Monday, 18 June 2012

Aahar, The Gastronomic Journey of Enlightenment

Arguably, Westboro/Hintonburg has become a prime destination for a quality and diversity of food offerings in the city that has become the envy of our Ottawa restaurant brethren.  The availability of just about any dish to satisfy your cravings can be found here in the form of wood oven pizza, fine dining, gastro pubs, taco's, gourmet donuts and countless coffee shops can be found within a stones throw and with predictably more to come.

However you may be a little hard pressed if asked where to go in the hood in the event of a craving for spicy, honest and traditional Indian fare.

Off the beaten gastro-path and I mean really off is a tiny place that serves just what you might be looking for.  Operating out of a renovated convenience store located at the decidedly non foody intersection of Churchill Ave. and Carling Ave., best known for its car dealerships and the Canadian Tire is Aahar.

Aahar, The Taste of India is a jewel.  No beating around the bush on this because it is just that good. 

The owner (who moonlights as the delivery person) is one of the most pleasant hosts you will ever encounter and the staff are equally friendly while being professionally attentive. The restaurant itself is spotless and traditionally appointed with soft zinthar music setting the mood.  

Indian food in Canada is primarily associated with Northern Indian ingredients and traditional methods of preparation I am told.  Aahar prepares all of its spices and ingredients in house daily.  Nothing cooked is ever stored for the following day and it is clear even without saying that once you've sampled the eastern symphonies of flavour and textures that the freshness is paramount. 

In my humble opinion Naan bread can be the single most important item you can have with your meal in an Indian restaurant (you can't imagine Sunday's roast beef dinner without yorkshire pudding can you?) and I firmly believe you can judge an Indian restaurant simply on the quality, texture, temperature and scent of this staple and let it be known that at Aahar they make each individual piece to order.  No sweatshop, microwaved, mass produced sponges for this place, no sir.  The bread is perfumed and elastic with a crispy well done surface area poised to lap up the fragrant elixirs on your plate that would be a sin to leave behind. But be patient, you'll have to wait in line when you order more but it is worth it.  

For those not familiar with and perhaps a bit trepidatious about trying Indian fare I'd suggest this, go to Aahar any lunch day of the week or for their weekend brunch.  They offer a fantastic buffet of diverse items with vegan to carnivore offerings that will give the inexperienced the opportunity to try multiple dishes while offering the experienced a more than satisfying selection of spicy to savory.  Supple meats such as lamb in the form of a korma with a creamy mild sauce, almonds and raisins or a madras with green and red chili curry leaves and coconut for the more spicy adventurous are staples.  There are taste bud tingling beef dishes like their Biryani made with cumin, onion and Indian spices and the traditional items of tandoor and butter chicken.  For vegetarians, Dal Makahni a creamy blend blend of lentils, (ghee) Indian butter, onion and garlic is outstanding or one of the many paneer (in house made cheese) dishes.  Like it spicy? Just ask, they'll pump up the heat to your liking.


Why ever it has taken me this long and after so many visits to write about this Indian gem can only be attributed to my own selfishness and wanting to keep it all to myself.  I am not alone and my fear is that once you experience the sensorial enlightenment of this hidden treasure you too will be selfishly joining me in a quest to keep this one all to yourself, but sadly that will not be the case for long.

Aahar, The Taste of India:
727 Churchill Avenue(N), Ottawa Ontario K1Z 5G7 Tel: 613.688.4444 Cell: 613.794.3444
Delivery available.

Friday, 1 June 2012


PIZZA WAR, that is exactly what is happening in our little yet ever growing enclave of Westboro, Hintonburg in one of Ottawa's newer foodie and overall desired destinations.

The good thing about food-gentrification is that the locals are often willing guinea pigs for trendy pop ups offering new and improved delicacies previously found only in the form of hidden gems discovered off the grid and only known to a protective and secretive few.  Now I'm wondering if that is a good thing, I'm not so sure? 

This phenomenon has hit this Ottawa hood with the fury of a tsunami in the form of wood oven baked dough and toppings perfuming the air of the streets with a scent of hickory and maple, far more welcome than the greasy stench of KFC.

This Friday night I decided upon Anthony's on Wellington. Anthony's on Wellington is just one of 4 new pizza-centric places to emerge in the past year or so in a relatively small geographic area and that is not Little Italy. The Back Lane Café, Tennessee Willems and the soon to open Pizza al Forno (not the confirmed name) by the Fratelli's restaurant group make up the contenders.

