Around Town: Absinth Cafe

November 23, 2011 8:42 am
absinthe
Named after the anise-flavoured drink that was made popular by French artist and writers in the late 1800s, Absinthe Café has a well-deserved reputation for its die-hard loyalty to local farmers from Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, since opening its doors in 2003. It’s one of the first few restaurants that sought to partner with local farmers. Using their home grown ingredients to create sophisticated, modern organic dishes. Tantalizing their patrons with rich and bold flavours in a menu that changes every day.

So with all this in mind we headed down to the Westboro restaurant to see for ourselves what this French-inspired bistro had to offer.

A gentle speaking manager greeted and guided us into a welcoming decor. With cozy brown leather chairs, solid wood tables, dim wall lighting and candles highlighting the large mural on the back wall, the atmosphere was inviting and unpretentious.  It is actually a perfect setting to tuck into dinner.

One of the many delicacies at Absinth Cafe

We were first served the House Cured Arctic Char Gravlax, Potato Salad with Chipotle Mayo, which is normally a part of the cafe’s famous Seafood Trio. This appetizer was an exquisite blend that melted in our mouths. The chipotle beautifully blended with the slight zesty flavors of the salad and the seasoning of the char, rousing our taste buds. The Butternut Squash with Chives came next, continuing the intriguing dance of the palette with a rich and creamy texture topped off with sweetness of the chives. For the main course we had the Seared Tuna with Coconut Foam on a Melon Salad, which played a scrumptious carnival melody to our appetites with its presentation and taste. Topping off our dining waltz was the delicately sweet Dessert Sampler, tasty bites of Chocolate Fondant, Lemon Tart, Profiterole and Crème Brulée.

When I hear everyone singing praises and complimenting a particular restaurant, I enter with great expectations. Not always do I walk away with the same opinion, but in the case of Absinthe Café, it definitely lives up to the hype.

Absinthe Café 1208 Wellington Street West

Tel: (613) 761-1138  www.absinthecafe.ca

Restaurant Review: FRATELLI’S

November 17, 2011 3:01 pm
pasta

There are various restaurant hubs in Ottawa: Byward Market, Elgin St., Richmond Rd. (Westboro), Preston St. (Little Italy), Somerset St. (China Town), Bank St. (The Glebe), just to name a few. Some of these locales come with a deep history and have a strong reputation which they seek to maintain by offering unique and great tasting restaurants. Recently I decided to visit the Westboro area. This busy little area offers a wide variety of restaurants, pubs, cafes and tea houses which is sure to satisfy and intrigue the appetite of its suburban surroundings.

Fratelli’s was the restaurant of choice for this particular outing. This contemporary Italian fine dining restaurant was established in 1996 in the Glebe and has since added three other locations across the city. Fratelli is Italian for ‘brothers’, which aptly reflects the owners Robert and Richard Valente, and since opening their doors, have worked tirelessly to keep the atmosphere of their restaurants like a neighborhood trattoria.

Arugula Salad. Photos by Q3 Studio

Walking into this bustling, lively but yet cozy restaurant I instantly felt as if I was among family and friends. The rustic decor with hints of modern elements, along with the numerous black and white photography on the walls exhibited the perfect combination of the present and yesteryear. The manager quickly came to greet me as I settled in.

Feeling at home, I decided to sample at least one item from each section of the menu which had all the Italian classics – anti-pasta, soups, pastas, chicken, veal, seafood entrees, and of course, pizza. I thoroughly enjoyed all of my orders which were rich in taste and flavor and truly Italian. However there were some particular culinary delights that really left their mark, such as the light and tantalizing arugula salad which came with grape tomato, toasted pecans, tossed with balsamic reduction and topped with shaved parmigiano.

