Category: Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Alirang’s Tteokbokki

topokki 1

I ate Tteokbokki for the very first time at Alirang (my favorite Korean Restaurant in Ottawa) just a little bit before Christmas. For some reason, I had never heard of these before even though I eat in Korean restaurants fairly often, and have a pretty decent collection of Korean cookbooks at home. Thankfully, Alirang provided a phonetic rendering for the dish right on the menu and it appears, as they have it, to be pronounced ‘Topokki’.

I any event, Tteokbokki consists of a particular type of rice noodle, which can be served in many different ways. In the Chinese character name for the selection given on the menu (in the inset on the above photograph), it is described as ‘Hán shì chǎo niángāo’, which translates as ‘Korean Style spicy stir-fried steamed-rice cake’. The actual noodle, as it turns out, is a thick, very dense, cylindrical rice flour noodle cut, in this case, into 3cm sections.

Now, the dish I was served at Alirang did not just consist of the noodles in sauce, but also contained a little cabbage (not quite apparent in the picture) but also some triangular pieces of something with an almost omelet like texture that I could not identify. I had to ask what they were and discovered that it was slices of fish cake. When I discovered what it was, the taste suddenly made sense and I have to say that I really liked this addition very much.

Now, the noodles were probably the densest, chewiest noodles I have ever had and I can see how they could become addictive, and probably a comfort food for those who grow up with them. I would like to see if I can buy them separately for home use sometime so I can experiment with them a little.

Oh… as for the sauce, this was pretty much nothing more than a slightly diluted Gochujang, or Korean Fermented Chili-Soybean Paste. It was extremely fiery and, I have to admit, nearly did me in. Still, on the whole, I really liked this offering and would like to try some other versions in the future.

Equipment: The Joyce Chen Wok

joyce chen wok 1

For a number of years now, I have had an induction stovetop in my kitchen. It is nice in many respects, but a traditional, round-bottomed wok will just not work properly with it. After way too long with disappointing results I purchased a flat bottomed wok in cast iron… this was a nice piece of cookware, and may have had some practical uses in other ways, but as a wok it was just too damn heavy and didn’t allow for easy heat control. Accordingly, back this past May, I purchased the Joyce Chen 14 inch flat-bottomed wok you see above. Sadly, though I have purchased quite a few Joyce Chen products that were well worth the money, this $50 item that I purchased here at Amazon, was a bit of a disappointment … Continue reading “Equipment: The Joyce Chen Wok”

Notable Nosh- Shafali Style Lamb Vindaloo

Shafali Lamb Vindaloo 1

For about three or four successive visits to Ottawa, I had Lamb Vindaloo on my bucket list of dishes to sampled, but, as sometimes happens, the best laid plans get set aside for one reason another and it was only at my last visit just before this past Christmas that I got to indulge. On this occasion I went to Café Shafali because I have eaten there before and enjoyed it, and because it is only about three blocks from the hotel where I always stay when I am in town…

Anyway … When I was a kid, my father told me that a ‘Vindaloo’ was the hottest of the Indian curries. Of course, whether or not that is ever true obviously depends on how much chili heat a given chef adds to a given dish, but it does seem that, in the main, they tend to one of the hotter dishes on the menu in Indian restaurants. At Shafali, they advertise it on their menu like this:

shafali lamb vindaloo 2

The four little flame thingies beside the title specify the heat level and, at Shafali, the Lamb Vindaloo is the only dish to rate four flames. I should perhaps have been put on my guard by the fact that in addition to the graphic warning, they also describe the dish as containing ‘loads of chilies’…In truth, though, I often find that the way a restaurant describes ‘heat’ is often a bit arbitrary and I went ahead and ordered the dish lulled into a false sense of confidence …

Now, Vindaloo fans will know that the dish has Portuguese roots and originally involved meat marinated in garlic and wine. In later Indian, and Anglo-Indian renditions, the wine got replaced with vinegar and chilies got added in ever increasing amounts. At Shafali, they actually go back, historically speaking, and use red wine to marinate their lamb, but they certainly follow more modern traditions with the sheer amount of chili they use.

In general, this was a very nicely prepared dish. The generous chunks of boneless lamb were not cooked so long that they fell apart (often the case in Indian curries), and it was ‘al dente’ for western palates. It didn’t have the sharp tang from vinegar as is usually the case, but It was slightly sweet, and the taste of both ginger and garlic were briefly apparent before the chilies asserted themselves forcefully.

