Posted in Notable Nosh

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…

 

Posted in Notable Nosh

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 …

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: Black Cod

Wasabi Black Cod

I am sharing this appetizer I enjoyed just before last Christmas for two reasons. First, because it was a very nicely prepared dish, and also because it uses a fish I have never had before …

I had to look up ‘Black Cod’ when I was preparing this post, and I rather expected to discover that a ‘Black Cod’ is merely a specific variety of Cod, As it happens, it is not a member of the same family at all and the species is also known as ‘Sablefish’. I have included an inset picture of the Sablefish up above (thank you, Wikipedia) so you can see what it looks like. It doesn’t really look all that much like the Atlantic Cod I am used to, and I am rather surprised that one wouldn’t call it ‘Sablefish’ on a menu, as the name is quite pretty.

I had my first ‘Black Cod’ at a Japanese restaurant where it was described on the menu as being ‘marinated in miso and sake’. Once marinated, it was grilled very nicely and then served in pool of sauce that I am fairly sure was the same thing as the marinade but with mirin, or at least sugar added for a bit more sweetness.

The marinade is actually not that uncommon when it comes to grilling fish, and I have used a variation or two of the basic idea on Salmon and Arctic Char. It is not easy to see here, but the chef kept a strip of skin on the edge of the fish, which is good idea from the point of holding the cut together, but also provides a nice textural and taste addition as well. Generally, if I am grilling fish this way, I leave all the skin because I really like, but reducing it to a strip does make for eating the flesh with chopsticks a little easier.

The grilling was really expertly performed here, leaving the delicate meat beautifully succulent. It was easy to pick a mouthfeel simply by inserting the chopsticks and lifting away two or three flakes at a time. Without the skin, the flakes might not have held together once cooked to the perfect tenderness, but here, they adhered slightly, but could be ‘peeled’ off, leaving the thin strip of skin as a final little tidbit.

My only real criticism here was that the sauce was just a little bit too sweet, and thus too heavy for the very delicate flavor of the fish. Something with just a bit of citrus might be nice, if only to cut the sweetness, but aside from this aspect of the result, I thought this was a terrific dish.

Posted in Notable Nosh

Notable Nosh: General Tso’s Chicken Palais Imperial Style

imperial general tso 1

It is still only about a year and a half since I tasted a dish of General Tso’s Chicken for the very first time. Since then, I still only managed to sample just a couple of other versions, but my plan is to try a good range of them, from as far afield as I can, in hopes of getting a handle on this highly variable menu item. The one pictured above was served to me at the Palais Imperial Restaurant in Ottawa a little before this past Christmas. The last version I had before it, a Japanese Restaurant General Tso’s Chicken, was pretty awful, but this current one was pretty decent…

The chicken (probably thigh meat) was very juicy, in large chunks, and was deep fried in a light batter coating. The sauce was very thick and, while sweet, was not overly slow. It was, I would say, ‘Oyster Sauce sweet’, rather than , say, Hoisin Sauce. It had a tang to it, probably rice vinegar, and there were a fair number of scorched red chillies throughout. These chillies (Thai, or African Birdseye) were indeed hot when bitten in to, but they only lent the sauce a sort of background heat, somewhere about the level as if a splash of Tabasco had been added.

The only criticism I had was that the dish had just a bit of a burnt taste and there were black flecks on the chicken. This was not, I am fairly sure, from scorching the chillies, nor intended, rather I think that the oil being used had not recently been changed. Aside from that, which in no way ruined the dish, I thought this very well done. I think I shall use this as a basic model when I come to attempt this dish at home.

Posted in 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.

Posted in Equipment, Notable Nosh

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”

Posted in Notable Nosh

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!

Posted in Notable Nosh

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 😊

Posted in Notable Nosh

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.

Posted in Notable Nosh

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”