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Notable Nosh: Tatoyaki II

Takoyaki II

I am calling this post ‘Tatoyaki II’ as it is a follow up to my awful experience with Tatoyaki at Wasabi in Ottawa back last January. On that occasion, I was disappointed by a dish that I had looked forward to trying for quite a long time and so, when I spotted them on the menu at the Tomo Restaurant during a more recent visit to the capital, I hoped to experience something a little better…

The menu at Tomo describes this particular snack item as ‘Battered octopus balls topped with house dressing, scallion and shaved bonito flakes’ and that, pretty much, is what I was served. The dressing in this case turned out to be twin drizzles of Japanese Mayo and Eel Sauce, both of which complimented each other and the balls very nicely, while the Bonito flakes were clearly very fresh and added a nice touch of smokiness to the whole.

The balls themselves, however, were not especially good. In the first place, the octopus was chopped way too finely rather than being one or more large chunks and it wasn’t really possible to taste whether one was eating octopus, shrimp, or even fish of some sort. Also, although the batter was nice and crisply golden on the outside, it was not well done near the middle and left a raw batter taste in my mouth. On the whole, these were still a definite cut above the awful crap I was served at Wasabi, but, still, the search for a decent Takoyaki (alas) goes on…

Veal Piccata

Veal Piccata 1

Veal Piccata is one of those classics of Italian cuisine that most people have heard about and which almost always appears on the menus of the more upmarket Italian restaurants. Essentially, it is Veal Scaloppini dish in which the thinly sliced veal cutlets are pan-fried and served in a lemon and caper pan-reduction sauce. Generally, the cutlets are simply seasoned and flour-coated (which some purists will maintain is required in order to be a true ‘Scaloppini’) but, occasionally, you will come across recipes where the meat is breaded before being fried. My take on this classic is fairly simple… Read more

The Lobster ‘Opener’

Lobster Tool 1

Here’s a handy little tool I picked up on Prince Edward Island during my summer holiday. It is sold a ‘Lobster Tool’ but, of course, it can easily be used for crab as well…

Usually, in restaurants, when you are served lobster, they usually provide you with a pair of ‘nut-crackers’, for opening the claws and tougher bits, as well as a little ‘pick’ thingy for winkling the meat out of the tricky spots. For years now, I have been using a pair of kitchen shears whenever I cook lobster at home and, though said shears are a bit unwieldy, I rarely need anything else. I thought, then, that a device that incorporates both shears and crackers into a single implement was a pretty clever idea.

I gave mine a test run on a whacking great 2lb lobster at Lobster on the Wharf in Charlottetown where I also bought the tool (there is a little seafood market attached to the restaurant which carries these and other tools). I can tell you, right now… the shell on that 2lb sucker was really thick and tough but my new purchase did really well. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I should point out that, while the crackers worked okay on the joints of the claw appendages, they were just a bit too short to provide a enough leverage for opening the big claws themselves. A one pounder would present no problem, even a one and a half pound job, but the thick shells on my dinner were just a bit too much.

Did I have to resort to the larger crackers the restaurant gave me? Heck, no… with careful use of the tough little shears I was actually able to open the claws by cutting them open. Not only was this easier, but I avoided crushing the tender meat inside. Quite impressive, really.

Anyway, I have long been meaning to do a post on ‘How to eat a Lobster’ (it’s a bit more involved than most people appreciate) so, when I do, I can show you my new tool in action…

Baby Scallops with Peanuts and Peppers

Scallops with Peanuts 1

The fact that this dish contains both peanuts and chili would be enough to classify it as a ‘Kung Pao’ dish in most restaurants. In point of fact, though,  it has neither the traditional ‘sweet and sour’ background flavors  of a ‘Kung Pao’, nor the ‘scorched chili’ fragrance that comes from blackening dried chili in the cooking oil before adding other ingredients. The original recipe for today’s preparation comes from Chinese book on ‘healthy’ foods and it actually uses sliced fresh red chilies along with ‘garlic peanuts’, whereas my peanuts are just the plain roasted variety and I have substituted red bell pepper for fresh chili. I do add some garlic and chili paste at the end of the cooking to not only provide a little fire, but also to create a thin sauce, or glaze, for the main ingredients. If you can get your hands on the same little baby scallops I used here, then give this a try. It is really quick and easy… Read more

Notable Nosh: Bao Wows

Bao Wows 1

Bao, or Bao Zi, are Chinese buns (chiefly made using a leavened bread-type dough) that are steamed with a filling of some sort. One very popular variety, almost always available in dim sum restaurants, is the famous Cha siu bao (叉燒包), which comes stuffed with Chinese BBQ Pork.

