Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Boneless chicken comes to Nando's

As I've written before, I'm a fan of the Nando's peri peri chicken. It's like Swiss Chalet, but spicy. And good. It's one of the earlier Eating off the Hill reviews I wrote. I found Nando's-branded Peri Peri sauce at Farm Boy before Christmas, and have been enjoying it.

So, when I decided to have dinner downtown last week before a show at the NAC, the Nando's across the street was a logical choice. They were busy on a Friday evening, but I was seated quickly. And what caught my eye was the limited-time boneless chicken menu -- butterflied breasts, thighs, and sandwiches.

I usually order the 1/4 chicken white meat, so I decided to go with the boneless version instead and get the butterflied chicken breasts, with chips and seasonal veggies.

The breast was nicely marinated, grilled well and was still juicy, and I liked that they left the patch of crispy chicken skin on top for those -- like I -- that choose to partake. It was a tasty meal -- the only thing that left a bad taste in my mouth was the price. Tax and tip all in, dinner was $27. Too much for what I got, and more than Nando's usually is.

They don't have the limited time menu online, but I recall the breast as being about $14 before adding sides -- the boned version is $14 with two sides included. So that's a hefty labour charge for the de-boning.

Next time, I'll take on that responsibility myself. Unless it's a sandwich, no more boneless for me.

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Jeff's cast iron pizza

When I bought a cast iron pan, I had visions of searing steaks in the winter months. But I had no idea I'd be making pizza so often.

In fact, pizza has become my favourite thing to make in my cast iron pan, and it produces perfect crust every time. So for those who haven't discovered the wonderful world of cast iron pizzas, I thought I'd share my process.

First step is to pre-heat your oven. Some say to go to 500 or as high as your oven will go. After a few set off the smoke alarm incidents when broiling ribs, I prefer to take my oven up to 450 for pizza. And I find that's more than hot enough to cook a pizza perfectly.

Put your pan in your oven to pre-heat along with the oven. A hot pan is key to perfect crust.

While your oven and pan is pre-heating, prepare and stage your toppings. Things will need to happen fast when you take the heated pan out of the oven, so you want to have your cheese grated and toppings sliced and ready to go.

Then roll your dough out to the rough shape of your pan. If you don't have a rolling pan, a bottle of wine will do -- I prefer red. If you use a ball of store-bought frozen pizza dough I prefer to only use half for a pizza, otherwise it's too bready. But that depends on whether you prefer a thick or thin crust.

When your oven and pan are pre-heated, remove the pan to your stovetop. If your pan is well-seasoned no oil should be necessary, unless you prefer a more pan-style crust -- some olive oil won't hurt but isn't really necessary. I usually use a sprinkle of semolina just because.

Working quickly (while your pan is still hot) and carefully (because wow, that pan is hot) lay your dough in your pan and form it to fill the pan fully. The hot pan will start to cook the dough, and that's fine. You want that, but don't take all day finishing the pizza.

Start with your sauce, and don't be afraid to spread it all the way to the edge. Don't worry if it hits the edge of the pan, that's how you get the tasty crunchy bits.

Then finish building your pizza. I didn't want to brave the rain to hit the grocery store yesterday so I topped with that I had on on hand -- a cheddar/mozza mix, onions, sausage and leftover butter chicken. And then fresh Parmesan Reggiano, garlic powder, a bit of sea salt and olive oil. I like to top all the way to the edge to maximize my topping space, but that's personal choice.

And then quickly back into the oven it goes. I set a timer for 10 minutes, and then check it regularly until its done to my satisfaction. Usually around 13, 14 minutes or so. Once you're happy with it, take it out and let it rest on the stovetop for about 10 minutes or so to set. But first I usually do use my spatula at this point around the edges to loosen any crusties.

Cast iron method produces perfect crust every time...

Then slice, serve and enjoy!

There are lots of ways to vary the method to your preferences. One way is to saute your sausage/bacon in the pan first, and then use the pan with the residual oil to make your pizza (removing some of the oil first though). This infuses the crust with some of that flavour. I've done that, and it's good, but you'll want to give the dough a quick pre-cook in the pan on a hot burner before you top it to get the crust right and then return to the oven to cook the pizza, since you don't get that super hot pan cooking the crust while you top it.

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Thursday, January 09, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Burgers n' Fries Forever is expensively meh

I like me a good burger. Particularly ones I have made myself with fresh ground beef and assorted secret ingredients. But when it's outside grilling season on my shared condo patio, I'm forced to venture elsewhere for burger sustenance.

Over the past decade or so, a mid-tier category of burger has developed between the fast food burgers (Harvey's is a favourite) and a restaurant burger, and that's what I call the $10 burger. Places like Five Guys or Burger's Priest. Unfortunately, the former is a long trek for me. As for the latter, it is opening its first Ottawa location soon at Bank and Heron, so looking forward to that.