  The restaurant so named after its owner is a former pawn shop and with the exception of the removal of some security partitions, half empty glass display cases and the sickly smell of juvenile entrepreneurial spirit, not much has changed.  The restaurant is devoid of any interior design concept, paint scheme or ambiance.  The kitchen is open to the dining area, a giant TV sits on the bar, not turned on, walls are freshly painted and tables and chairs slightly above cafeteria comfort level.  The bar, where I sat to order my opted take out was uncleaned and sticky.  

The restaurant was quite busy, mostly with families as this is hardly a destination for a romantic date night or even a fun place to go hang with the guys or girls.  The staff seemed friendly but overwhelmed as during my 20 minutes or so waiting nobody addressed my actual presence focusing their efforts on the tables and getting the food out.

I ordered from the simple menu, yes really simple. The 14 or so pizza's had mostly two or three items and featured nothing that was boasting "fresh local, organic farmed" or otherwise trendy catch phrases and foodie type terms.

OK, so I am good with that. I am not as some might suspect a doofus, foodie douche only liking the newest, now-est and hippest. I like, no actually prefer the simple call it what it is straight up stuff.  After all it is just pizza.

Here's what I ordered on my pie, spicy soppressata, tomato sauce and fiore di latte.  Throw in the smoke and crisp crust on what the menu calls a Divola.

How was it?  Good, really good.  It is exactly what I expected from a simple unadorned place with a simple unadorned menu.  The sauce was sweet, non acidic, not over-powered with dried herbs and garlic, not watery or too dry.  The meat, spicy, fatty and not dried out by excessive oven heat and the cheese was the same, creamy, hot and runny.  Oh and the most important thing was the crust, it was perfectly charred on top and bottom, crunchy, not flabby or soggy, (official pizza crust terminology for those in the know). 

The verdict, this was a darn good pizza and I will go back and recommend Anthony's to anyone in the area looking for a good pizza.  However, I know that unless the overall in house dining experience is thought out my option will be for take away only.  But still, I'm OK with that.

Anthony's is located at 1218 Wellington St. 613 695 8669

Well done or as the menu says, "Done Well" crust and toppings, the pizza alone is the hi-light of Anthony's on Wellington.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


Once in a while I am asked to sample and give my opinion of a new product that is about to be launched on a wide scale for retail in the Ottawa Region.  While attending Savour Ottawa I had the pleasure of meeting with many of Ottawa's best producers of local products and one of those producers was Kawal a professional by day, closet salsa wizard by night. 

When we met, Kawal offered to bring me samples of his new product that he was clearly very proud of and if I liked it would I post something about it here on my blog.  I told him that I would be happy to sample his concoctions and would pen my thoughts whether I liked his product and even if I didn't!  Nervous laughter aside he didn't seem worried and I had the samples delivered to my door the next day.

I am not a big snack food fan, really more of a healthy food proponent so we talked food philosophy before the tasting, which I did privately with friendsKawal took me through his process of sourcing only local ingredients in season for the salsa, stockpiling for production all year long and the challenges of consistency with your main ingredients coming from an area with a relatively short growing season.  His passion for producing an anything other than "standard"-ized product keeps him busy throughout the year sampling, mixing, reinventing and test marketing. 

Kawal notes proudly that all of his products are all natural, gluten free and vegan friendly.  Also key to the health properties of his salsa's are 0% Fat, 0% Transfats, 0 Cholesterol and only 50g. of Sodium (the over hyped to be unnamed national brand's equal portion contains 240g. sodium), only 10 Calories per 30ml.  and NO MSG.  

Ok great, so is this stuff actually going to taste like anything at all with seemingly nothing in it? 

The first sample was the Kawalsa Smoked Spicy Salsa.  Poof, open the lid and an instant waft of hickory attacked my olfactory sensors, it was like walking into a fine Indian restaurant. The texture was chunky, not runny a relief from the supermarket slurry types.  I can easily identify the multi-coloured peppers, onions, tomato.  The taste is immediately there, no waiting around for the heat and the suppleness of the sugar, vinegar and herbs balances wonderfully.  It is deliciously addictive.

