Articles Tagged ‘Shawna Wagman’

EATING & DRINKING GUIDE 2015: The Ottawa Food Lover’s Guide to Everything



All around town, chefs are focusing their considerable talents on preparing comfort food. Many restaurants are striving to become neighbourhood destinations as knowledgeable diners gravitate to casual eateries and skilled home cooking, modestly presented. The trend is toward gathering in groups, sharing both plates and tables. We want to kick back, enjoy unpretentious dishes made with fresh local ingredients, and wash it all down with a seasonal craft beer or a new wine discovery from Prince Edward County.

The 2015 edition of Eating & Drinking reflects this sensibility, with Ottawa Magazine restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay paying special homage to neighbourhood destinations and tucked-away eateries as part of this season’s guide to 32 must-eat restaurants. As the desire for a more intimate dining experience takes off, so does the appetite for a more personal connection to the growers and makers of all that we eat and drink.

Small-batch foods, artisanal cordials, and craft beers are tempting because they taste great but also because we feel a connection to the farmers, brewers, bakers, and butchers who are preparing them just for us. Welcome to the table.

By Sarah Brown 

Ottawa’s most exciting new food businesses and best restaurants

New and Noteworthy
Fifteen of the tastiest new additions to the culinary landscape. By Shawna Wagman

Small-batch finds
The yummiest, the most sophisticated, the trendiest small-batch things you need to try right now. Our opinionated checklist for the discerning locavore. By Cindy Deachman, Anne DesBrisay, and Shawna Wagman

Some offer a boisterous evening at the bar; others are comfortable old-timers, innovating gracefully to keep up with the times. Ottawa Magazine restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay selects 32 restaurants for this year’s must-visit list. By Anne DesBrisay

Festive Gourmet
An overview of the next 12 months of finger-licking celebrations. By Matt Harrison

Adventurous Gourmet
Restaurateurs are devising all manner of inventive special events to satiate our hunger for novelty. By Amy Allen

The much-anticipated Fauna makes it onto Anne DesBrisay's "Eat Here This Year" list. Photo by Marc Fowler

The much-anticipated Fauna makes it onto Anne DesBrisay’s “Eat Here This Year” list. Photo by Marc Fowler

Briana Kim of Café My House talks about raw agave, Kitchen Nightmares, and other favourite things in the 2015 edition of Ottawa Magazine's Eating & Drinking. Photo by Luther Caverly

Briana Kim of Café My House talks about raw agave, Kitchen Nightmares, and other favourite things in the 2015 edition of Ottawa Magazine’s Eating & Drinking. Photo by Luther Caverly

A curated guide to satisfying your gourmet grocery and takeout needs. By Cindy Deachman

My Favourite Things

Rich Wilson of The Pomeroy House
Briana Kim of Café My House
Cyril Nebout and Leslie Yang of Cylie Artisans Chocolatiers
Sara Pishva of Top Shelf Preserves
Kimiko Uriu of Kimicha Tea

Wines and craft beers to suit every event on your social calendar. 

David Lawrason details his 47 favourite bottles.

The Ultimate Beer Run. By Jordan Duff

Refreshing Craft Beers. By Jordan Duff

Back Page
Dinner With the Family: Erling’s Variety

Susan Phipps, owner of the Joy of Gluten Free, is highlighted in the Bakers section of the 2015 Eating & Drinking guide. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Susan Phipps, owner of the Joy of Gluten Free, is highlighted in the Bakers section of the 2015 Eating & Drinking guide. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen


EATING LIFE: Sweet treats, custom cupcakes, and our collective guilt

This article was originally published in Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine

Specialty treats evoke childhood delights and fulfill our need to individualize. But those cakes and shakes are also laden with guilt. Shawna Wagman explores the rise of the modern sweet shop

Illustration by Michael Zavacky

Illustration by Michael Zavacky


Standing in line for soft-serve ice cream at the Merla-Mae ice cream shop is still one of my fondest memories of growing up in London, Ontario. A dispenser, shaped like a mini Ferris wheel, crushed peanuts, which would then tumble evenly onto the chocolate coating of my chocolate-vanilla-twist ice cream cone. The delicately adorned dessert was called a tree cone for its resemblance to a Christmas tree.