Anti-pasta. Photos by Q3 Studios

With gentle encouragement from the manager, I also tried carpaccio for the first time. This plate of raw angus beef tenderloin, capers, dijon mayo, shaved parmigiano was tender and surprisingly exquisite. FInally, I ordered their signature dessert. The sweetly irresistible warm nutella cake came with creamy bacio gelato, frozen sugar dusted cranberries, topped with English cream. Absolutely delightful!

In sum, despite the stigma of chain restaurants, Fratelli’s unique style maintains their reputation of “customers first” and savory food… making any guest feel like an Italian for at least a couple of hours.

For more information:

http://www.fratelli.ca/

Westboro Location

309 Richmond Rd.

Tel: 613-722-6772

 

Gold Medal Plates a Winner

November 16, 2011 8:51 am
20111114-DSC_8613-2

Ottawa’s luminaries came out in force last night at the National Arts Centre for some competitive eating at this year’s Gold Medal Plates culinary competition held to raise funds for Canada’s Olympic athletes.

The three day event involves the top chefs in nine major Canadian cities preparing samples of their best main meals along with wine accompaniment to compete for the title of Canada’s best chef.

Chefs in action. Photo by Q3 Studios

The Ottawa leg of the competition was attended by an estimated 90 MP’s, media personalities and other Canadian notables.  Those in attendance included Conservative Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt, Montreal Liberal MP

Justin Trudeau and former press secretary to Stephen Harper, Dimitri Soudas. The real stars at the event however, were  Canada’s former and present day Olympians including figure skater Joannie Rochette, speed skater Tania Vicent and Glenroy Gilbert.

Attendees sampled the culinary delights from Ottawa’s best restaurants including Restaurant E18ghteen, the Courtyard Restaurant, the Zen Kitchen and the Luxe Bistro. Truffles, wild venison, lobster terrine were just some of the taste sensations on offer.  Judges of the Ottawa competition were six Ottawa foodies including food writer Anne Desbrisay, Margaret Dickenson and Pam Collacott.

However, the event organized by the Canadian Olympic Committee wasn’t just about Canada’s finest noshing it up. The Gold Medal Plates event in Ottawa and beyond has a serious purpose – to ensure our Olympic athletes have the resources they need to bring home Olympic metal.

One of the many delicacies. Photo by Q3 Studios

Bronze medalist at the Vancouver Winter Olympic games Joannie Rochette said funds raised from the Gold Medal Plates event and the sale of red mittens through the Canadian Olympic Committee, allowed Olympians to

concentrate on what they do best – competing. Although Rochette will not be competing in the next winter Olympics, she emphasized the importance of helping Canada’s next Olympic athletes to succeed.

“We get support from Government but it is not enough to cover all of our expenses,” said Rochette. “The extra funding allows you to have your mind clear. When you are training for the Olympics you don’t want to have to

think too much about your finances.  It’s great to have that out of your head.”

Funds raised through previous Gold Medal Plates event helped Rochette offset the expenses associated with hiring a top notch choreographer and figure skating outfits which cost up to $5,000 apiece. “It is especially important to have this funding during the Olympic season. It allowed me to have the best and to feel I had the best,” said Rochette.

Food to wet any appetite. Photo by Q3 Studios

Founded in 2004, Gold Medal Plates has so far raised $5 million dollars in funds for Canada’s Olympic athletes.  Buoyed by Canada’s incredible success at last year’s Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter

Games, Gold Medal Plates hopes to raise more money than ever to send Canada’s finest athletes to the summer Olympics in London 2012 and Sochi winter Olympics in 2014. The main sponsor of the Ottawa event was

Capital Power Corporation – a power generation company which operates across three Canadian provinces.  For more information about Gold Medal Plates can be found at www.goldmedalplates.com.

Gelato, by any other name

June 21, 2011 9:00 am
20090625_nyc_gelato

When the hot weather descends on Ottawa, and the sub-zero winter is all but forgotten, one cannot help but thank Italians for their welcome addition to the world’s cuisine.  Yes, when it comes to what the Italians have brought to the world’s plates, they would’ve easily received a passing grade with their contribution of pizza, pasta, biscotti or wine.  When the Italians greeted the world with a cone, with glistening gelato scoop smugly nestled within it, they have truly earned their high five from the world.

