Saturday, February 06, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Centre Block Pho

I had other plans for lunch on Friday. Since I began working on the Hill I've either eaten out or just worked through lunch, but that can get pricey. So I made a ham & cheese sandwich. Then I happened to look over the food services menu on the Intranet, and saw the Friday special over at Centre Block was Pho.

Pho has been a trendy thing in Toronto for a few years, but I never really jumped on the Pho bandwagon. When I lived in Vancouver, just off Robson in the Korean part of town, I bypassed the popular nearby Korean noodle restaurants too. I have long lived by the philosophy that noodles are not a meal.

But while it's probably faux-pho, I'd heard that the Centre Block pho ain't bad, so in the interests of food blogging science I hopped on a little green bus and went up to check it out. While the big city mayors were probably dining with the Prime Minister downstairs (I'm guessing not on pho), I placed an order for one bowl of chicken pho (shrimp and vegetarian were also options).

Restaurant: Centre Block Cafeteria
Dish: Chicken Pho
Price: $6.32 (excluding tax and my usual tiny carton of skim milk)

They wok-cooked pre-cooked chicken breast and prepared a bowl with rice noodles and a selection of green onions, red peppers, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, bean sprouts, nappa cabbage and snap peas. When the chicken was ready, it was added to the bowl followed by several ladles of chicken broth, flavoured with fresh garlic, galangal, lemongrass, thai basil, lime leaf, lime zest, lime juice, red chili peppers, salt, pepper, fish sauce and coconut milk, among other things.

I grabbed a too-small carton of skim milk and took my pho to a table to enjoy while watching the last of Friday question period on television. The bowl was flavourful with a delicious mix of tastes. The chicken was a bit dry, the vegetables crisp and delicious. The broth was delicious, but I'd have preferred a broader, more chewy noodle.

It wasn't bad; I'd give it 6/10 and may have it again when it comes back up in the rotation. However noodles still aren't a meal.

So I went back to my office and had my ham and cheese sandwich.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Canada-USA and Beautiful British Columbia

Tonight was a light night on the Hill social circuit. With the long week starting to catch up with an old guy like me, I bypassed receptions by a health care lobby and a major union and made just two stops: the Canada-USA Parliamentary Association annual meeting and the Wonderful Wednesday British Columbia reception.

First up was the Canada-USA Parliamentary Association meeting, in one of the meeting rooms in Centre Block. After ensuring the MPs and Senators had ample first pass at the snack table, I wandered over to sample the goods on offer.

Many of the events on Parliament Hill use Parliament's catering service, so you get to see some of the same items regularly. For example, my favoured rye cranberry crips from Canada-Europe the night before were pack, and I again enjoyed them with some cheese.

I complemented my fancy cheese and crackers with a beef slider (a tad dry, truth be told -- could have used some cajun ketchup) and a phylo pastry stuffed with cheese. I also noticed for the first time that Parliament has its own Peace Tower-branded wines -- red and white. I don't know if the Speaker does a selection like he does with the whiskey or bottles it himself, but I shall investigate for future installments.

With the AGM business in hand, I headed out the Hall of Honour and down the front steps of Centre Block (always an inspiring walk, especialy at night) and went across Wellington to the Sir John A. Macdonald building for the British Columbia reception. It was good to see many of my BC compadres and be greeted at the bar by a selection of BC's finest, including the hipster-favourite Lucky Lager.

Not being a beer drinker, I opted for a glass of Pinot Noir and wandered over to check out some of the snack tables,, which were plentiful and offered a wide variety of BC-inspired cuisine.

The sushi was popular but, like beer and coffee, I'm not a fan. There was also a stir fry station and carvery, because in the interior we BCers know our beef. I insead opted for some more cheese and a healthy helping of dumplings, which we BCers know as well. They were coldish, but still delicious with a selection of sauces. I may have missed the smoked salmon, or perhaps that would have been just too steretypical BC.

Premier Clark was due to speak, but she didn't take the podium before I began to fade and decided to  head for home. The evening social calendar is clear Thursday, so it will be leftover spagetti for me.

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Eating up the Hill: Ribs and salad

Lunch was a spur of the moment thing today when I escorted some guests up to the Confederation Building cafeteria. I had seen Ribs and Sweet Potato Fries as the special of the day, and hadn't planned to partake but the fellow in line ahead of me convinced me to change my mind, following a visual inspection of the offering.

Restaurant: Confederation Building Cafeteria
Dish: Ribs and salad
Price: $6.32 (excluding tax and my usual refreshing carton of skim milk)

We shouldn't expect much from cafeteria ribs, so we're grading on a curve here. My last job took me to Austin, Texas a number of times and holy crap, can they do bbq down there. Another thing I love about the American South: mac & cheese is a legit side dish option. I could do a whole piece on mac & cheese...

So this wasn't anywhere near Rudy's, but for the setting it wasn't bad. My first move was to sub out the sweet potato fries for a salad. I could say this is for health reasons, but really, I don't like sweet potatoes. I'm also very particular about my fries -- they need to be thin and crispy. But let's just say the salad was for health reasons... and I have to say I've found the Parliamentary food services staff very accommodating with special requests and substitutions.

