Category: Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Uni

Uni - 2017-07 1

Uni is sometimes referred to as the roe of the Sea Urchin but is actually the gonads of the creature and can produce roe or milt (semen). It is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine but it is seasonal, and not always easy to obtain, so one frequently sees it on the menus of Japanese restaurants only to find, on ordering, that it is not currently available. I came across some recently at Wasabi in Ottawa’s Bytown market, where they were available as a sushi selection, or as a sashimi preparation served, as you see above, in little cucumber cups. Each cup held four or five individual gonads and you can see an individual piece in the inset.

The texture of uni is not for everybody. It is very soft, with a silky mouthfeel and is rather like the white of a soft-boiled egg, or, perhaps, a very firm custard. When tasted, without any sort of additions, it is very reminiscent of the tomalley, or liver, of a lobster. Some would say it has a fishy taste, but I rather think of it has having a generic ‘sea flavor’ coupled with a distinct sweetness. Tomalley can also have an underlying faintly musky pungency but, with uni, it is sweet all the way through except at the very end where a similar pungency comes across as an almost bitter aftertaste. It is brief however, and does not really affect the overall pleasure of the taste at all.

In this preparation, the uni was served with a wedge of lemon, a small mound of wasabi (hidden behind the inset in the above picture), and a little dish for soy sauce. I tried soy first and, while it was pleasant, I found that the sweetness of the soy masked the delicate sweetness of the uni, thus robbing it of some of its impact. The lemon was an even worse choice as, not only did the acid mask much of the good flavor, it also made the final bitter quality more pronounced and I am surprised that anybody thought that this would be a good accompaniment. As for the wasabi, however, this worked really well. Despite the sharp, intense power of the root, it didn’t mask any of the sweetness at all and really complimented it nicely. I should like to try the delicacy in a sushi preparation sometime, but the sashimi along with just a little wasabi is terrific.

Notable Nosh: Chinese BBQ Pork and Duck

Chinese BBQ

Not long ago, I posted a review of Gain Wah restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown. I mentioned therein that, as I was leaving, the very friendly owner who was manning the BBQ station offered some barbecued duck to try. It was absolutely delicious and I told him I would be back. Well… I did just that and ordered the plate you see above which, for the princely sum of just $7.50, gave me a generous helping of both duck and pork along with a little dish of plum sauce on the side. Now, though I have been tempted by Chinese BBQ on various occasions, this happened to be my first real experience (aside from the gratis sampling two days earlier). Now… I have to say that I am a convert. The duck was not quite as good as the first taste, as that had been freshly cooked and still piping hot, but both meats here were exquisitely succulent and flavorful. There was a slight hint of 5 spice powder here and there (which I can take or leave), but, otherwise, this was perfect and the plum sauce really wasn’t needed for either. I have had thin slices of BBQ pork tenderloin in fried rice and noodle dishes once in a while, but that cut is exceedingly dry and nothing like the lovely, slightly fatty portion here. I am going to have to experiment in my own kitchen…

Notable Nosh: Pork Belly with Kumquat

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…

Notable Nosh: Buffalo Steak

Buffalo Steak

I probably wouldn’t have done a post featuring this particular meal except for the fact that this is the first time I have ever eaten ‘Buffalo’ and I thought it might be interesting to share the experience.

First, I used quotes around the ‘Buffalo’ because when you encounter it on a menu in North America it almost invariably means the animal more properly called ‘Bison’, which, I gather, is only distantly related to the true Buffalo. Buffalo is eaten in some parts but I have yet to see it on a menu here, or in stores either, for that matter.

The cut I was served here was the rib-eye. I won’t comment on the vegetables except to say that the roasted carrot and green beans were unremarkable and the braised red cabbage not at all well-executed. The steak, however, was very nice. The cut was not perfect, a bit gristly in places but it was cooked to a good medium rare as ordered. I was surprised that it was as juicy as it turned out to be. Being largely grass-fed and relatively lean, I had been expecting something a bit drier, but it turned out to be quite as succulent as many a good beef steak I have had. I have read where others describe the meat as being a bit sweeter than beef but I didn’t really get that at all. It did, however, have a pronounced earthy taste that I really enjoyed. Beyond that though, had this been served to me as beef, I wouldn’t have cocked an eye and would have accepted it as such. In short, I would happily order a Buffalo/Bison steak again and I can pretty confidently state that you could substitute the meat in any recipe calling for beef without changing the result over much.

Notable Nosh: Flambé Sambuca Shrimp

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.

Notable Nosh: The Ploughman’s Lunch

Ploughmans Lunch 1

Almost anyone in Britain will be familiar with the pub special known as the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ (or some version thereof), but fewer people have ever heard of it on this side of the pond. I actually remember the name from my childhood in England but, just this summer, I came across it on pub menus in both Ottawa and Halifax …

The rather pastoral name of this simple meal makes it sound as though it has roots far back in medieval times but, in fact, it is not a great deal older than I am. Certainly, bread, cheese and ale have been combined to make repasts for field hands and other laborers for centuries but the actual ‘lunch’ combo was an invention of the British Cheese Marketing Board back in the 1950’s as a way to get cheese served more often in public houses.

Anyway, the basic lunch (ideally served with beer) is centered around good, fresh bread, butter, cheese of some sort, and a pickle. Pickled onions are a great favorite (although sometimes raw onion slices are served) but any sort can be substituted, with Branston Pickle being quite common these days. Meat, in the form of cold ham, Scotch Eggs, or Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, also make regular appearances, and even fruit slices or small salads get used as enhancements to the ‘traditional’ plate. Once you get too elaborate, though, the original notion of a simple, working person’s lunch, seems to get lost in culinary translation…

Today, I put together a little plate for myself consisting of a hunk of just baked Baguette (baked my local supermarket, not me), butter, a very nice Cheshire Cheese, and some pickled onions of the cocktail variety. I would have preferred the larger, more robustly flavored,  sort but, sadly, I just can’t seem to find them anywhere locally. With a cold beer on the side, this made a lovely lunch…

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…

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…

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.