In the interim though, at the end of the holidays I ventured up the street to Burgers n' Fries Forever, which I would put in that $10 burger category and is a local brand with a few locations. I've been there before and it never really impressed. Went back hoping for different but, sadly, more of the same.

For about $19 taxes-in I got the  "The Melt", which is a 5 oz beef patty, swiss cheese, American cheese, beef bacon, and Texas BBQ sauce. Along with onion rings and a can of pop. Nearly $20 was too much, particularly for a burger than underwhelmed.

All their burgers are Halal, but that's not the issue -- I had a number of delicious Halal burgers while in Scarborough this summer. But this patty was small and bland, bringing nothing to the table. The cheese and bacon were fine, but I would have liked the bun to have some/more toast. It was missing something. The onion rings felt processed and uniform. The chipotle dipping sauce was the one standout.

Open soon, Burger's Priest! Until then, I need to plan a trek to the Trainyards for Five Guys.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Eating off the Hill: Pudgyboy's closes, never really got better

Just over a year ago I reviewed Pudgyboy's, a new diner in Centretown at Bank and Mcleran that offered small portions at big prices. I found it overpriced and mediocre, but resolved to give it another try down the road.

I did indeed return just before Christmas, and unfortunately things had gone downhill. The kiosks were no longer in use, and I was asked to order and pay at the counter. There wasn't really a till, they were adding up bills with a calculator. There had been some tinkering with the menu but the concept was still largely the same.

I ordered a cheeseburger slider trio, onion rings and a soft drink. Don't have the receipt, but it wasn't worth the price. Rings were fresh but overcooked, sliders made to order but meh. Place was pretty dead. Staff were hanging out on the street outside, and had to come in to take and make my order.

Walked by the other day and saw that they were closed down, with brown paper covering the window. So I guess I got in near the end, which would explain the going through the motions feel. A note on the window said that a new restaurant would be coming to the space, and that Pudgyboy's would be continuing from a commercial kitchen as a delivery only through apps service. A check of their web site does show that they're on DoorDash with a tweaked menu -- it appears the burgers are now regular size. And starting at an overpriced $12.99, with fries. They did do a lot of delivery app traffic my first visit.

I will be curious to see what ends up in this space, which has seen a lot of turnover in the four years I've been back in town. Curious no one can make a go of it, given a steady supply of drunken bad decision traffic from the night club next door, and nearby bars. Just not more shawarma, please.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Eating off the Hill: Taco Tuesday at Toro Taqueria

After four years working on Parliament Hill, I'm always on the lookout for new and different lunching options, having tried most places at least a few times. So I was pleased during recent Google Maps and Yelp trolling to find a new taco option not too far outside my usual lunch walking radius: Toto Taqueria, on Slater at Bank.

Long-time Ottawa lunchers will recognize this location -- actually, the famed Germantown Deli used to be next door -- it's now a bubble tea place or something. Rising rents forced them out, but I guess tacos and bubble tea are bringing in more revenue.

Anyway, this ain't Taco Bell, so fancy tacos ain't cheap. The three I had would regularly run $13.50 in total, but as I went on Taco Tuesday when tacos were $4 each, it cost me $12. Another $4 for the guacamole and chips, and $3 for my Mexican grape Fanta. Still well more than my usual lunch budget, so this will be an only on Taco Tuesdays stop. Still, I do recognize that fresh and quality ingredients are worth a premium.

Arriving early at 11:30 AM to beat the lunch rush, I ordered:

  • Picadillo: Chopped beef and potato in taco potion, with lettuce, pico de gallo,  and salsa roja.
  • Guadalajara: Red chile rubbed tortilla, Pollo Asado, Chorizo.
  • Carnitas: Ancho, Guajilo, hibiscus rubbed pork shoulder.

  • So, one each of a chicken, beef and pork. I went from left to right, starting with the carnitas. It was OK, good flavour, could have used a bit more veg variety and texture. It certainly wasn't dry -- in fact, it was wet. Very wet. Dripping onto your shirt wet, so be careful. The Guadalajara was similar -- little wet, nice flavour to the chicken, but also some nice texture with a good crunch. This one came with a lime for added flavour. And the Picadillo was a nice ending, with nicely seasoned beef.

    I don't go gaga for Guac but this was good, but again could have used a bit more flavour. Do you put lime in Guac? Maybe it needed more guac. The chips were crunchy and thick and certainly seemed house-made. I almost went for the Orange Fanta, but decided to change it up and go grape, which I don't ever recall having -- not since I was a kid, anyway. It was good -- very much like a grape Popsicle. Needed more fizz though.

    All in all, a pretty good, if pricy, Mexican taco experience. Would like to see stronger flavours achieved though without resorting to hot sauce. Happy Taco Tuesday!

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