Articles Tagged ‘anne desbrisay’

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  www.zenkitchen.ca 

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: The Rex

By Anne DesBrisay

When Ben Baird, formerly chef-owner of the Urban Pear, turned away from the daily grind of restaurant running to the fun of the daily drive with a new food truck endeavour (Streat Gourmet), he promoted his sous chef Cody Starr to restaurant chef and left him in charge of running the UP kitchen. And then Baird sold the Urban Pear four months ago, and Cody left to pursue other things.

I had lunch at the ‘other thing’ last week. It’s called The Rex, so named in honour of Starr’s grandfather and just-open.  Rex is a modest place, on a small street called Adeline,

Sausage. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Sausage on a bun with caramelized onion and Balderson cheddar, served with slaw and soup. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

close to the government towers on Rochester, in a space that used to house a pizzeria. They’ve done a nice job with the design — it feels like retro diner meets modern bistro — and they’ve hired well, including a former long time server I remember from The Urban Pear.

Open to the public — for now — only on weekday lunches and weekend evenings, the noon menu is teenage-boy friendly. Mains include house made sausage sandwich with cheddar, sage, and caramelized onion on house made bread; a Reuben (house made short rib pastrami, smoked gruyere;) mac and cheese with broccoli (and four cheeses;) a wild boar shoulder and belly sandwich; Shepherd’s pie (featuring braised short ribs and brown butter mash, bless them;) fried eggs with bacon or sausage or boarchetta; poutine. Sure, there’s a salad, but it features duck proscuitto.

But breakfast had been steel cut oats for this eater. I was due for pig in a bun. The soup and sandwich options ($12) appealed, and we found ourselves impressed with them. Particularly with the soups.

If someone had asked me a few years ago where to go for the best soup in the city, I’d have suggested the Urban Pear. They nailed soup there. I still re-slurp in my imagination, a purée of roasted parsnip and apple I was served four years ago, served with a chopped walnut, blue cheese, apricots, and roasted garlic crostini, and swirled with an apple-basil oil. It ticked every box.

The Rex has a retro-bistro vibe. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

The Rex has a retro-bistro vibe. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

As did The Rex’s roasted cauliflower-leek-potato soup with its toasted corn and scallion relish and a pea and ham hock soup crowned with a bittersweet mound of charred brussel sprouts. Fantastic bowls of flavour and texture. These came with the house grilled cheese with spinach and mushrooms and tomato jam on yummy bread apparently flavoured with Beau’s Lug Tread beer, and The Sausage Sandwich which was slightly less successful, the casing a bit tricky to pierce, the flavour a bit wan. A carrot-cabbage slaw and house made potato chips finished the tasty plates.

I’ll return any day for soup, but here’s hoping The Rex tempers the meaty-rich menu with a few lighter options for the lunch crowd. Looking forward to seeing what the kitchen might do in the evenings as well. For now, they’re starting out slowly… including the option of a well priced take-out menu for the grab and go crowd. Clever that.

$12 for soup/salad and a sandwich. 

Open weekdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. 
The Rex, 40 Adeline Street, 613-695-9739. therexottawa.com

 

 

BREAKING NEWS: Marysol Foucault wins top honours at Gold Medal Plates

By Anne DesBrisay

Marysol Foucault's winning dish. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Marysol Foucault’s winning dish. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

It’s tough to pretty up wild boar. And so you wouldn’t call Marysol Foucault’s winning dish the most beautiful of the evening. But it was, in the unanimous opinion of the judges at last night’s Gold Medal Plates at the National Arts Centre, the most thoughtfully constructed.

It was also brilliantly well executed — it had some charmingly whimsical elements and it tasted damn good. Plus, the Closson Chase The Brock Chardonnay Niagara River 2011 worked incredibly well with all the persistent and subtle flavours.

The star of the dish was a tidy square of pressed rabbit loin and cured wild boar which Foucault had cooked sous vide and set on a roasted chestnut purée flavoured with espelette pepper and lemon zest. Next to the pig and bunny was a beignet of sorts — Marysol described it as a profiterole — made with parsnip flour and stuffed with a wildly rich brown butter rabbit liver mousse. A brunoise of pickled radish and a golden beet gastrique cut the fat nicely. A tangle of lichen she had fried with Sortilege (Quebec whisky with maple syrup) and mini celery leaves completed the plate.

“Where did you get the lichen?” asked one of the judges as the dish was being presented to our table. “In an enchanted forest,” Marysol replied. And then she giggled. “I built this dish around the wine I so love, and memories of my childhood.” (Presumably in enchanted forests with rabbits and wild boar…)

Read the rest of this entry »

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Escape the cold at Mugena

By Anne DesBrisay

Jerk chicken from Mugena. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Jerk chicken from Mugena. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Next best thing to a winter holiday in the sun is transporting your tastebuds to a Caribbean restaurant. When my Jamaican-born buddy Janine is looking for the tastes of home, she heads to Mugena. One chilly afternoon last week, I followed her there. I had the jerk chicken — I opted for dark meat — served with rice and peas and a little cabbage-carrot slaw.

The jerk’s punch was there, to be sure, but the impact was somewhere between a poke and a jab. She had a goat roti — a Jamaican classic, the  slow cooked meat in a fragrant gravy with soft potatoes and chickpeas.

Goat roti at Mugena. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Goat roti at Mugena. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

We sipped ginger beer and listened to reggae, paid the bill, then shopped for plantain, scotch bonnets, and a bottle of Mugena’s hot pepper sauce in the neighbouring shop. We then zipped up our parkas and ventured back to reality.

$10 for both roti and jerk dinner

Mugena Caribbean Restaurant and Bar, 911 Richmond Rd., 613-722-8228