Thursday, March 29, 2007

Whalesbone again...

Quick post: went to Whalesbone again to check on Vardy. Yep, he's still there.

He gave us the blank stare when we told him we never had oysters. He proceeded to prepare two for us... Not nearly as gross a texture as I thought it would be...
Check Whalesbone out by the way and if you can request the kitchen seats, that's even better... You will get the prime vista on Stephen Vardy and sous-chef Steve Wall busy making great food!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A'Roma Meze

Last time we went to Beckta, we noticed a 'new' (Summer 2006) restaurant on Nepean, the A'Roma Meze. May, ever curious, decided that last night was the night to discover this new venue.

Am I ever happy she did! The place is relatively small and awkwardly divided (the servers do not have a lot of room between the tables and the kitchen divides the space between the two dining rooms). The decor is modern-movie-greek inspirated with faux stone and pillastars, which makes it quite dramatic. I found the effect however, to be one of warmth and coziness which lent itself to appreciate the menu and the company of friends. Those are easthetics... however, the food, ooohhh, the food! Read on.

The staff is still working out the kinks of operating a new restaurant and our server scrambled to get us menus. The person I believe to be the owner came a chatted for a bit about the meze concept and wished us a happy meal. I could truely feel that he was genuinely interested in us having a good time. That certainly started the night well.

Meze is the greek/turk equivalent of the Spanish tapas. That is, little appetizer-sized dishes. The idea being to sample a lot of various flavours without overgorging (Wikipedia has some history on meze: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meze).

The food was superb: fresh produce, bold tastes, very high quality ingredients make every bite a pleasure for the senses. I found the meze presentation to be simple, yet elegant. I won't get into a lot of details or critique of every single dish since there were nine of them. Suffice is to say that everything was excellent. Actually, it was probably the best mediteranean food I had in Ottawa ever. Here's what we ordered:

Melitzanosalata dip; Roasted eggplant, garlic, onion, lemon and parsley.

Water Buffalo Mozzarella; tomatoes topped with incredebly fragrant micro-basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I want to know where they get their mozzarella; it was so good!

Calamari two ways (not pictured); grilled calamari stuffed with orange, olives, feta cheese, and battered fried calamari.

Garides Me Ouzo; Black Tiger Shrimp cooked in Ouzo, with tomatoes, bell peppers and onions.

Fileto Exohiko; "Char-grilled filet mignon with a blend of peppers, feta and kefalograviera cheese fired with Ouzo and encased in phyllo pastry with garlic foam". I love everything exohiko!

Quebec Rack of Lamb; broiled rack of lamb in a traditional Greek marinade.

Keftedes; Ground meatballs with a hint of mint, with roasted garlic puree.

Seasonal vegetables; I just felt that we needed some extra veggies in there...
One thing I have learned in those foodie years: if a restaurant can make good vegetables, then it is more than likely that everything else will be good. It speaks to the sourcing and freshness of the produce and to the attention of the kitchen in preparing them. A'Roma's veggies are excellent.

Sea-bass skewers; with roasted tomatoes, garlic, and caper-olive aioli.

... and some sweets...

The Heavenly Trio; Halva (sort of a honey almond flan), Kataifi (shredded phyllo rolled with nuts and honey) and Baklava (grounds wallnuts and honey in phyllo pastry)

I think that the owner has captured the right balance of good food, a good wine selection, good ambience and a genuine desire to provide a great dining experience in a relaxed context. I predict we will be back to A'Roma a few times this summer...

For the three of us, with taxes and before tips, the total came up to $267.25, which is very reasonnable considering that $110 of these were for wine.

A'Roma Meze
239 Nepean Street

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Montreal: Au Pied de Cochon

Le Pied de Cochon has gotten some pretty incredible press in Quebec for the past 2 years or so and we were very curious about it. It is with very weird expectations that I made my way into the crowded lair of Martin Picard, PdC's rotund owner; on one side, a lot of the toughest food critique gave PdC the acclaim and, on the other side, I knew that Martin philosophy had always been one of unpretentious food, fresh ingredients and conviviality. I expected simple dishes, bold tastes and little in the way of subtlety. Although I was hoping for a suprising culinary experience.