I tried the product first crudo and then on fresh shucked oysters (hello new summertime best friend), on poached sea bass and in a cold chicken breast wrap in bib lettuce.  All delicious and the sky is the limit to where it can be used.

Second I sampled Kawalsa's Fruit Salsa.  The label says "scoop, savour and smile" so I opened my second audition with a spoonful and down the hatch.  In immediate contrast to the first, although texturally identical there is a recognizable sweetness of summer ripened pear, peaches and apples (three items I am intimately familiar with having grown up in the Niagara area).  The peppers are still there, but so is the slight acidity of vinegar, mild heat from what the label says is jalapeno.  It is sweet without being over sweet and robust enough never to be wasted on bagged, over salted tortilla chips.

Served over grilled baguette with a dredging of garlic and olive oil was delicious, but spooning over not yet in season heirloom tomato with a leaf of fresh basil and wedge of bufala mozzarella was heavenly.  But don't let your imagination stop you, this can work on so many hot or cold plates and kids are undoubtedly going to love this complex adult treat.

Kawal has a third prototype he is working on made up of smoked pineapple and habanero peppers.  Although still in the works, the sample I tasted had all of the characteristics of the others and I really think the contribution of smoked ingredients sets them apart from competitors.  

I thoroughly enjoyed sampling this new product that I suspect will become a local favorite and then who knows, perhaps this entrepreneur will give up his day job for clearly what his real passion is.

Kawalsa will soon be available at Life of Pie and the Manotick Village Butcher with more to come in the near future. 

Please check the website: for ordering, product details and new retail locations.
Home delivery within the Ottawa area is available.  
Please Contact Kawal @ 613-864-6613 for distribution.

Monday, 26 March 2012

近畿地方の復興 The Renaissance of Kinki

My ever stylish host nailed it on the head when she proclaimed "Sometimes you have to pull out the old jewellery and polish it up to appreciate what you really already have".  That is exactly the sentiment I have for the re-emergence of one of Ottawa's gastro-landmarks in the Byward Market.

(Grilled Calamari and Octopus with Sake Poached Pear, Tomato and Jalapeno in Parmesan Bowl)

Kinki, located at 41 York St. was an innovator over a decade ago when the trendy area consisted of mainly of retailer's, take out and Brit-pub's catering to the University crowd.  The name itself, Kinki must have been a shock to the ultra conservative public at the time (perhaps still) with the risque´ suggestion of sexual impropriety transgressing into Ottawa's ho-hum food culture.  They may in fact be the unknowing originators of the now popular term "food porn".

I was hooked from the time Kinki opened their door's but as a one time regular I became increasingly bored with traditional North American styled Maki's found just about everywhere in Ottawa with some restaurants degrading to the pedestrian "all you can eat sushi"?  Really, it's raw seafood?

Recently I was invited to taste the new, soon to be released menu at Kinki and I was elated after a long period of absence from a once favorite haunt.  If the restructured, youthful team could re-establish themselves as innovators in the stagnate Sushi genre then Kinki goes back to the top of the list of must eat market boutique restaurants for me.

If you have not been this place it is cool with  generous booths, romantic tables for two, sushi and cocktail bars, hip but tasteful art, attractive and very attentive staff.  The restaurant is situated in a heritage, exposed stone building that echos with perfectly chosen jazz and palatable beats spun by their in house DJ.  What is new and equally exciting is that in a short summer season with limited outdoor space Kinki are opening a 140 seat side patio this spring for public and private events.

 (Sake with Clamato and fresh oyster )

First up, cocktail's.  Clearly the staff had a lot of fun making these libatious elixirs, I can only imagine how those tasting seminar(s) went? The result of our first drink was this fantastic "eye" opener, who would have thought Sake, Clamato and oyster? It was a brilliant concoction in a time where the something or other "tini" has run it's course.

Youthful and talented Kitchen Chef, Jonathan Roy is a graduate of Algonquin College's Culinary programme and is supported by Sushi Chef Amin Takano, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu.  These two artist's created 3 appetizer's and 3 mains from their upcoming menu. 

First, the succulent grilled calamari and octopus (pictured above) as with all of the dishes expressed a deep respect for the freshness of the seafood with a clear understanding that it was the star of the dish.  Poaching sweet pears in sake added a textural and flavourful contradiction that pulled the whole plate together when paired with the salty parmesan bowl.

