Articles Tagged ‘city bites’

DON’T MISS OUT! Two more days only – WinterBites offers fabulous prix fixe fare at 29 restaurants

It started with two simple notions: that Ottawa winters are cold and that prix fixe menus are enticing. (Climatologists might tell us we’re having a mild winter, but my toes beg to differ!)

Indeed, once post-holiday hibernation sets in it can be difficult to fight. Difficult, but not impossible, especially with the kind of attention-grabbing menus on offer at the participating restaurants. Warm up with lobster bisque. Indulge in duck leg confit. Finish off a stellar meal with crème brûlée. (All the mouth-watering details are in, making it easy to plan a double date that will keep everyone happy.)

Most restos are offering two three-course lunch menus ($15 or $20) and two three-course dinner menus ($30 0r $40); drinks, taxes, and tip are extra.

With 29 restaurants joining in and only 17 days of WinterBites, best to start planning asap. So get out your dayplanner, call up your foodie friends, and make a date to visit an old favourite or that new place you’ve been wanting to try.

A few tips to start your eating expedition:

To see a full list of participating restaurants, visit www.ottawamagazine.com/winterbites-2012

Find detailed menus on the WinterBites Facebook page.

Reservations are required, so book directly with your restaurants of choice.

Dazzled by dinner? Lingering over lunch? Send us a tweet @Winter_Bites

WinterBites runs Thursday, Jan. 12 to Saturday, Jan. 28.

BEST OF CITY BITES: 2011 The Annual Digest

Looking back over the year, 2011 was particularly delicious for lovers of cupcakes, Southern-style BBQ, French pastries, wood-oven pizzas, gourmet panini and serious gelato. It was also a great year for the Chowhounds among us in search of unusual culinary treasures from around the world: there was a Balkan Big Mac, a Chinese hamburger, and at long last, Mexican tacos.

These photos are just a few of the outtakes from my year of eating for City Bites, and they still put a smile on my face. Thanks for tuning in to see what we’ve been eating each week. We can’t wait to see what’s on the menu in 2012. Happy New Year Ottawa!

ON THE SCENE: Five Spots for Tourtière

A French-Canadian holiday table tradition, tourtière is a double crusted savoury minced meat pie flavoured with cinnamon and cloves. Apparently there are as many variations of this humble classic as there are snowflakes…okay, maybe not quite that many. But here’s a peek inside 5 dramatically different takes on tourtière now available around town.

Kevin Mathieson is happy in the Art-Is-In kitchen making homemade tourtière

Art-is-in Bakery

The meat: Pork shoulder and beef ground fresh in-house with sweet potato

The seasoning: maple syrup, cloves, allspice, ginger, cinnamon

The secret: chicken stock gives it juiciness, keeps it from being dry; double egg wash on the crust gives it a gorgeous golden colour

The crust: All butter pie dough

The ketchup: Made from scratch with San Marzano tomatoes, maple syrup, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, red/green peppers, red onion — sweet and tangy, with a bit of a spicy kick

The recipe: Kevin Mathieson grew up eating dry tourtière and decided to experiment until he made the pie he would want to eat

The cost: $8.95 for slice, served with salad and homemade ketchup; $24 for whole pie

Art-Is-In Bakery, 250 City Centre Ave., Bay #112; 613-695-1226.


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OPENING! Le Michel-Ange, a heavenly coffee lover’s hideaway

 

A coffee warehouse with its own angel has been transformed into a charming hidden café

For the most part, I applaud the extra attention being paid to coffee these days — not just in terms of better quality, freshness, and justice (fair trade etc.) but also in recognizing the importance of the rituals that surround its consumption. The experience can be just as important as the beverage itself. As the coffee connoisseur market grows, however, I am growing weary of the potential for a busload of barista ‘tude. I’ll never forget ordering an Americano (espresso plus hot water) at a trendy Toronto café and the sulky staff member looking me in the eye and simply refusing to make it. I had broken some unspoken coffee code. The experience left me feeling burned.