Ottawa too is alive and well with delicious options for those seeking a summer refreshment. Little Italy is, not surprisingly, home to one of the more impressive gelaterias in town.  Pasticceria Gelateria on Preston Street is definitely the place to go should you have a hankering for an honest to goodness fruit gelato.  Raspberry gelatos have never had it so good.

Should you, however, have a craving for a rich, chocolate dessert that will leave your taste buds covered in creamy cocoa and hazelnut ice cream, then Truffle Treasures are the place to go.  The baci flavoured ice cream truly is a kiss to the senses.  This is not your regular chocolate ice cream.  This is a delectable treat that’s not too sweet, yet hits the buds in all the right places. With a hint of hazelnut, it feels like you’re munching on frozen Nutella.

Should you wish to take a short drive out of time for some gourmet ice cream that leaves you dream of the treat for days to come, I highly suggest paying a visit to La Cigale in Chelsea, Quebec.  Sure, it is a 15-minute drive, but the quaint bright house will surely repay you for your efforts.  With a rainbow of ice cream flavours, mixing white chocolate and raspberry, this  is the type of ice cream that summer was made for.

Pay an Ode to the Environment and Your Health at Zen Kitchen

June 8, 2011 10:44 am

An eclectic fusion of locally organic food fare with big city edge, Ottawa’s Zen Kitchen serves perfect gourmet portions of the freshest ingredients accompanied with an environmental consciousness. Free of chemical additives, preservatives and anything of the genetically engineered variety, Executive Chef Caroline Ishii ensures each dish is vegan friendly and often gluten-free, displaying her culinary mastery developed from her studies at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City, as well as yoga and meditation. This also spills over into the decor and ambiance of the reconfigured home turned restaurant, perched just before the main strip of Chinatown. Drenched in calming hues and clean lines, you can hear

Executive Chef Caroline Ishii and Sommelier David Loan, owners of Zen Kitchen.

Paul Simon’s guitar strumming through the speakers and Chef Ishii’s husband David Loan, roaming the dining area and greeting customers. A co-owner and manager  in the restaurant venture, he is also a sommelier and compliments his wife’s artistic cuisine with perfectly selected VQA wines. The talented duo are famed for their 13-episode series called “The Restaurant Adventures of Caroline and Dave,” broadcast on the W Network in last year.

Zen Kitchen uses local suppliers of family run farms and businesses including Jambican Studio Gardens of Kemptville, Kiwan Farms operating along Hawthrone, Acorn Creek Garden Farm, Roots and Shoots Farm and Ferme de la Rivière Blanche, among many others. They also support the local arts scene by exhibiting paintings and works of established and budding artists throughout the restaurant.

I found myself deeply intrigued by its reputation and opted to experience their brunch plates recently on a warm Sunday with my partner – a cyclist, avid outdoor enthusiast, ex-vegan ‘manly man’ and food skeptic.

Dining area at Zen Kitchen.

We started with the traditional green tea and coffee – flavourful and perfectly brewed before our main entrees were served. I chose the buckwheat pancakes with maple syrup, smokey tempeh bacon and fresh fruit salad with hints of mint garnish. The tempeh bacon is made from soy beans with a bit of sugary maple syrup and salt added before the smoking process. I thought it tasted better than the real thing and had a delightful crunch and crispy texture. Buckwheat, a seed known for its nutritional value including high fibre content and rutin, a medicinal chemical that strengthens capillary walls, is used often in healthy baking. The pancakes were light like crepes with a nutty flavour and balanced the sweet, pure maple syrup. My counterpart’s meal was called sope, a leavened house corn tortilla with scrambled tofu, Mornay sauce, fresh guacamole, house salse and spicy rice. Both dishes were gluten-free and left us happy and satisfied – a welcomed feeling to the usual heavy, greasy-spoon weekend brunches. All brunch dishes are

Fantastic local, organic food fare from Zen Kitchen.

