Articles Tagged ‘wine’

DESBRISAY DINES: Elegant salads and splendid mains at new Preston Street resto Salt

By ANNE DESBRISAY
Salt's pierrogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

Salt’s pierogi gnocchi. Photo by Anne DesBrisay.

This big corner space of Preston Square has had two fairly short-lived restaurant tenants. The latest is called Salt, and I rather hope it’s third time’s the charm for this one.
Salt is a tall, dark, mod space, divided into bar, dining room, and patio. The design is generically industrial, though the  chandeliers and custom iron work lend lustre. One wall is all windows framed with dark drapes. It overlooks a corner patio with  fire pit, lounge furniture, and a nicely tended vegetable/herb garden in full swing. Another wall introduces a built-in of backlit spirits around a slick electric fireplace. The lounge at the front has a marble bar-top curved around a baby grand piano. The dining room proper is very dark, the walls and ceiling painted black. (Or possibly navy to match the drapes; hard to tell.) Outside the kitchen pass is a handsome shelving unit, loaded with carefully considered bits of culinary nostalgia (an old Joy of Cooking, a few ‘we love the whole pig’ cookbooks, many jarred preserves). It all looks designer-great.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Two problems marred my initial enjoyment of the place. One, was the pong of bleach, or some sort of industrial cleaning solution. (Not an unusual whiff at bars and restaurants these days, but a regrettable one: doesn’t whet the appetite.) And two, it was freezing cold. And quite dark. It was a welcome that had me bracing for a middling meal and a final bill that looked like it would be hefty.
The cold was dealt with by a gracious server. The smell faded (or we got used to it). The bill was indeed sizeable, but the food, as it happened, was disconcertingly delicious.
That may have to do with the fact that Salt, which is open 18 hours, seven days a week, has three chefs: Aaron Wong, most recently at Play; Jessica Hendren from Town; and Ryan Edwards, formerly of Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar. Three great restaurants.
The dinner menu is divided into small and large plates, and steaks. The pricing is a bit confusing. Small plates range from $12 to $39; large plates start at $16 and climb to $32.
Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

We began at the bottom, with an elegant salad starring house cured and smoked salmon. On a long plate were three moist piles of the fish on a bed of pea shoots, dill fronds, carrot tops, and spinach, topped with pickled pearl onion, fennel, and jalapeño, injecting a bit of heat. Piped blobs of a luscious avocado mousse lent richness, and oiled caraway toast, crumbled overtop, gave crunch.
And then a dish so rich and good I ordered it again for lunch. (Partly so I could see it enough to photograph.) Billed as ‘pierogi gnocchi,’ these were big, bronzed pillows of gooey smoked potato, seasoned with a whiff of garlic, the soft texture within offset by the crisp out. On top were scattered hunks of blue cheese and strings of caramelized onion, some young arugula leaves, while creme fraiche perked up with pink peppercorns was the moisture beneath.
We loved the dish called “Kraken vs Halibut” and though the name suggests the fish would arrive wrapped in the octopus tentacles, the two elements were kept apart. I’ve had lousy halibut of late. Dry and dull. But this was a splendid finger of the fish, with a powerful sear and soft, moist petals of flesh set on a carpet of minted summer peas. Other successes included the salt brick chicken infused with lemon and bathed in brown butter, and a dry aged 20 ounce striploin for two with choice of sides and sauce.
Salt has a climate-controlled, dry-aging room — the only restaurant in the city with one of those, our server tells us — and their cuts are reported to hang for at least 45 days. This was a very fine steak, the meat musky, grilled to rare, sweet in places, and with a pronounced flavour of ripe cheese.
The one dud came at lunch with a so-whatish bolognese, the fresh pasta overcooked, the basil puree served as a streak on the plate, rather than mixed in where it would have done more good.
The wine list offers lots of bubbles by the glass, which is very good of them, and a generous, well chosen list of reds and whites in two pours. There’s a good craft beer list and though I can’t vouch for the ‘craft cocktails’ the young women chatting up the bartender appeared to be happy with them.
Salt’s a fine addition to an ever more interesting Preston Street.
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Large Plates, $16 to $32
345 Preston Street, 613-693-0333 saltottawa.ca

 

DESBRISAY DINES: Introducing Fiazza Fresh Fired

By  ANNE DESBRISAY

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

A few weeks back I had come to the ByWard Market with my son to pay our respects to Domus Café. He had celebrated a thirteenth birthday there, along with another family feast to mark a university graduation. We noted the massive ‘For Lease’ sign, and we shook our heads and we sighed. We cupped our hands around our eyes and peered through the windows into the empty space. Then we smelled pizza — and I spied a face that was familiar to me, delivering the pizza to an outdoor table. So we crossed the street.

The last time I saw Luigi he was handing me a rabbit. A very nice stew, as I recall. I still have the 2003 review of the dish. That was at (the late) Zibibbo Restaurant on Somerset Street, owned by Luigi Meliambro.

I liked the short-lived Zibibbo; I liked its second floor lounge (TheCamarilloBrilloUpstairs) but the place closed ten years ago, and Luigi moved on. To Kanata, I believe. And then across the river. Friends in Chelsea and Wakefield were Friday night regulars at his pizza joint, Cheezy Luigi’s, though I’d never had the pleasure.

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Photo by Anne DesBrisay

Meliambro has moved back to Ottawa now, and has a new venture. Pizza, fired in one of those crazy-hot ovens in something like 140 seconds. The pies are created to order, assembly line style (a la Subway) while you wait. Fiazza Fresh Fired is found on Murray Street in the spot where Pecco’s bike shop used to be.

It works like this: you queue up, read a lot, and hem and haw while the kids in their Fiazza Fresh Fired T’s and food service gloves wait patiently for instructions. You may order one of the dozen suggested combinations, or you create your own based on a lengthy list of toppings. There are two bases — regular and gluten free. The sauce, we are told, is made with (the lionized) San Marzano tomatoes. There are seven cheese options, including blue, feta, goat cheese, fior di latte, or the house blend. All cheeses, we are told, are locally sourced. Toppings come in two categories — the traditional (mostly vegetable, at $1.25 each) and specialty (mostly meat, along with organic mushrooms). The “After Fired” options — fresh basil, chilli flakes, oregano, evoo drizzle — are on the house. Once you’ve placed your order, you can watch them load it on and fire it up, or sit down and have it delivered.

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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.

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