Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Pizza Hut Lunch Buffet

Not every Pizza Hut offers the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. But those that do are magnificent. Luckily, the one in Ottawa on Bank Street, south of Walkley is about a 20-minute bus ride away so I don't visit too often. Otherwise, it could be dangerous.

I did make a mid-week visit during my staycation, however. It was surprisingly busy for the middle of the week, with nearly everyone taking advantage of the lunch buffet. I was surprised though that the party nearest me was ordering off the menu -- takes all kinds, I suppose.

But for my money, there is no better meal in town than the Pizza Hut lunch buffet. For not much money, you get unlimited pizza, salad, pasta, pasta salad, breadsticks, and desert pizza. There are usually four kinds of pizza on offer, including always one vegetarian. There's usually pepperoni, meat lover's or Canadian, and sometimes Hawaiian. My bill came to $14.55 for the buffet, a pop, tax and tip.

The key to success is how often they refresh the pizza on offer, as it can often go fast. And if you end up on the wrong cycle, other folks can clean it out before you're ready to go back up. So you do need some strategy to keep an eye on things and time your trips up.

I usually skip the salad and the breadsticks -- I'll get my bread from the pizza, thank you -- and only take a smattering of pasta salad. For me, it's all about the Pizza. And while some dislike Pizza Hut's pan pizza, I've always been a fan. It tends to be pricy though, so the buffet is great value.

There's also the desert pizza -- usually apple and cherry -- and often the dough bits with cinnamon and icing. I find the latter doughy and lacking in taste, but I do try to save room for the desert pizza. Strange thing though: while I eat pizza with my hands (like one should) I always use a fork and knife on desert pizza. I don't know, just feels like I should.

I mean, we do live in a society, am I right?

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Chicken Tandoori Kabob at Afghani Kabob Express

I was first introduced to the cuisine of Afghanistan during the last nomination cycle, as an Afghan restaurant in Scarborough became one of our regular post-canvass meal destinations. I enjoyed it and, since I moved to Ottawa, Afghani Kabob Express at Bank and Lisgar has been a regular dinner stop.

There is a lot of similarity between different Middle Eastern and even South Asian cuisines. Grilled meat, sometimes ground and formed, usually grilled as a kabob, with rice, salad and naan bread. Usually it's only the spice pallet that differs. With Afghan food, you also get a thicker, much breadier naan than other cuisines -- for example, the thin naan of most Indian restaurants or the pita of a Lebanese restaurant. I think I probably prefer the thinner naan, but the Afghan naan is a nice change once and awhile.

While I enjoy the chicken and beef shami kabobs -- ground meat spiced and formed into a kabob and grilled -- my go-to has become the Chicken Tandoori Kabob. For $13.99, you get a generous portion of grilled chicken breast chunks, marinated and cooked in a tandori spice. You can pay an upgrade to a fancier rice -- with shaved carrots and raisins -- but I prefer the regular rice. The salad is just OK -- lettuce, tomato, onions and dressing -- but I'll eat my vegetables to get to the delicious chicken.

It's excellent value and I always leave stuffed, sometimes with leftovers, and usually don't manage to finish all of the bready naan. And the meat is always cooked fresh when you order. And for those for whom it matters, all the meat is halal.

If I have one note, it's that I think they look at me and think I can't handle my spice. It never occurred to me until I attended an Iftar dinner (held by Muslims during Ramadan to celebrate breaking the day's fast) catered by Afghani Kabob Express, at which the Chicken Tandoori Kabob was much spicier than what I usually have. And deliciously so.

So next time, I'll have to ask them to give me the regular spice.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Chimichanga at Pancho Villa

Since we're in the summer, I'll venture a little outside a few-block radius of Parliament Hill for my food blogging. Today's entry took me to Elgin and Frank for a holiday visit to Pancho Villa for some Mexican food.

It being a pleasant day, I decided to sit on the patio and was invited to seat myself, and was brought a menu. They have a good variety of Tex-Mex options but I quickly decided to go with my favourite Mexican go-to: a Chimichanga. During my last tour in Ottawa, I used to love the Chimichangas at Mexicala Rosa's, who are sadly no longer with us. And as I don't care for beans, it's a good beanless option.

Diners have a choice of chicken, beef or vegetarian filling, and the Chimichanga is served with Mexican rice and salad and topped with their Chimichanga red sauce, for $14.95. I usually go for the chicken, but decided to break with pattern and get the beef this time.

I'll start with the sides. The salad was fine. Just fine. Lettuce, tomato, shaved carrot, dressing. Nothing fancy. The rice, also, was just fine. Could have used more seasoning, as it was seasoned, but barely noticeably so. And it was just rice. They could have tossed something in.

The Chimichanga itself was reasonably good. I was impressed that it was real pulled beef, so points for that. However, while the beef was plentiful, it was dry and could have been hotter. The sauce was very necessary. There also wasn't much else in there besides the beef.

