Posted in Notable Nosh

Chorizo Scotch Eggs at The Clarendon Tavern

Chorizo Scotch Eggs

When I was a kid growing up in Britain, Scotch Eggs would often put in an appearance at picnics or on cold buffets, but, on this side of the pond, they seem less well known and are only infrequently encountered. Basically, the idea is that a boiled egg is wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs and then deep-fried or baked. In my house, when I was young, my mother deep-fried them, as best as I recall, and she always hard-boiled the eggs first.

A while back, I had an opportunity to visit ‘The Clarendon Tavern’ in Ottawa’s Byward Market for the first time. I was able to sample a number of beers I had not had before, and also tried their version of Scotch eggs, which has been given a spicy twist with chorizo and other seasonings in the sausage wrap.

The specialty was served with some very nice bread and butter pickles, grainy mustard, and a salad of greens in a lovely dressing containing just a little lemon zest. There were also some finely shredded pickles in the greens and, while I could not identify them, I thought them a very nice addition. As for the egg itself, the coarse breadcrumb produced a very nice crust that was still nicely crisp and the chorizo sausage made a great change from the usual. There was also a slight ‘curry’ taste to the meat coating, and I could definitely detect cumin and coriander in the blend. Whatever it was, the result was a nice play on an old favorite and I would really like to experiment with the idea myself … maybe Quail eggs instead?

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A Meal at Kochin Kitchen

Kochin Kitchen 1

Kochin Kitchen opened up on Dalhousie Street in Ottawa’s Byward Market a few years back, and, while I did try to pop-in for lunch on a past visit to the city it was packed full already and I didn’t get a table. Recently, I made another attempt and, though the place was very busy once again, the service was very friendly and efficient and I enjoyed my meal. The place specializes in the food of southern India and they have a nice range of dishes, especially appetizers. I plan to go again on an upcoming visit to the capital a few weeks hence actually, but I am posting to day to share the very nice dishes I enjoyed on my introductory excursion to the place… Continue reading “A Meal at Kochin Kitchen”

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Meal Excursion: Lunch at C’est Japon a Suisha

C'est Japon a Suisha 1

I had been meaning to visit this place on Ottawa’s Slater street for some time now and, though I finally made it with a mind to write a proper review of the place, I unfortunately did not arrive at the best time to do so. The restaurant opens for lunch but then closes quite early in the afternoon before opening again in the evening and I did not get there unto just a short time before the kitchen shut down. Still, I managed to sample a few of their fish selections, both as sashimi and sushi, and I will share them here now with a promise to return sometime for a more thorough report… Continue reading “Meal Excursion: Lunch at C’est Japon a Suisha”

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Notable Nosh: Mushrooms Neptune at the Keg

Mushrooms Neptune

My great pleasure in visiting Ottawa is trying out new restaurants but, in the few years, it has become something of a tradition for me to make my last meal in town a steak at The Keg in Byward Market.Usually, after having spent a week or ten days in the city, I have finished my culinary adventures and just want to have a decent steak in pleasant surroundings near to my hotel…

On my last visit, I risked overstuffing myself and tried one of the appetizers before tackling a pretty healthy sized rib-eye steak. The selection I chose was the Mushroom Neptune you see pictured above which was described on the menu as consisting of mushroom caps with crab and cream cheese. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant about trying this as it sounded as though it might be a bit rich and overdone but, as it happened, it was reasonably light and very nice.

Aside from the fact that the dish had been taken from the oven with s decidedly grubby oven-mitt, the presentation was very nice and, although it might not be apparent, the caps were served in the ‘wells’ of an escargot dish with the cheese placed over top and nicely browned in the oven.

I was rather expecting, as I say, something heavy and rich but, in fact, the topping was prepared in such a way that it was very light and almost fluffy, rather like the toasted topping of Bechamel sauce on a traditional lasagna. It was lightly flavored with a little scallion and just a hint of garlic and the overall effect was very nice. I had already ordered a Zinfandel to sip on before ordering and, while I found it to be a bit ‘big’ and unsubtle as a sipping wine, it actually was much better with this very pleasant appetizer.

