Category: Notable Nosh

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…

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 …

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…

Notable Nosh: Tongue on Toast

BB Tongue on Toast 1

When I saw tongue on the menu at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa a while back, I racked my brain trying to remember if I had ever eaten beef tongue before. I have seen whole tongue in stores before, but I have never cooked it yet, and though I have had duck tongues before, I think the only mammal tongue I have ever had was likely in a canned meat spread or the like. Anyway, I like trying new things and when I saw this on offer I grabbed the opportunity. The menu described it as being ‘Braised ox-tongue on garlic cheese bread with beef jus and garlic-anchovy mayo’, and, with the exception of the fact that the ‘garlic-anchovy mayo’ might easily pass for plain mayonnaise, that is pretty much what I got…

I have to apologize for the poor photography here (I was having camera issues) but the ‘beef jus’ in the menu description was the brownish sauce over which the bun and lines of mayo were laid. It was tasty enough, but not markedly different from the sort plain beef gravy you might get with, say,  poutine.

The tongue itself was quite nice. In texture it was a bit like nicely cooked flank steak (fibrous, but chewy tender) , and the taste was somewhat like beef-heart… that is to say, more of an ‘innards’ taste than steak, but less than the strong pungency of, say, kidney. The pairing of textures with the crusty bread worked really nicely but the addition of cheese, I have to say, made the result overly unctuous without adding anything beneficial in terms of taste.

All in all, I enjoyed this. Had the mayo actually added an appreciable touch of garlic and anchovy, it might have elevated the finished result from pretty good to definitely good, but, still, I thought it decent enough…

Notable Nosh: The Fish Taco

Highlander Fish Tacos

A while back, I dropped into the Highlander Pub in Ottawa for a beer and decided to partake of their $5 taco special. I am not a huge fan of Tex-Mex food, and usually give tacos a miss, but there was a choice between chicken, pulled pork, tofu, and fish, and I was rather hungry. I have only ever had fish tacos once before (and those were actually a Japanese-fusion sort of thing), and so I decided to give that selection a try…

The tacos themselves were pretty simple and straightforward, consisting of just a plain flour tortilla, along with some tomato, shredded lettuce, and a Chipotle Mayo for enhancement. The last time I had fish tacos, the fish was Yellowjack that was sliced and then just lightly floured and seasoned before being grilled. Here, the fish was, as far as I could tell, cod that was battered and deep-fried just as it would be in a regular old fish-and-chip special. It might sound a little mundane and boring but, in fact, the crunchy batter and thick succulent flesh worked really nicely both in terms of texture and flavor.

The only criticism I really had was that the large, rather oddly shaped chunk of fish made it a bit difficult to folds the tortilla around it and the eating of it was a bit messy. Probably two or three thin strips would work a little better. The spicy mayo was okay, if not particularly spectacular, but on the whole, I like this nice little lunch. I have been meaning to try making fish tacos ever since the first ones I tried, and, when I finally do, I may give the battered strips a shot first…

Notable Nosh: Japanese General Tso’s Chicken

Japanese General Tso

General Tso’s Chicken (or some spelling variant thereof) has become so ubiquitous that most people who have dined in a Chinese restaurant have had it at one time or another. Surprisingly, though, even though the dish has been popular for a decade or so, it was only last year that I tried it for the first time. There are many different variations on the basic theme, of course, and one can almost so that no two representations are more than passingly similar. After my first try, I decided to order it in various locations and see if I could get a handle on the range of different preparations …

My first experience was in a fairly westernized Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. Just recently though, I was down in Ottawa and I came across an appetizer version in a Japanese restaurant. It was an ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ Sushi place and it had a small section of ‘Chinese Food’ listed on its extensive menu.

Anyway, the result you see here was … well, interesting. Even in my limited experience with this dish, I can pretty much guess that experienced aficionados would probably say that, whatever this dish is, it is NOT General Tso’s chicken. There are no vegetables in the mix (although, to be fair, this was meant as an appetizer so ‘filler’ was not needed), but the sauce that covered the chicken was completely off base. The chicken itself was actually pretty good… it was only dusted with flour rather than being battered (which is a plus to mind), and it was fried to the point of being nicely crispy on the outside. As for the sauce?

Well, as far as I have been able to tell, General Tso’s Chicken is supposed to have a bit of a fiery bite to it. It is not a ‘hot’ dish, as such, but it should have a little chili somewhere in the mix to give it a little spark. Here, though, the spicy heat quotient was zero (zip, zilch, nada, nyet, niente… etc.). The actual result was much more like the sort of sweet and sour sauce poured over chicken balls in the lower end ‘Chinese’ restaurants. It was, to my mind, quite a bit like ketchup diluted with a little vinegar, and with extra sugar added. Not horribly bad, at all… just not right. I rather think the good General might be rolling over in his grave at the thought of this production in his name…

Notable Nosh: Pakora Shrimp

Pakora Shrimp

I had this interesting little appetizer at an Indian restaurant in Ottawa not long ago. Normally, when I order a Pakora, I expect a small fritter type affair where the main ingredient is chopped into small pieces along with other things (onion, etc.), and then mixed into batter before being deep-fried by the spoon full to make small ‘bites’.

Here however, the shrimp was cooked whole with a batter coating and this might have been boring except that the batter (made with ‘Besan’, or chick pea flour), was nicely spiced. I am not sure of the blend, but I believe I could detect paprika, some chili, and possibly a bit of ground coriander seed).

The shrimp were served with a Tamarind based sweet sauce (very nice) and a mint chutney (which might have been nice but was a bit stale) and overall, I thought the preparation was very good except for the fact that the batter ‘shell’ tended to slip away from the meat as one bit into it. If I try this at home (and I will), I think I will butterfly the shrimp, make the batter thinner, and likely try some other dipping sauces than the ones given here ….

Notable Nosh: Steamed Oysters

Steamed Oysters 1

With a couple of exceptions, these oysters I was served in Vancouver’s Chinatown this past summer were the largest I have ever see, let alone eaten. Even having them steamed was something of a novelty for me as when I manage to get fresh ones from time to time, I usually can’t bear to do anything with them but eat them raw.

Anyway, you get a pretty good idea of the scale of these things from the above picture. You may also be able to tell, if you look closely, that each pair of oysters is prepared in a slightly different way. Gain Wah, the restaurant where I was served these, lets you select from three different styles. I went with all three… Continue reading “Notable Nosh: Steamed Oysters”

Notable Nosh: Crab meat dumpling

Crab Meat Dumpling 1

I have featured the above item as a ‘Notable Nosh’ because it was a little unusual and not at all a typical dim sum selection. The Chinese name on the menu did indeed indicate ‘Crab Meat Dumpling’, but the character for dumpling was referred to “Jiao’, which tend to be made with wheat flour and have certain standard forms. The ones pictured above, however, have the typical ‘Shu Mai’ shape but they are not that sort of dumpling either since the wrapper is the same translucent, rice-flour type you see in Har Gow.

Anyway, the dumplings did indeed contain crab meat (the real sort, not imitation) and there were some nice chunks along with the more finely minced flesh. There was some sort of chopped green vegetable in there too (not sure what) and a little touch of Coriander leaf, which I don’t generally care for but which was in small enough amount here that I didn’t mind it. The only problem with these dumplings was that they were a little too large for a single mouthful but were exceedingly difficult to manipulate with chopsticks. The filling would pop out of the wrapper and the wrapper tore very easily making it a bit of a messy operation all around. They were tasty but not well executed construction-wise. Interesting though…