Saturday, September 30, 2023

Eating on the Hill: Lobster Ravioli at Metropolitain Brasserie

A friend I hadn't seen in awhile was visiting Ottawa recently and, after a tour around Parliament Hill (I never miss Centre Block more than when it comes to tours as there was so much more to see and share) it was time for a good dinner.

I'm trying to be healthier these days for reasons but, after behaving myself all day, I was ready for a good but sensibly-sized meal and so we headed to the Metropolitain Brasserie for their fine French fare. It was quiet as we were early and the politicos were not yet back in town and, while the French food is decadent, their portions are sensible.

There were some interesting choices and, after scanning the menu, I opted for the Lobster Ravioli with seared sea scallops, rose sauce, chives and crumbled chèvre.

It was absolutely delicious. The scallops were big, juicy and perfectly seared. The ravioli was cooked perfectly, and the rich sauce was delicious and flavorful, completed well by the crumbled chèvre.

The perfect dish for catching up with a friend, who tried unsuccessfully to tempt me with her fries (which did look delicious) as she enjoyed her Croque Monsieur. And I managed to keep on track with my health goals for the day.

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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Eating on the Hill: McDonald's, Belgium and CPAC on the reception circuit

Parliament is back besides lots of headline-making news, the reception circuit is back in full force. I attended a few receptions this week and, while I am cutting back what I eat for health reasons, I did sample a few goodies for science and reportage.

A highlight for many staffers was the McDonald's Canada reception on Tuesday, which closed down the Queen Street Fare food court for the event. I added it to my calendar mainly to see if they were catering it or using the food court tenants. And the answer was both.

I say highlight because the line was literally out the door onto the street, and the inside was jam-packed with staffers. And a new MPs, namely the agriculture minister and the critics. Bur I wasn't there for speeches. There were ticketed drinks, a large station with McCafe goods, and a spring roll station at the Asian food court restaurant. But most food was pass appy style.

Including the nugs. I saw empty nugget 4 pack boxes all over the place and couldn't find the station, but learned they were being passed out.

First round I had a spring roll and what I thought at first were suspiciously-shaped nuggets, but were actually deep-friend mac and cheese wedges, Both were fine, but I had come for McDonald's finest. And actually, their reminder invite had hinted at showcasing concept menu items. I think all the staff were hoping for McPizza; sadly, I saw none.

As things were going fast I stationed myself outside the kitchen area, and soon a tray came out of the McDonalds (small) cheese burgers and 4-pack nuggets with sauces. Confirming the burgers had mustard, I passed and grabbed a pack of nuggets but skipped the sauce. They were good, as nuggets (when hot) usually are.

With the nuggets consumed, I wove through the crowd to the doors and headed up to SJAM, where Belgium Night was being hosted by their embassy. It's a bigger venue, so was far less crowded than the McD's shindig. A couple of years ago I got a swanky Stella Artois glass at this shindig; I didn't see any on offer this time thought they were serving the beer at the bar in these proper glasses.

Other than some chacuterie I didn't eat at this reception, but they were appropriately Belgium themed with two food stations. The first was a cone of French Fried drizzled with mayo, in the Belgian style. I overheard a guest ask for one minus the mayo; hopefully the Belgians did not overhear.

And next door were either clams or muscles, I'm not sure. So perhaps recreating the moules en frites Belgian classic.

And rounding it out, tables offered a selection of Belgian chocolates. I went for the white, as it's supposed to be the least sugary of those on offer and I need to stay away from the sweets but not sampling their chocolate would have just been rude.

Finally, the next night I was back in SJAM for the CPAC reception. I again only had a few cheese and cracker combos from the chacuts station, but the highlight for the more adventurous was undoubtedly the raw oyster station.

There are a few interesting receptions next week, so stay tuned...

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Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Eating off the Hill: Air Canada's new Jérôme Ferrer, meal box

 Even if I'm not always hungry during the flight, if I'm going cross-country in particular I find a little nosh helps to pass the flight. And I'm a planner, so I will often pre-order my meal when I book my ticket to save a few bucks. This is what led me to have Air Canada's new meal box on a recent flight from Vancouver back to Ottawa that they've developed in partnership with Montreal chef Jérôme Ferrer.

Honestly, by the time the flight came around I had forgotten just what I had ordered, just that I had ordered something. When we settled into our cruising altitude the flight attendant came around w\ith an armful of long, thin boxes and one was for me.

Curious to see what I had ordered, I broke the seal and opened the box -- and was immediately underwhelmed. Inside the box was a vacuum-packed sandwich, a couscous salad and a slice of cranberry load.

