Articles Tagged ‘anne desbrisay’

DESBRISAY DINES: Dim Sum at Hung Sum

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.

Hung Sum Steamed green onion ginger beef dumplings. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Hung Sum Steamed green onion ginger beef dumplings. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The dozen tables are glass topped and dressed in pink linen. The walls are robin egg blue. Hung Sum is a small, plain room that bears the bumps and bruises of a hard-working space. But we aren’t here for the ambience, we’re here for dim sum, and nobody does it better.  At least not in this town.

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DESBRISAY DINES: The Beechwood Gastropub

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.

Is a gastropub as straightforward as a nice looking bar with a kitchen that puts out tuna crudo instead of a chicken wings? Must it serve upscale British pub food in order to call itself a gastropub? Or is it just a name for anything goes in the kitchen? No limiting culinary theme: calamari, pierogis, hamachi, lamb bhoona, burgers, bouillabaisse — it all works!

Or doesn’t. In which case, the place may aspire to gastropub-ness, but if it isn’t ticking the right boxes — a convivial atmosphere, an excellent drinks list, solidly good food — it is a gastropub in surname only.

This one, the Beechwood, in the space where Farbs Kitchen used to be, is on its way to deserving the title. It hasn’t all been rosy on my visits — one meal had some hiccups, the welcome can seem muted, and one more warm body on the floor would help service flow — but the space is busy and jolly, there’s craft beer on tap, the wine list has been thoughtfully assembled, and the kitchen — led by chef Colin Lockett — puts up plates that mostly please.

Hot smoked salmon with kimchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Hot smoked salmon with kimchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

I provided a glimpse of the new Beechwood Gastropub in a lunch pick in December. I also promised a more detailed look, so this is that.

The Beechwood Gastropub is owned by André Cloutier (formerly of Arturo’s on Beechwood, and now owner of the long running Iberian restaurant, El Meson, also on Beechwood). He seems fond of the street and diners seem fond of him. The place has been packed at my every visit.

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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

 

 

 

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.)

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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.

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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.

 

 

DESBRISAY DINES: The Dish List of 2014

Dish List

In Anne DesBrisay’s inaugural year as Ottawa Magazine’s restaurant critic, she witnessed dramatic openings, chef shuffles, and shuttered restaurants. And she ate plenty of amazing meals. Invariably, every dining-out experience sees some standout dishes (and some that fail to impress). So it is DesBrisay’s job to steer eaters in the right direction; she is that friend who guides you through the menu with helpful nods that result in a satisfying meal. This list brings together some of those suggestions. Some have been on the menu for a long time. They’ll likely never be completely bumped off (looking at you, Les Fougères) for fear of facing fan outrage. Others are more seasonal treats.

They may be on; they may be off; they may have been tweaked a bit. Some plates are complicated don’t-try-this-at-home triumphs, and other tastes are as humble as well-made pie. Read it as you would a tourist guidebook — if you’re here, order that — and, because menus change frequently and some of these dishes are no longer offered, they are ones to look for should they appear on a specials board or a tasting menu. Herewith, the dishes DesBrisay suggests you take for a spin when you’re next noshing at one of these fine establishments.

See the full list >>>

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DESBRISAY DINES: Lunch at Beechwood Gastropub

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

Gnocchi with kale and parmesan. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Two forks up for two lunch dishes at the new Beechwood Gastropub. I plan to do a proper review of the place in due course, but this first sortie was encouraging. It was a Friday, which might explain the crowd, but the place was packed and the feeling merry.

The look hasn’t changed much since it was Farb’s Kitchen, other than a wall that’s been boarded up with ye-ole barn beams, and a brush that’s coated another wall with teal.

Two dishes to praise: a comfort sandwich, well executed, and a yummy bowl of gnocchi. The Cubana — a classic sandwich, reworked — was a ciabatta loaf sliced and stuffed with fine ham and a slice of melty Jacobsons cheddar, but also with thin slices of the house porchetta, the right amount of fat drooping out, and a smear of a crunchy pickle-mustard that delivered excellent smack. It came with fine fries, an aioli for dunking,  and a little salad dressed with a (too-sweet … for me) tarragon vinaigrette. 

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DESBRISAY DINES: Hot chocolate at Truffle Treasures

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

Actually, DesBrisay Doesn’t Dine. At least not this week. For as long as I’ve done this job, I have resolved that pre-Christmas reviews must be charitable. They must be gifts. And about the places I’ve been lately I am nothing but grumpy: An Italian restaurant of long standing with graceless service, phoning it in and charging a big bill; a west end Indian restaurant where the flavour and fragrance are lacking; and a new place I’ll return to in a few  weeks, hopeful the kinks will have been worked out.

