Articles Tagged ‘anne desbrisay’

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


ANNE’S PICKS: Dumplings for dinner

By Anne DesBrisay

Qian Yin Yin of Yen Fung Ding is a dumpling master. If you get the chance to peek in the back you may see her fingers — remarkably long and nimble — working the dough that wraps the fillings of pork and shrimp, pork and chives, chicken and cabbage, vegetable and mushrooms, water chestnuts and Chinese cress. The closest I have ever come to making Asian dumplings is the weekend I spent with Ukrainian friends in Regina “laying down” pierogies. And drinking beer. Yes, we laughed a lot and we filled our freezers and those of a senior’s residence, but I’ll not likely do it again. I wasn’t much good and it seemed so much damn work. But I have a deep appreciation for dumpling makers.

Shrimp and pork dumplings are but one of many kids on offer at Yen Fung Ding Dumpling Shoppe. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Shrimp and pork dumplings are but one of many kinds on offer at Yen Fung Ding Dumpling Shoppe. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Yen Fung Ding Dumpling Shoppe, a family-owned business, is celebrating fifteen years. From its little house on Somerset, it has freezers full of homemade dumplings, pork buns, won ton, and sui mai.  Our Sunday supper was a dumpling feast. I had bought three packages of dumplings from Qian and (roughly) following option two on the package directions — steamed the raw dumplings in a bamboo basket, then fried them in hot oil in a shallow pan. We sat around the table with a sweetened vinegar dip and ate them all.

It cost ten bucks and I didn’t have to do any work. Successful dumplings, in my books.

Yen Fung Ding Dumpling Shoppe, 628 Somerset Street West, 613-233-0660


WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Mortimer-Proulx veg cuisine at Zen Kitchen

By Anne DesBrisay

Last February, chef Caroline Ishii left the Somerset Street vegan restaurant of which she was co-owner and at which she had earned accolades and honours, to pursue other interests. She is now a healthy living and eating consultant — as I understand it. Sommelier and current owner of Zen Kitchen, David Loan, continues to run the front of house; in the ZenKitchen kitchen now is Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, formerly of Brookstreet Hotel.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

White bean cassoulet. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

My first taste of Kyle’s cooking was at a lunch last week. Available on Thursday and Friday only, the Zen lunch menu is pretty new and I found, a pretty good deal. Main dishes run between ten and fourteen bucks.

Other than the possible error of not being warned that the ‘Harvest Vegetable Soup’ was full of beans, as it were, and that the second dish I had chosen (a white bean cassoulet) might be A Bit Much in the legume department, both dishes were highly successful. As were the grownup french fries (yellow sticks of crispy-soft polenta with a basil-greened chipotle dipping sauce) and my buddy’s pasta dish.

We ended up swapping as buddy was pretty taken with the cassoulet (meaty with roasted portobellos and smoked celeriac, and with a toasty-crunchy bread and pepita crust, served with great bread) and I with her (beanless) pasta dish. It featured corn fettucine plumped with roasted squash, charred brussel sprouts and sweet onions. The creaminess came from a sage and almond pesto with ‘parmesan’ fashioned with ground pepita seeds and nutritional yeast. Sounds yucky, I know, but its nutty, cheesy, salty hit was remarkably good.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Polenta fries with dipping sauce. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Service was kind but green, unfamiliar with the intricacies of the dishes.

I’m looking forward to returning for the dinner menu, to really sink my teeth into Mortimer-Proulx’s cuisine.

Cost: pasta, $12; cassoulet, $10

Open for lunch, Thursday and Friday, brunch on weekends, and daily for dinner.

634 Somerset Street W., 613-233-6404