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.