The rather cutely named items you see pictured above were not served at a dim sum restaurant, but rather at a little place called Tomo in Ottawa’s Byward Market. Tomo is primarily a Japanese restaurant, serving sushi, and other favorites, but they also do a number of non-Japanese items, including Pad Thai. The Bao, I was served here , are actually the specialty of ‘Daisy’, the wife of the owner and, while very much in the spirit of Cha siu bao, they are unique in including caramelized onions along with the pork.

I am not actually featuring the buns because they ‘Wowed’ me, so to speak, rather because the idea is one very much worth borrowing even if it wasn’t, in this case, terribly well executed. My main issue with the buns was that they were a little too sugary. The dough itself was quite sweet (more like a desert variety) and the filling even more so (due in part, no doubt, to the onions). This could, fairly easily, have been offset by providing a dipping sauce that was either sour, salty, or spicy (or a combination of these), but, surprisingly, not even soy sauce was offered.

The other aspect I though spoiled the buns was that pork was ground rather than chopped and did not have a nice meaty ‘bite’ to it. There was also, in my opinion, not enough of it in ratio to the onion and, on the whole, too little filling for the amount of ‘bun’. That being said, though, I like the idea of sweet onions with pork and I am going to try making a ‘spin-off’ of my own using pork belly and crispy fried onions… I’ll share the results as soon as I do…

Experiment: Roast Brussel Sprouts

Roasted Brussel Sprouts 1

Well, as you can see from the above picture, there is quite a lot going on here besides Brussels sprouts. Indeed, the combo here includes potatoes, parsnips, onion and, although it is not apparent in the picture, all of these ingredients were roasted alongside some beef ribs as a further experiment in the series beginning with my Meat and Veggie Roast  post from a couple of weeks ago.

If, like me, you have been curious about how Brussels sprouts might turn out after being roasted, you needn’t roast them with meat, or even include other vegetables, but you can certainly follow along with the rest of this post and get some ideas from the way I did things… Read more

Notable Nosh: Nasu Eggplant

Nasu Eggplant

I was served the dish you see pictured above a little while ago in Ottawa. It was called ‘Nasu Eggplant’ on the menu (which is rather a redundancy of sorts as ‘Nasu’ is actually the Japanese word for eggplant) and was described as eggplant ‘grilled with shrimp and scallop and served in a sweet miso sauce’. A few Ottawa visits before this last one, I sampled Vietnamese dish that also featured eggplant done with scallops and shrimp , so I was rather curious to try a Japanese style dish with these ingredients by way of comparison. I must say, after reading the description, I was rather expecting something along the lines of a ‘Nasu Dengaku’ (eggplant grilled with a Miso glaze), except with scallop and shrimp as an accompaniment (and presumably grilled the same way). As it happened, what I was received was something completely different…

As you can see, the dish I was served was very nicely presented but, instead of the grilled eggplant slices I was expecting, it consisted of sections of eggplant that had been hollowed out and stuffed before grilling. The filling did indeed contain scallop (and their flavor came through nicely) but the shrimp were not apparent either visually or in the flavor. In addition to these, and not mentioned on the menu, were short-grained rice, and some mushrooms that I am fairly sure were a small Shimeji variety. These last can be very tasty but, unfortunately, there were too few of them in this preparation to add much more than visual appeal.