I have to say here, that it is an unfortunate truth that I am not a spring chicken anymore and over the years, I find that really hot dishes are a bit beyond me. I am lucky that I don’t suffer the intestinal distress that some people experience after a spicy meal, but, sadly, a mouthfeel of fire now inhibits, rather than enhances my enjoyment of a meal and I it takes the occasional sharp lesson like the Shafali Vindaloo to remind me I just can’t do this anymore…I am thinking, after this episode, that I should like to try doing a much milder Vindaloo at home sometime soon, and try and strike a more Portuguese weighted balance, with good wine and ‘loads of garlic’, rather than mouth-numbing quantities of chili… a report will follow!

Notable Nosh: ‘Mandoo’ (Korean Dumplings)

Mandoo

I eat at Korean restaurants about once or maybe twice a year. I have rarely had dumplings during a Korean meal and, quite honestly, don’t particularly associate dumplings with Koran cuisine at all; Mostly, I think, because they most often appear on the menu under the name ‘pot-stickers’ or the Japanese name ‘Gyoza’. A lot of Korean restaurants will include Chinese, Japanese, or Thai items on the menu, and the dumplings I have seen in these places are generally the fried ‘Guo Tie’ or ‘Wor Tip’ variety that are commonly called pot-stickers, and it is never suggested that they are a Korean ‘thing’ at all…

At Alirang, a tiny, but excellent Korean restaurant in downtown Ottawa, they had dumplings described on the menu as ‘Mandoo’  (Korean Dumplings) … I have seen the name Mandoo in cookery books before, or in its more common variant ‘Mandu’, and the Wikipedia entry for the term suggests that the word refers to a wide variety of native Korean dumplings. In truth, I don’t think this is the case as the word clearly descends from the same root as ‘Manti’ (central Asian dumplings) and ‘Mantou’ (Chinese steamed buns) … In the inset in the above picture, I have shown the menu entry, which includes Chinese characters for the name. These solve the issue a little as they translate as ‘Korean style fried dumplings’ and suggest more a Korean twist on a standard Chinese classic rather than a purely Korean delicacy.

Anyway, whatever the origin, these were pretty decent , except that the wrapper dough was a bit thick for this type of dumpling and would be more appropriate for boiled or even steamed. The Chinese characters specify ‘jiānjiǎo’ which actually means ‘pan-fried’, but these ones were clearly deep-fried and quite oily, although I don’t mean this as a criticism as these were, as I say, pretty darned decent. The filling was ground pork and cabbage that didn’t seem to be seasoned with anything except a little salt, but the simplicity of this worked very well and the overall effect was very flavorful. They may not be truly a traditional Korean delicacy … but who cares 😊

Notable Nosh: Shafali Style Onion Bhaji

Shafali Onion Bhaji 1

I first visited and reviewed Ottawa’s Shafali Restaurant almost 7 years ago. On that occasion, I sampled the Onion Bhaji from their appetizer menu and rated them very highly. They were, on that occasion, made largely the same way as all the others I had ever eaten thus far ( including those I made myself), which is to say, thin strips of onion dipped in a seasoned batter and deep-fried. Just recently though, I stopped in to Shafali again, and ordered their Onion Bhaji a second time, only to find that they were prepared in a way I have not had them before …

The menu (which may read the same was it did on my first visit), describes the as ‘Onion balls bound with lightly spiced and fragrant chickpea flour batter and served with house tamarind mango chutney’, but if you compare the above picture with the one from my 2012 review (follow the above link), you can see that they are not the same. The seasoning in both cases was about the same as best as I can recall, and here included  turmeric, coriander, pepper and fennel seed among other spices, but it was the nature of the of the ‘batter’, though,  that was very different.

In most versions I have ever had (or made) the batter is quite thin and thus you get a result that is a bit like the crispy Japanese Kakiage style Tempura. Here it had a much ‘doughier’ texture. I am not sure, but I rather think that, having immersed the chopped onion to the batter (more minced than shredded, in this case), more Besan flour was added to produce a drier, possibly kneadable result. Accordingly, the final texture is still a bit crispy on the outside, but much spongier and chewier at the center.

I don’t think I would say that I liked this way better than the way I have usually had Bhajis, but it was still pretty good and I should like to experiment with the basic idea in some of my own creations.

