Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ottawa; JC's the chef tonight

Sometimes, you gotta toot your own horns. Well, I think I make a pretty good Caprese Salad and a not half-bad Risotto. So here ya go; some home cooked food-porn...

Caprese Salad; the freshest possible tomatoes you can find (in Ottawa, get them in season at the market or, second best are SunTech). Layer with Buffalone mozzarella or Mozarrina and fresh basil. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto; Sauteed fresh Bryson Farm asparagus on creamy mixed mushrooms risotto.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kingston: Casa Domenico

Casa Domenico turned-out to be exactly the opposite of Chez Piggy; where Piggy tries to be innovative and mix flavors, Domenico is conservative. However, Domenico's rendition is superb. This is an excellent restaurant and I was pleasantly surprised to see that level of food preparation in an otherwise touristic part of town.

Zuppa Asparagi ($11)

Chilled white asparagus soup with king crab & tiger shrimp, chili oil and sprouts

Carpaccio Manzo ($12)

Seasoned sliced beef, extra virgin olive oil, arugula, capers and shaved Parmigiano

Calamari ($11)

Pan seared squid, fresh tomatoes, chilies, capers, arugula and Bagna Cauda vinaigrette

Pollo Affumicato ($19)

Penne with smoked chicken, spinach, roasted red peppers and gorgonzola cream sauce

Gamberi Genovese ($19)
Fettuccine with tiger shrimp, sun-dried tomato, preserved lemon basil pesto sauce with asiago cheese

Tiramisu Classico ($7) Very good. I'd say it is on par, maybe even better than mine. May can attest that I won't admit to a better Tiramisu very often (never until now)

Casa Domineco


35 Brock Street in Kingston, Ontario

(613) 542-0870

Kingston: Chez Piggy

Our second time at Chez Piggy in Kingston. The whole restaurant and experience is eclectic; the decor is somewhat dated. The tables will remind one of a shack setting. The cutlery and plates are not on a par with the nice food that they are meant to present. The dish presentation is uninspired and the staff clearly was not trained at Cordon Bleu.

However, the food is prepared with attention and is, well, overall very good! (and inexpensive) My theory about Chez Piggy is that we are dealing with a curious and experienced chef with no formal training, but willing to experiment with flavors. It sometimes is a miss but is often an astonishingly interesting culinary experience. It was interesting to contrast it with Casa Domenico on the next day, where the experience was one of a trained chef with lots of skills but less imagination and less willingness to take risks.

Go Piggy!


68-R Princess St.,
ON K7L 1A5
Phone: 613-549-7673

Kingston: Tango

Not knowing much about the Kingston food scene, we had booked The Tango so that my MBA team and our families could meet before the big convocation production on the next day.

Well, I want to publicly apologize to my fellow teammates; Tango was not good.

Tango is a bar that wants to be hip and offer tapas. Stick to the drinks I say. The pictures look nice? Well, nice plates and arrangement will only go so far; the scallops were chewy (overcooked) and the seared tuna smelt like fish (not fresh). Not much flavor either.

Still considering a try? Two of the party members were sick that night...


Kingston: Pan Chancho

Pan Chancho bakery. Definitely a foodie's highlight in Kingston. Fresh bread, pastries, a good lunch place with fresh ingredients. Nice little terasse in the back to sip a cool mojito on a warm day.

Quesadillas with flavorful, fresh veggies.

Caesar salad with the right amount of a zesty dressing.

Pan Chancho is worth a detour.

44 Princess Street
Kingston, Ont
telephone : (613)544-7790

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Montreal: Mother's day brunch at the Ritz-Carlton

On Sunday May 13th, we invited my mother for brunch at the Ritz-Carlton. We had heard good things about it and overall, were not disappointed.

I did not inquire at all about price. Well, maybe I should have, the mother's day brunch was $75 per person. Yikes! Oh well, you only live once. I am assuming that their regular brunch is not as expensive. In any case, that was not your typical brunch either; exotic seafood, extensive cold and warm buffet with made to order eggs Benedict, and I think I saw quails. There was an exquisite cheese table where all the cheeses were labeled (nice touch) and went from the very mild to the most pungent (nam!)

The dessert table was also very impressive and equally good. I like to believe that I make a pretty mean Tiramisu. I rarely am happy with the restaurants' rendering of it. The Ritz' was pretty good (it's all in the folding).

What we all appreciated most however is the setting; the duck pond and the fountain enclosed between the hotel's walls provide a little island of privacy and calm that is very enjoyable.

The one critique I would make is that the attendance was... mmm, a bit stiff. Seems like an old money hangout.

Give it a try on a non mother's day weekend!

On another note, I'm working on the Feirrera Café and La Chronique entries which we went to on the Friday and Saturday on that same weekend. However, I am bizzy and have not had much time to spend on the blog... hopefully it'll be done next week.

