Category: Notable Nosh

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…

Notable Nosh: Aloo Tikki Chaat

KCH Aloo Tikki Chat

I had this Indian appetizer dish in Ottawa way back in September and have only just now  got around to writing up my notes. I am not sure if this looks especially appetizing to you or not, but it rather caught me off guard as it was not at all what I was expecting. It was, though, really, really good.

The word ‘tikki’ in Indian cuisine generally refers to a cutlet of sorts and, since ‘aloo’ means potato, a ‘chaat’ (or snack) involving ‘Aloo Tikki’, basically means a fried patty of spiced potato. At the Curry Kebab House in Ottawa’s Byward Market, they described their version on the menu as patties ‘topped with tamarind sauce and chick peas’. This was, in fact, what I got, but it was also a good deal more.

It is not possible to see the patties in this dish, so you will just have to trust me that they were there. I was rather expecting a visible fried patty with a sprinkling of chick peas and a drizzle of sauce. As it was, my potato was smothered in not just tamarind sauce, but also coconut cream and mint chutney. This may sound like a bit of overkill, perhaps, but, in fact, all three worked very nicely together and offered a sweet and sour counterpoint to the spice. In addition to chickpeas, there were also chopped tomato, onion and coriander leaf, and, the effect was as satisfying to the eye as it was to the palate.

The potato patty was quite nicely spiced and, though the blend was fairly complex, I could only specifically identify chili and cumin. The chili was added with a fairly light hand, and the overall heat was not much more than the typical hot-wings you would find in a tavern. The best part of the patty, though, was the texture. I had been expecting something a bit like the sort of potato patty you can find for breakfast in a supermarket freezer. The ones here may have initially been like that (crisp outside and tender in), but the effect of the heavy sauce changed it entirely. There was still a semi-crispness to the outer surface but the inside was transformed into something that was delightfully chewy. It surprised me and I really enjoyed it very much. It will probably take me a number of attempts to duplicate this but, once I do, I shall be sure to post the results.

Notable Nosh: Rajasthani Champ

KCH Rajasthani Champ 1

I decided to share this particular appetizer dish with you, not because it was really all that special taste-wise, but rather because I really like the novel method of service. The dish is called Rajasthani Champ and is essentially tandoor-cooked spiced lamb chops. The twist here, though, is that once done in the tandoor, they are served in what the restaurant in question also called a ‘tandoor’. Strictly speaking, this name is probably not that accurate since a proper  tandoor is traditionally a large clay oven that is heated to over 500 F degrees, and the little table-top devise you see pictured here is made from copper and really more decorative than functional. It is heated with charcoal (you can see the little fuel slot at the bottom), but I really don’t see it doing much more than keep the food toasty warm rather than effectively cooking it.

 

KCH Rajasthani Champ 2.jpg

Anyway, the lamb chops in this case were skewered after being coated with a Garam Masala from Rajasthan. They were cooked very well done (which you generally expect with meats in Indian cuisine) and there was some nice charring from the oven. In truth, though, the spice coating here had a slightly ‘raw’ taste, although the blend itself was quite nice. There was mint chutney supplied for dipping but, really, the spices were already complex enough that anything else as strong tasting as mint would inevitable be overkill. The buttered roti you see off to the side did not come with the meal but was ordered separately. It was very good, though..

Anyway, as I mentioned, the lamb itself was not particularly special but I very much liked the little mini ‘tandoor’. If I see them in a shop sometime, I may pick a couple up for my own kitchen.

Beef Carpaccio at E18teen…

E18teen Beef Carpaccio

Well, I have start out by saying that E18teen is one of my favorite restaurants in Ottawa. The ambience is great, the service always top-notch, and the dishes I have been served have all been pretty much excellent. Occasionally, though, every good restaurant is going to produce a ‘clanger’ or two, and the Beef Carpaccio interpretation I had on my last visit sadly fell into that category …

The menu described the selection as follows:

 

Beef Carpaccio

Smoked oyster emulsion, fried caper, harissa aioli, pickled shallot, garnished with baby shiso leaf

 

Well … to unpack this, I can say that the beef was sliced well and laid out nicely, which makes this pretty good so far a ‘Carpaccio’ dish, but, from there, unfortunately, things started to go downhill.

The pickled shallot was nice, and added a bit of tang to the overall effect and the fried capers had a nice smoky taste. The smoked oyster aioli, however, did not work. The idea of making a mayo type emulsion using the oil from smoked oysters was a truly inspired idea, I thought,  but the pairing here was a bit unfortunate. Somewhere else, perhaps, but not for this dish …

The real mistake was the olive oil. In other carpaccia, there is almost always a drizzle of olive oil over the beef slices but here, the drizzle became a river … everything was basically swimming in the stuff so that all the delicate flavors were overwhelmed and the textures largely lost in an unctuous mess… What a shame.

Sorry E18teen. I will be back, but this one was not a winner …

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 …