Thursday, April 28, 2011

Upcoming Yummy Food Events

Almost every time I leave the city for some time, I come back appreciating it even more. And for many reasons. The main one of course, is food-related.

Take May for example. Looking through my calendar, in the first week alone, I've got 4 food-related events going on (and there were more available!). All are very exciting and I'm just counting down the days to each mouthwatering-good-time.

Need I say more? If this doesn't scream spring/summer, I don't know what does. May 1st is the first day of the Ottawa Farmers' market. Fresh, local yumminess.

Location: Lansdowne Park

This Tuesday, May 3rd event is now sold out. And for good reason. The event is a food and wine-lovers dream, with over 90 restaurants and caterers and dozens of wineries and breweries, including Les Fougères, Courtyard, Fifth Town, Pelee Island, The Grange of Prince Edward and so many more. You can indulge until your heart's content for only $75. And that money does double-duty, both filling your tummy and funding local charities like the Boys and Girls Club, Harmony House, Youville Centre and so many more.

I attended for the first time last year and had a blast. If you didn't manage to get a ticket this year, I suggest you mark your calendar for next year as this is one event that shouldn't be missed.

On Wednesday, May 4th, I'll be taking a more relaxed approach, sitting back and slowly salivating as I watch renowned Prairie chefs Alexander Svenne and Dan Walker demonstrate their signature culinary styles. I believe tickets are still available for this one, but surely not for long if it's anything like other events I've been to at the NAC and hosted by Chef Michael Blackie.

With dishes like Northern pike roe, Saskatoon raised Wagyu rib eye, pickerel cheek ceviche, red wine-rosemary cured elk loin and crispy baked hazelnut glutinous rice ball with a tarragon-cheesecake core, I'm certain I'll be leaving in awe.

And at only $75, I don't know anywhere else where you get a behind-the-scenes cooking view, 5-course tasting plates and wine. I can't wait!!

Location: NAC - 53 Elgin Street

This is the first of its kind – with everything from gourmet foods (Black Cat, Pascale's and Whalesbone to name a few), to used clothes to records and more. Only $2 between 11am and 1pm and $5 after that on Saturday, May 7. You can even set up your own table for $25.

I've always enjoyed Kelp weekends, band after band after band, and mmmmmm memories of pulled pork sandwiches. This one's obviously going to be much bigger on the food side!

Location: Dom Polski SPK - 379 Waverly

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Tasting Room – St. Augustine

We picked out this restaurant as our last dinner out in St. Augustine. Luckily we did so at the beginning of the week because I'm not sure we would have gotten a table if we had waited any longer to make the reservation.

St. Augustine doesn't have a ton of restaurants that step out from the norm of fried, generic, must I say it – tourist-trap eateries. This gem however, meets every single one of my expectations for an amazing night out. Whether you choose their dimly-lit, warm interior with live music, or their quaint and cozy patio, you're sure to have an exceptional experience. Being from Ottawa with only a small percent of warm patio days, we did opt for dining al fresco.

They have an insanely extensive wine list that could trap you for hours. But I decided that since this was a contemporary Spanish restaurant, the full page of Tempranillo's would be plenty to choose from. We went with the Beronia, Graciano and Mazuelo, 2005 – AMAZING.

Next the food. I love food. I love trying all different kinds of dishes. When faced with tapas, it takes all of me not to order every single dish listed. It's like they're little plates from heaven made specifically for me. These plates were about appetizer size, perfect for our party of four. Yay, more food!

We started off with some complimentary bread and oil for dipping. Then our first order, fresh ricotta and goat cheese terrine with Galician toasts. This dish came highly recommended by our server and oh my god, she was so right. Whipped melt-in-your-mouth cheese with a savoury center of sun-dried tomatoes and pesto.

Next the champinones al Jerez, mushrooms with sherry and garlic. This dish was a textural treat to have on the side but compared to all of the other plates that were served, lacked in flavour. The patatas bravas more than made up for it though. Bursting with flavour, these fried potato wedges with rosemary sea salt and spicy aioli were seriously some of the best potatoes I've ever had in my life. Last on the veg side of things, grilled asparagus cooked to perfection.

Up next, the salt cod fritters with garlic saffron aioli. So delectable I don't think I even stopped for a breath in between bites.

Our last two dishes made for a sinfully delicious end to the evening, pairing oh-so-perfectly with our second bottle of Tempranillo. Albondigas, deliciously tender and juicy lamb meatballs made with Moroccan spices and a lightly creamy, cumin cilantro dressing.

And the highlight of the dinner, paella Valenciana mixta – a combination of chicken, Spanish chorizo, fresh local seafood like clams, mussels, plump shrimp, red and yellow peppers, peas, garlic and regional rice all brought together beautifully with a tomato-saffron broth. YUM!

This meal was the best of our entire trip. And paired with outstanding service really made the entire experience one to remember. Earlier in the week we had stumbled upon their Tasting Room To Go Spanish deli where we indulged in some homemade salads on their patio for lunch. This second location also offers many varieties of meats, fresh baked breads and cheeses to take home, including the infamous ricotta and goat cheese terrine.

Another must-visit when in St. Augustine. Tapas prices range from $5.95 to $12.95, entrées between $16.95 and $33.95. They also do chefs tastings and wine pairings for both lunch and dinner.