The sandwich was not easy to open as there seemed to be no seam but, eventually, I did get the plastic off. And again, underwhelmed. I wish I had the presence of mind to take a photo. It was supposed to be a chicken salad sandwich, but they dolled out the filling so sparingly that the bread to stuff ratio was almost all bread. It was fresh enough but not great at all.

I didn't finish the quinoa salad. It needed more flavour and was just kind of meh.

The standout, surprisingly, was the cranberry load. Very tasty with the tart fruit.

All in all, I prefer the regular Air Canada bistro offerings like the cheese and fruit plate or the macaroni and cheese. If I was Jérôme, and I know nothing about him, I would not want to put my name on this. 4/10.

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Sunday, August 13, 2023

Eating off the Hill: My Seattle food roundup

 I spent a lot of time on ferries during my Seattle trip as, in search of semi-reasonable hotel prices, the Swifties made me flee town for Bremerton. But all my extensive pre-trip research wasn't entirely wasted as I did get to try some local delicacies and culinary specialties. It's a far from comprehensive review of the Seattle food scene, but here's what I did manage.

Piroshky Piroshky Bakery, Pike Place Market

I was a little apprehensive to go to this tourist mecca on a Saturday when Seattle was invaded both by baseball fans and Swifties, but it's a foodie must-visit and I was determined to start the day at Piroshky Piroshky Bakery, a Russian bakery known for its selection of sweet and savoury piroshky -- basically, a version of the famous Scarborough patties.

There was a deceptively long line outside but it moved quickly and efficiently. There was a staff member keeping it moving and telling jokes. And there were menus outside so you could just step into the very small establishment, get your pastry and move along. On my way I did pass by another location, but it was closed and seemed designed to cater to the local breakfast business crowd.

They have many different varieties but I decided on one of the classics, the beef and cheese. It was tourist priced, but it was warn am and fluffy and flavourful, and got my day started off right. I wouldn't have objected to some spice, but this was Seattle and not Scarborough.

Jackson's Catfish Corner

A lot of my Seattle food research focused on fish and seafood, as it often does when I'm visiting somewhere ocean adjacent. And that led me to Jackson's Catfish Corner, which was well recommended for catfish and other authentic southern specialties. 

It's outside of downtown proper and the wait for transit was too long, so I hopped in an Uber for the drive. It's an unassuming place on a street corner across from a strip mall and was fairly empty, although it was doing a steady take-out business on a Saturday evening. 

I decided to dine in, of course, being a long ways from my distant hotel, and ordered the half-pound of catfish strips with hush puppies and cole slaw. There were other fish on offer -- I do enjoy snapper -- but it wasn't Snapper Corner so I went with the namesake.

It was fried fresh and they were kind enough to bring the tray to my table. I passed on the tartar in favour of ketchup, although I did sample them naked first. The cole slaw was cool and crispy and mayo-based. The fish and hush puppies were fried in a corn meal batter. It was definitely a generous portion of cat fish.

It was OK, but I think I'm not a big cat fish guy. Was a little bready and could have used more flavour. But it was an enjoyable dinner off the tourist path.

Seattle Dog # 1

Many cities have their own take on the classic American hot dog. And in Seattle, apparently that's their namesake Seattle dog. Based on my food research, the Seattle dog is a classic hot hod on a bun with some toast served with fried vegetables and cream cheese. I know, right, cream cheese? The Chicago people must be losing their minds. But when in Rome...

I decided to grab one on a Sunday morning when I had time to kill before the ball park opened. There's a long long of food stands outside the stadium, some offering seating, so I ordered a Seattle dog and a water and plopped myself down on a picnic table.

I have to say, this was not a good introduction to Seattle's namesake hot dog. The toast was minimal, the bun was falling apart, and the mixed veg was only onion -- usually peppers are included as well. But they had a cream cheese gun, which was really cool. And the cream cheese did add an interesting creamy element. More a single than a home run -- I would need to try again somewhere else.

Ivar's ballpark fish and chips -- hold the chips

Ivar's is a Seattle-based fish and chips chain with a few locations in the city and stands at the ball park and the football stadium next door. Not being wholly satisfied by the pre-game Seattle dog, I decided some fish and chips were in order.

Hold the chips, though. No need to again belabor my lack of enthusiasm for french fries. They are empty carbs I can do without. I get annoyed when, if I want chicken strips, I need to pay for the fries as well. So this day I decided they can charge me if they want but I do not want the fries, and I made this clear on ordering.

To my delight and surprise, they told me well then you get an extra piece of fish. I declared that a great idea and gladly accepted. For ball park fish these were pretty good. Probably cod if I had to guess. And there were even a few rouge fried included.  Definitely a welcome change from strips, and I would trade the fries for more fish any day and twice on Sundays.