Montreal: La Chronique

May followed her fellow 'Chowdies' (http://www.chowhound.com/)recommendation and booked us at La Chronique on Saturday, May 12th. It is a bit out of the way from downtown and about 6 blocks away from the nearest subway station (you won't get me to drive in Montreal when there is one of the nicest subway system in the world).
But trust us, La Chronique could be on the moon and it would be worth the trip (Ok, well, maybe I'm pushing a bit)

The dining room is small. In fact, judging from what we could see through the kitchen windows, it is smaller than the kitchen itself. Which, in itself is a good indicator of the fact that chef owner Marc de Cank got his priorities right.

Here's the rundown:

Creme d'asperge: wow, burst of bold asparagus flavor. Incredible. With morsels of morels (say that three times fast) and lobster.

Ceviche de Petoncles, with strawberries, cream of avocado and mango vinaigrette (May's appetizer). Even better than Feirerra's scallops of the previous night. The mix of scallops and strawberries is genius. My tastebuds are still jumping.

Magret de canard laqué a l'érable; excellent
Risotto au canard confit, champignons et pois vert, sauce cognac/érable

File de boeuf Angus, facon Rossini ($84)

Foie gras, purée de courge, batonnets de salsifis, endives, sauce truffe. Again, everything is executed extremely well.

Cheese plate was very generous and well presented.

I read that La Chronique's chef is a pastry chef. It shows in the scrumptious dessert that are served.

La Chronique
99 Rue Laurier Ouest
(514) 271-3095

$72 "Prix fixe" (Set price)

Montreal: Olive + Gourmando

My wife May is the REO (Restaurant Executive Officer) of the family; she is pretty darn good at finding the nice places to eat wherever we go. Did she ever find a nice place in Olive & Gourmando.

Inside is a very homey and inviting setting where people can not only order bread and various fine food and baked goods, but also lunch in. The panini are very, very good; fresh ingredients, made to order. The portions are also very large, which means two can feast on a single panino and a side salad.

Small Salad ($7.50)

"Le Printanier" panino ($9.00)
Pesto, asparagus, bresaola (cured beef) and mozzarella... Oh, so good!

Olive et Gourmando
551 St-Paul West

P.S. One panino, two panini...

Montreal: Feirrera Café

My birthday weekend: May and I took the train to Montreal, checked-in to a condo we rented close to the old-port and... went for food!

For the past year or so, we can't go to Montreal without having a thought for Feirrera Café. This portuguese restaurant consistently delivers amazing seafood and fish and even has very good desserts to finish. All of this in a warm mediterranean ambiance that will leave you wanting to book the next visit right away.

Seems that the Montreal art community likes the place as well; last time we were there (or was it the time before?), Edouard Lock, La La La Human Step's choreographer was eating at the counter.

Here's the rundown of our feast:

A bit of an idea of the place. The open kitchen is in the back. Lovely wife in the forefront...

The complimentary olives and white beans, always a nice way to start a mediterranean meal.

The grilled octopus ($18)... was a bit overcooked. It should never be even the least bit chewy. I did hesitate before mentioning it. Everything else was so incredibly good that I do not want to leave any doubt in your mind that the place is a foodie's heaven. Ok, forget that I mentioned it... (Insert Jedi mind trick here)

May's scallops salad ($18). Very nice.
Grilled scallops, seasonal vegetable salad,
chouriço and candied onion dressing

Pepper seared tuna, smashed Yukon gold potatoes with foie
gras, “jus perlé” with truffle oil ($40)

Grilled seabass with various veggies ($36)

This dish was so tasty. The rustic flavors (basic ingredients cooked in a traditional fashion, delivering bold tastes) also contrasted nicely with mine (the tuna) which had modern flavors (layered flavoring with a combination of soft and crunchy)

Almond tartlet ($11)
Desserts at Feirrera are as good as the main courses. This was no exception. Nam!

Book it!

1446 Peel Street

Ottawa: Sala Thai & Chef Bento

Salina was asking us for some asian food reviews and since it had been a while, we went and roamed the local joints.

From time to time, we have dinner or lunch at Sala Thai, which serves, not surprisingly, Thai food. The Tom Yum soups (left) are always very good and all the other dishes are pretty much authentic fares.

Now, a word of caution; we went late on a week night, about an hour before the restaurant closed and it seemed that all hell broke lose; my Pad Thai (right) was way too sweet, and service was rushed to borderline rude.
If that had been our first time there, we would probably not return. However, having been there a few times, I know that the dishes are usually all prepared with care, with the service to match.

Overall, I think that Sweet Basil, another Thai restaurant just a few blocks down on Bank street, has an edge over Sala Thai when I compare the tastes of both restaurants' dishes to those we tried in Phuket a few years back.
Nevertheless, with its very affordable dishes and somewhat exotic decor, Sala Thai is a worthy selection for a business lunch or a quick bite with friends before a movie.

Sala Thai Cuisine
2666 Alta Vista Drive (Bank and Alta-Vista)
ON K1V 7T4

We had heard raving reviews of Chef Bento, which is about a 15 minutes walk from our place and therefore decided to try it out. Now, be aware that they close relatively early at 8pm every day (closed on Sunday).