Three types of "Whalesbone's" seasonal oysters included Raspberry Point (P.E.I.), Gems (B.C.) and Caraquet (N.B), represented some of Canada's best and all played nicely with a house made chutney and an edamame, wasabi puree.  A bean salad was refreshing, light and crisp with edamame, walnuts, cilantro, Hallumi cheese, mescaline greens, topped with a chili modena and balsamic vinaigrette, a clear nod to the influences of sister restaurant Mambo.

(Hint of Hamachi, Ebi Chili and Ocean Delight with garlic, ginger, cilantro and chili oil chutney)

We have all coined the phrase, "it looks too pretty to eat" and that is precisely how I felt when this dish arrived.  It reminded me of an artist's pallet often more attractive than the canvas itself.  However, I was there to eat and was I ever happy I did.  The freshness was clear in each of the presentations, as was the obvious pride the staff had in preparing and presenting the trio of goodness.  Entrepreneurial pairings of Hamachi, asparagus, cucumbers and scallions, sriracha marinated Ebi (sweet shrimp), mango, perfect rice and fried won ton chips amalgamated to delectable flavour combinations and textures.

The dining experience was complete, fulfilling and an overall a breath of fresh air for this sushi lover.  I am told that there are a few crowd favorites that will remain on the menu, but essentially the entire menu has been rethought by this energetic, creative team.  

Kinki has successfully achieved a renaissance 近畿地方の復興 by reinventing how they manipulate for the better these often taken for granted seafood delights, as well as providing a rejuvenated, upbeat space for the treasure to be enjoyed in.

Monday, 12 March 2012

L'agile Lapin, I'd Order That at a Fancy French Bistro.

Is there ever a better time than now to enjoy the delicacy of fresh, lean rabbit, braised with a quality Chianti and seasonal asparagus?  I can only add that being in the company of great friends and family makes this simple dish all that much better and it really couldn't be easier to prepare.
Here is what you will need:
  • 1 fresh rabbit cut into 6 pieces;
  • 1 cup of each 1/4 inch diced carrot, celery, cremini mushroom and yellow onion;
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced;
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour;
  • 1  handful of fresh thyme and rosemary;
  • Olive oil;
  •  Salt and fresh ground pepper;
  •  1 bottle (750ml) good quality Chianti. 
Here's the Process:
  • Transfer the flour to a Ziplock bag, add about 3 tbsp's each of salt and pepper;
  • Coat the rabbit with the flour mixture;
  • In a large non-stick frying pan add olive oil and brown the rabbit 3 pieces at a time on all sides;
  • Transfer the pieces into a Dutch oven and cover with the vegetables, garlic, fresh herbs, a dash of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper;
  • Pour the whole bottle of wine onto the rabbit and vegetables, if it does not cover completely just add a bit of water to cover;
  • On your stove top bring to a strong simmer;
  • Cover with tight fitting lid and place in a preheated oven at 350 f.
  • Cook for 60-90 minutes or until fork tender;
  • Remove rabbit when done transfer to serving platter and cover with aluminum foil and rest for 15-20 mins.
The Jus, or rabbit Chianti sauce:
  • Strain the jus from the Dutch oven, discard vegetables;
  • Place the residual stock into a saucepan;
  • Bring the liquid to a boil, taste for seasoning and adjust.  Add 1 fresh bay leaf;
  • Reduce to about 1/4 of volume;
  • Whisk in 4 tbsp's of unsalted butter;
  • Strain through fine strainer into serving vessel.
The Greens:
  • Fresh asparagus, cut off the tough bottoms and marinate in olive oil, dry oregano, salt and chili pepper;
  • Grill on BBQ until cooked to your liking;
  • Transfer to serving plate and add freshly grated Romano over top.
There you have it, a simple yet elegant meal that is inspired by spring and the joy that comes with making, eating and sharing great simple meals.  Oh, and don't forget at least one extra bottle of that Chianti to join you as you indulge in this great dish.

Let me know what you think? Enjoy.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Easiest Homemade Beef Stock Recipe Ever

Believe me, it is just as easy, much less expensive and far more nutritious to make your own stock than it is to buy the salty boxed stuff, or goodness forbid that horrific canned stuff from the back of your grandmother's pantry.

