Tag: Appetizer

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.

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…

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing 1

I actually picked this product up on a whim while shopping for some other items at Kowloon Market, my favorite Asian grocery store in Ottawa. These vacuum-packed duck wings area product of China and intended to be used pretty much ‘as is’ rather than requiring any preparation. The picture on the front of the pack, which shows the plain wings sprinkled with a little green onion and sesame seeds, describes this as being a ‘serving suggestion’. Anyway, I was intrigued by this product, which appears to require no refrigeration, and I brought some home with me.

Anyway … when you open the main package, there are 5 of the individually vacuum-sealed wings inside. I am not sure how the wings are cooked (the package is silent on the issue), but I think they may be slow baked after being marinated. When you open one of the wings, the dominant aroma is of star anise, and I was expecting to not like the wings as I am not keen on the flavor. I tasted one, before reading the ingredients and I found, to my pleasant surprise, that the dominant taste seemed to be fennel. This proved to be correctly identified as the ingredient list reads (for flavorings):

Chili, soy, salt, sugar, aniseed, pepper, Sichuan pepper, fennel, liquorice, kaempferiae (Galanga), cinnamon, cardamom, clove, bay leaf, and ginger.

In truth, I think some of the additions may be… well, theoretical, as I couldn’t identify much beyond the fennel (which, luckily, I like a lot). The chili, which is listed first, and should thus be a major ingredient, is nowhere apparent, and the product is not remotely hot at all… Continue reading “Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing”

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: 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…