Sunday, May 22, 2016

Eating up the Hill: A taste of Nova Scotia

Last Tuesday was a reception I and many other hill dwellers had circled on our calendar weeks ago: the Taste of Nova Scotia reception. And with dreams of lobster rolls and scallops in our heads, we descended on the Sir John A. MacDonald building in droves.

Unfortunately, many of us were turned away. For the first time I can recall, the RSVP list was being strictly enforced -- even for pass holders. If you weren't on the RSVP list, with the exception of MPs and Senators you were turned away. Luckily, while I don't always RSVP, for this one I did (perhaps the fear of losing out on fresh seafood being too much to risk) and was able to venture inside.

It was a lot more upscale than I was expecting -- I'd been picturing a kitchen party with donairs and beer. Instead, it was much fancier, with chefs preparing small plates at a variety of food stations and a series of bars offering selections of Nova Scotia-produced beer, wine and even the harder stuff. The wine was decent, but the rum was quite nice. The food was the main attraction, though, and I definitely left full.

My favourite was the Seared Scallop Escabèche, which was prepared with pickled red onions and dukkah (hazelnuts, sesame seed, cumin and corriander) by Chef Renée Lavallee of The Canteen in Dartmouth. The ingredients nicely complemented the flavourful scallops, which remain one of my favourite non-fish seafood choices.

Of course, there was lobster as well. Here we have soft poached Nova Scotia lobster with a smoked corn relish, bisque fluid gel, vanilla bierre noisette, corn shoots, micro watercress and radish paper. I don't know what most of that is, but I do know it tasted delicious. I managed to get one, but this station was constantly swamped by demand -- they couldn't plate them fast enough.

I did enjoy several of these crab on toast thingies (I neglected to snap a picture of the station sign for this one, so crab on toast thingee is the description you get.) I thought the bread took away from the crab a bit too much, but otherwise, delish indeed.

It wasn't all seafood. I inhaled several of these wild mushroom ravioli pockets, which could have used a bit more sauce but were otherwise delicious.

And a meaty hit was the Meadowbrook Pork Coppa, which was sous vide and charred pork with a sweet potato puree, black mustard seed and silver birch glaze, prepared by Chef Jason Lynchg of LeCaveau Reasturant in Grand Pré and Chef Jeffrey MacNeil of Prime Restaurant + Wine Bar in Lunenberg.

So it wasn't quite an East Coast kitchen party, but when I bid a farewell to Nova Scotia I had enjoyed a great deal of local specialties and spirits, and left with a new determination to always RSVP.

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Rob Jamieson's Liberal constitutional buffet

Last Monday I attended a briefing on amendments to the Liberal Party of Canada constitution at the Farmteam Cookhouse on Sparks Street. The party sprang for a few plates of appetizers, and Liberal carpenter Rob Jamieson strongly insisted I report on the nibbles.

There were a variety of cold appetizers, including veggies, meat and cheese, bread and crackers, and a fruit tray.

Veggies are veggies, they were fine. I enjoyed some fruit, particularly the pineapple. Usually it is cut in chunks, but the thin slices were a nice change. I'm not a big cured meat person, but it went quickly so the constitutionally curious seemed to enjoy it.

I do need to raise concerns, however, about the crackers. I was not a fan. They were not good crackers to pair with cheese. The texture and size were off, leading to a imbalanced cheese to cracker ratio. The cracker should never be the main show -- it is merely the cheese delivery vehicle.

Next time, I'd recommend less cracker, more crunch.

Now, on to Winnipeg. Hoping for pierogies in the Laurier lounge.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Indian buffet goodness

I know I haven't food blogged in awhile, but my free time to attend receptions has been limited, and many of the appetizers served we've seen before. But with the MP back in the riding, we ventured out Friday to try somewhere new for lunch: India Palace.

Maybe a five minute walk from Parliament Hill, India Palace offers an a la carte menu with a wide variety of options, from curries and tandoori to kabob, tandoor and biryani. I was there for one thing, however: the lunch buffet.

Restaurant: India Palace, 292 Albert Street (at Kent)
Dish: Over 30 advertised items in the lunch buffet
Price: $12.95 (before tax, tip and beverage)

So did a lot of other people, apparently, as the small restaurant  was packed with butter chicken-craving public servants, and there was always a line for the buffet. Our party of three had to wait about 10 minutes, and there didn't seem to be much organization in the order in which people were seated, but seated we finally were. I thought we'd beat the crowd by arriving early, at around 11:40. Going about an hour later may have been a better bet.

Given the high traffic for the lunch buffet, all the items were hot and fresh due to regular restocking. There were all the usual Indian-type staples you would expect, including plenty of vegetarian dishes. The one disappointment for me was the veggie samosas, which lacked spice and mainly had mashed veggies inside -- Scarborough samosas remain the best samosas.

Everything else I enjoyed quite a bit though, from the butter chicken and the spinach chicken to the pakora. But by far the standout was the perfectly done tandoori chicken. I could have just ate a plate of tandoori chicken and I'd have been happy.

