Tag: Appetizer

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.

Dim Sum: Ginger Beef Dumplings

PI Ginger Beef Dumpling

I had these particular dumplings at the Palais Imperial in Ottawa a while ago. They weren’t spectacular exactly, but they do get a mention for being a bit unexpected.

The full name from the Chinese characters on the menu (see the inset in the above picture), read Ginger Scallion Beef Dumplings, which amplifies the English name by also specifying the scallion that is included, not as part of the filling, but as a steaming ‘companion’ along with the thick shreds of ginger. What is a bit odd is that the final character in the name is (jiǎo) which typically refers to a dumpling with a flour wrapper. Here, a bean curd skin, also known as ‘tofu skin’ is used to enclose the filling. This product, which is purchased in dried sheets and then reconstituted, is often used to make steamed rolls in dim sum houses, but only occasionally to make dumplings in this shape.

Anyway, the filling here was decent if unremarkable (lightly seasoned and well textured), but the choice of wrapper really made for a different experience. Tofu skins, when steamed, don’t have the same al dente resistance as wheat doughs and it has almost a ‘papery’ mouthfeel when you first bit in to it. That may not sound especially appetizing, but, in fact, it is quite a nice texture and makes a pleasant change in a series of dumpling courses. I enjoyed these…

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: 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: 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.

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 …

Dim Sum: Steamed Squid 蒸魷魚

Yangtze Steamed Squid

Steamed squid is a regular offering in dim sum restaurants and is a dish I rarely pass up. Sometimes, you find squid steamed with a curry sauce but, in my experience, the curry sauce usually served is a bit insipid and I generally don’t care for it.

The offering you see pictured above is one I was recently served at the Yangtze Dining Lounge in Ottawa. Most of the dishes I had that day were not actually that great but this particular one was first class. Commonly, squid pieces are often dusted in a flour of some sort before steaming but these were steamed ‘clean’ and the effect was very well done.

The pieces of ‘tube’ were very plump and thick and I would have guessed that they came from a fairly large specimen but the tentacles that were also steamed alongside were obviously from very tiny squid. I am not sure if the body flesh came from a different animal than the tentacles, or whether the flesh ‘plumped’ up during the steaming process. In any event, the cooking was expertly executed and the result especially tender. As usual, ginger, and a little scallion were added, and both of these were added deftly so as to just give a hint of their presence in the background. I have had this dish many times, both at home and in restaurants, and this was one of the best.