Sunday, May 29, 2011

Siam Bistro

The past few weeks I've been able to squeeze time out of my friend Marysol and I've been enjoying every second of it. Our last get-together was over dinner at Siam Bistro. A recommendation from another foodie, chrisonthego, is what brought us there.

My first impression as I walked in was that of surprise. The interior was much nicer than I expected. Long and narrow with warm orange-shaded walls, dimly lit and very inviting.

Knowing there would be some spice in some of our dishes, we started off ordering a bottle of Strewn Riesling Gewurztraminer.

We were off to a good start. Our first dish, Tood Mun Pla, 6 fried fish patties served with sweet and spicy cucumber sauce topped with a layer of crushed peanuts. The texture was a bit odd at first bite, but once the initial shock wore off our feelings for the dish grew fonder. They were perfectly fried, not too greasy, and the dipping sauce, which had the consistency of honey, was delightful. It took all of me not to lick the bowl clean.

Next up, Pad Thai. One of my favourite dishes in the world. Having heard such wonderful things I was very excited to try their version. Unfortunately this dish did not wow me. The noodles were a little overcooked, and although the flavours were nice, could have been slightly punchier. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our dish.

The Gang Ped Moo Pah, or what they call the ultimate hot Thai curry, was indeed that. Bursting with flavour and a wonderful amount of spice, this dish is a mound of white rice's best friend. Red and green peppers interlaced with wild boar soaked in this heavenly sauce.

We ended the entire meal with a delicious tea. We didn't know what they had brought us but we're convinced it was a verbena tea. So comforting.

Unfortunately towards the end of the evening, the quality of the service was reduced, ending with a request that we leave because they were closing. Still not quite finished our tea, or our wine for that matter, we surprisingly looked at each other and made our way towards the door. We had already paid our bill, and it was barely 30 minutes past closing time, with the last table having left only minutes before. But one particular woman was adamant to get us out of there.

I wished we were more than two, it would have allowed us to try more dishes. I guess it just means we'll have to go back some time. My hope is that, if I do, the Pad Thai will come back to surprise me, and that the service will jump back for a higher end result in my books. Apps range from $4.75 to $8.95 and mains $10.95 to $16.95.

1268 Wellington Street West, Ottawa

Siam Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It Doesn't Have to be Complicated to be Beautiful

It's all in the presentation. No my husband did not make these grape leaves from scratch. Nor did he marinate the meat before throwing it on the barbecue. But what he did do is take that extra few minutes to prepare each plate just so. Leaving my mouth to water in anticipation.

The salad greens used as a bed for the pork skewers were drizzled in cucumber foam. Sounds fancy doesn't it? That light and complementary dressing was the result of a failed homemade tzatziki sauce (too much water from the cucumber). The second version however, was perfect, with tiny bits of fresh cucumber throughout.

A little feta, a few black olives, grilled red onion and voilà.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Black Cat Bistro

There's nothing quite like a little one-on-one with a great friend. Sure I love the social nights, getting to see lots of friends in one easy spot. But the conversations are never the same. They don't take as much time, the little details often left out to speed it up before moving on to the next person, and food, well food usually gets gobbled up between hello-kisses and handshakes.

I felt honoured that my wonderful friend Marysol, who has been literally buried in work, was able to take the time to sit back, relax, and enjoy a meal with me. And this turned out to be the perfect place to do so.

We decided to order appetizers and share our way through the marvellous flavours that were so unique to each dish. Each one was placed in perfect order before arriving at our table, starting with more mild and light dishes, and working our way to a jaw-dropping finale.

Light with a buttery texture, the albacore tuna tataki came out first – miso and lemongrass emulsion, cucumber, radish and jalapeno.

Next, the foie gras terrine. My best explanation for what I was experiencing would be the adult version of peanut butter and jam, only way more sinful. Sauternes, hazelnuts, sour cherry jam, cocoa nibs (oh yeah!) and apple butter.

I was surprised when this dish came next. Alberta bison carpaccio. Being a strong meat surrounded by pecorino, extra strong dijon, truffle oil and lemon, you would expect it to come out last. This dish was phenomenal.

And when we were served our final dish, smoked and charred octopus with olives, parmesan, smoked paprika mayo, tomatoes and spicy yuzu vinaigrette, it didn't take long to realize why this dish was saved for last. If you've never had a smoked and charred octopus, I would put this on the list of things to eat before you die. Add to that the smoked paprika mayo and OH. MY. GOD. If Marysol and I didn't truly like each other, I think there would have been a few swings to fight for the last bites of this one.

