Octopus on Black Risotto

PFW Grilled Octopus

This little dish I had at Play, Food & Wine in Ottawa a while ago was listed on the men as: Grilled Octopus with Black Rice Risotto, Saffron Mayo and Cipollini. Now, I love octopus and order it often when I see it, but in this case, I probably wouldn’t have bothered writing a post about it except for the interesting accompaniment of black rice.

The octopus itself was, sad to say, not quite up to this establishment’s usual high standard; It was, to be honest, at less than peak freshness and it had been overcooked to the point that the texture had suffered.

The Saffron Mayo, which appears as the yellow blobs in the above picture, tasted quite nice when taken alone but the flavor was so delicate that it got completely lost as an accompaniment to everything else. The Cipollini, which are a bit hard to see in the picture, were very nice, but I am not entirely sure what they were. Cipollini is a generic Italian name for small onions, but it also refers to the bulb of a particular sort of hyacinth that is also eaten in some Mediterranean cuisines. In any event, what I was served in this dish was lightly pickled and it lent a nice tangy counterpoint to the other flavors.

It was the rice, though, that stole the show for me, not the least because it is the first time I have ever tasted this black variety. It was served, ostensibly, as a Risotto, but it was quite dry and much closer to the way I cook Risotto rather than the creamy, nearly soupy, consistency it generally has. The grains were very small and short, being almost spherical, and the flavor was lovely with a rich nuttiness over a faintly earthy backdrop. The texture was also very pleasant and had a chewy quality to it that you don’t commonly get in most rice varieties. The appearance is a bit alarming, perhaps, but I thought it made a very nice bed for the rather disappointing octopus…

Yangtze – A second visit.

Yangtze 1

The Har Gow pictured above were served to me as part of a dim sum lunch at the Yangtze Dining Lounge in Ottawa’s Chinatown. I first visited this place almost 8 years ago and I later prepared a short review based on my notes. It was a very brief and rudimentary review, especially as I did not take any pictures.

My notes of that first visit recall, at best, a mediocre experience in that there were a couple of decent dim sum offerings, along with some not so good, and service that varied from server to server from moderately friendly to brusque and unwelcoming. On my recent second visit back in August of this year, I found that little had changed. The dim sum on offer was passable, but distinctly unimpressive, and the service, while generally friendly and efficient on the part of the ‘cart-ladies’ was sharp to the point of rudeness on the part of the hostess (as was the case 8 years ago, although I cannot say if it was the same person or not).

Anyway… the Har gow pretty much reflected the overall experience. I have had many worse, but here the wrapper had a bit of a doughy-raw taste and the shrimp inside had very little flavor at all. The only thing I like about these, really, was the size. I dislike overly large Har Gow as they are unwieldy to eat and often tear under their own weight, especially where you have to take more than one or two bites. These ones were just right for a single mouthful each. Continue reading “Yangtze – A second visit.”

Foodstuff: Baby Octopus

Baby Octopus 1

To be honest, I am not 100% sure that what you see here are, in fact baby octopuses. It said so on the package, but, for all I know they are the adults of a very small species. Thus far, though, the only sort I have cooked at home from fresh have been much larger sorts and so I bought a couple of packages when I saw them in my local supermarket freezer cabinet.

These little guys are only 5 or 6 inches long overall (the red thing in the corner of the picture is the handle of a pairing knife, for comparison’s sake). If you recall my previous ‘Foodstuff’ post on Octopus, the larger sort generally require a bit of tenderizing before being cooked. I figured, however, that these tiny ones can probably be fried or grilled without any other preparation. I decided to try a simple deep-fry to test… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Baby Octopus”

Sushi Village Revisited

JR Egg Sushi and Sashimi 1

I don’t generally give restaurants a second review…  I visited, and reviewed Sushi Village almost two years ago and all I will say about this most recent visit is that the ambience, food and service are about the same as they were for my first experience. That being said, I dropped in to the place once again quite recently (as the place is very close to the hotel where I most commonly stay in Ottawa), and I thought my readers might like to see the dishes I selected.