Thankfully there is none of that nonesense behind the bar at Le Michel-Ange, a cool new artsy coffeehouse on an industrial block between Little Italy and Hintonburg. Modesty, however, might be another matter. “We have the best coffee in town, eh?” says owner Louise Rousseau as she bids farewell to a pair of customers on their way out the door.

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FOOD: Stirring the Pot. Six female power players on the food scene chat about what life’s really like under the hood

Gathered together for a summer potluck, six female power players on the food scene chat with food editor Shawna Wagman about what life is really like under the hood

Girls' night out: (left to right) Anna March (Mariposa Farms), Chloe Berlanga (Whalesbone), Pascale Berthiaume (Pascale's Ice Cream), Charlotte Langley (Whalesbone), Katie Brown, and Patricia Larkin (Black Cat Bistro). Photography by Rémi Thériault.

There has been a lot of talk lately about women in the kitchen — and not just as the punchline for sexist jokes. While it has remained a dirty little secret of the hospitality industry for ages, stories about women’s struggles for equality, recognition, and survival in professional kitchens are starting to simmer to the surface.

In Ottawa and elsewhere, women run a huge percentage of the food businesses — everything from catering companies and gourmet food shops to thriving home-based bakeries and bustling coffee shops. But when it comes to running the show in restaurant kitchens, it’s a different story. Sure, there are plenty of female pastry chefs, but the real power positions — the executive chefs and chef-owners — are overwhelmingly held by men. Still, a quick peek into the kitchens of some of this city’s most popular restaurants shows that an estrogen-driven culinary revolution may be underway.

The signs are everywhere. The prestigious S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list added a new accolade this year: the Best Female Chef Award. The winner, Anne-Sophie Pic of France, was then invited to participate in Montreal’s High Lights Festival. The special theme for its 12th edition? Celebrating Women.

Meanwhile, one of this year’s most popular food books, Gabrielle Hamilton’s New York Times bestselling memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, takes us behind the scenes in the male-dominated kitchens she once worked in. In the book, Hamilton reflects upon the experiences that led her to open her own restaurant in New York, the wildly popular Prune. “I tried smoking filterless cigarettes, swearing like a sailor, and banging out twice as much as my male cohorts,” she writes. “And I’d also given lipstick and giggling a try, even claiming not to be to able to lift a stockpot so that the guys could help me.” She concludes: “Neither strategy is better than the other.” We can expect more candid first-hand accounts like this in an upcoming book by Charlotte Druckman. Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat & Staying in the Kitchen is due out next year.

Recognizing female talent and telling tales may be the first steps toward changing the kitchen culture that has historically left women behind. Here in Ottawa, the subtle shift continues apace. Look at which chefs have been asked to participate in Gold Medal Plates, the pre-eminent national culinary competition. The November 14 competition boasts a male-to-female-chef ratio of 7:3. That’s a vast improvement over two years ago (and all years previous to that), when there were no female competitors. None.

The Whalesbone’s executive chef, Charlotte Langley, was one of the two women chefs who competed last year (Caroline Ishii of Zen Kitchen was the other). When she received her invitation and realized it was to be the first time women chefs were included, she decided to assemble an all-girls team of cooks for the event. I still remember the unique vibe, the matching black T-shirts, and the unbridled laughter as the culinary crew assembled and served the smoked-mackerel dish. They were having a great time. The energy was pure girl power — like a sugar-buzzed pyjama party, but with foie gras.

That’s where the idea for this article began percolating. I wanted to gather together a group of female chefs and cooks to chat about life in Ottawa kitchens. So one day in July, chef Anna March sent out an email to a bunch of her industry friends and colleagues to see who could join an impromptu potluck dinner at The Urban Element. Six chefs answered the call. Everyone was instructed to come prepared to create a dish. At 6 p.m., the women arrived, and within minutes, the choreography of the kitchen came to life: knives flying, chilies blistering, steak grilling, vegetables sautéeing and, of course, wine pouring.