We had also ordered a side of their fries cooked in peanut oil but they forgot to bring them out. We will have to try again next time! First courses range from $9 to $17, mains from $20 to $33. Great service and atmosphere.

428 Preston Street, Ottawa

Black Cat Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pulled Pork Tacos

As a child, whenever my mother would announce she was making tacos for dinner, a wave of excitement would rush through me. I'm not sure if it was the take-out essence of the dish that got me going so much as the act of trying to stuff way too many ingredients into one crisp shell. Either way, today I still get very excited when served tacos.

I've upgraded my tastes though. Old El Paso seasoning does not exist in the Rachelle dictionary anymore. But tacos filled with homemade goodies, now there's something to get excited about!

My husband never ceases to wow me with his culinary ideas. Even some of the most simple dishes to make have the illusion of being complex. It's just a matter of taking the time. And I'm horrible at that. For this, he slow-cooked pork shoulder (tenderloin would be excellent), seasoned with salt and pepper, for 7 hours – until it shredded easily. After shredding, pour in some green salsa, enough to make it a bit saucy but not too much. Then season with cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika (makes a big difference), garlic and cumin seeds and let it sit one day before indulging. You can eat it right away, it's just better if it sits for a bit.

When stuffing your tacos, start with the pork and then work your way through your choice of favourite fresh veggies. We used classic tomatoes, lettuce and red onions. The other wow ingredient was a spicy corn relish – AMAZING, and went so beautifully with the pork.

Last but not least, I would normally go straight up with a heated crispy shell. But adding a soft, warm tortilla to the outside acts as a support blanket to the entire concoction, helping you keep everything together, even after over-stuffing. Serve with a spicy Mexican rice or on it's own.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Surviving a Meatless Weekend

My very good friends Marc and Zoya just got back from 8 months in Vancouver. I'm always very excited to spend the weekend in Tremblant with them. Our time is always spent surrounded by delicious food and wine. Given the fact I hadn't seen them in so long, I was more excited than usual to get there. But with that excitement was also feelings of fear. Fear of the unknown. You see, during their stay in Vancouver, the two of them became vegans.

Now I have nothing against vegans. But Zoya has always been my best meat and cheese friend. Together we have indulged in so many amazing dishes, so many hearty meats paired with deep, luscious wines. And that's what we do when we spend time together. I did not know how this was going to go at all. And I was honestly scared.

Well, I'll tell you now, those feelings didn't last long at all. She still managed to wow me from start to finish with her outstanding culinary skills, now specialized in meatless territory.

Unfortunately I only got one photo to post. But I'm sure the descriptions below will be enough to allow your mind to paint the image for you.

Friday night we arrived to rolls of fresh, blanched collard greens filled with cashew sesame garlic gew, tapenade and sprouts. A spicy ginger mango chutney was served alongside for dipping. Wow!

Next, veggie pizza. A crisp, paper-thin dough slathered in tomato sauce served as a platform to rosemary wine marinated and barbecued zucchini, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, yellow peppers and fennel. Green onions, olives and artichokes were also tossed in. A delectable espelette chili oil was served alongside for drizzling.

The next morning, our egg-less breakfast was quickly forgotten with a millet and mushroom tourtière. This hearty pie was to-die-for. Earthy buckwheat crust filled with caramelized onions, millet and mushrooms. Parsley, rosemary, thyme and cinnamon were the culprits of the intense flavours coming out of this heavenly dish.

Dinner Saturday was my favourite food. Rice paper rolls and spicy, smooth peanut sauce and pad thai. Our protein coming from perfectly fried tofu. Zoya is a wing-it kind of cook and if I could have replicated her pad thai sauce, I'd make millions. Coriander, rice wine vinegar, chili, garlic, ginger, tamari and tamarind.

Before sending us off the next morning, she filled our bellies with a savoury breakfast. Homemade beans that she slow cooked in molasses all night (chunks of pork were replaced with slow cooked onions) and ploys. If you don't know what ploys are, they're like a pancake but not as sweet, much, much thinner, and cooked only on one side (it cooks through easily because they're so thin). They are quite popular in the Brayon communities of northern New Brunswick, which is how we got introduced to them. She wanted to serve them with molasses but was out so we went with maple syrup. The main ingredients in these are buckwheat flour and baking powder. So yummy!!