$14. For more information, visit ZenKitchen.ca.

634 Somerset Street West

Ottawa, Ontario
613-233-6404

Little Italy’s Appetite Gets Bigger

June 5, 2011 9:00 am
Little Italy

Little Italy is surely becoming the culinary heart of Ottawa.  One walk on Preston street will take you on a gastronomical journey of the world.  Sure, Italian restaurants and pizza are well represented and one would be hard-pressed to find a more delicious pizza than the crispy, thin pizza at La Favorita. Not far from La Favorita is yet another Italian gem, Simply Biscotti. The wealth of choices of this popular Italian cookie would make your head spin and your mouth salivate.

If Italian food doesn’t tickle your fancy, have no fear.  Preston also offers delicious German food at Lindenhoff, where schnitzels and saurkraut are but a prologue to the ever-so-delicious honest-to-goodness apfel strudel.

Heck, if you want to ditch European cuisine altogether, just waltz on down to the Green Papaya for Thai food.

Food, however, is but the beginning.  This street has more pubs than you can shake a stick at.  From the classic Heart and Crown, to the more extraordinary, Pub Italia.  This place surely deserves a nod.  It may not be food per se, but the beer selection, set against the somewhat blasphemous, tongue-in-cheek setting of a church, is something to raise your glasses for.

As of last week, the neighbourhood welcomed another addition to its ever-growing family of food and drink.  Preston Bar and Grill is conveniently located right at the entry to Little Italy.  The chic pub offers reasonably priced fare, with portions that could easily fill a hardworking lumberjack.  To get you in the doors (and perhaps into the Italian spirit), each Wednesday is a $6 wine and cheese night.

 

2011 2012


Enjoy!

The Start of a Tasteful Journey

June 3, 2011 9:33 am
Michael Pinkus - Grape Guy

Today you and I embark on a new adventure together … we are going to explore the world of wine (and sometimes other beverage alcohol), together, which in my opinion is the best way TO drink, with friends.

My name is Michael Pinkus and I have been a wine writer for the past 7 years and a wine lover for over 20.  My website is OntarioWineReview.com

, a site devoted to the love and enjoyment of the fermented grape bevies from Ontario, but I do more than just talk about Ontario wines.  As a member (and the current president) of the Wine Writers` Circle of Canada, I get a chance to taste wines from all over the world:  wine coming into Ontario thru Vintages or on the General List, wines that may be coming your way, wines available thru agents only, and wines that we’ll never see on our shores, but will be available elsewhere (these one’s you’ll have to search for but will be worth the find).

How about a little more about me:  I placed a very Canadian 4th at the Wine Tasting Challenge event held annually in downtown Toronto in the fall; I was also honoured with the ‘Promoting the Promoters ‘ Award at the Cuvee Gala in 2010 – this is the Ontario wine world’s equivalent to the Academy Awards (I guess that makes me an award winning wine writer – if you ask I ‘ll show you the engraved decanter to prove it).  Every week I’ll touch upon a region, a grape, a wine style, a pairing, a winery or anything else of a vinous nature that sparks my fancy, and hopefully yours too; I’ll even talk a little beer, some mixed drinks, about coolers, and anything else with booze in it (or you could add booze to).  I find that sometimes one can’t be too discriminating as to what form the alcohol one consumes takes, but when we do imbibe we should drink the good stuff whenever possible and yet not break the bank doing so – and that’s what I’m here for, to help point you in the right direction and get you thinking about what you’re drinking.  But the ultimate goal, always, is to have a little fun in the process – because booze is all about the good times, and as the old saying goes: “Life’s too short to drink bad wine.”  (It should read “bad booze ” but I don’t want to paraphrase too many times this early in our relationship).