What follows is a transcript of the dinner conversation that ensued. I had to edit out some of the most salacious stories — they truly were not fit for print — as well as some of the cruder language, but I assure you there was plenty of both. There was a lot of butt slapping too.

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Baker Street Café, home of the huge cinnamon buns

Since we’re still technically lounging around in summer vacation mode with one week left to go, I am hoping readers might forgive me for offering a lunch pick that is not technically lunch — but brunch… ok, it’s actually breakfast. But to be fair, I was eating it at 1:30 p.m. so for me it was lunch.

This is relevant because if you wander into Baker Street Café during the week, you will receive a lunch menu, but you can also order off the breakfast menu which is available all day every day. Lunch consists of a couple of big salads, homemade chicken fingers, a burger, baby back ribs, smoked meat on rye, house battered fish & chips, super-loaded poutine, and a “Build Your Own Panini” option.

The breakfast menu, however, is a whole different beast. The sheer number of choices shouldn’t be too surprising — after all, dealing in large quantities seems to be bit of a theme here.  The display of in-house baked goods that greets customers at the door gives the first clue: enormous and outrageously decorated cupcakes next to a dozen cinnamon buns, each one the size of your head!

And so it goes. There are eggs: we’re talking three kinds of eggs Benedict, various omelettes, steak and eggs, campfire eggs (fried eggs on top of sautéed tomatoes, onions, and peppers), homemade tourtière with scrambled eggs and, of course, a half rack of ribs with scrambled eggs. Oh yeah, there’s also homemade sausage with sautéed mushrooms and eggs. And we haven’t even begun to discuss the pancakes… or the French Toast… or the Monte Cristo Club, which the menu describes as “Bone in ham, cheddar cheese, roasted chicken breast and a four-cheese blend stacked and packed between three slices of French Toast.” Huh?

Is it just me or is this starting to sound more like an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives than anything you’d expect to find in yoga-mat-toting, skinny latte-loving Westboro? Between the vintage rock posters and the classic rock on the stereo, I half expected Guy Fieri to step out of the back donning oven mitts and a burning hot baking sheet filled with those enormous squishy-soft lightly glazed cinnamon buns.

When it came time to place my order, the gruff server seemed unsympathetic to my befuddlement about what to choose. I took one last glance at the menu and noticed, under the heading “On the Lighter Side” a toasted cinnamon bun with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. While admittedly rather un-ambitious, it turned out to be a good test of the kitchen. The sweet bun was delightful confection, the scrambled eggs were fine. But it was the fruit — of all things — that impressed me most: a rainbow-coloured array of just-sliced fresh melon, pineapple, berries and banana. Every single morsel was unblemished; clearly this fruit salad was assembled to order. Oh, how a careless cup of hours-old mushy fruit can ruin a good breakfast…er, lunch.

Baker Street Café, 385 Richmond Road, 613-761-7171.

Hours: Monday – Friday 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (breakfast and lunch served); weekends 7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. (breakfast only)


OPENING: Introducing Back Lane Café

Upper Canada farmhouse meets Paris apartment at this new Hintonburg restaurant

Café. Bistro. Pizza Place. Wine Bar. Bakery.

Whatever you call it, Hintonburg’s Back Lane Café is here. I stopped by during their soft-opening week and peered through the tinted glass. Mysteriously, there’s no sign, just the day’s menu taped to the window. I stepped inside near the end of the lunch service, not sure what to expect.