Thank you so much Zoya, once again you have totally outdone yourself! We've got some practicing to do for your visit to Ottawa.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Holy f*@&ing sh*t! Can I actually say that on here? I hope so, because it seemed to be the only thing that came out of my mouth after my first bite of each dish at this restaurant. My friends Gina, Teresa and Sue were with me to experience every single, must I say it, food-induced orgasm that night. It was awesome.

Our first drink was a bit slow to arrive but once it did, it was almost as though the entire restaurant froze around us and we were the only ones being served. Plate after plate, we were more and more impressed with not only the flavours of each dish, but also the thought that had to have been put behind each one.

We started off ordering the best wine on the list, Hart & McGarry's Napa Valley 2009 Cab Sauvignon. Earlier-on we were at Eighteen for a pre-dinner drink and the bartender highly recommended it. I'm so glad we went with his suggestion. And, without hesitation, that first bottle quickly turned into a second.

When faced with small plates, I find it difficult to stick to a reasonable amount of orders. Add to that an Asian flair and I'm a complete disaster. Luckily I had 3 other people at my table to help me get through. And for that reason, we managed to devour almost every option on the list. Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration, but I didn't leave wishing I had had more. Simply put, we pigged out!

It all started with a trio of tacos. That was the first order Sue made. With many taco options on the menu, I'm surprised the Chinese bbq pork was the only one that was ordered. They looked amazing, and the speed at which Sue gobbled them up confirmed my assumption. With hunger pangs now at ease, we took our time through each, easily shared dish that followed.

The green papaya salad with cashews, mint, Thai basil and crisp taro was our first love. We dove into this bird's nest of fresh yumminess, savouring every single bite.

Next up were the salt & pepper calamari with chili vinegar sauce. Lightly breaded and bursting with flavour, these were probably some of the best calamari I've ever had. The tingle of chili with each bite added that little je ne sais quoi.

The prawn dumplings with ginger and black vinegar took a back seat when the delicately crisp betal leave parcels of prawn arrived. We almost canceled everything and ordered more of these. Thank god we didn't though. The entire evening was filled with bite after bite of dishes from heaven.

The son-in-law egg with chili jam and fried shallots is a dish I probably wouldn't have ordered if it hadn't come so highly recommended (again from the bartender at Eighteen). But it is now something I would go back for in a second. Thank goodness we got one each or things could have turned ugly. Deliciously crispy on the outside, soft and runny inside.

Lightly fried uringii mushroom spring rolls were served with fresh Thai basil that we used as a blanket to wrap around them before dousing them in the nouc mam dipping sauce.

Both the lobster with fresh veg in green curry and braised oh-so-tender beef with Panaeng curry and roasted peanuts were jaw-droppingly flavoursome. Our eyes couldn't help but close with every single bite. And the mound of steamed jasmine rice served alongside was perfect for mopping up the sauces, making each dish last that much longer.

To ensure we got our greens in, a beautiful bowl of deep green sugar snap peas with miso and a light dusting of parmesan, and fiddleheads in a gloriously silky butter sauce and parm sprinkles were snacked on between dishes.

Finally, the white tuna sashimi with charred scallion, poblano chili, yuzu and fresh horseradish served as a palate cleanser before our dessert.

Beautiful as they were, I did not get a shot of the soft, sweet mini donuts. But trust me, a spot must be left open for these. Luckily I have a separate stomach especially for dessert. Cinnamon sugar, Olivia chocolate dip and white chocolate dip cranberry now all hold a very special place in my heart. And with sips of port in between became a sinful experience to say the least.

Since I've been there, I haven't stopped thinking about it. I need to get my husband to come with me next time so that he can understand the absolute pleasure I experienced that night. Having an evening filled with fantastic service, a warm relaxing atmosphere, dishes that are to-die-for and my best friends in the world is pure bliss for me. Only it gets sad when it ends.

Plates range from $5 to $28 each.

18 York Street, Ottawa

Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Taste of the Prairies – Live Cooking Demo and Tasting

This past week I attended the Taste of the Prairies event. It was held in Le Salon of the NAC. My first thought – what a perfect room for this event. When they closed the doors, I looked around and couldn't believe how up-close and personal we were. It was awesome. I kind of felt like we were in each chef's kitchen and that they were cooking specifically for me. Kind of like the feeling I get when I sit at the island at home and watch my husband make dinner. Both chefs Alexander Svenne (from Manitoba) and Dan Walker (from Saskatchewan) were absolutely delightful, bringing us through the steps of their dishes with lots of laughs in between.

