Posted in Dishes of Note

Orongo Bay Oysters from New Zealand

I had never even suspected the existence of New Zealand oysters, I have to confess. If I had turned my mind to the question, I probably would have assumed they were available in those parts, but, as it was, it came as quite an exciting surprise when I saw them on offer at the Whalesbone Restaurant on Elgin Street in Ottawa when I was passing through  back in September.

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Posted in Dishes of Note

Cold Pig Ear Shreds

This little dish is an appetizer from the fairly extensive ‘Authentic Chinese’ section of the menu at the Best Chinese Restaurant here in Halifax. I am fairly sure I have featured pig’s ears in a previous restaurant review sometime during the past several years, but this preparation deserves a bit of a mention…

Pig’s ears, often served cold, are enjoyed in Chinese cuisine primarily for their texture. The taste is somewhat negligible, and chiefly overshadowed by accompanying ingredients, but the sheet of cartilage below the thin, soft skin, yields a bite that is a bit like breaking the skin of a knackwurst… it seems tough and unyielding at the first pressure, but then suddenly gives way with a satisfyingly crisp crunch.

These ones were prepared much as others I have had; that is to say, in red chili oil (it appears as  红油耳丝  on the menu), and also includes scallion and garlic. What differentiated this particular one in my mind is the sheer amount of raw garlic… there were thick slices of it all throughout the dish and they really added a sharp note in addition to the fire of the flakes of chili in the oil.

As much as I enjoyed this, though, I think I would be willing to forego the raw garlic in order to have this served as a hot dish rather than a cold appetizer… I think the pleasure of the dish would be enhanced (for me at least). There is a decent Chinese market I recently discovered not far from my new home that may have the raw pig’s ears from time to time, and if I come across them, I will see what I can do with them…

Posted in Dishes of Note

Seared Scallops at Lapointe

Lapointe's 1

I had this appetizer of grilled scallops at Lapointe Seafood Grill in Ottawa’s Byward Market way back in the summertime. In truth, the dish wasn’t especially memorable and I might well have not featured it in a post except for the fact that it employed a couple of interesting additions that I thought would be worth trying at home and thus deserving of a mention here…

The dish was described on the menu as follows:

Lapointe's 2

Now, first, I have to say that the plating job in this case was really sub-standard, which really detracted from the overall enjoyment. The arugula was largely placed with spinach that was haphazardly strewn on the platter, as were with the scallops and the ragged pieces (not sections) of orange.

The scallops, however, were very nicely grilled, having been seared to a caramelized crispiness on the outside while being tender, and still slightly translucent on the inside. I am not sure what happened to the ‘maple espresso’ dressing promised in the menu description as neither of these flavors were apparent in what I was served. Possibly the kitchen had none on hand due to some disaster or other, and had to improvise. As it happened, the dressing I did receive was tangy and very nice so, while I was a bit disappointed at not getting the interesting sounding dressing that was promised, I still enjoyed this part of the dish.

What I really enjoyed, here, was the pairing of orange, nuts and scallop. I am not a huge fan of pistachios, and would prefer, say, hazelnuts, or the like, but the flavor combination here worked very well. I actually resurrected my notes for this appetizer while looking for ideas to use with some lovely sea scallops I received as a gift. I am not sure exactly how I will go about it as yet, but I do wish to capture something of that very pleasant pairing with at least some of my scallops. I will be sure to share the results of any experiments along those lines, of course …

Posted in Dishes of Note

Pork Belly with Kumquat at Play, Food & Wine

Pork Belly with Kumquat and Parsnip

I had this little appetizer at Play Food Wine during my vacation in Ottawa. I am not posting it because it was an especially wonderful dish, but rather because the basic idea was pretty good and could be improved with a little tweaking. It is not easily apparent from the photograph here, but the pork belly consisted of two thumb-sized pieces that were roasted, then placed on a bed of pureed parsnip and topped with a sauce made with kumquats. There were some snap peas included, which didn’t add a great deal, and the garnish consisted of sprouts of some sort (possibly mustard).

The pork belly was well cooked but otherwise unremarkable. Little seasoning was used during the roasting from all I can gather, and the compliment came from the additional components on the plate. The parsnip bed was nice, with the sweet taste of fresh parsnip coming through cleanly, but I didn’t like the consistency very much. It was a little too much like applesauce and something with a bit more texture would have suited me more. As for the kumquats, I thought the idea pretty decent, but, ultimately, it was too overpowering. The fruit appeared to have been sautéed until partially collapsed into a thickish chutney-like affair, but the overly sweet result, coupled with an orange-pith like citrus bite was a bit much for the pork. I’d try this dish myself but, instead of the kumquat, I think something like cranberry (as one idea) might work a little better. Still, it was a good try…

Posted in Dishes of Note

Flambé Sambuca Shrimp in Yellowknife

Flambe Sambuca Shrimp

I had this little appetizer at Diamante during a layover in Yellowknife not long ago. It was described on the menu as ‘Tiger shrimp flambéed in Sambuca and finished with honey lemon cream sauce’ and I wasn’t really sure if the that I would like the strong anise flavour of Sambuca with delicate seafood. As it happened, though, I needn’t have worried as, for the life of me, I couldn’t detect even a hint of the liqueur anywhere in the dish.

Sadly, the above deficiency wasn’t compensated for in the rest of the execution. First, the 8 or 9 Tiger shrimp I was promised turned out to be the very small (and generally tasteless) variety one usually finds in supermarket ‘Shrimp Rings’ destined to be consumed with horseradish based cocktail sauces. The butter based sauce in this particular offering was creamy in texture but it did not seem as though any actual cream was used. It had honey, though, to the point of being almost cloyingly sweet, and while this may have been balanced by the advertised lemon, this also did not seem to be included save for a small section of whole lemon sitting in the sauce.

Anyway, overall, this appetizer was pretty much a disappointment. That being said, though, I am glad I tried it as it inspired me to give the basic idea a try myself. I even brought a little bottle of Sambuca back from Yellowknife to this end and I will post my results in due course.

Posted in Dishes of Note

Root Beer Pulled Pork at Tempo

Root Beer Pulled Pork 1

When I went to eat at the Tempo Restaurant in the Delta Barrington Hotel in Halifax this summer, I was really just planning to have a burger or something. However, the following item on the menu caught my eye…

Sweet and Savory Pork Duo – Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Root Beer Braised Pulled Pork Shoulder and Herb Roasted Baby Potatoes.

Root Beer??

Well, I have seen quite a number of dishes that use Coca Cola as a braising medium (although I have yet to try doing so myself) but the idea of using root beer the same way seemed decidedly odd. In that instant, all thoughts of a burger were banished and I knew I had to try it even though, quite frankly, it sounded as though it might be vile…

Happily, as it turns out, I wasn’t revolted and the meal was largely pretty good. The grilled pork tenderloin was a little dry (in fairness, it often tends to be so) and I found myself wishing for a little applesauce, but the potatoes and vegetables (in this case, broccoli and asparagus) were very well cooked and quite delicious. As for the pulled pork, though, I was surprised that there wasn’t any hint of root beer taste about it all… It was very moist and tender (as pulled pork should be) but there was a background taste that I couldn’t identify and wasn’t sure I liked. It wasn’t, as I say, a root beer taste, but rather a slightly woody, slightly gamey flavor that lingered a bit. Whatever it was (the root beer or something else) it rather convinced me to not bother trying to reproduce the dish any time soon. Still, I’m glad I gave it a try…

Posted in Dishes of Note

Tatoyaki at Tomo in Ottawa

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…

Posted in Dishes of Note

Bao Wows at Tomo

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…