Yimin Dim Sum House

Yimin 1

Normally, when I do a restaurant review, I not only do it as a blog post for these pages, but I also as a post to the Zomato Restaurant Review website as well. In those cases, I generally take pictures of both the outside and the inside of the restaurant, and also do a detailed criticism of the ambience and service as well as the food. On this occasion, I hadn’t planned on reviewing Ottawa’s Yimin Dim Sum House, but had rather dropped in for a quick lunch after discovering that a place I had meant to dine was closed that day. I didn’t take the usual interior and exterior photographs (the picture above is ‘borrowed’ from the restaurant’s online menu page, but I did take pictures of the dishes I had and kept notes. I’ll do a proper review at some point on a future visit to Ottawa, but, for now, I’ll just share with you the meal I ended up having… Continue reading “Yimin Dim Sum House”

Notable Nosh: Dunn’s Famous Smoked Meat Sandwich

Dunn's Smoked Meat 1

Many years ago, before I started writing this blog, I made something of a culinary pilgrimage to the justly famous Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal for one of their celebrated Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwiches, a specialty which is very much he spiritual cousin of the sort of Pastrami on Rye you find in traditional Hebrew Delicatessens in New York.

Now, for years, I have been frequenting Dunn’s Famous Deli at its location on Dalhousie Street in Ottawa. It is located just two blocks from the hotel I usually stay in and they do a great breakfast special, so I usually will visit at least once on any given trip to the capital. They also, however, do a Smoked Meat Sandwich special that they advertise as being ‘World Famous’. I always took this claim with a grain of salt, and was thus far not tempted, but then I learned that Dunn’s got their start in Montreal way back in 1927, and, apparently, was something as a rival to Schwartz’s. Accordingly, I decided to put their sandwich to the test…

As you can see, the platter, which comes with a ‘bottomless’ soft drink, and sells for only $16.99, is pretty substantial, and includes, in addition to the well stacked sandwich, hand cut fries, coleslaw and a pickle. The pickle is, well… a pickle, but the coleslaw (a simple, vinegar dressed type) is pretty decent. The fries are very thick and cooked the way you get them in an English Fish and Chip shop, that is to say, not especially crispy. This won’t appeal to all but I like them this way and they were just fine with nothing but salt and vinegar.

Now the sandwich… It really was worth the visit. I am not a big fan of rye, but it us essential here and the Dunn’s variety is very nice and the meat stack high enough to be filling but still easy to eat. For those not familiar, Montreal style smoked meat is, like Pastrami, a cured beef that is spiced and hot smoked. The smoking, however, is quite light and you don’t tend to get a heavy smokiness like you do with, say, southern BBQ. What you do get, at least in Dunn’s product, is a lovely aromatic flavor of freshly cracked black pepper and coriander seed. The cut is less fatty than I recall the Schwartz’s as being, but it still managed to be nicely juicy. All in all, it was a very nice sandwich and, though it must be at least 10 years to my visit to Schwartz’s, I think this was better….

Notable Nosh: Grilled Haloumi

PFW Grilled Haloumi

This past year, I made three trips to Ottawa but, unfortunately, only one was strictly a pleasure trip, and it was the only one where I had much in the way of culinary adventures. I have posted quite a few times about dishes I had on the trip already but I saved the best for last. The dish of Grilled Haloumi that you see pictured above was a ‘small plate’ offering I had at Play Food and Wine near the end of my visit and it really ‘stole the show’…

I have been meaning to get around to doing a blog post about Haloumi for some time now but, for those who are unfamiliar, it is a cheese from Cyprus that is made from both sheep and goat milk (cow’s milk is also included sometimes, I gather). It is mild in taste, but the feature that really makes it appealing for me is that it has a very high melting point and can thus be grilled or fried in all sorts of interesting ways.

The version I had on my trip was described on the menu as being ‘Grilled Haloumi with Celeriac, Date Puree, Pomegranate and Hazelnut Oil’. You cannot see the Celeriac in the picture, but it was pickled. The Pomegranate seeds added a nice visual touch but I found the texture a bit jarring and the taste, as was the case with the Celeriac, was okay, but didn’t really add to the overall quality of dish.

The cheese however was excellent … When you bite into Halloumi, especially after being fried or grilled, it has a terrific texture. It is a bit like a cross between really firm tofu and Paneer, except it is even chewier and seems to ‘squeak’ when you bite into it. Here, the grilling was done very well and the charring added a terrific dimension to the mild flavor of the cheese itself.

I am not sure about the Hazelnut oil supposedly used here. Grilled Haloumi usually has a bit of a nutty taste, I find, and that was the case here. Beyond that, I am not sure what effect the oil was supposed to have had. My notes are actually silent on the point so the best I can say is that, while it clearly didn’t negatively impact the dish, it also didn’t have enough effect to be memorable either.