First up was Alexander. He's got a restaurant in Winnipeg called Bistro 7 1/4 that I'm totally going to visit my next time there. His pickerel cheek done two ways was delish. One fried, the other cured. Along with it, pickerel mousseline, white fish caviar, red beet borscht and horseradish crème fraîche.

Next, over to Dan of Weczeria Food & Wine in Saskatoon with his Saskatoon raised Wagyu rib eye. This melt-in-your-mouth piece of meat was to-die-for. Especially paired with the yummy caramelized red onion on top. Along with it, roast garlic potato.

Alexander returned to the spotlight with his red wine and rosemary cured elk loin, pickled radish, sweet nicky brown (brown sugar) braised elk shoulder, heavenly artichoke purée, sinful winter beer marinated crispy onion, pickled radish and rye caraway cracker. Wow. This was by far my favourite dish. Actually, both meat dishes were amazing. But this one, well, this one held a special place in my heart. (Sorry, no photo for this one. Rushing over from work left me without my camera so the photos were taken with my iphone, and the shot I had for this did not do it justice at all. The mental image in your head should do just fine!)

Back over to the fish, Dan served up a northern pike roe cake along with bright green peas and fresh pasta. The texture of this was so different. I can't say I've ever had roe as the main ingredient before, it usually takes a supporting role to something else. Nonetheless, it was great.

And finally, chef Michael Blackie ended the evening with a crispy baked hazelnut glutinous rice ball with a tarragon-cheesecake core. A sweet and savoury ball of goodness.

What a fabulous night. My glass never emptied of Pelee Island Pinot Noir, and I even got to chat with Danielle, chef Svenne's wife who is a marvelous woman.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kelp Records Flea and Food Market

If you haven't planned to attend this event, maybe this will change your mind:

- Murray Street (Steve Mitton) will be serving meat cones! (charcuterie cones)
- Whalesbone (Kate Klenavic): Giant beef tataki dumplings (sesame and miso marinated flank with pickled sunchoke and mango beet slaw stuffed inside a massive deep fried dumpling with soy lime sesame dipping sauce)
- Black Cat (Trish Larkin): Classic tacos de concinita pibil (slow cooked pulled pork with orange and achiote served in fresh corn tortillas with guacamole, salsa verde, salsa de arbol, cilantro and onions).
- Ryan Jansens (sous-chef Domus): Smoked beef tongue pastrami sandwiches
- Raw Sugar (Nadia Kharyati and mama): Stellar Lebanese standards along with some cakes and loaves including a gluten-free carrot option.
- Urban Element (Candice Butler): Flatbreads.
- Pascale's All Natural Ice Cream: Ice cream sandwiches from her brand new ice cream bike.

Saturday, May 7, 11am to 4pm
Dom Polski SPK - 379 Waverly

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pipolinka Bakery

My friend Phil and I biked to Wakefield and back this past weekend. And, as with every big bike ride, we needed a decent food break. Without that, what's the point? This little bakery is the perfect stop. The only problem is holding back so that you don't eat too much and feel uncomfortable for the ride back.

I especially love this place because of all their non-wheat alternatives, which can still be difficult to find. Take the sandwiches for example, old cheddar, herb chevre, house mayo, sautéed onions, roast garlic potato, lettuce and sprouts all on buckwheat kamut. They also carry traditional multigrain, fresh buns, spelt and all kinds of other yummy breads.

On this particular visit, I went with some rice paper shrimp rolls (big surprise) with a curry dipping sauce, and the clafoutis, a little mound filled with delicious ingredients like aged cheddar, leeks, pears, curry, onions, red peppers, eggs and cream. The top held a huge dollop of creamy yams, a slice of mango and 3 long chives for garnish. Phil went straight for the pastries, and before I could even see what he had ordered, it was gobbled up. Their pastry counter is quite delectable.

From homemade cookies, croissants, pizzas and oh-so-much more, you can't help but start salivating as soon as you walk in. There's nowhere to eat inside, but outside there are a few small tables and a large picnic table that basks in the sun.

They used to be at the entrance of town when you first came in. They've now expanded into a much larger, more accommodating building just off the main drag going up towards the Wakefield Mill.

757 Riverside Drive, Wakefield QC

Pipolinka Bakery on Urbanspoon