The inside really does not look like much; a few crappy tables and chairs, nasty looking ceramic floors and campy decor. Warm welcome from the chef and waitress gave us a good feeling about the place.

Now, this is your typical sushi place menu; sushi this way, sushi that way. If you are a fan, you know how it goes and Chef Bento is no different nor does it offer any especially exotic variation. No, the real question for sushi is; is the fish fresh and the rice good?
Besides for the usual miso soup and green tea, we had the 25 pieces box (forgot what it was called exactly) with an extra tuna sashimi for myself.

Now, I am in no way a connoisseur or a fan of sushi; I find it a bit bland. However, I know fresh fish when I taste it. Chef Bento's is good, but nothing exceptional. My wife concurred. My tuna was good, but the best sushi places will have exceptional fish. May suggested that Suisha Gardens (in downtown Ottawa) has superior fish. The rice was also a bit pasty; sure, it is supposed to be sticky, but Bento's seemed a tad old. We figured that Bento might not have as much volume as the other sushi locations, which would explain the slightly less fresh ingredients. Ah, but we're being picky. Feeding 3 person on what is still good sushi for $46 (tax and tips included) is what I would consider a great deal. So, one thumb up for Chef Bento, if you are in the neighbourhood!

Chef Bento
800 Hunt Club Road (corner of Uplands)

(613) 852-0021

P.S. Most excellent seaweed salad by the way.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Gatineau: Brunch at Banco

On Sunday the 29th, we went to the Lac-Leamy casino for brunch. Banco is on the second level. There are a few reasons why I like it: it's got good variety, the food all pretty good and since they don't stack a tons of the same dish, they have to re-stock frequently and the dishes are therefore always fresh. But there are also a few reasons why I enjoy it which are very personal; I enjoy the background noise of a lot of people talking, and Banco has "Pouding Chomeur", a traditional Québec dessert which is incredibly sweet (probably too sweet for most).
I tried to find a recipe in English but they all missed the critical ingredients which is maple syrup. So, brush up your French and check out http://www.recettes.qc.ca/recettes/index.php?id=391

May tells me that Banco's coffee is better than Cora's ;-).

It used to be very busy on Sundays. No longer it seems as the last few times we have been, we got a table right away.

No fancy eat here but for a weekend of Dolce Vitae (likely going to score major brownie points with the lady), why not check-in at the Hilton. Get a SPA treatment at AmeriSPA. Lounge by the pool with a good book. Get some much deserved long night of sleep and after having waken up at 11am, finish it at the Banco for brunch?

Sounds good to me.

Ottawa: Petit Bill

(Sorry for the pictures on this one, it was dark and I should have used a slower shutter speed... I'll try to get better ones next time we go)

We are very busy these days so this will be a short entry. However, since Petit Bill is a brand new restaurant, I figured some feedback was in order

As we said in a previous post, we had met Terry, one of the owners a few days before and he seemed like a very nice fella. Well, he was glad to see that we followed-up on our promise to check his restaurant out. Understandably, he seemed like he was above his head with work and we did not bug him much with questions.

May started with the seared sea scallops wrapped in shredded phyllo pastry (or rather, lost in it) with a grainy mustard aioli. Nicely done scallops. A good start. $12

I had the brie in phyllo pastry. It was not baked for long enough; the brie should be melting and it was still very firm. However, the almonds and the lightly sweet syrup was a very nice combination for this dish. $11

For her entrée, May had the Coq au vin. Nice rendition with crisp veggies to support the bold taste of the chicken braised in red wine. The roasted potatoes were especially yummy.

I had the mushroom risotto (with Parmesan chips and truffle oil). Not so lucky with that one. The rice was overcooked which gave it a pasty texture. True risotto connoisseurs will have it al-dente (a light resistance to the tooth) while I enjoy it slightly more cooked. This was waaaaay past that point. It could also have used some cream during the finish to make it a smoother dish. $16

We finished with a desert trio of creme brulée, cheese cake and flourless chocolate cake. Quite enjoyable.
All-in-all, we had a good time. The Petit Bill staff is still working the kinks out of opening a new restaurant; the staff is a bit green and the service was a bit rushed. This will sort itself out with time and should in no way be a deciding factor in your decision to go or not. Food should be though, and we give Petit Bill a good mark based on May's dishes... and a not so good one based on mine! I couldn't get myself to tell Terry about the negative points and I probably should have. But seeing them working so hard, I just didn't have the heart. And really, I am confident that things will settle over the next few weeks and Petit Bill will get to its "cruising speed".

One thing I especially liked is that it is the menu offers a lot of choice. But, this might also be the problem; it is hard to keep a constant level of quality when there is so much on the menu.
We will go back to Petit Bill to check how it evolves. I see potential for greatness there, it just needs to grow a bit.
Petit Bill's Bistro
1293 Wellington Street
(613) 729-2500