Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Eating up the Hill: Winner winner Chicken Farmers dinner

The annual Chicken Farmers reception is, for those who are fans of chicken, one of the top receptions of the Parliament Hill reception circuit, right up there with the Cattlemen. Last year's shindig was cancelled because of the gas leak in the downtown area, so they really wanted to bring the chicken this year.

Pulled chicken taco.
And bring it they did. Pulled chicken tacos. Two kinds of chicken wings (breaded and buffalo). Tater tot poutine with pulled chicken. Chicken skewers with tzatziki. And more.

Chicken wings, glorious chicken wings.

The tacos were a bit dry. The wings could have used more kick but were plentiful.

All about the tater tot poutine.
But the tater tot poutine was amazeballs. I usually don't go for poutine. Much like Ribfest, we have an annual Poutine Fest on Sparks Street; I usually take a pass. But replacing the fries with tatter tots? Genius. I had two servings.

Winner winner chicken dinner!

Assorted appateasers. That's what the kids say now, right? Appateasers?

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Eating up the Hill: How to get a decent gyro from the Parliamentary cafeteria

You need to have your expectations set realistically when you visit the Parliamentary cafeteria, given the limitations of a mass fast-service cafeteria setting. That said, there are some things they do well, like pastas and stir fries. Gyros would be on the other list, but friends, it can be saved.

The first time I had the gyro (one of the specials in the six-week rotation) I was very disappointed. They took a cold, not particularly soft pita, cut it in half, and put a decent enough amount of gyro meat, as well as onion, tomato and lettuce, between the now two pieces of bread and served it like a sandwich, greek salad (with real feta, mmm) and taziki sauce on the side.

No no no. It was messy and difficult to eat, and the pita hard and near inedible. Won't be having this again, I decided.

But six weeks later, not feeling the other options, I had a thought, and decided to try the gyro again. But this time, with some special handling instructions which the staff were happy to accommodate.

"Could you warm the pita up on the grill for me?" I asked. Not a problem.

A few minutes later. "Please don't cut the pita in half. Just, you know, fold it over." This one seemed to throw them for a bit more of a loop, but they complied.

And I was left with, for a cafeteria, a perfectly good gyro. Heating the pita makes all the difference, and the fold over is how it's meant to be eaten.

It won't make you think of Greece, but it will get you to dinner.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Eating up the Hill: Sparks Street Ribfest 2018 -- So many ribs

I came. I ate lots of ribs. I don't want to see more ribs until next June. This is the story of my week at the Sparks Street Ribfest, the annual porkapolooza that happens right outside my office window every year.

Camp 31 -- Wednesday

I started off this year's ribfest with the vendor that best met two criteria: a combination of proximity to my front door with longest line -- everyone knows longest line equals best ribs. So my first meal was at Camp 31.

In my opening day excitement, I foolishly over-ordered and got a full rack. Sooo many ribs. Too many ribs. The excess went into the office fridge for breakfast the next morning. They were cooked well, but the sauce was just average.

HaWGs Gone Wild -- Thursday

On the advice of a ribfest-organizing friend and therefore expert in the field of ribology, my second day lunch took me west of Bank Street to visit HaWGs Gone Wild. The line-up was suitably long, although whether that was based on quality or ISED and Bank of Canada employees that didn't want to cross the street, I don't know.

I ordered the two meat combo -- ribs and sausage -- and apologies to my ribologist friend, but I was disappointed. Let me dispatch the sausage first -- a dried out husk with no discernible flavour that should not have been served to anyone. The ribs were a bit chewy, and the sauce had an element I couldn't quite place -- maybe citrusy? -- that I wasn't a fan of.

Silver Bullet - Friday

I went back to my own side of Bank Street Friday to Silver Bullet, of which I had positive memories from past years, and ordered a half rack with slaw -- some veggies called for as I felt I was becoming half-rib. It was a lot of slaw for $4 -- I could have used half as much for $2 and they could have maintained their margins.

The ribs were good. Meaty, cooked well, with a sauce with a hint of pepper, which I liked. Could have used a stronger hint, but still, a tasty sauce and meal.

A day of rest - Saturday

Sleeping it off.