While studying the menu — an eclectic Mediterranean-ish mix of items with an emphasis on creative wood fired pizzas — I struggled to make sense of the pretty decor. Instead of the sleek modern glass-and-leather ambiance that has become de rigueur (I call it “Homesense chic”), here it’s something quite unexpected: an upscale vintage country feel that conjures up images of a grandma’s farmhouse kitchen or a Main Street tea room in a quaint little town. A bit of exposed brick, a huge painted wood beam, and a series of window pane details combine to create what the owner and long-time restaurateur George Monsour describes as Paris apartment meets Norman Rockwell.

“The Back Lane represents the old structure and villages when there were Main Streets,” says Monsour, “but the back lane is where people really meet.” After a 16-year hiatus from the restaurant business, including six years working for a software company in Paris, Monsour began imagining a new kind of restaurant for Ottawa — a place that rediscovers the origins of cooking and creates an atmosphere in which people can escape the proverbial Main Street.

He hired two of his artist friends from Rusty Nail Design in Merrickville and challenged them to come up with decor that would carry customers away to a different place and time. There are old-fashioned floral curtains, ornate carved wooden chairs, and big round tables that would be perfect for spreading out the newspaper or a pulling out a deck of cards. And don’t confuse this vintage feel with the urban-ironic aesthetic that calls for mismatched teacups and lovingly restored Value Village finds. The food’s not shabby-chic, either. Forget butter tarts and fancy egg salad sandwiches, this is a serious menu: A salad of grilled tiger shrimp and radicchio with chickpeas, Fisherman’s Stew that has simmered away in the wood fire, and, for dessert, fresh yeast doughnuts glazed in warm honey with vanilla ice cream.

Two wood burning ovens are the key to "rediscovering the origins of cooking"

Part of what makes this restaurant so intriguing happens to be invisible to the customer: the enormous kitchen. Unlike the front-of-house, the kitchen, which backs onto the back lane, is flooded with natural light and outfitted with not one but two Le Panyol wood-fired ovens from France, both surrounded with gorgeous tiny white tiles. One is used for the pizzas and the other is for cooking everything else: meats, vegetables, seafood etc. on a “Tuscan grill,” a huge heavy cast iron pan topped with a grill grate. The chefs also bake their own breads every morning using the residual heat in the oven from the night before.

Oh, I get it. Only by hanging out in the back lane can you see what Back Lane Café is really all about.

Back Lane Café, 1087 Wellington St. W., 613-695-2999.

Our “Opening” series explores newly opened restaurants, bars and shops. This is not a review. Ottawa Magazine’s starred reviews can be found in the Restaurant section at the back of every issue of the magazine.

NEWS FLASH: Summer Garden Party fundraiser in memory of Chef Kurt Waldele on August 28

For many years Kurt Waldele, the former Executive Chef of the National Arts Centre, held a Summer Harvest Garden Party at his Cumberland estate to raise money for the Ottawa Humane Society. Sadly, Chef Waldele passed away in 2009 and friends of Kurt have teamed up with dozens of local Chefs to present this OHS fundraiser in his memory.

Guests will have the opportunity to sample food from Ottawa area Chefs (see list below) including some of our local embassies. There will be wines from Niagara, Prince Edward County and beyond.

When: Sunday, August 28, 2011 from 2 to 5 pm

Where: Ottawa Humane Society, 245 West Hunt Club Road

Tickets: $100 each, available via the Humane Society website

Participating chefs and restaurant owners include:

  • Josh Bishop – Whalesbone
  • Michael Blackie – National Arts Centre
  • Robin Bowen – Spin Kitchen
  • Matthew Carmichael – Restaurant 18 / Social / Side Door
  • Louis Charest – Governor General’s Residence
  • Joe Calabro – Pasticcerria Geleteria Italiano
  • Kyle Christopherson (representing his fundraising event Allure)
  • Frederic Filliodeau
  • Michael Hay – Courtyard
  • Trish Larkin – Black Cat Bistro
  • George Laurier
  • Marc Lepine – Atelier
  • Johnny Leung – KW Catering
  • Clifford Lyness – Brookstreet Hotel
  • Dino Ovcaric – United States Ambassador’s Residence
  • Gabriel Pollock – Grounded Kitchen Coffee
  • Steve Price – Algonquin College
  • Amir Rahim – Grounded Kitchen Coffee
  • Jud Simpson – Parliamentary Dining Room, House of Commons
  • Ken Skidmore – Liam Maguires
  • Karen Von Merveldt – Von’s Bistro / Flippers
  • Tim Wasylko – Prime Minister’s Residence
  • Russell Weir – Sheraton Hotel Ottawa
  • Sarah Charbonneaux – Buffet Charbonneau