That cone is still the image that flashes across my mind as a symbol of the way certain tastes take us back to the simple delights of being a kid. And the painted sign posted beneath the menu that read “Through these windows, we serve the finest people in the world, our customers” drew my attention to the people waiting in line. For the first time, I noticed the unique way people behave in a sweets shop. Children bounced and giggled; couples caressed and kissed — it was as if the mere thought of ice cream inspired affection. All these years later, living in an age when cellphone cameras often snap the first bite, I still find my inner anthropologist emerge whenever I’m waiting in line for sweets.

When I set out to write this column, I began with a bit of a bias. I wanted to investigate the conflicted love affair with sweets that has been unfolding around the city (and within myself). Ottawa is experiencing a dessert boom, an explosion of traditional and modern sweet purveyors tempting even the gluten-free and vegans among us with doughnuts, cupcakes, squares, chocolates, pastries, and whoopee pies. The latest addition is Macarons et Madeleines.

My hunch was that what’s in fashion in the world of sweets would reveal something about what’s happening in the wider cultural landscape. For one thing, we’re seeing a desire for novelty and an obsession with individuality. I might be reading into it, but reflected in the beer frosting of a cupcake and the DIY-toppings buffet at self-serve fro-yo shops is the notion that every individual is different and special — and desserts should be too.

The fact that treats are becoming more complicated even as they promise us the sweet simplicity of Grandma’s kitchen is an irony not lost on me. Consider the rise of a pastry innovation in which two distinct dessert worlds collide. I’m thinking, of course, of the famous croissant-doughnut hybrid, the Cronut, as well as things like green tea macarons, Nutella-stuffed rice balls, and s’mores pancakes. We are seeing both a desire for novelty and an obsession with individuality and customization (hence the rise of treats turned out in “limited edition”).

Cherry pistachio mini cake is one example of the rich desserts available at Holland's Cake and Shake. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Cherry pistachio mini cake is one example of the rich desserts available at Holland’s Cake and Shake. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Perhaps there is no better example of this phenomenon than Holland’s Cake and Shake in Hintonburg. Customers appear to be tickled by the idea of tasting treats from childhood in new, creative forms — a red licorice tart, say, or an iced vanilla cake crowned with Froot Loops brittle. Then there’s the cake shake, an idea that started as a joke by pastry chef Michael Holland, the shop’s owner. He decided to combine the shop’s two namesake items into one, allowing customers to choose among the weekly miniature layer-cake options as well as one of the day’s homemade soft ice cream flavours — that means at least 12 possible combinations. It all gets whizzed together into a milkshake.

For the indecisive glutton, Holland created The Overlord, a large cake shake adorned with a tower of extra treats, including a whole cookie, another cake, a chocolate brownie, and an Elvis truffle (made with white chocolate, peanut butter, and banana, topped with bacon bits). To make this caloric masterpiece into a true spectacle, it’s served speared with a lit sparkler.

“We always take their picture,” says Holland. “They look so happy when I give it to them.”

I marvel at anyone who has the nerve to order such a sugary beast, because I tend to sympathize with those who sidle up to sweets counters and find themselves muttering to the clerk, tossing out every excuse they can think of to explain and justify what they are buying. “It’s not for me — I don’t like sweets” or “I won’t have any dinner tonight.” Shame seems to ooze out of us like cream from inside a Cronut.

On my first visit to Cake and Shake, I stood awkwardly at the front, eyes darting between the chalkboard of daily offerings and the display case filled with a charming array of treats that look like something from the colourfully ornate world of Dr. Seuss. I’ve since watched other uninitiated customers walking in, maybe asking a few questions, and walking out empty-handed. Holland shrugs it off. He knows some people feel overwhelmed and have a hard time deciding. “They stand there sometimes holding up the line for 10 minutes trying to make up their minds, and they are telling us they really don’t know what to pick. It’s very honest.”

