Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ottawa: Urban Pear

This Wednesday, a bunch of restaurant agreed to give 25% of their sales to charity. That was excuse enough for us to go out. It's our second time at Urban Pear and I have to say, we came out disappointed. We had such a good experience before that we were a bit taken aback by the rushed service (we were in and out in an hour!) and what seemed to be inferior food this time around.

Don't get me wrong, it was still one of the better meal we have had in Ottawa, however, the expectations were way high.
We first shared the antipasti plate of Canadian brie, house cured chorizo, olives, pickled mushrooms, marinated eggplant, roasted egg plant and some slice of Anjou pear (right, $14.95). The eggplant marinade was a bit too strong.
May had the duck leg confit served with an excellent yellow turnip cake, candied purple cabbage , roasted parsnips, ruby red beets and a duck reduction ($31)

I had the beef tenderloin (rare, of course) which wasn't nearly as good as last time we were here. Well, ok, last time, strip loin was on the menu, which is fattier and therefore, more flavorful. So, I'm not going to make a big case of this although I thought I remembered the flavor layering to be a bit more interesting...
Anyway, the tenderloin was served with roasted garlic and cheddar cheese mashed potatoes , wilted baby spinach, sautéed mushrooms and a tomato water mounted with a roasted garlic aioli ($32)
Something we both remember was that dessert was very good last time we were at Urban Pear and this time, it did not disappoint either. The dark Callebaut nut and chocolate tart was unctuous, rich and with just the right amount of satisfying crunch. Now, what's up with the balsamic and thyme leaf ice cream? Nice experimental try but... it just didn't work and tasted wrong. Not enough to dim the greatness of this dish though. Nam!
We'll have to come back to Urban Pear to check service and food consistency...
The Urban Pear
151 Second Ave
Ottawa, Ontario
K1S 2H6
(613) 569-9305

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ottawa: Moving Cheez to Westboro, Beer & Schnitzel, The Table and a chat with Petit Bill's owner

April21st and 22nd was a Westboro weekend for us; our friend Cheez was moving to his new abode (The Currents condo, corner of Holland and Wellington) and I spent Saturday helping him move.

After a tiresome day (the elevator was out of order at his old apartment complex), we decided to try JIJ's Beer Garden And Schnitzel House. The place is playfully decorated in the beer hall tradition. I was secretly hoping for sauerkraut et sausages but didn't find it on the menu (I might have missed it). There was four of us, we shared an appetizer platter (left) which was filling but not particularly interesting. I had the Jager Schnitzel (right) which was not all that great either. However, May schnitzel was much better (right, I think it was a hunter schnitzel).

All- in-all, I prefer the schnitzels at New Dubrovnik. However, New Dub is much pricier and a bit stuffier.

Plus, the owner of JIJ's Beer Garden And Schnitzel House seems very keen on the German culture promotion and enthusiastically invited us to get tickets to his "summer Oktoberfest" party. I would say that we would go back for the food but certainly for the ambiance and live music... maybe this coming fall.

1208 Wellington Street West
Ottawa, ON
K1Y 2Z7

By the way, here's the view from Cheez's new place

On the Sunday, we decided to keep exploring the Westboro surroundings to see how it has changed since we had last been there. Well, changed it has quite a bit; more condo developments, lots of bakeries, just more people overall. I find that it feels more like a vibrant city than the rest of Ottawa.
We had brunch at 'The Table' (corner of Holland and Wellington). It is a buffet vegetarian restaurant. Quite pricey for a whole lot of... veggies.
The food was all very fresh. However, nothing in there to get us off meat. Seems to me that after a while, the tastes just blend into what accounts to the vegetarian gastronomical equivalent of brown. One sure feels good about oneself after a vegetarian meal though...

During our exploration, we noticed a new restaurant called 'Petit Bill' and as we started looking at the menu, the owner, Terry, came out and started chatting with us. Turns out Bill is his father and that Petit Bill just openned a week earlier. He gave us the grand tour. The layout didn't really change since Juniper moved-out. The menu looks interesting and we promised Terry we'd try his restaurant out soon (scheduled for Friday the 27th)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Plans ahead...