WORTH THE DRIVE: Wendy’s Country Market offers gourmet food on a gravel road

By Amélie Crosson

In the bucolic countryside between Smiths Falls and Kingston, an old school house has been transformed into Wendy's Country Market. Photo credit: Amelie Crosson

At the crossroads of two gravel roads in the bucolic countryside between Smiths Falls and Kingston is an old school house that has been transformed into foodie central for the Rideau Lakes region.

For five generations Wendy’s family has farmed this land and for decades has sold in-season produce, but it’s Wendy who has stepped up blend country traditionalism with cosmopolitan tastes.

Under the gaze of grazing dairy cows you park your car. In the shade of the front porch you will find bins of corn, potatoes, beans, or carrots and some bags to help yourself. To one side, under the sun, is a beautiful herb garden — with the plants all well marked — ask for a bag and scissors and go cut your own.

Inside the store, a few steps across the creaky wood floor, you’re face to face with fabulous food from across the region. Freezers and fridges house meats, cheeses, eggs, milk, salad greens, and prepared foods. The meats are especially tempting: beef, pork, elk, bison, chicken, lamb, turkey, duck, rabbit, goose, wild boar, venison, not to mention sausages and pâtés.

Your eyes wander from baskets of golden, flappy-eared mushrooms, garlic cloves, jars of pickles, chocolates, and spreads, to shelves of breads and baked goods (including lots of gluten-free options), honey, jams and relishes, soaps and cosmetics, ceramics and other crafts. Everything comes from within about 100 kilometres and Wendy’s husband Rick also makes deliveries to local restaurants and homeowners.

In the summer, come out on the last Sunday of the month for a themed party. Wendy brings together local chefs to provide cooking demonstrations, musicians, and artists for a celebration of food, music, and art.

Special events:

August 28 is for tomato lovers with heritage tastings.

September 25 brings apples with an Apple Cider Press Display.

October 30 celebrates the Fall Harvest with a Baked Bean Contest.

Hours:

Monday to Saturday,  10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Sunday,  11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Directions:

  • Take Hwy #15 to Morton and turn onto Brier Hill Rd.
  • Then left on Fortune Line Rd. 1 km
  • Follow the signs to Wendy’s.


For more info call Wendy: 613-928-2477 or 613-561-2177
email: wmobilemarket@ripnet.com

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Grounded Kitchen & Coffeehouse is a funky urban oasis

Grounded's Green & Gold salad with salmon is good enough to get another date

If you are a regular reader of my weekly lunch picks than you already know I have a soft spot for restaurants with heart. That’s the feel-good quality that fills a room from the moment you walk in. There’s a warm greeting and some genuine eye contact — a smile even. It’s not much really. But when you eat out as often as I do you realize these are rare commodities. Especially in the downtown core.

The problem is, saying a restaurant has heart sounds like a euphemism for “the food’s not that good.” It’s like being set up on a blind date and learning he or she has a great sense of humour. You know you’ve dialed up an eyesore.

Grounded has that blind date quality. The first time I visited, I kept my expectations low and was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a bustling handsome downtown oasis with undeniable charm. The place has been lovingly decked out using recycled furniture and bold colourful art. The kitchen is part of the decor — it’s open for all to see — which adds a touch of vulnerability to its funky edge. The staff buzz around attending to everyone’s needs.

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