Articles Tagged ‘wine’

LUNCH PICK: Head to Ginza for real ramen

BY ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Spicy Tonkotsu ramen. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

I used to head to this address when I had a cold. There was a certain special something in a bowl of Jo Moon Ting congee that went to work on sore throats and self pity. And while I was there, I’d pick up a roast duck or slab of barbecued pork from the line of burnished meat hanging in Jo Moon’s street side window. But JMT shut down sometime in 2011 and Three Kings moved in, offering their particular gifts for a few years. (I recall  a scrumptious platter of pork cheeks in garlic broth and a disappointing crab soup.)

But enough with the history lesson. The Kings have gone now, and as of about a month ago, 832 Somerset St. is the new home of a second location for an Elgin Street restaurant called Ginza Ramen. Its downtown big brother sells more things — sushi, vermicelli dishes, pho, and a longer list of appetizers — and it has a liquor license, which is ‘in the works’ at this location.

But the Chinatown location’s focus is more on ramen. There are six varieties here — three based on pork broth, two on chicken, and one vegetarian broth that’s miso-based and a bit grainier. They were out of chicken broth — which seemed odd given it was early evening — so we ordered a spicy Tonkotsu Ramen (with enough pow of chili heat to make upper lips sweat) and the vegetable ramen.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Gyoza tops the list of snacks at Ginza Ramen. Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Their presentation reminded me a bit of the Korean bibimbap, with quadrants of colour and texture that you gaze upon for a moment before plunging in chopsticks and mucking up the pretty surface. But you want to get at it before the soft boiled soy-marinated egg has over-cooked in the heat of the plunge. You want the molten yolk still to be free to run into the liquid, enriching the broth. Other than egg and the chewy strings of ramen noodle (not made in house, but fresh tasting) you find bamboo shoots, shiitake mushrooms, scallion, nori, and thin shavings of crisp and fatty pork belly. The miso soup adds corn, bean sprouts, and bok choy.  Based on our server’s suggestion, we tossed in some of the pickled ginger from the pot on the wooden table.

I recognize a well made broth — one that begins life with bones in a pot and spends ages burbling away — and I don’t dispute its merits, but if you’re used to the sweet, fragrant pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) you will find this broth cloudier, richer, less sweet and certainly more piggy. The noodles used are the Japanese wheat noodles, rather than the rice vermicelli of pho. The flavour of the broth starts off heavy, and for me, a bit off-putting. But the flavour grows, the garlic hits, the richness lightens, and the porkiness becomes more pleasant.

Other than soup, there are a few snacks at Ginza Ramen: gyoza (best of the bunch), chicken karaage, and deep fried squid legs wrapped in the same crunchy, golden coat, and furnished with a wasabi mayonnaise. All are tasty enough but none memorable or, I would suggest, made in house.  There’s also two fried rice dishes, neither of which we tried.

But if your only encounter with ramen has been in a dorm room with a kettle, a Mr. Noodles package and its glittering silver ‘flavour pouch’ you might want to get yourself to Ginza and see what all the fuss is about.

In a post-Momofuku noodle-mad era, much has been made about the ramen rage, and Ottawa looks to be getting a taste of that, with Ginza locations leading the charge.

Ramen (generous bowl) $10.95 – $11.95

832 Somerset St. and 280 Elgin St., 613-233-2888,ginzarestaurant.ca

WINE PICKS: David Lawrason’s best bargain barbecue reds

This article is part of the Ottawa Magazine 2014 Eating & Drinking Guide, which is on newsstands until Spring 2015.

By DAVID LAWRASON

The quality of less expensive wines continues to climb amid intense global competition. These modern reds are fruit-driven and casual, yet distinctive. Stock up ahead of grilling season.

Click on the thumbnails for a slideshow of affordable wines to serve this barbecue season.

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…)

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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 

 

 

ANNE’S PICK: Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates 2013 is tonight!

By Anne DesBrisay

Roger Andrews, from Relish Restaurant in St. John’s, Newfoundland, chose to stuff squab with chanterelles and pistachios and cook the package sous vide. There were other elements on his competition plate, including a reduction of Labrador tea in his jus. It was a dish that secured the chef — quite handily apparently — a gold medal at the St. John’s Gold Medal Plates late last week.

St. John’s was number nine in the Gold Medal Plates cross country culinary competitions, in support of Canada’s olympic athletes. This makes Andrews the ninth contender who will be moving on to the intense duelling-to-come at the Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna this February. There he’ll face down regional champs from ten other cities — Vancouver/Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, and St John’s, NFLD/Labrador.

Jason Duffy (silver) Jamie Stunt (gold) Jonathan Korecki (bronze). Photo by Greg Kolz.

Jason Duffy (silver) Jamie Stunt (gold) Jonathan Korecki (bronze). Photo by Greg Kolz.

Tonight, we shine the spotlight on our own. This is Ottawa’s night. I expect it will be quite the glittering party at the National Arts Centre — chefs and winemakers, small plates and matching drinks, along with a star studded cast of Olympic athletes, Canadian musicians, enticing prizes, merry auctions. Indeed, the event has been sold out for weeks, and tonight’s the night we wrest the title of Ottawa-Gatineau Gold Medal Plates Culinary Champion 2012 from Jamie Stunt (formerly of OZ Kafé) who went on to represent us so well at the national level, bringing home a silver medal from Kelowna.  