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Notable Nosh: Beef Carpaccio at Play, Food and Wine

PFW Beef Carpaccio

I have mentioned Ottawa’s Play, Food and Wine many times on this blog. It is a cross between a bistro and a wine bar and I like going there when I visit the city as they change their menu frequently and offer interesting pairing suggestions from their decent selection of wine. On my last visit in March, I enjoyed the Beef Carpaccio dish you see pictured above. I thought it worth featuring here as it was quite innovative in the ingredients used and was an interesting take on the usual presentation.  The dish was described on the menu as ‘Beef Carpaccio with jerk spice, jalapenos, greens and Comte’, which was sort of accurate, but also not quite what I received…

The beef itself appeared to me to be the same thin slices you can buy for Chinese Fondue or Hotpot from your local supermarket. I am not being critical in relaying that fact, indeed, the quality of the beef was excellent and I think I may borrow the idea for myself, sometime. There was a bit of a disappointment in that there was nothing remotely ‘jerk-like’ about the meat, and no hint of seasoning that suggested anything vaguely Jamaican… I think a little regular pepper was used, but there were no other aromatic dried spices that I could detect. Quite honestly, though, I didn’t miss it all that much and I think it is possible that the duty chef that evening may have simply forgotten add it.

There was also no actual Jalapenos on the plate, as such, but the vinaigrette for the mesclun greens did contain Jalapeno oil and the little spark of heat this added proved very nice. There was also some pickled Yuca included (which wasn’t mentioned in the description), and I liked that tart counterpoint to the rest of the dish. The other departure from the traditional that this Carpaccio made was that, instead of the usual shavings of Parmesan, or Romano, the cheese added atop the beef was a variety called ‘Comté’. I had to ask about this and it turns out that it is a French cow’s milk cheese (also known as Gruyère de Comté) produced in eastern France. It was, I though, something like a mild, slightly waxy cross between Swiss and Parmesan, and I like it very much.

As for the wine, the menu suggested a Agricola Tiberio Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2017, which is a rose from Abruzzi in Italy. I tried it and it was quite dry and somewhat acidic, with nice notes of cherry, citrus, orange blossom and melon. I am not sure if I would particularly choose this to pair with the Carpaccio I had, but it went well enough and was a decent sipping wine in its own right. On the whole, I was pleased with the combination of experiences…

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Notable Nosh: The Surf Clam

Surf Clam 1

I have come across ‘Surf Clam’ on many Japanese restaurant menus but, on the few times I have tried to order it in the past, it always seemed to be out of season, or otherwise unavailable. In any event, back this past December, I tried it, not once but twice, in two different restaurants in Ottawa. All I could think was that it was a shame I had not managed to try them before as they were probably the nicest clam type I have ever had…

I really cannot tell you exactly what species constitutes ‘surf clam’ for culinary purposes as the information I was able to find was quite confusing. It may well be that there are more than one species, including one that is fished offshore from Bedford, Nova Scotia.    The inset in the above picture shows one such species (Spisula sachalinensis) and I have included it to give you an idea of the part of the clam that is used.

The sashimi and sushi you see pictured above was served to me at Wasabi, where they identified on the menu as ‘Orange Clam’ and ‘Hokegai’, the latter apparently and in-house spelling of the more common ‘Hokkigai’. Surf Clam seems to be the most common English name, but one also encounters ‘Red Clam’, and ‘Sea Clam’.

What I like about the Wasabi version, was the presentation. As you can see, the edible portion of the clam (apparently called either the ‘foot’ or the ‘tongue’) is ‘butterflied’. It is simple pressed almost flat on the plate for the sashimi version, but is made into a pretty little conical ‘hat’ for the sushi. His is quite unique and different from the way it was cut at my next port-of-call… Continue reading “Notable Nosh: The Surf Clam”

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Notable Nosh: Wasabi’s Unagi Taters

Wasabi's Unagi Taters

Dear, Oh dearie me… this little offering was… just… sad…

Normally, a dish or meal is featured as a ‘Notable Nosh’ dish because it was either very good, or otherwise interesting in some way, but, unfortunately, that was not the case here… I love the Japanese Restaurant, Wasabi, down in Ottawa’s Byward Market, not just because they usually have top notch food, but also because, sometimes, they can be innovative in clever and tasty ways. Occasionally, though, or at least a couple of times in my experience, they have managed some truly frightful boners. Their ‘Unagi Taters’ which I tried just before this past Christmas, were, I regret to say, boners in the first degree

The menu introduced ‘Unagi Taters’ as: Miso herb croquettes with unagi (eel), cheese, and chives.