May has been on a restaurant booking frenzy.

Here are the items in the plans for the next little while:

Our friend Cheez bought a condo (http://www.windmilldevelopments.com/currents/index.htm) and we're helping him move this weekend. Dinner planned at Singapore sometimes on Friday night (April 19th).

Most likely going to be at Urban Pear next Wednesday.

May 11th Friday - Montreal - Ferreira - 7:30pm
May 12th Saturday - Montreal - La Chronique - 8pm

May 23rd The Tango - Kingston 9:30pm
May 24th Chez Piggy - Kingston 8pm
May 25th Casa Domenico - Kingston 6pm
(It's my convocation... lots of people will be in Kingston)

We're going to Chicago in June. May has already booked our dinners there. I am pretty excited about Alinea (http://www.alinea-restaurant.com) and Charlie Trotter's (http://www.charlietrotters.com), both in the US restaurants' top 50.

I just cannot understand people that do not enjoy food...

Monday, April 9, 2007

Montreal: Marché Jean-Talon and Area

Montreal still. We were on a mission to get truffle oil as I used all of our last bottle while May was in Hong Kong. My official excuse is that I was testing it in combination with steak "a la Vardy" (I think it is his secret ingredient... he puts it in many of his dishes). Anyhow, we went to Jean-Talon market to get the oil as well as getting a little bit of much needed Spring vibes.

The place was packed with people. We sampled some most excellent tomatoes and pineapple. We munched on some of the multi-ethnic food sold in the various stalls.

It really is a nice place to spend an afternoon planning the evening's meal. I would suggest a trip to the Jean-Talon market to any Ottawa foodie out there... Easy access from Métro Jean-Talon.

Now, on that very same day, we went to Area on Amherst for supper. It was our first time ever there. That was Saturday April 7th. We learned this week that Area closed its doors on that very night.

I will come back to the closure later... food first.
The food was great. There were three of us; myself, my mother and May (my wife). We did not want to go for the sampling menu as we were warned that we would have to budget 4 hours of dining and wanted to avoid going to bed with a full stomach. We ended up spending 3 hours there nonetheless so, so much for that!

We were first served an amuse-bouche of walnut crusted foie-gras bites with a wild-berry reduction (right). Quite good.

To get as much variety as we could, we each had an appetizer that we shared.

Crevettes 16-20 : Poudre d’agrumes fumés, risotto blanc au vieux Cheddar de l’Île-aux-Grues, tamago en nori frit et lait de peau d’orange amère
(Shrimps with citrus powder, old Ile-aux-Grues cheddar white risotto, fried nori of tamago and orange peel milk)

Pétoncle U-10 poêlé : Artichaut au vin blanc, sel de safran, purée de céleri boule et jus de céleri branche
(If you are a foodie, it's time you learn French... you're on your own now!)

Tartare de filet de bœuf au couteau : Fromage blanc, moutarde, huile d’olive, mignonnettes de poivre et croûton de pain au tournesol Entrée $14

Main courses:

Poitrine de poulet biologique : Rôtie sur la peau, mélange de fruits séchés (raisins de Corinthe, raisins sultan, abricots, pommes), noix de pin, grains de cardamome noire, céleri-boule 3 façons (purée, pickles, cru) et jus de poule citron

Magret de canard : Rôti sur son gras, semoule de maïs en frites au chèvre frais, purée de yam nature, canneberges astringentes et jus de volaille beurré


Poisson selon l’arrivage : Garniture selon les cuisiniers AREA
$23 ou +
(Fish of the day. It was seared red tuna and a tomato tartare)

Hope you enjoyed this most excellent food porn!
Trust me, it was as good as it looks! My mom's chicken breast was incredibly tender and juicy. Even May gave it the nod (being Chinese, she knows that the best part of the chicken is the red meat, the breast being the lesser part, only good for the Gwai-Los like me). May's tuna was excellent; seared to perfection. So was my duck.