I get my bones from Kowloon Market on Somerset (an Ottawa based Chinese butcher and fish monger).  They are always fresh can be cut to any size you like and are $4 for a 5lb. bag of beef or marrow bones.  Chicken carcasses I also buy from Kowloon and are 3 for $1.  
1 5lb. bag for beef is needed for the following recipe. 2 bags are all that are needed if you are making chicken broth.


5 lbs, or 2 kilos of beef bones (you can use chicken, turkey, lamb, venison for whatever base you are attempting to achieve or even roasted vegetables for a vegan broth);
3 carrots broken;
3 stalks celery broken;
1 onion cut in half;
3 fresh bay leaves or 1 large dry;
1 table spoon black pepper corns;
2 table spoon's kosher salt;
1 bouquet garni (sprigs of time, rosemary and oregano) put in cheese cloth tied with string;
1 large roasting tray;
1 large stock pot.


Place bones in roasting tray, season with salt and grind 1/2 of the black pepper on top.
Place in 450 degree oven for 45 minutes;
Put vegetables, bay leaves, remaining salt, pepper and bouquet garni in stock pot;
Remove browned bones from the oven and transfer into stock pot. Leave whatever dripped from the bones in the roasting pan and discard;
Cover bones with COLD water until water is about 2" above bones;
Place pot on stove over a medium heat, slowly bringing to a simmer;
Once boiling begins use a spoon to remove any impurities that come to the top, it'll look like muddy froth.  These impurities can make a stock slightly bitter and less attractive;
Simmer slowly for 4-5 hours occasionally skimming the surface and tasting to adjust the seasoning.

Strain through fine strainer and refrigerate in a covered container, discarding the bones;
Leave overnight in the fridge remove the congealed fat from the top once set and discard;

Reheat to a warm temperature and divide the stock into zip bags or resealable container.

This beautiful "homemade" broth can be refrigerated for 3-4 days or put into zip bags and frozen. The broth will keep for months, but it probably won't last that long and you'll be off and experimenting with your own personalized stock creations.


Thursday, 16 February 2012

Un Italiano Vero

I could easily make a strong argument for myself that I am quite possibly the most Italian, non-Italian there is.  

Seriously, growing up in Hamilton my neighbourhood and a good part of the city was predominantly Italian with a long and storied history of Italian immigrants in the area.  I had Italian friend's, girlfriend's (regazza molto dolce), worked in Italian Deli's, learned to cook and eat like an Italian even speak like one, drove a FIAT X1/9 with Onza exhaust, served at Valentino's Restaurant and tended bar in an Italian banquet centre.  If you've ever been to an Italian wedding you know what I was up against.  So you get the picture, this was my adopted culture and a great one it is.

The fact is that once this culture get's into your blood you're stuck with it and that's a good, no it's a very good thing.  You will develop standard's for the food you eat, wine you drink and what you serve your friend's and family that will exceed reason and border on insanity, again a very good thing.  

This standard also applies to where you will and where you will not go to purvey only the finest quality ingredients and prepared foods available in Ottawa.

One of these rare places that you will go to is La Bottega Nicastro, which is a multi location family operated food supplier with it's principal store located at 64 George St. in the Byward market. 

When you go and once you do, be prepared to spend some time because it is an all around feast for the senses.  On arrival you'll see it's a bit chaotic, hey what proper bottega isn't? It's loud, requires F1 maneuvering techniques and has everything your exotic culinary dreams have ever imagined.  

Start properly, shift your way to the back section of the store where the meat, cheese and olives are and order a proper coffee.  By coffee I mean espresso, short and leave the fancy cap's and latte's to the pastry shop tourists.  

Fueled on hi-test, say hello to the meat counter attendee's and take in all they have to offer.  My partner window shops for shoes, for me it's prosciutto, porchetta, and salsiccia. 

The selections are countless and the staff exceptionally knowledgeable. Tell them your intentions and they will guide you down a culinary path of enlightenment. Oh, and they won't mind if you ask to sample a small bite of their offerings. With basket full of carnivore goodness, turn around and be overwhelmed by the cheese mountains.  Nicastro's has product from all over the world, but the specialty of course are the imported cheese's from Italy.  

If you've never sat down at a tiny table with a glass of Chianti, some warm roasted chestnuts (available outside the store on weekends) and a hunk of Pecorino Romano you are missing out on one of life's greatest pleasures. But do share this experience with someone beautiful in your life, the mutual pleasure will reveal wonderful emotion's and really, that's Italian.