Sounds sorta interesting doesn’t it?

Let’s unpack ….

To get the full idea of the croquette, imagine a dollop of cold, unseasoned and mashed potato that is pressed flat, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. You may well imagine that the result would be somewhat flavorless and with an unpleasant texture, and… you would be right. Had these ‘croquettes’ included the advertised herbs or miso, the additions might have saved them. As it was, however, they were nowhere in evidence; Not merely added insufficiently, mind you … but completely absent.

The Unagi was the only thing that added any sort of decent flavor here… Unfortunately, it may be that the chef was having a bad night or something, but only two of my four ‘taters’ managed to have any eel put atop them, and in both cases, the amount was not quite enough to be described as ‘stingy’. The final insult to the otherwise decent fish came with the addition of the cheese.

The cheese, and I swear this is true, was actually squares of processed cheese that were added to the ‘taters’ before being popped under the grill. This might have been alright except that the grilling wasn’t even long enough to properly melt the cheese (much less toast it to make it flavorful) and so there it remained as cold, and plastic-like, as it usually is. Sadly, this is not a dish that was poorly executed, it wasn’t even well-conceived to begin with.

Well… in all fairness to Wasabi, despite my little diatribe here, I love the place and will continue to eat there when I come to town. But guys … for heaven’s sake, retire this one from the menu and, for future innovations, if it comes to mind that processed cheese with fish might be a good idea then … NO, NO, and .. NO!!

 

 

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Sea Bass Sashimi and Sushi

Sea Bass Sashimi and Sushi 1

A while ago, I got to try Sea Bass for the first time. At least, I think I did…

It is a sad truth that there is a lot of fraudulent substitution when it comes to seafood, and this happens no less in sushi restaurants than it does with fishmongers, or down-market fish-and-chip places. While researching for this post, I happened to find quite a few different pictures of Sea Bas on the web that didn’t look much like the fish in the above picture. This might be concerning, except it turns out that there are quite a few varieties of Sea Bass, including ‘White Sea Bass’ and ‘Striped Sea Bass’.  Still, even though the Wasabi restaurant in Ottawa is pretty reputable place, one never knows …

Anyway, when I am trying a sashimi selection, I like to try it as nigiri sushi as well, and I did this for my first experience with Sea Bass. Here you can see that sashimi portion of my order is formed into a nice little ‘rosette’ and garnished with Masago, or Smelt roe. This is actually almost a tasteless ingredient and didn’t affect the experience of the fish other than adding a little visual interest.

Unfortunately, I really wasn’t all that keen on this choice for sashimi. The flesh was a little fibrous, but other than that it had a rather soft texture that wasn’t all that pleasant, and it seemed to leave a slight ‘residue’ in the mouth. This suggested something less than peak freshness, but there were no other off tastes that would further tend to that conclusion. What flavor there was actually had the very slightly muddy taste I associate with fresh fish rather than the marine varieties… it is chiefly for this reason that I began to suspect that my ‘Sea Bass’ may have been something else…

In any event, on my next trip south, I will try and sample ‘Sea Bass’ in a few other establishments and see if I can learn a little more….

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Notable Nosh: Palais Imperial Style Kung Pao Chicken

PI StyleKung Pao

This dish appears on the menu of Ottawa’s Palais Imperial as ‘Imperial Style Chicken (spicy)’. However the Chinese character entry (reproduced in the inset in the above picture) reads Gōngbǎo jīdīng, and translates, in its most common spelling form as Kung Pao Chicken (Cubes).