I will definitely be back, and hopefully at a slower time so I can spend more time enjoying the tandoori goodness, and maybe have a nap afterward.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Bill Morneau's jam bars

Following his delivery of the federal budget yesterday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau hosted a post-budget reception in the Sir John A. MacDonald building and, while his budget ran a deficit in order to make overdue investments in Canadian infrastructure and other programs, in a nod to austerity his reception featured a cash bar.

But with my $8 glass of wine in hand, I went on to sample the bounty of nibbling options that were on hand. There were the usual veggie cups and cheese and crackers, but a highlight for many was the pretzels and mustard. Much of the catering on the Hill gets repetitive, but I have not seen the pretzels before. Now, I didn't partake myself -- I don't really care for soft or hard pretzels, and I dislike mustard. When I buy a bag of snack mix I will pick the pretzels out and eat them separately, so as to not have their pretzliness ruin the taste of the doritos, sun chips and cheesees. Nevertheless, the pretzels were a hit with a majority, and continually had to be restocked from the kitchen.

I did enjoy the make your own bruschetta stations, with a variety of topping options to go on your perfectly toasted wedge of bread. I topped mine with the strong cheese, and it was delicious.

My highlight though was the dessert bar station, which is a rare feature at these events. As you can see, there were a variety of bars on offer, including brownies, blondies and lemon bars. Now, I like me a good lemon bar, but tonight I only had eyes for the jam bars. Made with raspberry jam with crumbly oats on the top, these were delicious. I had two and had no regrets.

I also ran into my friend from the Cattlemen, who told me they would be back on the hill with a beef bbq in the summer. I've missed their last two beer, beef and whiskey receptions, so it's nice to have something to look forward to as winter takes its last swipe at Ottawa.

All in all, I declare the pretzels and jam bars the real change this post-budget reception needed.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Produce, consumer products, grain-fed beef on grain-fed buns and Canadian actors

Having caught up with work after a well-timed constituency week, here's a round-up of a few receptions from the last few weeks. Getting these out of the way before budget season next week.

Canadian Produce Marketing Association

Produce is getting really expensive these days, or so it seems on my very ocasional trips to the grocery store. I paid $3 for a red pepper last week. $3! It's like you people don't want me to eat healthier.

I didn't talk about produce pricing with the produce marketing folks, but I did confess most of the produce I'm eating at home lately is frozen and tossed into a lazy man's stir fry -- good and non-judgemental folks that they are, they were fine with that. Produce is produce, after all.

I did sample some of the produce on offer at their reception at the Chateau Laurier -- for example, that celery right there beside the pita bread smothered in spinach and cheese sauce -- but hey, spinach is produce too. Delicious, cheese-smothered produce. Also had some flatbread there that was kinda meh.

I also enjoyed some chicken satay with peanut sauce and ,to keep the produce theme going, two very tasty mushroom risotto balls.

To digress for just a moment, how good is risotto? So good, right? Thing is, when I see it on offer in a nicer restaurant, I always feel like I'm squandering the dining opportunity if I order the risotto instead of something more substantial, like steak or prime rib.  Maybe risotto should be a more common side option, as well as a main?

Anyway, the produce folks also had a Canadian celebrity chef on hand to demonstrate healthy cooking  techniques with MPs Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Bruce Stanton as guest chefs. I watched them dice and toss vegetables into pots for a few minutes, and then headed to the next reception.

Food & Consumer Products

Apparently ketchup is all the talk at Queen's Park, but if the ketchup lobby was present at the Food & Consumer Products reception I didn't hear about it. But I did have some more of those mushroom risotto things.

Primarily I was concerned about getting a photo with Don Newman -- and on that, I can declare mission accomplished. Great to have met the broadcasting legend who largely eschewed the yelling MP panel format for much more substantive stakeholder interviews.

Random scallops

I can't remember where I had these bacon wrapped scallops, but they were scallops wrapped in bacon and they were delicious. Because they're scallops wrapped in bacon. Of course they were delicious. Bacon makes everything better.

Grain Growers of Canada

I stopped in at this reception in Centre Block before an evening meeting, and there was a buzz throughout the halls of parliament -- there is beef on buns down the hall and holy crap, it is so good.

And so good it was.. Canadian grain farmers had brought their finest rolls to Ottawa, and between those beautifully baked buns they added a bounty of beef that was succulent and tender. I was going to have just one as I had shawarma-related plans for later in the evening -- then one became two, and then three.

Then it was back into the halls to spread the word. Yes, there was beef on buns, and it was good.

ACTRA on the Hill

Canadian actors held a reception over in the East Block to make the case for supporting Canadian arts and culture, and I think I even recognized a few of them.

I only had time to take a quick graze over the appetizer table and primarily focused on the veggies and dip, which came in very cute little cups. More things should come in little cups.

I think the Chicken Farmers have a wing ding next week. Will there be chicken fingers? Chicken wings? Chicken sliders? Random lamb chops just to break with convention? I'm looking forward to finding out.

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