For the first-timers, you will most likely need the server's help to decypher the menu as the dishes' names might not be of much help... and you might also order way too much food (which we did) as the serving are large.

We shared a
a Tarte Tomate ($6.50) (left) which was delicious. The pastry was light and flaky. The tomatoes were fresh and the ensemble was very balanced-not too heavy, subtile yet flavourful.

We couldn't say the same about 'La Plogue a Champlain' ($23, right): potatoes, cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, maple syrup, seared foie gras, in a buckwheat flour crepe. So sweet its a case of instant type 2 diabetes... No subtelty there; the taste is bold, the flavors all mixed together. This dish is so rich that I would suggest theat either you make it your meal (with a salad) or skip it and focus on the main course.

May had the 'Canard en conserve' ($36) which is a duck breast cooked in a can which they open up and serve at your table. Of course, it is served with the mandatory foie gras. Certainly tasty and original. The duck was nice.

I had the 'Steak cerf frites' (venison, $21) which I found a little bit too cooked for my taste. Decent but not a memorable dish for me (I had better venison here in Ottawa at Beckta).

Our final mistake was to end the night with Puding chomeur ($7), an extra sweet desert (yeah, we knew it but couldn't resist). Again here, PdC manages to go above and beyond; this has to be the richest Puding chomeur I ever had in my life!

All in all, with 4 glasses of red wine ($44.50), our total before tax was $159.82. Not bad at all considering the insane amount of food we had. Had we been reasonnable and skipped on the Plogue and 2 glasses of wine, the two of us would have eaten for about $100, which is exceptional for a meal that is 50% foie gras! :-)

Now, what did I think of it? Still unsure... I guess it depends on what my expectation should be. Nowadays, I tend to like to be surprised with flavours and their subtle layering. No surprises of this kind at PdC: all the flavors are mixed together. However, the sourcing of the produce is great and each one of those bold dishes is satisfying. The convivial brasserie ambience is also unique. After much thinking, I came to the conclusion that PdC really feels and tastes like a high-end sugar bush experience...

Really, really high end...

Try it out.

Au Pied de Cochon
(514) 281-1114

P.S. Note that we got a new camera and we had some trouble with the settings. Pictures of the Tarte Tomate and the Plogue a Champlain are not ours. They were "borrowed" from Martin Picard's book about his restaurant that you can get there: http://www.archambault.ca/store/Product.asp?mscssid=&sku=001920985&type=5

Mooney's Bay Bistro

If you have been reading our blog for a while, you now know that we are on the hunt for a good breakfast place in Ottawa's Hunt-Club area. I do not like Cora's food (May thinks their coffee is quite possibly the worst in Ottawa). There is a Denny's close by but that's not a great breakfast either.

So, the other day, as part of our weekly those of useless flyers and other junk mail, we received this rebate coupon for Mooney's Bay Bistro. Ah! Maybe it is a sign of the breakfast gods, or so I thought. We went to check it out on a Sunday morning. The place is located in a strip mall on the back of a condo tower, right next to Mooney's Bay. There is ample parking. The inside is decorated in what I would call "grandpa's cottage" style; wood beams on the ceiling, various framed art pieces of questionnable taste and homey-if not a bit dingy- setting.

I found the food itself to be fair; my eggs florentine were nothing to write much about but I liked the sauce. The eggs were slightly overcooked. However, considering the price and the fact that someone else made them, I was reasonnably content. I tried May's Benedict and had the same opinion about her dish. She did not like it much.
All and all, I would say that your mileage may vary but check it out if you are in the neighbourhood, you won't be risking much:

Eggs Benedict $8.75
Eggs Florentine $8.50
OJ $2.00 (fake stuff... not good)

Now, if you live anywhere more than 3 km away, I can safely say that you probably have a local joint that will serve you equivalent food locally (i.e. it's not worth a big detour)

Mooney's Bay Bistro
730 Ridgewood Avenue
(613) 260-7550

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ottawa: Hy's

As you might know, Hong Kong is known for its seafood. However, it is definitely lacking on the red meat department. So, May came back with a craving for a big slab of steak and a good glass of red.