The Date Puree was a very good addition and I thought that sweet fruitiness was a great counterpoint to the savory tastes.  I actually have some Haloumi in my fridge waiting to be used and I will likely try something inspired by this lovely dish. I will keep the fruit puree idea (although something I have on hand rather than fig) but I am going to find something to replace the Pomegranate Seeds and Celeriac that is better suited.

Notable Nosh: The Luxe ‘Surf and Turf Burger’

Luxe Surrf and Turf Burger 1

I first reviewed Ottawa’s Luxe Bistro nearly 7 years ago and I have eaten quite a few times since. One item on their menu that caught my eye some time ago was a special burger with a patty topped with lobster meat. I had forgotten about it until I stopped in to sample some oysters on my Christmas vacation and I ended up giving it a try.

Actually, Luxe also does a ‘Lobster Poutine’ that features shoestring frites with Béarnaise sauce, cheese curds and chunks of sautéed lobster that also sounded interesting but I asked my server about both dishes and she said that, while she loved the poutine, it was a very substantial, and very rich dish… She actually shivered in a decadently delighted sort of way and said … it’s all butter! Anyway, I took that to mean it would mean an evening of dyspepsia for me if I tried to take it in on top of the Chianti I had already sampled and so I plumped for the famous ‘Surf and Turf’ Burger, only to find that it was pretty damn rich itself …

Well, the picture doesn’t do it justice, but to describe it … it is basically a beef burger, where the beef patty is slathered with bacon jam, generous amounts of chunked lobster meat are added, and the whole is drizzled with a rich, creamy Béarnaise sauce. Shredded lettuce and a thick slice of tomato are also added, but I took the last off as the assembly was already a little top heavy and looked like it would easy start shooting stuff out here and there with each bite as it was.

Well, to cut to the chase, as it were, this was probably the richest burger I have ever had and, sad to say, I couldn’t finish it. Had it been just the beef and the lobster, with perhaps just a smidgen of the sauce, I might have managed it all, but, as it was, it was all just a bit much of a muchness. One thing that really made it all a bit overpowering was that the bun (a sweet brioche type, perhaps) was grilled after being slathered with butter. I am not keen on this at the best of times but just a plain toasting over the grill would have been fine. The bacon jam was tasty in and of itself, and lent a nice smoky touch, but it was just another layer of richness that you probably don’t need with the lobster and béarnaise.

I don’t want to sound overly critical here … this is actually a pretty decent, if gimmicky idea … and, on a different occasion, I might have scarfed it down whole and enjoyed it immensely. Still, those thinking to give it a try should be aware of its utterly decadent nature … on this occasion, the sheer richness of this burger defeated me.

Notable Nosh: Octopus Appetizer Duo

Octopus Duo 1

I very much like visiting the E18teen restaurant in Ottawa. Last time I was there, I tried an appetizer named an ‘Octopus duo’, which featured grilled octopus and something that was referred to as a ‘Carpaccio’. I was a bit intrigued by the latter, but, after sampling it, I am still a little unclear as how I came to be given that name…

Anyway, the menu description elaborated a  little and described the presentation as including ‘Citrus Fennel, Harissa Aioli, Sweety Drops and Torched Orange’. The ‘Sweety Drops’ , it turns out, were the pretty little tear-drop shaped red peppers scattered here and there. They were lightly pickled and were tasty enough, but didn’t really complement the main features in any significant way, I thought. I also found that to be the case with the Harissa Aioli … it was nicely spiced and pleasant enough, but just not a particularly good accompaniment.

In contrast, I liked the torched orange quite a bit… it added just a nice hint of smoke, and the ‘Citrus Fennel’ was a very good addition. This consisted of the very small slices of stem that, like the peppers, were lightly pickled. Here the pickling, though not especially suggestive of citrus, had a nice sweetness contrasting the acidity and was very pleasant.

The grilled octopus tentacles were the best part of the dish, being expertly grilled to yield the perfect chewiness of texture and  a lovely sweetness. The ‘Carpaccio’ however, was a disappointment, It was not, as I imagined, thin slices of raw octopus, but rather consisted of the unusual slice of ‘jellied’ octopus laid beneath the tentacles. When I first saw this, I asked if they pieces had been prepared in aspic but was told that the octopus tentacles had been simmered and then cooled in the simmering liquid until it congealed into a gel. It was sliced nicely, I suppose,  but, though I love octopus in many different styles, this was the first time that I have ever actually disliked it…

Well… this dish just didn’t work much for me, as you can probably tell. Still, I won’t fault E18teen too heavily for that. Not every dish is going to be a winner and usually I love everything they do. Better luck next time, I guess…