Articles Tagged ‘Weekly lunch pick’

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Robz has a build-your-own sandwich take-out family pack

The fact that Robz still has no proper signage outside is part of its charm. At least that’s what I tell myself — I’ve been coming back here for a weekly sandwich fix since I first discovered the unassuming take-out  joint at the end of last year.

I’m always a sucker for a place when I get the feeling there’s a real human being behind an operation. And so it’s no surprise then that there is a Rob (Robert Johnson, formerly the executive chef at Crazy Horse steakhouse) who is always on-site, dancing around the big open kitchen.

What else keeps me coming back? Everything is fresh, nothing is rushed, the meats are seasoned with a light touch, properly slow-roasted and consistently lean and juicy. Everything I’ve tasted — from the smoked turkey club to the pulled pork to the coleslaw has that homemade taste that makes it easy to forget it was formerly the worst kind of Chinese fast-food take-out place.

Johnson may not be the master of quick customer service, but he has taken control of those woks for good instead of evil — repurposing the versatile vessels as smokers.

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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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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: “Brasserie-boffo fries” are part of the $10 lunch special at St. Martha’s Brasserie d’Orléans

One-plate meal: The sandwich was house-made foccacia around grilled sausages and mushrooms, caramelized red onion, and greens

By Anne DesBrisay

Tall tin ceiling? Yup.

Espresso-tinted wood? Got it.

Granite bars, hefty mirrors, bistro lighting? Check, check, check.

Big, busy, boisterous, brasserie atmosphere?

Not so much. At least not at my solitary lunch.

Enter the diminutive St Martha’s Brasserie d’Orléans and you won’t be transported to the great gastro palaces of Paris. But you will have a pretty good lunch, complete with brasserie-boffo frites. Service could use a buffing, though. And a noon crowd would help the atmosphere. Still, this new Orleans eatery is checking boxes in more than just requisite brasserie décor.

I had the special. It was a soup and sandwich combo for $10. The server informed me it came with soup and frites. Later, I’m told it was actually either soup or frites. Or salad. (He’s new, it’s new, there’s a kitchen-to-server conversation needed.) I chose soup. It was duck consommé. As soups go, it doesn’t get much more French. The broth had a gentle, clean flavour, though the brunoise of carrot were mushy.

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Digging in to Belgian Hangover Pasta at Pepper Garden

I love a warm, comforting bowl of pasta for lunch on a cold winter day. But then again, I love a good plate of pasta any time of day and, frankly, any time of year. On my very first visit to Pepper Garden last week, I needed no excuse to order the Belgian Hangover Pasta. Hey, I didn’t even have a hangover, but feel free to order it if you do; this is a cure-whatever-ails-you kind of dish. And ‘Tis the Season, as they say.

But be warned. The ambiance will do little to settle a squeamish tummy. The nasty plastic coated menus, hideous patterned banquettes, and bad music do not seem to reflect the apparent care and attention paid to food and service at this east-end neighbourhood bistro(ish). That said, the pasta is the only thing I’ve eaten at Pepper Garden so far — until recently I had assumed it was a pan-Asian AYCE buffet.

Let me say, I have a zero tolerance policy for restaurants that serve pasta but don’t know how to cook it. I was pleased to find my steaming hot ribbons of thin papparadelle pleasingly al dente and the poached (“Beking”) egg perched on top cooked just right — molten in the centre with fluffy whites just set.

The “house bacon” was more like pancetta, with a nice meaty-saltiness rather than smoky flavour and it was chopped into appealing toothsome bits that clung to the noodles with the help of much-melted pecorino (freshly grated!) and the egg yolk, which was doing its darndest to act as sauce. I would have loved a heartier glug of good olive oil to help slick it all up, but I appreciated the curative hits of green instead — wilted spinach and fresh crunchy pea shoots as well as some slivers of sweet pepper as garnish and a good grind of black pepper. Ah yes, Pepper Garden — now I get it.

Cost: Belgian Hangover Pasta, $16

Pepper Garden, 681 Montreal Rd., 613-749-2999.

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Behold the $20 mix-and-match lunch deal at Gezellig

Steve Beckta’s third restaurant, is on Westboro’s primo corner of Richmond and Churchill, in a former branch of the TD Bank

By Anne DesBrisay

Beckta has moved into my old bank. I’m not bummed about it. Truth is I’d rather walk to lunch than pay bills at this address. But I must say: I miss the books.

Gezellig, Steve Beckta’s third restaurant, is on Westboro’s primo corner of Richmond and Churchill, in a former branch of the TD Bank that happened to lend a table for used books browsing. Can’t remember exactly what the deal was: take one, donate one, leave a buck or two? Whatever. It was charming.

Still, Gezellig was necessary. I can see that. This neighbourhood is underserved, restaurant-wise. It has watched, pouting, as neighbourhoods to its east — West Wellington and Hintonburg — sprouted delicious places to eat, and muttered small obscenities when it was delivered of yet another chain pub or sports bar. Sure, Westborians have got lots of places to buy paddles and long johns and overpriced sports bras, but gastronomically-speaking, their ‘hood has offered some pretty bleak grazing.

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Digging into dim sum at Mandarin Ogilvie

Dim sum primer: Pace yourself! Anne DesBrisay cautions against succumbing to over-pointing-eagerness at the start, so easily done when you're driven by hunger.

By Anne DesBrisay

Dim Sum is one of the finest, funnest and fastest ways of filling up. Particularly if you arrive early and can snag a table right away. Tea arrives, and the bossy trolleys begin their pass-by within seconds of you settling yourself.