About 7 or so years ago, we had gone to Hy's with a few friends and I had been impressed by the plush decor and their sautéed mushrooms. And I had heard that they had just reopened after closing for renovations. So we decided to check the new Hy's out.

The menu is the typical steakhouse fare of mostly steak, some seafood, a variety of salad (made table side). May and I shared most of our dishes, starting with a French onion soup which was fine. The 10oz New-York strip was cooked right but wasn't especially flavorful. There are much better prepared steaks being served elsewhere in Ottawa (Vardy at the Whalesbone for example).

Also, I don't know if my memory is playing tricks on me but I seem to recall the mushrooms being much better then than what we were served on this visit. I found them to be lacking flavor and a bit undercooked.
Lots of suits and gray hair surround us in the dining room. I was told that this is (used to be?) the hang out place of the bureaucrats and political types. No Stephen Harper in sight though...

The meal ended with somewhat decent cheese cake. I can't say it was a memorable dining moment for us. Considering that, for the three of us (myself, May and Cheez), the total came to $353.73 for an average meal, I doubt we will return to Hy's anytime soon.

I would suggest that unless you want to offer a smoke and mirror show to some out-of-town business partner who can't really tell the difference between Kobe and tenderized beef, you should save your money and head for the Baccara, Beckta or some other finer restaurants...

70 Queen Street Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5E1

Ph: (613) 234-4545 Fax: (613) 234-1229


May is back from her month holiday in Hong Kong and all Dim Sum-ed out. Knowing my love for cheese, a co-worker told us about this cheese place on the Gatineau side called "La Trappe a Fromage". We decided to check it out. Since it is pretty close to the best Poutine place around and I know May craves this Quebecois dish from time to time, we're planning for the double-bypass special.

La Trappe actually produce their own brand of cheeses and sell a large assortment of regional Quebec cheeses and other fine food products. We were slightly disapointed to find the cheese counter to be relatively small if compared to the market's cheese counters such as The International House of cheese. However, what La Trappe does not have in display quantity, it certainly has in uniqueness. Worth a visit if you want your tastebuds to experience the Quebec cheeses experience.

We then headed to "La Pataterie Hulloise" at the corner of St-Joseph and Montclair. Not much to say about the place. It's a dive. It's always full. It's got the best poutine we have found in the Ottawa/Gatineau region (see picture of a satisfied customer on the right). We were once told that Elgin street diner's was the best. However, we disagree; we much prefer the original brown, overly salty sauce of Pataterie over any other. Sure helps that you can order a poutine with extra sauce and extra cheese too! And if it has got approval from the Chinese community, it must be worth something, right?

Thursday, March 1, 2007


While May is still basking in the south-eastern sun, Cheez and I went to Singapore... the restaurant, that is.

We were trying to remember the last time we had been there... it has been 10 years! However, you have to understand that the story of Singapore is very much tied to the boom and bust of the high tech sector in Ottawa. Singapore was the lunch hangout of the high-tech luminaries from Corel, Nortel and the likes. The owner, a very nice and chatty fella, was a knowledge hub of what was going on in our field. With the major job cuts of 2001, the clientèle changed and dried up a little. As for us, we changed companies and Singapore was no longer as conveniently located for us anymore.

Anyhow, as I step in the empty restaurant (it is an early week night), Cheez is already deep into a conversation with the owner (right) about whether or not one should have kids. I am glad to report that the house policy of 10% food and 90% chat is still in effect at Singapore.

So, we both order a Laksa (left), which is still as good as I could remember. It is a spicy vermicelli soup, with chicken or shrimp (ours was chicken), some bean curds and other various tasty ingredients. Definitely worth the detour!

Food is cheap there. I would advise the owners that it is actually too cheap. The evening menu prices could be raised by 20% easily.

We talked with the owner for about 2 hours, way after the last bites of our banana fritters were taken.

I promised the owner that we would visit more often.

69 Kempster Avenue
ON K2B 6M2
(613) 820-4119