And so I’ll tell you instead about chocolate. Liquid chocolate to be precise. Belgium Callebaut dark chocolate bars — imagine it — melted into steamed milk that’s been infused with fresh ginger and orange zest, served in a big blue mug, straight up. Unadorned with cream. (I’ve never liked the peaks of cold whipped cream chilling the upper lip, undoing the effects of the warm creamy molten chocolate beneath.) There were other options for infusions — Aztec, with chilies and cinnamon; hazelnut; caramel; mocha; pumpkin; peppermint. And there was hot chocolate unembellished, milk, dark or intensely bittersweet.

Truffle Treasures is now owned by Céline Levo, of the great (Calgary-based) company, Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut and the newer Cococo Chocolatiers (of the ‘Good Clean Fun’ brand of bars and biscuits).

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Levo, it seems to me, after downing my hot chocolate and treating myself to a box of six truffles (for the walk home) has continued to honour the impeccably high standards of Truffle Treasures’ founder, Lara Vaarré, who opened her flagship Westboro business in 2002, and its sister location on Bank Street in 2007.

Lara died, far too young, on Boxing Day 2012. But I’d like to think she’d be pleased with the caring hands still crafting the exceptional TT chocolates, and pouring the sort of luxurious hot chocolate that makes you very jolly indeed.

Hot chocolate, $5.50
Truffle Treasures
314 Richmond Road, 613-761-3859
and 769 Bank Street, 613-230-3859
truffletreasures.com

 

DESBRISAY DINES: Asian Alley

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 DesBrisay

Photo by DesBrisay

Here’s to the curative powers of a steaming bowl of fragrant pho. The head throb eases, the throat is soothed, the spirit lifted, and the wallet lightened (but just a little).

The trick is finding good pho. The sort that doesn’t lift the spirits temporarily and then keeps you up all night, jittering and guzzling buckets of water —  nor the kind that requires many squirts of hoisin and hot sauce to find flavour. Last week, deflated and defeated, post-Christmas shopping for man-boys, bags bulging with athletic socks, I discovered Asian Alley on ByWard Market Square. I plunked down at one of its three communal tables, ordered rolls and beef noodle soup, and within minutes I was a new woman.

Photo by DesBrisay

Photo by DesBrisay

It’s mostly Vietnamese on offer at Asian Alley, but they toss in a pad Thai (plus something they call a pad Thai summer roll), to be competitive, I suppose. Must. Have. Pad Thai. It’s the sweet noodle plate that is to south east Asian restaurants what butter chicken is to all Indian. The star player, the blue plate special, the must-have-for-the-occidentals dish. Why? I have no idea. But Asian Alley distinguishes itself from all other Asian fusion type places in this city by what it doesn’t offer — specifically, a seven page menu — and by the uncommon depth of flavour in its pho.

And I suppose, by its penny floor. One hundred and fifty thousand now-useless pennies, repurposed, laid out by hand, beneath a shiny lacquer, surrounded by a commissioned graffiti skyline by local artist Sssnakeboooy and friends. (Check out this post on the Ottawa Mag Facebook page for a peek at the mural.) “I gave them free rein,” owner Hoang tells me. The long, narrow room vibrates with colour and edgy-charm.

Photo by DesBrisay

Photo by DesBrisay

A steaming cup of Genmaicha tea (green tea with roasted rice) arrives with the grilled pork and chicken rice wraps. Clearly made to order, the meat is fragrant and warm (makes all the difference) within the soft packages. Lettuce gives them crunch, green herbs (basil and cilantro) lend perfume, and the peanut sauce is more savoury than sweet, clearly not made from the usual Skippy jar.

The food on the one page menu (hurrah!) was good enough to bring me back for dinner — Bun cha ca and lemongrass pork, firecracker shrimp, and vegetarian spring rolls. Plus another bowl of pho, the dark broth brimming with those warming spices, the chunks of meat from the flank clearly a cut above, the big blue bowl filled in with al dente rice noodles, shredded cabbage, carrot, bok choy, and Thai basil, served with a  side of chili oil. Full marks.

Photo by DesBrisay

Photo by DesBrisay

We like the housemade fish cakes — thin medallions of minced fish and shrimp, flavoured with dill and chili oil — soft but with bouncy chew, though the shrimp within their over-sized crackling covers were small and tough.

The grilled meats had marvellous flavour. Boned and flattened, with big grand hits of lemongrass, ginger and garlic, the pork and chicken both had good char, and came with rice, salad and a bowl of nuoc mam.

Hydration (for now?) is restricted to juices, pop, and tea.

Soups, rice and vermicelli plates, $11 to $14

8 ByWard Market Square, 613-860-9889 www.asianalley.ca