25 Cuna Street
St. Augustine, Florida

39.5 Cordova Street
St. Augustine, Florida

Tasting Room on Urbanspoon

Ann O’Malley’s – St. Augustine

The only negative thing about going south this time of year is missing the playoffs. When in a small town like St. Augustine, the chances of catching a Montreal game are pretty slim. Yes, I'm a Habs fan. And my husband is a Sabres fan. One full week of what could make history, missed. I'm personally ok with trading sun for hockey. My husband, although hesitant, I believe is too. But imagine getting the best of both worlds?! It would be like a dream. And our dream came true the first day we arrived in St. Augustine.

Driving around, looking for parking, from the corner of my eye caught sight of it – a massive Buffalo Sabres flag hanging outside this quaint little pub. We immediately made a b-line for it after parking the car. John, the owner, assured us we could catch any hockey game inside, Buffalo, obviously taking over the big screen. Being the only bar in the county with the center ice package, this man has cleverly created a niche for all hockey fans.

John and his wife Sherri are the best hosts. We spent only 3 evenings with them and felt like we were home. This spot alone would bring us back to St. Augustine in a second. All hockey fans in the area congregate here. And for you Sabres fans, they've got Blue Light by the bottle (on tap is not far away), and Sunday nights they serve Beef on Weck. Oh, and if you are a Buffalo fan and wearing your colours, your first pint is on the house.

They also have many other great things going on nightly, live entertainment, specials, etc. Being an ex-navy officer, John offers 50% off food and drink for Military, EMT, Firefighter and Law Enforcement personnel on Monday nights.

Their menu, although very small, is made from the heart in front of your eyes. Great selection of yummy sandwiches and chips and my personal favourite, hot dogs with coleslaw – the perfect snack!

23 Orange Street
St. Augustine, Florida

Ann O'Malley's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Gifted Cork – St. Augustine

My husband and I just got home from a week-long getaway to St. Augustine, Florida. My parents go there every year for a month so it was the perfect opportunity to explore a new town. Not to mention enjoy 30º + weather and beautiful sunshine. My next few posts will be on the places that stood out the most to us and would more than highly recommend them if you are ever in the area. They are a must.

We stumbled upon this boutique one afternoon when we were walking the cobblestone streets in the historical district. It's a charming little shop with unique wine-related gifts and over 300 wine labels from various countries. It's obvious the wines are carefully picked as the selection is extraordinary and left me wishing I could bring home one of everything. The woman who owns it (I unfortunately didn't get her name), is absolutely delightful and ensures your experience with her store, and her wine, are unmatched.

On our first visit, we left with a few bottles, but not before doing her famous afternoon wine tasting. For a mere $5, you get to try 4 of her 8 wines showcased for that particular week. Each week is a different country, and we just happened on her USA week. She also focuses on price, featuring only wines under $20 for the tasting. Believe it or not, in this flight we had an Oregon Pinot Noir! Another that hit the spot was an old vine Zin from Lodi called Predator (I personally loved this wine with it's bacon-like flavours).

A few days later we brought my parents to experience the same hospitality and friendliness we had chanced upon. They were seriously blown away. We went through all 8 of her wines and even got to try a few new ones she was considering getting for her shop. Some little nibbles to cleanse the palate, complementary dark chocolate and free wine glasses left us in awe at the hour we had just spent. My father left with some more wine, even one he did not try, but at this point trusted she knew what he liked and went with her recommendation.

Again, if you're ever in the area, this is one place you can't skip. And if you can't make it to St. Augustine, they do sell online.

64-A Hypolita Street
St. Augustine, Florida

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Aiyara Thai Cuisine

Woohoo! Another little gem in my work day neck of the woods. Tucked away in a little strip mall, you wouldn't guess what delicious food lurks inside unless someone told you. My co-worker Scott introduced me to it after having gone for an employee's 20 year anniversary.

One of my favourite things about the menu was that they had rice paper shrimp rolls in their appetizer section. You know you're going to start your meal off well when it kicks off with these yummy delights. They've also got a great lunch menu that includes the perfect size serving of pad thai. I of course went with that. And although the lunch menu dishes came with a soup, I still added the shrimp rolls to the mix.

Pad thai was a bit too saucy but ingredients were fresh, very tasty and service super quick for lunch. Apps range from $4.50 to $8.50 and mains $9.95 to $14.50. Lunch menu prices $8.95 to $10.95.

1590 Walkley Rd, Ottawa

Aiyara Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Short Ribs Braised in Coffee Ancho Chile Sauce

If these ingredients aren't a match made in heaven, I don't know what is. Ancho chiles, chipotle chiles in adobo, maple syrup and yes, you got it, coffee. Absolutely divine. If you like a bit of spice in your life, and a flavour like you've never experienced before, this dish is for you.

My husband pulled the recipe off epicurious. In my wine and food pairing class we had to come up with the perfect pairing. Ralph and Carol, the wonderful couple I was grouped with and I ended up with a beef short rib and Châteauneuf-du-Pape pairing that was out of this world. But the exercises that got us to it included mixing in a spicier concoction, one that was so delicious my husband just had to make it again. Luckily I had bought a ton of short ribs from Aubrey's so all the ingredients were just sitting there waiting to happen.

A little polenta and arugula on the side and you're ready to go.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dragon’s Breath Blue

My friend Lara recently made a trip home to Nova Scotia. Lucky me, she decided to bring me back a souvenir!

This decadent surface ripened blue cheese is to-die-for. It comes wrapped in a wax cocoon – simply slice off the top to reveal the yumminess inside (best Kinder egg I've ever seen!). The texture goes from crumbly to creamy the second it hits your mouth. Although delicious on it's own or with baguette, I can also see it being the missing ingredient on a meaty bison burger.

That Dutchman's Cheese Farm really knows how to make a killer blue! Does anyone know if I can get this stuff in Ottawa??