The first, which you see pictured above, was listed on the Sushi/Sashimi menu as just ‘Egg’, which I took to be a sushi/sashimi version of the multi-layered Japanese omelet known as ‘Tamagoyaki’. It was an egg dish, no doubt, but the connection between that basic fact and the complex Japanese egg specialty ended there. What I received was sort of an omelet, I suppose, but it was little more than plain egg that was cooked (in some way) to produce a thin, faintly rubber-like, sheet of yellow plastic. It didn’t taste bad, by any means, but it could easily have been powdered egg, and the texture was nothing like I a proper Tamagoyaki omelet. In fairness, the menu never made that specific claim but I will note, in passing, that I went and had what was definitely touted as ‘Tamago’ in a much higher end sushi restaurant only a few days later and got the same thing … Shame! Continue reading “Sushi Village Revisited”

Notable Nosh: BBQ Duck Wings

Highlander Duck Wings

Aside from some Chinese Preserved Duck Wings, the only times I have ever had duck wings is when I have roasted a duck at home. For a while now, I have actually been seeing them appear with increasing frequency in eateries around Ottawa but I had thus far passed them up in favor of other things that caught my fancy. On my most recent visit to the Highlander Pub, however, I saw that they had some on offer as a lunch special and I finally gave them a try…

What I received is not what I expected. At home, the ducks I roast are generally fairly small and the wings are usually not a great deal bigger than chicken wings. Accordingly, I was rather expecting a small basket of smallish, deep-fried wings, and not the large ‘drumettes’ you see picture above.

Actually, I am sorry that I didn’t include a fork in the picture for scale purposes, but each wing section was pretty near as large as the drumstick from the ducks I usually roast. I even had to ask whether the pieces were in fact from the wing and, when I was assured that they were, it struck me that these had to be some pretty big-ass ducks…

I was also informed that the wings are not deep-fried, but rather slow-cooked in duck fat until very tender. The meat was, in fact, almost falling from the bone, but there was also a fairly hard crispiness in places. I suspect that the wings are cooked, and then cooled in their fat, and then finally given a quick flash fry in oil to reheat before tossing with sauce. In this case, the sauce was the same BBQ sauce the Pub uses for other dishes (Buffalo style was also available). I have had the sauce before (on ribs, I think), but, while it is nice enough, I didn’t much care for it here.  Something more savory, and not quite as sweet would be better, I think.

Anyway, I liked how the duck wings were cooked and would like to experiment with the technique myself…

Notable Nosh: Red Snapper Sashimi

Red Snapper

About six years ago, I reviewed an Asian fusion restaurant and noted that some Red Snapper sashimi I ordered had ‘that slightly unpleasant earthy taste that some freshwater fish have’. I am a little embarrassed by that review now as I did not know, as I later learned, that Red Snapper is actually a sea fish…

In fairness to myself though, I have to say, the mistake was somewhat honest as, in all probability, what I ate on that particular occasion was not Red Snapper at all. It turns out, according to a report by the American Congressional Research Service, that almost 80% of the fish offered in restaurants as ‘Red Snapper’ is some other fish entirely. Some of it is ‘Pacific Rockfish’, while Tilapia, most definitely a freshwater fish, also often appears fraudulently in its place. I am thinking, now, that the ‘Red Snapper’ that disappointed me all those years ago was freshwater fake…

Anyway, I have had Red Snapper many times since them (as far as I can reasonably tell). Most recently, I had it at Wasabi, in Ottawa, where I ordered both as the Sashimi, and Nigiri Sushi you see pictured above. This offering was definitely a sea fish and (assuming I wasn’t fooled on this occasion, or the last few times) I think I can claim this fish as being my favorite for consuming raw …

