Articles Tagged ‘food’

OPENING: Introducing Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen, poetry in motion

At home in his Kitchen at last, Richard Nigro started feeding the Hintonbourgeois on Saturday

On Saturday, Chef Richard Nigro, one of the founding chefs of Juniper, opened the door to his very own Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen, a much-anticipated new take-out/home catering shop on Wellington.

I say much-anticipated because Nigro has been drumming up my interest with a series of stream-of-consciousness email updates from the chef detailing the progress and inevitable delays related to City permits, construction, building inspections etc. over the last several months.

During that time, I’ve had a glimpse into the chef’s creative mind, quirky sense of humour, and offbeat approach to business that will no doubt make his kitchen unique to the neighbourhood and the city. In the first email he wrote:

“I feel as if I’m writing from deep in the big empty… Little steps, little steps that together make a leap, a bound and a jump across the finish line… I am hoping that like a snowball at the top of a hill, the renovations will slowly build momentum and speed as the work continues and will rush to a conclusion. “

How many chefs do you know who would describe construction delays in such poetic terms? The next email continued this theme:

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IN DIGESTION: Discovering “Modern Montreal”—highlights from Ottawa Magazine’s Foodlab dinner

Chef Marek plates the black bass dish designed to evoke the lightness of spring

On Saturday night, I hosted a sold-out City Bites Live event at Urban Element that featured celebrated Montreal chefs Seth Gabrielse and Michelle Marek, the creative due behind Foodlab.

The name Foodlab can be misleading — is it futuristic food? Experimental? Test tube food? On the contrary. It’s revolutionary, even radical, raison d’etre is to be a place driven by a creative mandate, not a financial one — a restaurant built upon the  love of food, a deep respect for ingredients, and food producers, not profit.

If you think about it, pretty much everything we eat has been made with profit in mind. I have often wondered how chefs would cook if they weren’t under the enormous pressure imposed on them by thin profit margins and high-stakes stress of the food business. Foodlab gives us a taste of that.

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INTRODUCING: The Zydeco Smokehouse, Little Italy’s friendly new take-out sandwich shop

Greg Delair (right) came out of semi-retirement to share his love of meat from the smoker mopped with his own secret BBQ sauce.

Greg Delair likes to think of his new take-out sandwich counter as a food truck without the wheels. Open since December, The Zydeco Smokehouse is simple, crowd-pleasing food, made to order and served up fast, with an emphasis on Southern-inspired barbecue meats that have been left to linger for hours in the smoker.

His slow-cooked fast food is all made from scratch, he says. “The only thing that comes from a package is the potato chips.” He slices up the cabbage for his sweet and crunchy (blessedly mayo-free) coleslaw fresh every morning, saying, “Day-old coleslaw just doesn’t work for me.”

The sandwiches — pulled pork, pulled chicken breast, and Andouille sausage are staples on the winter menu — featuring hickory, maple and apple wood chips, respectively. There’s no deep-fryer, so rather than fries, sandwiches can be ordered with a side of Delair’s smoked Mac & Cheese or his chipotle and molasses baked beans with smoked pork belly. He makes his own version of “poutine” by topping those beans with house smoked bacon, pulled pork, and cheese curds.

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: The salmon pastrami sandwich at Westboro Fish House

Fresh salmon rubbed and cured with pastrami spices and then hot-smoked combines the best of two Jewish food faves.

I was delighted when I spotted salmon pastrami, a novel mash-up of two classic Jewish foods, on the menu at the new-ish Westboro Fish House. Located in the space that was formerly Fratelli (the Italian restaurant has since moved up the street to 275 Richmond), and still run by the Valente brothers, the casual family-style seafood joint is no kosher deli. That makes it even more impressive to see said salmon pastrami being served on authentic marble rye.

The salmon has some of the translucent sheen and moistness of cold-smoked fish but co-owner owner Robert Valente told me later than in fact it is hot smoked in a small smoker in the kitchen.

A 2-3 pound fillet is first rubbed with paprika, sea salt, coriander, mustard, peppercorns, fresh garlic, and brown sugar and left to rest overnight in the fridge. I like that the salmon was roughly sliced (like a good pastrami) with its edges only slightly crumbly; its rustic rub adding the crunch of whole spices. I only wished it had tasted a little more smoky than salty. Luckily, the overall effect was improved by a schmear of grainy mustard, fresh lettuce, and slivers of red onion.

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BEST OF CITY BITES 2012: The Annual Digest of all that was noteworthy and delicious

It was a very decadent year. Looking back at my food photos taken over the last 12 months, one sub-theme emerged beyond the explosion of “Young Cuisine”: it was the year of ultra-homey desserts. We said so long crème brulée and hello gourmet doughnuts, decadent puddings, cheesecake, cream puffs, and ice cream sundaes. Along with that “trifle” of an observation, I offer this photographic snapshot of food memories from 2012.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a very sweet new year!! — Shawna



ANNE’S PICKS: Delighting in fish — two ways — at Le Resto

Fried bliss: Le Resto's fish and chips is known to be among the best in the region

By Anne DesBrisay

It took dull, dogged discipline to look past the signature fish and chips, and drift down to the bottom of the page where floundered a dish of steamed cod. But point to it I did, with teeth-gritted determination. My doc had made me promise that I would eat less fat. This, for God sake, thanks to blood work done the morning after an evening of sumptuous food-judging at the Gold Medal Plates. The results were surely skewed, I complained, by all those rich little treats with wines to match… a bit of beer, too… don’t forget the beer. I think it’s fair to say she had little sympathy.