A few final words on this Mecca of all things good, Nicastro's have a fantastic reasonably priced and licensed lunch area in the back with daily special's.  They have countless selections of olive oils, vinegar's, dry pasta, anchovies, etc.  They are also available to cater events and will prepare party trays to your specifications.

There can not be a bad experience in this truly special shop which is a home away from home for me.  You will find yourself going in only for fresh made pasta and leave with it plus cheese, meat, passata, oil, olives and probably a fresh Calabrese bread that you've already taken a bite out of.  

There are very few cultures that are as gastro-centric as the Italian's are.  There are heated dinner table debates about who and where the best sugo is made, what's better Romano or Reggiano, egg in fresh past or not, but that my dear friend's is the experience of la dole vita.  Buon Appetito!

64 George Street  Ottawa, ON
(613) 789-7575

Friday, 27 January 2012

Public Service Information, Where's the Beef?

Howdy Pardner's:  You may have questions regarding packaged ground beef (but this also goes for chicken, turkey, lamb and pork) and processed patties we all buy at local supermarkets.  Here's a piece of information that I researched after watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution "Pink Slime" episode.

I love meat, y'all know that but in the spirit of education and food safety it's imperative to know what you are eating and feeding your friends and family.

Here's the beef on Canadian processing.

Bottom line, if the ground "meat" you buy is processed or package in the good ol' U. S. Of A, walk away.

Bon Apetit

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Back Lane Cafe, Front and Centre.

The Back Lane Cafe (BLC), 1087 Wellington Street West Ottawa 613-695-2999. There has been quite a bit of chatter regarding this speck on the landscape of West Wellington Village near Parkdale Market in what I think is one of Ottawa's coolest little restaurant destinations, although sadly I suspect gentrification will eventually spoil that for us. The area is home to noteworthy's such as Hintonburger, Burnt Butter and Spring Rolls. The area is an eclectic collection of gallery's, shops, tailors, bars and yes restaurants. 

The BLC offers a modest simple French/Mediterranean inspired menu and apparently exceptional wood fired pizza's.  The BLC menu changes some of its items daily while keeping a staple of regular menu items which is a challenge when local and fresh are hard to come by at this time of yearActual thought has been given to the extensive yet not overwhelming wine list with a good global selection including several available by the glass, most under $10.

Getting the formalities out of the way quickly on this one because I want to talk about the food.  Greeted, seated, watered all with beautiful smiles and gracious sincerity all evening.  The in house made baguette and artisanal bread are the difference when served with oil and balsamic compared to the standard issue bread and O/BV.  The cafe itself is very brightly lit and clean, nothing to hide here. The decor is intentional French rustique, white washed with eclectic accents abound. Three restrooms in the basement (2F 1M) were absolutely spotless. The table we purposely selected was at the far back corner, the best place in town to watch the other diners, servers and *bartender.  

*OK, so before I go any further here's the thing about the bartender, never met him, didn't chat it up, no interaction at all but man this guy was meticulous.  I've poured the odd cocktail in my time, with pride and I really enjoyed watching this guy work his way around not so glamorous drinks and frilly concoctions, just good old school Dirty Martini's and for me, yes a Black Russian, hey I was feeling nostalgic.  With what appeared to be a crowd predominantly drinking wine, I watched as he emptied bottles half way through a full glass pour.  As a new bottle was opened the guy actually did what he's supposed to do, open, smell and taste if necessary.  One, two, three bottle's he turned his nose up at and refused to serve, holy crap am I still in Ottawa? He even refused to serve a Spanish Coffee looking type of drink because the whipped cream spilled over the side surely to taint the hands of the unsuspecting customer and it just didn't look nice, can you believe the nerve of this guy?

At the beginning after previewing the menu we contemplated a complete meal made up of only the appetizer offerings, yes they were that appealing.  But the allure of the main plates put an end to that.  We did start by sharing a chicken liver pate with pistachio, frisee and crostini.  The pate's texture was velvety smooth, buttery and the flavour was balanced and perfectly seasoned.