Now enough about me, I want to hear from you … send questions, post thoughts, anything that gets the conversation going and let’s me know where your thoughts are, cause that’ll help focus mine as well (I’ve been known to ramble at times – like now).  I’m looking forward to our trip together, I trust you are too.

Next Week: What’s with all the new OZ wine?

Giggling Jerks

May 25, 2011 9:41 am
Giggling Jerks

Aiming to be a classy Caribbean style restaurant, co-owners and brothers Devin and Dylan McLeod opened the doors of Giggling Jerks in August 2010, with the help of restaurant consultant and celebrity chef David Adjey. (Adjey’s work with the McLeods was even featured on THE OPENER, a reality show by the celebrity chef  that airs on Food Network Canada.)

Located at 332 Wilbrod Street in Sandy Hill, traditionally known as the U of O “student ghetto”, the McLeod brothers seek to bring a new perspective to this neighbourhood, which is now budding with families and couples. However, I can only say that despite their best efforts, the Giggling Jerks is still in the embryonic stage of being a “classy” restaurant. Heading to the restroom, customers are met with remnants of the renovation project that hadn’t been packed away or thrown out. Furthermore, there was a cold wintry draft that seeped in through the walls.

Being from Jamaica myself, I was a bit apprehensive about the menu because not everyone can cook a Caribbean dish but I was not to be disappointed. These brothers put a lot work in getting the right Caribbean flavours and tastes. My first order was the Slash & Burn Snapper, which was a Caribbean twist on the traditional English fish and chips. The fish came in a mouth-watering well-flavored batter mix with cornmeal, served with sweet potato fries. I then tried their signature dish, the Jerk Chicken. A deeply flavoured juicy half chicken was presented on a steaming bed of traditional Caribbean rice and peas, accentuated with fresh sauteed collard greens. A sizzling dish with moist, tender and correctly seasoned meat had me for a moment feeling right at home. (For those interested in non-Caribbean dishes, the menu also includes fare such as quesadillas, nachos and turkey club wraps.)

While the Giggling Jerks may still have a few kinks to iron out, they are on the right track. Or as we Jamaicans like to say “Dem ah come to come.”

From Asia with Love and Spice

May 21, 2011 9:42 am
East India Company

When referring to Asian food, more often than not, images of neatly manicured sushi plates, wherein the individual pieces and condiments fit together with the exactness of a jigsaw puzzle and beg the same type of wonder as a perfectly folded fitted sheet, come to mind. No untrained human is ever able to re-create either of these phenomena to the same aesthetic standard. Others imagine paper box containers, filled to the brim with MSG-flavoured goodness.
Joy Restaurant on Somerset offers a variety of Asian fare that is sure to please any discerning customer. Whether it is a spring roll, soup or chicken teriyaki, this Asian restaurant seems to do justice to Korean, Japanese and fusion dining equally well. The restaurant’s décor throws one off for a loop a bit, as it is mysteriously painted in Mediterranean colours and seems to further the Hispanic pretense with iron crosses on the wall. However, the fare offerings quickly put you back in your place. The portions are generous and the food is well worth the price.
Right across the street is yet another formidable gastronomic representative from the continent that brought us the fortune cookie.
The East India Company Restaurant taps into its wealth of spices to offer a smorgasbord so colourful and bright, you expect a unicorn to gallop in at any moment. The $20 dinner buffet is an experience for the senses like no other. The tables are laden with variety of rice, meats, salads and vegetables, spiced to perfection. Indian food seems to be the reason for adjectives like tangy, flavourful and aromatic to exist. Whether it was the curried chicken, the tender, buttery basmati rice or the accompanying pickled lime, the flavours worked beautifully together to wake up each and every taste bud. In comparison, the desserts seem a bit dull and disappointingly unadventurous. Load up on the main course, however. It will keep you filled and happy for the rest of the week.

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