So here we are, my friend and I, at Le Resto in Chelsea, on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We are seated at one of the window tables, the blinds down a bit to block the parking lot view and keep the November sun from boiling our wine. We’ve gone for a two-hour hike in the hills. We order: she, the aforementioned fish & chips, known (not just by me) to be among the best in the region; I, the very-good-for-me-but-not-very-exciting steamed cod.

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FOOD BUZZ: Ex-Juniper chef gets set to open Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen — a take-out shop dedicated to “worldly home cooking”

Richard Nigro is aiming to open his take-out food shop in February

Nobody has a laugh quite like Richard Nigro. It’s higher-pitched, louder and more jovial than you’d expect, and it erupts from him during conversation without warning like a splash of hot sauce on scrambled eggs.

It’s nice to see Nigro looking so cheerful after our last meeting, which had a more serious tenor, coming on the heels of a seemingly abrupt ending to his 17-year tenure as head chef at Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar.

This week he’s fired up to share the news that renovations have begun on the retail space on Wellington St. that was last Emerald Pastry & Food Shop, where Nigro is preparing to open Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen in the New Year.

He describes the concept for his shop along the same lines as popular catering and take-out operations like Epicuria, The Red Apron, and Thyme & Again, with an emphasis on offering heat-and-eat meals for time-starved customers who appreciate restaurant-quality food. He hopes to differentiate himself by offering an innovative, eclectic, and internationally inspired menu. “And because I’m in the kitchen,” he says with a grin, “the food will be flavourful.”

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HOT STUFF: Chilies are front and centre in this roundup of the city’s spicy dishes

Winter is upon us: have you had your capsicum today? By Anne DesBrisay

This green mango salad from Siam Bistro is as pretty as it is hot! Photo by Lalonde.

Chili peppers, such pretty little tricksters. Just look at that beautiful mango salad – all pretty in shades of pink, accented with sweet little rings of red. Think of those rings as alarm bells. An authentic Thai salad (a yum) is as biting as it is beautiful, thanks to the power of the wee bird’s-eye chilies. But chilies do more than clear the sinuses: they are powerful antidotes to winter, loaded with vitamin C, among other good things. From the gentle lip tinglers to the breath robbers, chilies should be as much a part of your arsenal for fighting off winter’s worst as your scarf and toque. These dishes are burning hot. Keep your hanky handy. (Find this green mango salad at Siam Bistro, 1268 Wellington St. W., 613-728-3111,

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GET YOUR NOSTALGIA FIX QUICK: Another old-style diner closes up shop

Zellers Family Diner at Billings Bridge will likely be replaced by a Starbucks
By Michael Prentice

Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

The old-fashioned diner in the soon-to-close Zellers store at Billings Bridge Plaza resembles a time capsule from 50 years ago. It even calls itself the Zellers Family Diner. Its appearance hasn’t changed in years — or even decades. But the restaurant will close its doors forever in mid-December, leaving many unhappy regulars looking for an alternative that suits them as well. The diner is closing because this Zellers location, like several in Ottawa, is slated to be converted into a Target department store. But while the diner will shut down in December, the Zellers is expected to remain open until March. The word is that when it reopens as a Target store, a Starbucks will replace the diner.

So long: (Left to right) Donna Cummings, Najwa Acar, and Krista Goodchild. Staff and diners call Cummings the heart and soul of the restaurant. Along with managing the diner, she runs bingo nights for customers (and makes the desserts for the evening herself ). Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

Donna Cummings is the heart and soul of the diner. She’s a big reason many customers return time and again. Some know her only by her first name. Some know her just as “the lady who always serves us.”

Donna, who has worked at the diner for a decade, supervises a staff of eight in the 94-seat restaurant. She says she has no idea where, or if, she’ll find another job. “I’m going to be 58 in January. Who’s going to hire me?” she wonders. But she knows she’ll be at the helm until the last day. “It’s too early to look for another job,” she says. “I can’t just abandon my regular customers. A captain goes down with the ship.”

While Target has reportedly said it will hire Zellers employees whenever possible, Donna says the staff have received no guarantees.

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SWEET TREAT: Singing the praises of Hummingbird’s bean-to-bar chocolate

By Shawna Wagman

This story appears in the October edition of Ottawa Magazine. Buy the magazine on newsstands or order your online edition.

Besides looking pretty, Hummingbird chocolate bars showcase the true character of good-quality cacao beans. Photo by Luther Caverly.

Snap! Oh, the satisfying snap. Then you put a piece in your mouth, and it instantly starts to melt. The seductive texture coats your tongue, and the fruity explosion begins. There are lemons and cherries — or was that raisin? Was that smoke or honey? Peach, pepper, or apricot? Who knew that plain, dark chocolate could have so many flavours?

Thanks to chocolate maker Erica Gilmour and her husband, Drew, of Hummingbird Chocolate, more of us can enjoy the true character of good-quality cacao beans, an experience that has been disappearing because of industrialization and over-processing by giant chocolate companies.

The couple met in Afghanistan as foreign-aid workers and ultimately settled in Stittsville. Drew continues to travel to small farms in developing countries, including cacao-growing co-operatives, while Erica pours her passion into the task of making small batches of chocolate by hand from the beans. She explains that each step in the process can have a dramatic impact on the final product. “Roasting the beans gets rid of bitterness,” says Erica, “but if you roast them too long, you lose the low and high notes that give good chocolate its depth.”

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