Holland says he added little signs identifying the different cakes to help make decision-making less daunting. Still, he wants the experience to be personal, and he and his staff are always standing by to answer questions about specific items. But as Holland acknowledges, some people really want to talk and others prefer just to point and pay. The most trouble-free transactions occur on Fridays, when Holland posts a photo of a treat “available today only” on Twitter. He watches the wave of customers who come in to order it, revealing themselves because they don’t bother to browse the rest of the menu. If you tweet it, they will come.

I asked Holland if he has ever been surprised by customer behaviour. That’s when he told me about the couples who come in together and then return separately. He says these individuals express frustration about compromising on choice or sharing a certain cake with a spouse on their former visit. They say they have come back so that they can get whatever they want.

It makes perfect sense. Like hitting the “like” button on Facebook, we live in an age in which expressing personal attachment toward certain pleasures has become more important than the pleasures themselves. These days we not only yearn to find and share tasty treats, but we expect some kind of epiphany too — a moment worthy of being broadcast. That might explain our return to innocence when it comes to the anticipation of something sweet.

As for the more introverted sweet lovers among us, I guess I’ll see you in line.

WHY EAT OUT? Shawna Wagman on The New Rules For Eating Out

This article first appeared as part of The Encyclopedia of Eating Now in our Winter 2014 issue.

Why eat out? It’s a question that challenges assumptions and calls restaurateurs to make their pitch, which is exactly what Shawna Wagman was trying to do when she invited five insiders from the city’s foodie scene to gather at Urban Element earlier this year. As Wagman wrote in her introduction, cooking for chefs — and probing them with questions about the industry — was an exhilarating and frightening experiment. In fact, the same words might be used to describe running a restaurant. This past year was a particularly tough one for the industry, but hard economic times don’t appear to be stifling the creativity in our city’s kitchens. While many were saddened to see the end of Domus, this year also saw the opening of five new restaurants on Bank Street alone. So it would seem Ottawans have plenty of answers to the question on our cover.

In this story, Wagman rounds up some of the comments made by her guests for a tongue-in-cheek list of directives for restaurant-goers.

Stephen Beckta, Shawna Wagman, and Marysol Foucault discussed the local restaurant scene at a private gathering this past summer at Urban Element. Photo by Miv Fournier.

Stephen Beckta, Shawna Wagman, and Marysol Foucault discussed the local restaurant scene at a private gathering this past summer at Urban Element. Photo by Miv Fournier.

1. Before you write a negative review online, contact the chef or restaurant owner to give them an opportunity to handle the complaint. Stephen Beckta (Beckta, Gezellig, Play) says, “If someone chooses to contact me directly, I will turn around their experience.”

Marysol Foucault. Photo by Miv Fournier

Marysol Foucault. Photo by Miv Fournier

2. Do not be afraid to ask for what you want. If you want a table by the window, ask for it. If you want to be left alone for 20 minutes before considering the dessert menu, tell your server that you are in no rush.

3. Order something you might not normally think you’d like. There is no other way to develop and expand your taste vocabulary, and it’s a great way to encourage chefs to be more adventurous. Marysol Foucault of Chez Edgar says, “People are curious, and that’s the best thing you can ask for.”

4. Do not expect every bite of restaurant food to transform your life. The Food Network is a fantasy, and it is warping our expectations of what kind of religious awakening should be happening in our mouths.

5. Say goodbye to the super-size mentality.Recognize the value of a little less of something that is top quality.

Stephen Beckta. Photo by Miv Fournier

Stephen Beckta. Photo by Miv Fournier


6. Recognize that food, cooking, and hospitality are human endeavours. As Beckta admits, “Sometimes we screw up.”

7. When you spend money on food, think like a European and factor in the whole package. In other words, think of it as a fee for renting a tiny piece of real estate and some hospitality for a few hours.

8. Do not let parking or poor weather dictate where and when you eat out. Make dining out and socializing an important part of a balanced and civilized urban life. Sometimes the extra effort to make it happen makes the experience even sweeter.