Anyway, as I say, the dish was very pretty, and the grilling was done well, but the overall effect was a bit lacking. My main disappointment was that there was absolutely no hint of miso anywhere at all. There certainly was no ‘sauce’ to speak of, and I couldn’t detect any miso flavor in the eggplants themselves or the filling. Indeed, there was an obvious lack of saltiness that I had to remedy with a little splash of soy. It’s a shame, really, that the execution of this dish was a bit of a failure, but, overall, I can say that I am glad I tried it as I thought the idea was excellent and one I could have a great deal of fun playing around with at home…

Notable Nosh: Grilled Octopus


Grilled Octopus 1

I have featured Octopus in several ‘Notable Nosh’ posts in the past, as well as including several dishes in restaurant reviews, but this particular offering  that I enjoyed at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa deserves a special mention. In that same city, I have eaten grilled Octopus at both Greek and Portuguese restaurants before (and these are cuisines that make Octopus a specialty), but the Bistro effort you see pictured above really outshone them all.

Firstly, the actual grilling, in this case, was done to perfection. I often find that grilled octopus is over-cooked in many establishment, chiefly, I believe, from cooking too long at too low a temperature. The taste isn’t especially diminished thereby, but the texture of the meat usually suffers badly. Here, the outside of the single tentacle was charred in many places, adding to the overall flavor, but the flesh within was delightfully chewy with the ‘elastic’ bite that makes octopus a pleasure to eat.

The other aspect of the dish that makes it so deserving of mention was the unique flavoring. The meat was served with fingerling Yukon potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a house-made chorizo, and all were bathed in a lovely ‘vinaigrette’ made with Tamarind and Mint. I was almost going to forego octopus on this occasion (despite it being  a favorite) as there were some other interesting selections on the menu I wanted to try as well. However, the idea of using mint with octopus seemed so (doubtfully) unusual that I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Happily, the pairing turned out to work very well indeed. First of all, the chorizo, which was more in the form of ‘loose’ sausage meat rather then dense slices, made for a nice umami counterpoint to the marine flavor of the octopus, and it wasn’t the overly hot-spicy as I half-expected it to be. As for the sauce, the Tamarind gave the overall dish a lovely sweet and sour quality (which went especially well with the potato too), while the mint flavor blended with it perfectly to the point that it took me a few seconds to even be able to identify ‘mintiness’ as an individual quality. I am not sure what variety of mint was used (peppermint, possibly) but it was added with a deft touch and the overall effect was excellent.


Snow Peas with Chinese Sausage

Snowpea and Sausage 1

The sweet, apple-like quality of Chinese Preserved Sausage is often paired with more robust green vegetables such as Gai-Lan, or green-beans, but I think it also works nicely with the more delicate crispness of fresh snow-pea pods. You could, of course. Increase the amounts over those used here and serve everything as a larger entrée dish as part of a Chinese meal but it is quite rich and I conceived it as more of an appetizer, or a small offering served in a series of dim-sum type dishes… Read more

Notable Nosh: The Lobster Roll

The Lobster Roll 1

One cannot visit the maritime provinces without sampling the fresh lobster and, at the very least, a lobster roll is in order. The best of these I ever had was at Connolly’s Lobster in St. Andrews, New Brunswick some forty years ago,  but unfortunately, I have not tasted their match anywhere since. On my recent visit to Charlottetown, PEI, I scouted out likely places to try a local effort but so many seemed to try to ‘improve’ on the basic theme with citrus aiolis and the like. I wanted just the original chunks of lobster in plain mayo and, after a lengthy search, I found one at the Lobster on the Wharf.

The version here is served with a wide range of sides (Connolly’s only came with potato chips, which was all you really needed) and I chose potato salad and coleslaw. The roll itself was actually pretty decent (at least as compared to most),  and they are generous enough with lobster to give you a good meaty taste instead of the vague tease you usually get. Was it as good as the Connolly’s version? Well, sadly not… The restaurant of my youth sat beside what was then the largest lobster pound in the world and they could afford to stuff their rolls with the choicest tail meat, rather than the bits the restaurant didn’t use for other dishes. This was a close second maybe, but like every lobster roll since, it inspired more nostalgic longing rather pure enjoyment. Ah well….

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