Ivar's on the pier for chowder

Long story short, getting out of Seattle's stadium district on Sunday afternoon was a nightmare. I had planned to dine at a fancy seafood place back in Bremerton, but I missed the ferry I wanted. So with a long wait for the next state ferry, I went down the waterfront to another Ivar's location

I ordered a cup of chowder and a water, as hydration is important, and took it to the glass-enclosed pier-side table area to enjoy. It was enclosed to protect from the seagulls but also made it feel like a greenhouse, which probably did help with table turnover.

Anyway, the chowder was creamy but not overly chunky and seemed pretty processed coming out of a big bag. Still, it was tasty.

Seattle dog #2

On my last day in Seattle, an overcast Monday, I dropped my bag at the clipper terminal so I didn't have to drag it around until my afternoon ferry and went to the Space Needle area to check things out. Most of the ticket machines were out of order, but finding a functioning one the price to go up was more than I was willing to pay. So it was on to plan two.

The claimed originator of the Seattle Dog was supposedly a Space Needle-adjacent hot dog stand, and I found it next to a souvenir store between the Space Needle and the Museum of Pop Culture. Conforming that they had proper grilled veg, I ordered the namesake Seattle Dog.

I still don't feel like they executive it perfectly. The bun held somewhat together bit just barely and needed more toast. While there was a variety of grilled veg it was a little overdone. No cream cheese gun this time; they smeared it on the bun. All together though, s satisfying lunch but not one I will seek to replicate at home.

Pike Place Chowder at Pacific Place Center

Finally on Monday, before heading back to the clipper terminal I had to try what my research claimed was the city's best chowder: Pike Place Chowder. And rather than brave the masses at the Pike Place Market, I took the monorail to the Pacific Place Center Mall in the heart of the commercial district.

The mall was dead but the top floor, with an AMC Cinema and several restaurants and food stands, was not. It was around lunch time on a work day and working Seattleans were hungry for chowder.

They have a few different varieties but I went for the original clam chowder, which came with a slice of plain sourdough bead. I could have gotten it with a sourdough bread bowl but honestly, that's just a mess.

The slice of bread did nothing for me. I'm not a dipper, so I could have used some butter. But the chowder itself was excellent. Miles ahead of Ivar's the day before. Rich, creamy, and more substantive. I polished it off and turned for the ferry in a satisfied stupor.

So that was the food I managed in Seattle. I only really scratched the surface, but I did have some good chowder.

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Sunday, August 06, 2023

Eating off the Hill: Is VIA finally upping its catering game?

 As I've mentioned I am a frequent train traveler, usually between Ottawa and Toronto. With them extending the eligibility during COVID I was able to achieve the highest tier of VIA's frequent traveler program this year. One of the perks? We get to choose our meal selection before everyone else so we allays get our first choice.

Seems like a small perk, but it is disappointing to get stuck with the pasta. I have noticed a lot of repetition in their menu offerings -- the same baked hake or cold chicken offerings seem to come up a lot. But while we're still waiting for the new train cars on this route, a new menu option was offered on a recent trip that I just had to try -- BBQ brisket with mac and cheese.

Now, I went into this with expectations properly aligned. Beef is hard to reheat on a train, and brisket is best served fresh at a bbq smokehouse. But this was so different from the usual options I had to give it a shot.

Let's dispense with the sides first. Bread selection as per normal, good. Pudding with grilled pineapple, meh. Burrata cheese with cherry tomatoes, new and excellent, refreshing. I passed on the olives.

On to the main. The brussel sprouts were a surprise but went well with the rest of the dish. The macaroni and cheese was actually macaroni, and it was hot and reasonably cheesy. The brisket, while a little overcooked and not to smokehouse standards, was within train standards, had some nice bark, and a tasty BBQ sauce.

All in all, a worthy addition to VIA's menu rotation. Would definitely order again.

On the other end of the new menu spectrum, on a recent trip I was offered a beef noddle stir fry. Recognizing another new menu offering I again decided to give it a chance. This time, it was not the home run the brisket mac and cheese was.

Again, let's dispense with the sides. Bun good. Two cheeses with grapes, delish. I'm hazy on the dessert. I think it was the apple pie; I have had that a few times and it was delish. They don't skimp on the cinnamon, or the apples. 

On to the mains. I had an excellent crispy beef stir fry on The Canadian for lunch. This was definitely not that. Chunks of unseasoned and overcooked tough beef. The noodles were good and sauces though I would have liked the beg mixed in. And lima beans in a stir fry? Was there a sale?

Anyway, not on my have again any time soon list.  But keep the cheese in the rotation please.

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