salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Lamb gyro with side salad. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Four Thirty Eight & A Half Preston Street has been home to many restaurants. Most famously, for about six months, it was Dunn’s Famous Deli. Before that, it was a loopy little place called Bombay Bollywood, a tiny room dominated by a big hugger called Mariam and a monster Coke machine. BB served Afghani and Indian fare. Then there was Leonardo’s — it used to occupy the back of the building for ages & ages. And so it has gone, this address, from Italian eats to Indian/Afghani to Smoked Meat on Rye, and now to Greek — a first for Preston Street? I do believe so. But someone feel free to correct me.

Evoo Greek Kitchen is a one month old family-run place — the husband and wife team of Elias Theodossiou and April Miller (both formerly from the long running — and still running — Rockwell’s,  a Theodossiou family restaurant on Merivale.) They seem to operate their new place with an extended brood of siblings and cousins and in laws. Service, led by April, is very much a drawing card.

Evoo Greek Kitchen is the latest restaurant to occupy 4381/2 Preston St. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Evoo Greek Kitchen is the latest restaurant to occupy 4381/2 Preston St. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

I took the three-week-old Evoo for a speed date last week. From the lunch menu, the lamb gyro caught my eye, and though the assembly could have used a bit more seasoning, the meat was meltingly tender, the flatbread very fresh, filled in with a splosh of dijon mayo, a pile of arugula, some sliced tomato, rolled up tight in grease free paper. It came with the option to add a Greek salad — fresh, very simple, with quality feta — and the combo cost $12. I managed half. Continued the pleasure at dinner.

Mom Theodossiou makes the galaktobouriko — a phyllo-wrapped custard pie — and though I’m sure mom is perfect in every way imaginable, her pastry cream could use a bit less flour. Espresso, however, was appropriately stiff.

Welcome Evoo to Four Thirty Eight Preston! May you last longer than your predecessors…

Lamb gyro with Greek salad $12

Evoo Greek Kitchen, 438 Preston Street, 613-277-8135

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ANNE’S PICKS: Festive beet pasta at The Albion Rooms

Fettucini, stained with beetroots . Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Fettucini, stained with beetroots, is served with pistachio pesto and other green adornments that also pack a punch in the flavour department. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

By Anne DesBrisay

Here’s a festive dish. Called “House Pasta” — beetroot stained fettuccine cooked right to firm, clinging to a pistachio pesto, further greened with parsley leaves, blobbed white with chevre, and slick with a pepita and pistachio oil. In addition to looking good, it had a vibrant flavour. The only thing missing was the gold bow.

Merry first Christmas to The Albion Rooms in Ottawa’s Novotel Hotel, and to its team, led in the kitchen by chef Stephen La Salle. Ottawa is the richer for this new place.

House Pasta $15.

The Albion Rooms, 33 Nicholas St., 613-760-4771 

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Lunch at Giovanni’s is an old-school escape where hospitality is everything (and the gnocchi is perfect)

Polenta with sausage. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Polenta with house-made sausage. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

By Anne DesBrisay

Consistency can be a beautiful thing. Giovanni’s Ristorante on Preston Street does consistency very well. This is not a restaurant for the bar bites generation. Giovanni’s is old school — service matters, hospitality is everything, and the food seeks to nourish and please rather than dazzle. And despite a glam and glitzy makeover, it still feels homey.

“Hello ladies. Is it still snowing? My goodness, you must be cold. Let me take your coat. I have a nice table ready for you.”

 

Our chairs are pulled out for us, linen napkins are placed on laps, the water boy arrives in his server’s assistant uniform. He delivers warm bread and butter balls. Our server in trad waiter garb arrives to recite the specials (“we have a lovely this and a really nice that…”)

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

I order one of the featured dishes — polenta with house made sausage; my friend orders gnocchi. The special comes with soup or salad. I opt for soup and ask for an extra spoon. Two bowls are delivered. “I didn’t want you ladies fighting, so I had the kitchen split the order.” In front of us are two brimming bowls. The soup is simple — tomato, beef, and vegetable — rustic, gently seasoned. The sausages are loosely packed, heady of fennel and gentle on the salt, while the polenta is downy soft and marvellously rich. Giovanni’s gnocchi are as Giovanni’s gnocchi have always been — textbook perfect, in a rich tomato sauce with fresh basil and gooey globs of buffalo mozzarella. Portions are hefty. You leave here fed and full and feeling warm all over.

Gnocchi, $19.95. Sausage special with soup or salad, $18.95.

Giovanni’s, 362 Preston Street, 613-234-3156 

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Try Coconut Lagoon’s lunch buffet for top-notch curries

By Anne DesBrisay

There is nothing like the smell of roasting spices. Walk into Coconut Lagoon and you get a nose-full. I am here for the weekday lunch buffet. The place is packed.

Coconut Lagoon reminds me of why I love Indian food. I have written for many years that this is the best Indian restaurant in town. It’s also one of the few to focus on South Indian dishes, particularly on the fish-and-coconut rich cuisine of Kerala, the home province of chef Joe Thottungal. Here you find the heat, the complexity, the layers of flavour that build in the mouth.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Typically, noon buffets in Indian restaurants are toned down affairs in the heat department. And whereas there’s nothing a serious chilli head would consider incendiary on this steam table, there’s still pow in some curries and the tools to add more oomph in the house chutneys and pickles — some sweet, some soothing and herby, some breath-robbingly hot.

The buffet last week began with two soups — one lentil, the other a tomato-ginger — both truly superb. I could  have made lunch entirely out of those soups, along with a few of the potato-spinach fritters, with their crunchy coats and pillowy soft insides.

But I was here to taste the whole line, the highlights from which included a carrot and chickpea salad, the legumes perfectly al dente; a dark pink chicken tikka, clearly benefitting from its long yogurt marinade; a spicy red fish curry heady with tamarind; a gentle mushroom masala; a rich and sweet vegetable korma with toasted almonds; lamb curry of a more menacing nature; a Kerala dish called cabbage thoran (shredded cabbage perked up with chillies, mustard seed, cumin, and curry leaves),  plus refreshing salads and chewy-warm parathas.

The old super sweet favourite for dessert — Gulab Jamun — along with a refreshingly unsweet tapioca in mango custard.

The weekday buffet costs $14.50

Coconut Lagoon, 853 St. Laurent Boulevard, 613-742-4444