Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Benny's... it's been too long...

D & I decided we should go for brunch at Benny's Bistro.... it has been awhile.  Benny's has a special place in our hearts.
  We've been going for years, even had one of our first Valentine's dinners there (back when they served in the evenings).  Hey, we've even met the original Benny (have YOU?)!
I love going to Benny's because it always feels like a little hide-away, a secret spot that only the inner Ottawa circle knows about, tucked in behind the French Baker.  

As we entered the cozy, bustling space, it made me smile to see a mother with her new born baby and cooing friends/relatives, a shy young couple with his (or her?) nervous parents, a loud table of older, probably long time friends, several young couples with big goofy grins....  a real cross section of life, everyone in the moment - eyes rolling back after a particularly delicious mouthful, smiles and laughter - enjoying a fine meal with special people. 

Scott Adam's menu is always amazing.  As you read each item, it's hard not to start to salivate, and choosing is always tricky.  
D and I threw out our usual "never order the same thing" rule that morning due to this lovely creation that we had yet to try: Confit albacore tuna...
The tuna (which we later found out was from a sustainable fishery - phew!) was brined and gently poached. The perfectly seasoned, soft & smooth texture of the fish mixed beautifully with the poached egg, spicy, crispy chorizo balls, the smoked tomato water and saffron aioli... and then there was the surprise of the crunchy fennel/radish salad at the bottom of the bowl!  I had to ask for a spoon to savour the last drops of these complex flavours.

The wine list is small, but beautifully selected and very reasonable by Ottawa standards (no glass over $13!).  And who doesn't want to start brunch with a mimosa or a Kir royale!

I'd also like to mention our favourite waitress, Jessica, who seems to always be there when we go, and even though we only come in a few times a year, greets us like we are old friends.  Some how she always seems to have our favorite table available for us - she's that good!  Her attentive service, pleasant conversation, and obvious passion for her job completes the entire dining experience.

Benny's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Girls Night Out - Bistro CoqLicorne & Cacao 70

A chilly early winter night - getting together with a girlfriend for a delish meal and gab session - where to go?  

We decided to try Bistro CoqLicorne - had heard good things but every time I tried to get a reservation, they were full up.  On three separate occasions, calling for a reservation, even before I could ask if they had a spot - "sorry, no availability tonight."  To the point that I thought, perhaps if I requested a spot en français?  It became the elusive reservation - like the mythical rooster/unicorn immortalized in the name of this cozy little resto.  

We were able to squeak in, and I was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome and lovely service. As it turns out, they tend to take reservations on only a small number of tables, to ensure that local drop ins always have a spot!  Good to know.....

Perfect girls night out - funky cocktails and tapas/small plates:

Les 3 Amigos - yummy pork tacos, and Le Vilain Petit Canard - duck carpaccio with popcorn, arugula, apple, and salted caramel....  oooooohh........
L'amuse-gueule de dragons - a bright salad of smoked trout, cream cheese, arugula, and lemon.
La Peché originel - the original sin (!) - crispy crostinis with apples, spiced butter, caramelized onions and melted cheddar cheese....
 Here`s the menu - mains were all under $20, nice and ridiculously reasonable wine list - I`ll be back!

Thinking that we`d actually not eaten THAT much - we scanned the dessert menu but unfortunately, chocolate-less.... time to move on!  We headed into the Byward Market to Cacao 70 - a Montreal chain restaurant that specializes in all things chocolate (with a savoury menu as well).  We shared the dark chocolate fondue for two - very generous and decadent.
Here are a crepe and waffle plate from a previous visit:

Definitely recommend both spots - with or without a bestie!

Bistro CoqLicorne on Urbanspoon

Cacao70 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Irrrrashaimaseeee!!!!!!! Welcome to Imadake!

Izakayas - those amazing restaurant-bar-communal dining/drinking establishments that only the Japanese could have invented.  My favorite type of establishment to eat and drink with friends when I lived in Japan... hard to recreate anywhere else.

Imadake ("only for now"), 4006 St-Catherine Ouest in Montreal, does a pretty good job of recreating that vibe.  Welcomed by a deafening "Irrashaimase!!" (or "Greetings, welcome to our humble establishment and let us provide our services to you!!" (basically...)), the young and efficient staff get you seated in this cosy but lively, "nigiyaka" restaurant.

An izakaya is a bit like a tapas bar in a drunken party atmosphere.  Lots of small plates to choose from - a varied menu that gives you a taste of all sorts of different types of Japanese bar food from okonomiyaki, yakitori and gyoza, to their amazingly succulent grilled black cod (a must!), to fresh and tasty salads and belly filling bowls of ramen.  The traditional seating arrangement is at long communal tables that give you the opportunity to get to know your neighbours and share all the tasty treats that keep coming...  In Japan you would slip off your shoes to climb over people you didn't know to squeeze next to the rowdy drunks around the table...