It was the service though that left me with the most negative impression. I ordered a glass of water and a Coke, which came relatively promptly. Not huge glasses, but that's fine if they're prompt with the refills. But they weren't. Half way through the meal, I'm out of beverages and getting parched. They weren't that busy, but no checks if I needed anything. I moved the empty cups to the edge of the table, still nothing. People around me drinking beer got prompt asks for re-orders however.

Finally, after clearly being done my meal for five minutes, they came to get my empty plate. I asked for the cheque, and refills. At this point, they indicated they don't offer free refills on pop. Which is just ridiculous. They charge $2.25 for a small cup of fountain pop and don't offer refills? Completely out of line with market norms.

The food was reasonably priced but not well-executed and the service was a miss -- anyone can have a bad day though, and they may do better on a future visit. But charging for refills on fountain pop is just stupid.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Eating up the Hill: A 4th of July Picnic in the American Tradition

One of the hotter tickets in Ottawa is the annual 4th of July Party at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. And while Lornado -- and the Ambassador's post -- are currently unfilled, the party must go on and I was lucky enough to score an invitation to this year's soiree.

The long line to enter the leafy Rockcliffe estate put to rest any thoughts this year's attendance may be down, but the line moved efficiently and once inside we were given a handy brochure which included a menu with lists of the different items available at the different food tents. This year's theme was a Summer Picnic in the American Tradition -- however, we didn't have to sit on the lawn.

Consulting the menu and handy map, I made my way first to the drink tent. There was an array of American beers and wines on offer, but I immediately settled on the "Hard Lemonade featuring Tito's Handmade Vodka." I was told Tito's was a favourite of former Ambassador Bruce Heyman, and while I don't know how you hand make vodka, that's a good enough endorsement for me. It was delicious and smooth, and dangerous in that way only a vodka mixed drink can be. A fine beverage for a summer picnic.

Beverage in hand, I joined one of the lengthy lines for the "East Coast meets West Coast" menu-themed food tents (rap war reference? - ed.). The draw for me was the advertised Dry Rubbed Pork Ribs. Sadly, I guess we should have arrived earlier as they were out of ribs. I did sample the Baby Potato Salad which was enjoyable (even if some of the potatoes seemed more mature), the pulled pork sandwich which was flavourful, and a refreshing Succotash Salad . The advertised "Skewered Grilled Mojito Marinated Chicken" however was underwhelming, just slices of chicken breast without a sauce or evident seasoning. Still, a satisfying first course.

At this point I was starting to get a little full and, having adopted the novel resolution of trying to stop eating when I feel full, I decided to bypass the other menu (North meets South) and go straight to the desert tent, from where a buzz had already been spreading across the lush lawn and wooded estate -- Dairy Queen Blizzards! Upon inspection, the rumours were confirmed -- hundreds of pre-made mini-blizzards -- choice of Oreo or, I think, M&Ms.

While I enjoyed my blizzard I perused the other desert offerings on hand. I enjoyed an apple pie square (doesn't get more American than apple pie) and an understated and tasty blueberry tart. My eyes were drawn to the beignets, but I heeded a friend's advice to stay away as she found it very oily.

Desert taken care of, I decided I had enough appetite for one item from the other food menu, so I naturally went with the slider. It was delicious -- expertly grilled, fresh bun, and really quality onion and tomato for garnish. The catering was all quite excellent and well done.

Also must give a shout-out to the evenings entertainment -- Sean Jones -- who performed a great set list of Motown favourites that had feet tapping.

Thanks to the U.S. Embassy for a great event, and happy fourth to my American friends! Hope to make it back in next year, and will be interested to see the spin the next Ambassador puts on the party.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Sliders with SLOAN in the East Block Courtyard

All of a sudden the weather is nicer in Ottawa, so on Tuesday evening I popped over to the East Block Courtyard for the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) reception.

The attraction for most was the promised musical performances by SLOAN and Charlotte Cardin. Other obligations meant I had to depart before they would take the stage, so I focused instead on the food; especially as it was provided by outside catering. No disrespect to Parliamentary Food Services, but I've sampled and reviewed most of their offerings already.

There was a veritable catering army on site, preparing a variety of nibblings in view of reception attendees.

I began the evening with a cone of kettle chips, which were crispy and tasty, although perhaps a bit over-salted. I noshed on those as I made my way over to the bar.

I don't know what the wines were that were on offer, but I quite enjoyed my glass of red -- OK, my two glasses of red -- while keeping an eye on business. We call this multi-tasking.

I'm not a beer person, but I can confirm there was beer. Two different beers, in fact. I did not hear any complaints about them.

But back to the food. The meatiest offering circulating with the servers was this pulled beef slider on a brioche bun with what looked like a cabbage slaw. Very tasty.

For a more vegetarian option, there were these spring rolls filled with crisp veggies and what tasted like a vinaigrette dressing.

The last appetizer I had the opportunity to sample was these mini-tacos. "Is that pork?" I asked. "No, it's steak!" the server replied with enthusiasm, to which I noted "Even better." The meat was good, but some more ingredients would have been welcomed. TO be fair though, I had to remove the jalapenos or I would have died.

And to prove they were here, here's Chris Murphy from Sloan. He's the one in the middle, not wearing a suit. (It was easy to tell who the artists were...)

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