The ribs themselves were a generous half-rack that, for sitting in the warmer for an indeterminate time, held up well. They looked to be baked with perhaps a finish on the grill, and the meat fell off the bone nicely. A cup of accompanying bbq sauce allowed me to sauce it to taste; I'd have appreciated a spicier sauce option though.

Grading on a cafeteria scale, I give it a 7/10. The meat was cooked as well as you could hope in this environment, and the half rack portion was very generous for the price. (Took it to go, hence the box)

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Eating up the Hill: Jewish wine and bacon-wrapped scallops

There can be a lot of receptions in Ottawa that different lobby groups and associations host to meet Parliamentarians. And often, many of them happen on the same night. Like Tuesday night.

We had five on our agenda Tuesday, and we managed to make it to four. Sadly, we weren't able to do many of them the justice they deserved, and my stays were too short to give you the full, in-depth reportage you've come to expect in my less than 24 hours of parliamentary food blogging. Still, I will share what I can.

My first stop was the All Party Event on Global Education Priorities, hosted by the Malala Fund in partnership with the Canadian Education Policy Working Group, in the committee rooms next to the Chateau Laurier. A very worthwhile event in support of the importance of global education, especially for girls.

I paired my glass of merlot with some meaty appetizers (perhaps compensating for that earlier veggie pizza, even if I doused it with bacon). I enjoyed two beef kebabs on a stick, a beef slider, and a delicious bacon-wrapped scallop. A very solid start to the evening.

Unfortunately, our schedule didn't permit us to make the Dairy Farmers of Ontario reception, but I did chat with them earlier in the day. While I missed out on their chocolate milk, they were pleased to learn I switched from margarine to butter two years ago (a huge trend that is beginning to stretch their production capacity) and, with a Shoppers Drug Mart in the ground floor of my Ottawa condo building, that my consumption of skim milk has increased substantially since last fall now that I don't need to carry it home as far. (In retrospect, I regret missing the opportunity to ask them abut bags vs. jugs)

Next stop was two events at the Sir John A. Macdonald Building, which has replaced the West Block reception room as the main social venue in the precinct. It hosted two parties tonight. First floor was Israeli Wines meet Canadian Cheese, hosted by my friends at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee. This is one of the premier events on the hill social calendar, and I wish I could have stayed longer. I didn't get to enjoy any Canadian cheese, but I did get to enjoy a tasty glass of Israeli wine of unknown (to me) vintage. Some people look down their noses at Israeli wine, but I very much enjoyed the bottle I brought back from the Galilee a few years ago.

Upstairs was a Lunar New Year event, hosted by a number of Senators. We didn't have time to hit the buffet, which disappoints me, as it looked fabulous.

Finally, it was back up to Centre Block for the annual general meeting of the Canada Europe Parliamentary Association. This was an AGM and not a social event, but they did have a selection of snacks so it merits mention. As I had dinner plans I stuck to cheese and crackers, which were tasty. They had those rye crips I enjoy, the ones with the cranberries baked in. Pairs very nicely with cheese and a glass of merlot.

They did have salmon sliders but, at the risk of getting too political in my food blogging, it looked like farmed salmon so I declined. Besides, as a BCer I have a rule regarding fish: if there's not an ocean nearby, I'm not having it.

Next reception night, I shall endevour to go deeper.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Vegetarian pizza with bacon

I know I haven't blogged in some time. I moved to Ottawa in November to work for a Member of Parliament, which a) takes up most of my time, and b) makes blogging on politics pretty difficult. Then, one day, it occurred to me: how about a political food blog!

After all, I have yet to see any food-related talking points I would need to stick too, and food is a pan-partisan issue. Therefore, I shall attempt to regularly blog about lunches on and around Parliament Hill, and perhaps the food offerings at the various receptions that parliamentarians and staff tend to be invited to.

For the record, any food commentating will be restricted to my lunch hour, or after work hours. And with that, let's eat.

Restaurant: Confederation Building Cafeteria
Dish: Vegetarian house pizza with side salad
Price: $6.32 (excluding tax and my refreshing carton of skim milk

The various cafeterias around the hill work on a six-week rotating menu of daily specials to complement the usual standard offerings, and today was pizza day. I went up to the cafeteria in my building around 12:10 PM today, craving a slice of all-dressed.

The line was long and, when I got to the front, sadly, they were already out of all-dressed. Apparently the 42nd Parliament is more carnivorous than they had anticipated. A bit disappointed, I asked if they could toss some bacon on top of a slice of vegetarian pizza. Happily, they obliged and, at no up charge, I ended up with more meat than I'd have gotten on the all dressed (which came with peperoni, green peppers, red peppers, onions and mushrooms).

So I ended up with a slice of focaccia crust pizza with green peppers, red peppers, red onions, mushrooms, zucchinis, stuffed green olives, and a generous helping of bacon, as well as a side salad which I chose to douse with Caesar dressing.

 The pizza could have been hotter, but the crust was better than average, the toppings were plentiful (though I tried to pick out the olives) and, key to a good slice, the cheese was bountiful. It hit the spot, and certainly filled me up. I'd rate it 6/10; could have been a 7 if it was hotter.

I appreciate the bacon top-up, but hopefully next time they cook more all-dressed. Or I'll just need to get there earlier. Also, I wish they had the 500ml cartons of milk. The 250ml is just too small.

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