And of course the drinks!  Beers! Cocktails! Sake! Wine!  You can't go to Imadake without having a Sake Bomb!  Trust me, your whole table has to order this drink.... 

"SAKE!!" "BOMB!!"
"SAKE!!!" "BOMB!!!"

Imadake on Urbanspoon

Head north to Wakefield for a real treat - Maison du Village - The Village House!

Lovely Wakefield, QC on a chilly fall day....  perfect opportunity to check out the highly rated "Maison du Village/The Village House" located at 759 Riverside.  Cozy interior - loved having such a great view of the kitchen and our chef at work.
Our friendly hostess/server walked us through the menu - we decided to focus on the yummy sounding small plates.  Excuse the terrible photos - but just imagine this....  honey roasted beets with candied hazelnuts, micro greens and Montebello Rebellion blue cheese, lamb poutine (with clever "fries" made of slices of rosti and an incredibly rich jus), confit pig cheeks (!) served on an aged cheddar and parsley gnocchi with braised cabbage...  all in all very generous serving sizes for reasonable prices.  Small but acceptable list of wines by the glass - a perfect light meal.  Which allowed us to have a guilt free dessert - an apple walnut tart served with candied lardon and a smooth, not too sweet caramel ice cream...
 We were very impressed with the amazing food - perhaps the best small plates I've had in the Ottawa/Gatineau region.  Highly recommended as a destination meal - perhaps before a show at the Black Sheep Inn?
 The Village House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Making muu shu pork - worth the effort?

My old friend Carol came to visit me from Winnipeg and we decided to recreate one of our long standing traditions - starting in 1984, we used to go to the old Szechan Restaurant on Pembina Highway and order the chicken with cashews (with chilis and baby corn) and the muu shuu pork.  If you've never had muu shuu, it's a crunchy stirfry that you mound onto sesame oil infused pancakes, slathered in hoisin sauce and a dab of hot sauce, eat like a mini burrito - sweet! 

Rather than simply finding a restaurant that serves this dish, we decided that we should try and make it ourselves.  I found this Fine Cooking recipe which started with a hunt for unusual ingredients in our local chinese grocery store... cloud ears (dried mushrooms), golden needles (dried lily buds) and bamboo shoots all added interesting flavours and textures to this complex dish.

Unfortunately it was a crazily complicated recipe - lots of chopping and soaking and stir frying... We even went as far as handrolling the mandarin pancakes and making the mandarin sauce - exhausting!
making the pancakes...

Spread on the mandarin sauce

Pile on some of the stir fry
Don't forget the hot sauce!

Roll it up - like a burrito

  I'd suggest looking for an easier recipe....or just eat out!!  The pancakes were delicious, but super labour intensive. The crunchy texture was there, but sadly, after all of that effort, the flavour of the stir fry was a bit underwhelming... of course if you slather on enough hoisin sauce, anything tastes good!  (Thanks to Donald, the dishwasher....)

Fantastisch! Lunch at Das Lokal

Decided to stop by Das Lokal last month for a quick lunch - I used to frequent the Portuguese chicken place that was here before, and even date back to the KFC days of this site!  I had heard good things about this place - German inspired menu - I grew up on schnitzel (but also on sushi!) - so why not?!?

I literally gasped when I walked in the resto.  Gone was the dark, dated, European restaurant look of the 60's... and I was suddenly transported into a northern European/Scandinavian space - light wood surfaces, colourful banners, natural light pouring in - it was the perfect winter getaway.  Our hostess told me about some of the extras they were working on - cute little fire outside, with fur covered seats to curl up in, even a piano that gets played on the weekends.  

I started with an Edelweiss, a lovely cocktail of sparkling wine and St. Germain liqueur (elderflowers).  The perfect mix of sparkly-sweet-floral tones.  Perfect to whet the appetite... So good, in fact, that we went straight to LCBO to buy a bottle after lunch!.

I ordered the Gravlax Tartine, a yummy open face sandwich with burnt orange wild BC coho salmon on top, creme fraiche and pickled onions, served with a side salad and butternut squash soup (sooooo creamy).  Memories of open faced sandwiches in Denmark and Sweden.

Donald ordered the German Burger - a pork sausage burger served on a sweet roll with the requisite mustard, with the same side salad and delish thick cut fries.

Nice wine list, relaxed service - we'll be back soon!  Another huge selling point - Das Lokal has a huge parking lot (thanks to its KFC roots)...  love the Lowertown location.

No web site that I can find, but they are on Twitter.

Das Lokal on Urbanspoon