One of my absolute favorite Sashimi selections is Octopus. Partly, this is a textural thing, but I also love the very sweet marine flavor of the flesh. This same sweetness doesn’t actually come through very strongly in most fish (as opposed to shellfish), but the Red Snapper (known as ‘Tai’ in Japanese) represents an definite exception. The texture is even a bit like octopus in that it is quite fibrous and very robust (compared to, say, fatty tuna), but it is the sweet but delicate umami quality of the fish that makes it special for me. Quite honestly, I would order this ahead of the riches, most expensive Otoro any day …

Foodstuff: Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix

Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix 1

I picked this little item up on a whim while shopping for other stuff. I don’t use pre-packaged sauce mixes all that frequently, nor do I use tofu often, but I have been curious about the classic Sichuan dish,  Mapo Doufu (spelled ‘Mabo Tofu’ here), and I thought this might be an interesting way to experience it for the first time. The package states that you need to add nothing except ground meat and tofu, and so I used nothing else myself except for just a little scallion… Continue reading “Foodstuff: Ma-Po Tofu Sauce Mix”

Spicy Shrimp Sauce

Spicy Shrimp Sauce 1

For years, I have been making a shrimp curry dish that incorporates Indian spices, along with fermented shrimp paste, in a tomato based sauce. The sauce is something I have always made on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, but I have long wanted to try a ‘make-ahead’ sauce that could be used to quickly put together a nice Shrimp curry, or even be used as a sauce with other meats or vegetables. I finally got around to doing it just a few days ago… Continue reading “Spicy Shrimp Sauce”

Dim Sum: Steamed Squid 蒸魷魚

Yangtze Steamed Squid

Steamed squid is a regular offering in dim sum restaurants and is a dish I rarely pass up. Sometimes, you find squid steamed with a curry sauce but, in my experience, the curry sauce usually served is a bit insipid and I generally don’t care for it.

The offering you see pictured above is one I was recently served at the Yangtze Dining Lounge in Ottawa. Most of the dishes I had that day were not actually that great but this particular one was first class. Commonly, squid pieces are often dusted in a flour of some sort before steaming but these were steamed ‘clean’ and the effect was very well done.

The pieces of ‘tube’ were very plump and thick and I would have guessed that they came from a fairly large specimen but the tentacles that were also steamed alongside were obviously from very tiny squid. I am not sure if the body flesh came from a different animal than the tentacles, or whether the flesh ‘plumped’ up during the steaming process. In any event, the cooking was expertly executed and the result especially tender. As usual, ginger, and a little scallion were added, and both of these were added deftly so as to just give a hint of their presence in the background. I have had this dish many times, both at home and in restaurants, and this was one of the best.

Notable Nosh: Freshwater Smelt

BB Fried Smelt 1

In New Brunswick, where I grew up, Smelt, also known as ‘Éperlan’, are a small sea fish, typically deep-fried whole, with head still attached, and eaten as a snack, often with beer. There are actually quite a number of different species of fish called ‘Smelt’ in various places but, to date, I had always considered them to be a saltwater delicacy only. I was surprised then, when I saw ‘Fried Smelt’ on offer at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa, which the menu described as being harvested from Lake Erie.

It turns out, after doing a little research, that there are actually a number of different lake-fish that go by the name ‘Smelt’, and the restaurant wasn’t, as I first suspected, mislabelling their food. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered with this particular appetizer, even though I like Smelt well enough, but I was curious to see what the freshwater sort might be like.

Anyway…  I was surprised when I was served my platter as the fish were headless, deboned, and butterflied, rather than being served whole, and they were also breaded. The sort I am used to are quite a bit smaller and so you can eat the heads and bones quite easily. They are also usually just rolled in a bit of flour before frying rather than being battered or breaded.

The flavor of the fish wasn’t actually all that different from the ones I have had in the past. Normally, I prefer the slightly briny, marine flavor of sea-fish, and find the freshwater varieties a bit ‘muddy’ tasting. These, however, were very delicate in flavor and quite sweet. There was a white sauce on the side described as ‘Tartar Sauce’ but which was anything but… Tartar sauce is mayonnaise based and this was some sort of sour cream or yoghurt concoction that was absolutely awful. The fish itself, though was pretty decent, in my book…