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Alirang’s dolsot bibimbap

 

By Anne DesBrisay

Alirang on Nelson Street serves up a warm and flavourful lunch. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Alirang on Nelson Street serves up a warm and flavourful lunch. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

There’s something about the comforting smell of sesame oil …  whenever I catch a whiff, I find myself longing for Korean food, for stone pot bibimbap. Heck, just saying ‘bibimbap’ puts me in a fine mood — and for those wonderful Korean side dishes, banchan, that come out as prelude to the main event.

The Korean restaurant Alirang has a fine version of dolsot bibimbap. It comes out sizzling in its stone bowl, the rice bed crusting happily on the bottom, the top a wheel of treats: spinach, carrot, zucchini, yellow bean sprouts, radish, rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, meat (I chose the sweet, marinated barbecued beef, bulgogi) all crowned with a lightly fried egg and black sesame seeds.

Dolsot Bimimbap from Alirang. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Dolsot Bimimbap from Alirang. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

 

The contrasting flavours and textures, the garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, and chili paste (gochujang) all contribute their parts to the whole. It’s a shame, but you gotta do it: take your chopsticks and attack. Muck it all up. It’ll look like the dog’s breakfast but the flavour is pretty wonderful.

Cost: $12.95

134 Nelson St., 613-789-222

 

WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: A burger from Wellington Sandwiches

 

An old fashioned burger satisfies — for five bucks! Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

An old fashioned burger satisfies — for five bucks! Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

By Anne DesBrisay

Sometimes you just want a burger. A plain and tasty, old fashioned kind of burger, nothing fancy, no exotic condiments, that begins with a well-seasoned patty of ground beef, grilled over a gas flame to pale pink. It gets tucked into a white bun and plumped with grilled onion, a slice of October tomato, some lettuce, a length or two of thick, crisp bacon, and mustard that oozes out and makes a mess. The burgers at the quirky little Wellington Sandwiches shop remind me of my mum’s circa 1974. There’s something retro tasting about them.

You may be waiting a while for it, especially when the lone, no-nonsense woman is busy making sandwiches for the noon hour queue.  But there are newspapers and magazines and the sun during my wait was pouring in the front window — and I had a cup of carrot soup for company. (A pretty lousy carrot soup, as it turns out, but there you go.) The burger was considerably better, and worth the wait.

“Call ahead next time,” she tells me. And I may just do that.

What I didn’t do was have a butter tart for dessert. Line was too long. But I’ve been told by palates I trust, that they’re really something. Next time…

Burgers are five bucks

1123 Wellington St W., 613-722-5946

ANNE’S PICKS: Seasonal doughnuts! Pumpkin Spice Berliners from Art-Is-In Bakery

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Art-Is-In’s Kevin Mathieson is the king of the doughnut and this seasonal one filled with pumpkin cream is a true treat.

By Anne DesBrisay

There’s an urban myth of long ago, that claims JFK, in a speech delivered in Germany, and attempting to tell the people of Berlin that he was one of them, said “Ich bin ein Berliner” which translates not as he intended — “I am a citizen of Berlin” — but as “I am a jelly doughnut.”

There were some guffaws, apparently. And some don’t believe he actually said that, but the story’s better than the facts, so it lives on.

To be confused with one of Kevin Mathieson’s Berliners would be no great insult, it seems to me.

Mathieson is the king of jelly doughnuts in this town. Berliners, they are called. Or Pfannkuchen, a North German pastry made from sweet dough, sprinkled with shiny sugar, and typically filled in with jam.

And this seasonal one, filled in with pumpkin cream is a true treat, because yes, the pastry itself is fresh and light and not too sweet, but it’s the quality of the pastry cream that’s so fantastic. With the added bonus that he hasn’t gone crazy with the nutmeg. Nothing ruins pumpkin more than an indelicate hand with the nutmeg grater.

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WEEKLY LUNCH PICK: Hits and misses at the new Latin Bistro on Meadowlands

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Latin Bistro hires cooks from Latin-American countries, each one tasked with making the food of his/her homeland.

By Anne DesBrisay

Brazilian cheese bread, Guatemalan jocon, Chilean churrasco, Cuban croquettes, Salvadorean tamales, Mexican enchiladas, empanadas from Chile, Peru and Argentina, and every other Saturday, Venezuelan arepoza day.

These are just some of the dishes on offer at the new Latin Bistro, sprouted in the spot where the Italian sandwich/deli shop DiRienzo’s used to be. The affable John — who is, naturally, Dutch — and his Chilean-born wife run the place, hiring cooks from Latin-American countries, each one tasked with making the food of his/her homeland.

On my visit, the special was Mexican enchiladas. I tried those, along with a wide sampling of empanadas, a croquette, a Cuban soup, and a wee coconut kiss for dessert. I was keen on some of it — the house black beans are deeply coloured, rich in flavour and nubbly in texture, and the green salsa I was given with the enchiladas was fine, as were the corn tortillas.

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On her first two visits DesBrisay found that, although substantial, many of the dishes lacked flavour.

 

But the rest was largely lacking, I’m sorry to report. The soup was salty and flavour missing. The shredded chicken inside the enchiladas, though moist, tasted too much of salty base, the cheese scattered on top was the rubbery preshredded product. The guacamole had been whipped to goo and didn’t have much flavour, and I found myself longing for fresh cilantro, something to brighten the dish. The empanadas all suffered from (again) too-salty fillings, and, with the exception of the Argentinian chicken empanada, a deficit of filling vis a vis pastry. The Cuban croquette was gluey.

Such a great concept, this Latin Bistro, but if I might suggest less focus on the quantity of cuisines until the quality is up to speed.

Cost: Enchiladas, $8.99, empanadas, $4.20 each, croquette, $4.50

Open: Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Latin Bistro, 1121 Meadowlands Dr., 613-510-1202.