Dessert is always hit or miss in high-end restaurants as far as I am concerned: it is an art different from the main course, requiring its own set of skills. It seems that many chefs produce desserts that are just not up to par with the quality of what precedes them. No worries at Area. The almond crumble deconstructed (left) was to die for. Your palate is first titillated with the whipped cream, teased when you reach the berries, satisfied when you dig in the mascarpone and surprised with the final crunch. Nam!

We truly enjoyed our time there and hoped that we could come back some time...

As we now know, that was not meant to be.

The executive chef/owner Ian Perreault is now manning the kitchen at Halte Urbaine and said that he did not intend to open a new venue for the foreseeable future.

Here is some of what the Montreal Gazette of April 11, 2007 had to say about the unfortunate event: "Yet of the $750,000 the restaurant was grossing annually, Perreault was pocketing only 3 to 4 per cent, compared to a healthy 8 to 11 per cent. 'The average bill at the restaurant was $71 per customer,' he says, 'which meant that when the restaurant was full, I was pulling in $4,000 a night but only $150 after expenses, and even less than that if a glass were broken or a veal chop was overcooked. I hadn't drawn a salary in three years and ended up cashing in my RRSPs to pay my employees.'"

Now, this is not the first time for Ian: he went through two other restaurant closure before. Provided that the size of his restaurant (40 seats) was not so atypical and that it seemed to be reasonnably full, I would question M. Perreault's abilities as a manager. Maybe he should stick to the chef-ing and partner with someone with some business background for management. Hey, maybe someone with an MBA from Queen's University? (Ian, if interested, my phone number is (613) 736.... :-)

But seriously, after Les Chevres', Anise's, and now Area's closure, it does seem like the Montreal high-end restaurant business is tightenning up.
Through this, I believe that Ian should see an opportunity for rebirth and should come back in a few years with a different formula. Montreal would likely be ready for a high-end french "tapas" style such as Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier, where a younger crowd would gather around a concept of "great food on the go".

In any case, we wish Ian Perreault and his team the absolute best and we thank them for a wonderful and memorable evening.

Montreal: La Sirene de la Mer

We went for a Montreal weekend. On the Friday night, we decided the check out La Sirene de la Mer, which is conveniently located at about a 5-10 minutes drive from where my mother lives, which is why we went.

I do not want to spend too much time on this place as it was mainly cheap food, badly prepared when it could have been much more. I do not believe that good food needs to be served in a posh surrounding. I do not believe it needs to be served on expensive plates. But it needs to be prepared with care, made with ingredients sourced with pride and served with some passion.
None of that at La Sirene de la Mer. The server came to wait next to our table while May was still looking at the menu. I had to tell him that we needed more time.
The Lebanese salad (right) provided us with little in term of taste, mostly due to sad veggies.

I had beef tenderloin kebab which were very tender. However, that is because it was served blue-to-rare when when I asked for medium-rare (I like my meat rare but I wanted to share with May). My wife's salmon was so overcooked as to be inedible.

The only thing that we enjoyed was the octopus: it was barbecued to a light crisp and had a nice smoky taste. Unfortunately, we had ordered the calamari...

The place was very busy with people (unsurprisingly for a Lebanese restaurant, with Lebanese people) so, the place obviously has its fans...

For us, we swore never to go back again...

La Sirene de La Mer
1805 Sauvé West
Montreal (corner of l'Acadie)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Von's Bistro for Brunch

We went to Von's Bistro for brunch today.
May had a 3 cheese omelet which was pretty good (right, $8.75), I had eggs florentine (left, $7.95) with fresh spinash. The eggs and spinash were very good. I thought the hollandaise was so so and that there was something missing to bring the ensemble together. Some nice brie would have done it...
I'd rate Von's bistro's brunch a little bit below Empire Grill's. Much better than Cora's though... and cheaper! Did I ever tell you how much I think Cora's is overrated?
Von's Bistro
819 Bank Street
(613) 233.3277