For ages, I have rather thought of starting an ongoing blog feature here called ‘The Kung Pao Chronicles’ as I find this a very interesting dish indeed. I still may get around to doing that someday (maybe), but, for now, I am going to continue trying this widely variable dish wherever, and whenever I get the chance and I may, occasionally, share the experience here.

My interest lies mostly in the fact that I have come to regard ‘Kung Pao dishes’ as being a good way to assess a Chinese restaurant. This is because you typically find it reproduced it three ways:

  • Chinese style;
  • Westernized Chinese style; and,
  • Straying so far from the basic theme as to be neither of the first two.

I am not going to go on at great length about the characteristics of these, except to say that the latter case will generally consist of some chicken with peanuts, or cashews, in some sort of hot sauce. This is true of all three cases, of course, but the basic Chinese tradition has certain other essential features as well. In today’s case, Palais Imperial follows the essential idea pretty well…

The one thing that is to be noted is that there is a lot of ‘bulk’ here in the form of vegetables, and indeed, this could really be called ‘Kung Pao Veggies with a Bit of Chicken Added’. Most recipes will often only include some green onion along with the chicken and peanuts, but here, the Palais Imperial includes red and green bell pepper, water chestnuts, celery, carrot, bamboo shoot, baby corn, and mushrooms. To be fair, of course, a restaurant has to be cost conscious, and a certain amount of filler is to be expected. Here though, it really was quite a lot at the expense of the chicken quantity.

The chicken in this dish was actually cut more in slices (piàn), rather than dice, or cubes (ding), but this is hardly fatal to a ‘proper’ Kung Pao dish, and I note that Palais Imperial used the darker thigh meat, which is more in keeping with Chinese tradition, as opposed to the white breast meat more commonly used in westernized versions.

The ‘heat’ for this version comes from the addition of Thai style dried red chili and this restaurant has given the dish the one of the signature ‘Kung Pao’ flavor elements, which is a ‘scorched’ chili flavor obtained by frying the chilies in the cooking oil until they darken before adding the other ingredients. This allows the unique flavor, and the heat, to permeate the finished product.

Beyond the chili heat, a Kung Pao dish is also slightly sweet and sour. In westernized versions, both elements tend to get exaggerated, of ten to the point that the sauce is pretty much the same sort of ‘sweet and sour sauce’ typical in these restaurants. The Chinese version is much more understated but, funnily enough, this place has actually gone to the other extreme. There is a tiny bit of sweetness, but very little ‘tang’. All in all, though, the dish I was given was delicious, with just the right amount of heat for me. They seem to cleave pretty close to the traditional Chinese original, with the deviations being no more than their proprietary, individual touches…

 

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Notable Nosh: Japanese Seafood Chowder

Japanese Seafood Chowder

Well, this particular creation of Wasabi in Ottawa was pretty interesting in concept but not, unfortunately, in execution…

The menu described this being ‘Shrimp, scallop and fish in light miso’ but it was pretty hard to see how what I was served matched that description in any material fashion. Firstly, I was rather expecting that the chowder would be a dashi based miso soup lightly thickened in some fashion to make it a ‘chowder’ of sorts. Here though, the medium was definitely a chowder that had been thickened, as far as I could tell, with potato, as is the case with many western chowders. There was, however, no dashi flavor, nor (more to the point) any hint of miso at all. Basically, the only real taste was something akin to a cross between potato and mushroom soup.

The promise of actual seafood in the dish was also pretty optimistic. I could tell that a few of the chewier pieces were fish, and there were some tiny pieces of shrimp, but neither was in abundant supply and there was no scallop as far as I could tell. Indeed, the majority of solid pieces in this brew were actually potato.

The only real Japanese aspects to this dish were the strip of Wakame floating on top, and the Panko on the side. The Wakame was alright, I suppose (but added more for garnish than anything substantial), and the Panko was somewhat interesting. Normally, crackers or the like are provided with soups so they can be crushed and added in for a thicker heartier result. Thickening was hardly needed here but, if a little was sprinkled on each spoonful, it did lend a slightly enhanced texture.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I really enjoyed this all that much, but I still think the idea is good. An actual miso style soup thickened with potato, and with lots of good seafood added, would be very good. I guess though, I will have to do it myself …