On to the mains. As tempted as I was to try the wood oven pizza my pallet's attraction was drawn to a wood-fired 12oz New York steak.  In the middle of a cold snowy Ottawa winter who could blame me for a momentary lapse of judgement and I put a quick end to that bout of insanity.  Medium rare, closer to rare is the norm for me and when it arrived it could not have been more bang on, cooked exactly the way I like it. The slab of meat was accompanied by under-seasoned house chips, which were a bit over cooked and would have benefited greatly from a seasoned aioli or house made mayo and grilled cauliflower that came with a buttery sauce.  Both good, but oh the steak was brilliant.

My dinner companion, who I pretty much always know what she'll always order went with the Fisherman's Stew.  An in-house interpretation of Bouillabaisse generously teaming with properly cooked shrimp, scallops which were grilled first, clams and the surprise appearance of Black Cod that appeared to be first pan fried and offered a textural departure from the traditional method of cooking the fish component in the light tomato saffron broth.  It was extremely good according to my guest.

In light of all that was good at the BLC I would be remiss not to mention a couple of minor observations.  The high tables, one of which we sat at (by choice) were too high for the stools that accompanied them, it felt like we needed a booster seat and next time I'll request a table.  The restaurant itself feels more Bistro than Cafe and although I like being able to see everything going on in the place and on my plate, the dimming of the lights and maybe the addition of candles sporadically placed around the room would add more of a romantic ambiance that would pair nicely with their exceptional food and wine.

Overall, the BLC was a very good dining experience and dollar per food/service value is very fair. We are looking forward to returning to try the wood fired pizza and craft beers and I am going to start, well in advance convincing my olfactory system to avoid being seduced by that heavenly piece of grilled meaty deliciousness.

Reservations are highly recommended as it took us 2 weeks to get the day and time we wanted.  Bon appetit.

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Empire Grill, The Empire Strikes Flat.

The Empire Grill has been a staple in the Ottawa Market for years.  It was arguably the first "Hipster" type place in the area that catered to the burgeoning Foodie and martini swilling "I work on the Hill" types.

I have enjoyed many a glass of red at the stylish bar that had undergone a renovation a few years ago in an attempt to freshen its look with the trendy scene giving birth to multiple competitors.  One main advantage of the Empire is location and patio size.  Located at 47 Clarence St. in the Market, the name Empire is fitting due to its dominance over most other smaller patios who do not enjoy the same southern exposure prolonging the enjoyment of the precious Ottawa summer sun.

A chilly afternoon of shopping and hungry for a better than diner lunch we opted for the Empire. Promptly and politely seated, the place was empty save a group of ten or so in the private room and one afternoon cocktail indulger at the bar.  The restaurant is clean with white unfolded, unpressed table cloths and cloth napkins, which I like and the embossed cutlery adorned with the restaurants name proudly displayed on them were spotless.  Our servers, polite and well groomed made sure that our water glasses were never empty and wine was offered appropriately not pushy.

As an app. both my guest and I opted for the wild mushroom broth, the soup of the day.  It arrived lukewarm, not hot and the servers attention to not spilling it all over the sides needed some help.  I like a clean plate and the food where it is supposed to be, in the plate or bowl.  The "broth" was not a exactly a broth but also had a good amount of cremini mushroom pieces in it, clearly not "wild" even though they are available year round from BC, Europe and the States.  The soup had three disadvantages as far as I am concerned, one it wasn't hot enough, two it was very salty and three I like mushroom flavour but not mushroom texture so the presence of the mushroom bits left me uninspired and did not enjoy it.

My main was the shaved steak sandwich on ciabatta with jus and fries.  Again, cold and served sloppy without much concern for presentation (see below).  My guest's salad with goat cheese and grilled chicken, I was told, was a standard salad with goat cheese and grilled chicken that you can get just about everywhere. Maybe because it was very quiet the attention to our plates did not get the same attention they would have coming from a frantic kitchen trying to keep up with a machine gun like spray of chits and the staff were focused on prep for the evening service?

Finally I have to say we were seated near the window close to the bridge into the large area in the back.  This area is also where the kitchen's pass is and server's station.  The conversation between the kitchen staff, servers and bartender must have been taken from the script of "How to constantly gripe and complain about your job, shifts and colleagues who don't pull their weight".  Not the kind of discourse one wants to hear while dining, but the attitudes and demeanour clearly came through in the product's we received.

I will enjoy the Empire's patio in the upcoming summer with its ambiance, cocktails, pretty people and advantageous position in the market setting, but for now this experience has left me with a disappointed impression that only the taste of a good broth will be able to remove.