9. Vote for hospitality with your dollars. Dine at the places that make you feel great.

10. Eat out early on weekends. If you go early, you get more attention from the server, the music may be quieter, and it’s probably easier to find a parking spot. Pat Garland says Absinthe has a no-7 p.m. reservation policy on weekends and adds, “The reason you can’t get a reservation at seven is because everyone else in Ottawa has a reservation at seven.”


OCTOBER ISSUE: The New Green + Money Talks


Ottawa Magazine’s October 2014 cover

This issue’s cover image — the iconic marijuana leaf — was not intended to be the cover story. But as we dug into the subject of money, we found that the topics — currency and investments and the like — were, frankly, not very photogenic.

Indeed, as the stories came in, the abstract, intangible nature of money continued to present a challenge. Plus, as Daniel Drolet asserts in “Stealth Wealth” (page 32), Ottawans seem to have a particular tendency to avoid ostentatious displays of wealth. In addition, many of today’s booming economies are without street presence. Ottawa’s own Shopify, which last year announced $100 million in new funding, is
a testament to the growth of web-based businesses.

That said, there was no shortage of awe-inspiring workplaces to feature in the “Office Crush” series (page 38). In fact, in the case of MD Physician Services, the success of their massive renovation lies, in part, in providing flexible workstations and lockers for staff who occasionally work from home. They’re offering the best of both worlds — the flexibility to work remotely and a stimulating space in which to collaborate with colleagues — in order to retain the best people. (And we can’t wait to see what those Shopify kids dream up for their new Elgin Street digs.)

It seems Bitcoin could serve as an apt metaphor for our current relationship with money. The cyber currency has yet to really permeate our everyday lives, but it’s catching on. There’s an ATM-type machine in the ByWard Market that lets Bitcoin users withdraw from their accounts, and Jazz Fest offered it as an option for ticket purchases this past summer. On the other hand, there is something special about coins and paper money, even cheques — not only the artistry of the physical objects but also for all that they symbolize in the evolution of civilization. Will piggy banks and ink signatures survive in the digital age? We’re in uncertain times when it comes to Bitcoin: it could be the Next Big Thing or something we’re laughing about five years from now.

But Bitcoin is definitely not cover-image material, and I think the marijuana leaf actually is a good representation of our economic future. Just 10 years ago, we would have scoffed at the idea of the government getting into the medical marijuana business. Times have changed. Justin Trudeau might be the politician openly discussing his post-dinner joints (for more on that, see “The Jester,” page 15), but it’s the Harper government that has ushered in a new — albeit controversial — openness about medical marijuana. No one could have guessed that, and no one can tell with any certainty what the next cash crop might be. So we’re having fun with our first Money Issue, mixing informational pieces with tongue-in-cheek humour, all in the name of bringing filthy lucre to the fore.

Coming Up: Our big food feature returns in the Winter issue of Ottawa Magazine. This time around, we’re rounding up the best dishes in the city, turning the tables on chefs and restaurateurs, and looking at the big picture when it comes to dining out. It’s sure to leave even the most fervent foodie completely satisfied.

Dayanti Karunaratne, editor

 This City

Reason to Love Ottawa: Back to (Forest) School
By Matt Harrison
Photo by Rémi Thériault

FOUND: A silo in the city
By Roger Bird
Photo by Jackson Couse

The Jester brings Frightening political predictions
By Chris Lackner
Illustrations by Alan King

Read the rest of this entry »

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



WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Pork souvlaki pita and Café Frappé cheesecake at the Nutty Greek Bake Shop

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Lobster melt and an “affogato” at Merivale Fish Market’s offspring, Luigi Panini

FOOD BUZZ: Back Forty Cheese is back in business! City Bites catches up with new owner Jeff Fenwick

FOOD BUZZ: Whalesbone’s 5th Annual Bytowne Oysterfest June 24, noon – 11pm

INSIDE SCOOP: Chef Mike Moffatt talks about gezellig, Steve Beckta’s third restaurant, opening in Westboro later this year