Your job is to indicate the steaming baskets and small bowls that appeal, succumbing not to over-pointing-eagerness at the start, so easily done when driven by hunger. That, and the reluctance to refuse the nice trolley ladies any of their wares. (Women tend to do the driving here. Men seat you, bring tea, and the bill.)

But if you don’t save some room for what tends to come toward the end of the parade (the taro dumplings, say, with their mad scientist wig around a soft, rich filling; or the delicate egg custard tarts) you’ll find yourself flagging 10 minutes after you’ve arrived.

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Warm up with seafood laksa at Sidedoor

Comfort in a bowl: Though it was more a shrimp soup than the promised seafood, DesBrisay enjoyed Sidedoor's seafood laksa, complimenting the chef on the ccomfortingly complex flavour of the coconut broth.

By Anne DesBrisay

I had been meaning to check out Sidedoor’s new lunch service for some time now. Particularly since it is no longer new. But when it first opened for the noon crowd, last December, it was big news for a little time, and it reminded me of memorable lunches at its big brother restaurant, just around the corner.

Restaurant E18hteen used to be my go-to for out of town guests in need of a satisfying lunch in a signature setting. The food (then orchestrated by chef Matthew Carmichael) was of a very high quality, the service was impeccable and the place simply gorgeous.

But E18hteen stopped its noon service a few years ago because nobody came. I think nobody came because lunch was pretty expensive and $$$$ lunches in a government town sobered with austerity were a thing of the past.

These days, the reliably-good downtown restaurants busy at noon tend to offer weekday specials, designed to get you in and out, well fed, and for not much. (Play Food & Wine’s any-two-small-plates-for-twenty-bucks formula comes to mind.)

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK Sushi Umi’s new Izakaya menu includes stellar octopus dumplings and strangely appealing sushi nachos

Takoyaki, a popular Japanese street food, are rarely found in Ottawa.

While cities including Toronto and Montreal are in the throws of full-blown izakaya infatuation, Ottawa is still waiting for a true Japanese tapas tavern of its own. Many of us had hoped that the Elgin Street restaurant/bar that calls itself Izakaya would be it, but a menu filled with such peculiarities as fried brie and udon carbonara suggest that it  offers another, less obvious, concept altogether.

Recognizing the unfulfilled appetite for the trendy Japanese cultural tradition, the folks behind the downtown institution that now goes by C’est Japon a Suisha offered a one-night-only Izakaya menu last spring. In spite of drawing in an unprecedented number of customers — apparently more than their busiest day of the year, Valentine’s Day — the izakaya menu has yet to reappear. And so we waited.

Now, Sushi Umi, a casual neighbourhood sushi shop on Wellington Street has added a small izakaya menu to its daily specials.

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Three courses, one tray at Brookstreet Hotel’s Options Lounge

Lunch box: The weekday 'business lunch' at Options Lounge is a three-course service that arrives on a square 'tonga tray.'

By Anne DesBrisay

Seeking options for fine dining in Kanata isn’t exactly an uplifting exercise. If it’s me doing the seeking, I usually end up at the Brookstreet Hotel. Its dining room, Perspectives, was first put on the map during the Michael Blackie era (MB Cuisine is now at the National Arts Centre). Since those heady opening days in 2003 — with Blackie in the kitchen and the utterly delightful sommelier Stéphanie Monnin (now running Art-is-in Bakery with her husband Kevin Mathieson) in charge of the cellar — the food can be a bit hit or miss, but I quite like the express lunch deal at Options, the bar/jazz lounge across from the lobby.

Like Perspectives, Options has a contemporary, clubby feel with its wood veneer panelling, rounded edges, and metallic finishes, all softened with the wobbly white trunks of birch saplings that act as organic dividers between upper and lower spaces. I’m sitting in a lower space this lunch, with a view of the golf course and oversized photos of legendary jazz musicians above me. And I’m pretty much all by myself.

Options’ weekday “Business Lunch” is a $23 three-course service on a “tonga tray,” which turns out to be a square white plate into which are inserted compartments, each filled with a course. (A bit like a bento box.) Ten minutes after ordering, my tray arrives, filled in with a cup of the day’s soup — curried zucchini with a crème fraiche drizzle — a filet of striped bass, moist fleshed and crisp skinned, paired with a sharp but honey-sweetened gastrique, and served on a roasted fennel purée with rapini and carrots. The sweet is an espresso brownie with a pleasant caramel sauce. An abstemious lunch, with tap water for company, but a double espresso spikes the bill by four bucks.

Cost: $23

Open: Business Lunch available Monday to Friday, 11:30am to 1:30pm

Options Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel, 525 Leggett Drive, 613-271-1800. 

 

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Time to enjoy the oozy goodness of roasted brie and pear on a burger

How bourgeois: Anne DesBrisay recommends Chez Lucien's Bourgeois burger with salad and fries.

By Anne DesBrisay

The posh name might suggest a fancy French bistro. Not a bit. Chez Lucien is just an old fashioned sort of pub, handsomely rumpled, with a legion of devoted fans. The fans know how to find it. For the rest of us there’s a speakeasy-ness, an air of discreteness about Lucien. On Murray Street, cross Dalhousie and look for the brown wood addition to a red brick building that sports an unimposing neon “Bar” sign above a small windowed door. If you’ve a yen for a good pub lunch just off the core business of the ByWard Market, you won’t do much better than this place.

Chez Lucien offers uncomplicated pub food of good quality and plenty of beer options on tap. One day I’m going to take the plunge and have the liver and onions and a glass of shiraz, but for the purposes of this “Pick,” I played it safe.

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