Billy Bones - Sunday

For the first time, I made a weekend visit to Ribfest when a friend and his daughter who hadn't been able to get some ribs during the week invited me to walk down. I had good memories of Billy Bones from past years, so I decided to go there for a half rack and slaw.

Here the slaw was only $2 for maybe half of what I got at Silver Bullet, so good deal there. The ribs were cooked fine, and served saucier off the grill than other places, but I again found the sauce to be rather bland. No discernible unique flavour or elements. They were a bit more fall off the bone than other places I had this week though.

My verdict:

The silver bullet may be shitty beer (I'm told; I don't drink beer myself) but Silver Bullet BBQ is my choice for their peppery sauce.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Boodle fight at Tinuno

I've already blogged about my visit to Jolibee, but that wasn't the only Filipino feast I enjoyed during a recent visit to Toronto. I also went with some friends to experience a very differently but also very authentic Filipino dining experience: the boodle fight at Tinuno, in St. Jamestown.

According to the Internet, so it must be true, boodle fight "is a Philippine Military Academy tradition where cadets would gather around a long table full of food and rice is spread over banana leaves and eaten with bare hands.

And that's pretty much what it was. A space on the table is covered in banana leaves, a bed of sticky rice is put down, and then the rice is covered with a feast of grilled deliciousness.

It's a seafood-heavy feast with octopus, claims, shrimp, tilapia and mackerel, as well as pork, chicken and other goodies, including some okra for colour. You get plastic gloves to keep it all sanitary, and everyone digs in. Recommended technique is to start with some rice, tear off a piece of meat, smush it together and enjoy.

It's a way to try a lot of different delicious dishes at once, and is a fun, social way to eat. We certainly had more food than we could easily polish off -- this was a feast for three.

Tinuno is a small, informal restaurant that fills up quickly so reservations for diner are a must. The feasts are priced at $15/person and you can add on extras, and drinks are separate too. Very good value and a fun experience with friends. No fighting while we were there though.

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Monday, May 07, 2018

Eating up the Hill: Mixed Grill at Paramount Fine Foods

For those who keep Halal, the opening of a franchise of the popular Toronto-based chain Paramount Fine Foods at the Rideau Centre is a welcome sight. It's a needed addition to the downtown Ottawa Halal options, which are basically limited to Afghani Kabab Express, Nando's, and 100 different shawarma places.

I have visited locations in Scarborough several times, and recently had a weekend lunch at the new Rideau Centre location. It featured an open kitchen, tall ceilings, and an open vibe, and wasn't overly busy on this Sunday afternoon. I wasn't seated too near the door, but the draft whenever it opened onto Rideau Street would be very annoying in the winter.

Besides traditional Middle Eastern fare, they seem very big on fries. Fries as a side. Fries as a main, topped with chicken shawarma and garlic sauce, or shawarma poutine. The kids really seem to like them. I'm not a kid. No fries for me, fusion or otherwise.

I opted for the mixed grill, which is centred around a skewer of striploin beef, one of shish tawouk (chicken breast)  and one of kafta (seasoned ground beef). I went with the basmati rice over the fries, being an adult. It also came with humus and garlic, grilled tomatoes and onion, a small slice of grilled pizza (if there's a fancier name for it, I don't know it) and a large Saj bread.

My first thought was I'll never finish all this. You'll be relieved though, and possibly not surprised, to learn that I managed to do so anyway.

I'll start with the meat. The steak was of high quality and nicely seasoned, and I have come to really enjoy kafta. The chicken, though, was somewhat bland and disappointing. Some of the meat I ate on its own, but most I had with a piece of the Saj bread (which was good but a little too much flour garnish) and some humus or garlic sauce and some vegetable and rice. Like a one-bite sandwich.

I would have liked more humus and garlic sauce, given the amount of meat I had to work with. The rice needed a little something more, and made me miss biryani. The roasted onion was good, but there was no elegant way I could fine to remove the peel to get at it.

It was a good and filling meal, but at $32 with a diet coke and a tip, too expensive for what it is. Wouldn't have minded a little more heat either -- I can handle my spice. I'll be back, but may stick to a wrap.

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