Sunday, December 23, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Farm to table at 10 Acres in Victoria

Back West in the Comox Valley for Christmas, and the other day we drove down to Victoria to spend the night, and pick up my sister and nephew. An opportunity for a nice local dinner, and the farm to table menu at 10 Acres Kitchen ticked all the boxes.

Just down the street from the Empress, 10 Acres is a higher-end dining option, but it really does offer quality for the price. The reasturant sources much of its foodstuffs from its own farm in North Saanich, from veggies, fruit and honey to ethically-raised livestock. They also source from other local farms and seafood producers on Vancouver Island.

I was set for the five-course tasting menu, but as the rest of the table was not I had to get more tactical. My sister and I agreed to split two appies for the first course: the Toast and the Pan Fried Oysters.

The Toast is dungeness crab and hand peeled shrimp with basil,  romesco and gruyere served atop a thick slice of toast. It was a plentiful portion and very tasty, but I did find it a bit too salty. Still, a tasty appetizer.

Next up was the Pan Fried Oysters, which is breaded and fried Fanny Bay oysters served with preserved lemon aioli and pickled red onion. I actually have a connection to Fanny Bay Oysters -- one summer when home form university I did some general labour for them, seeding beaches, and later harvesting beaches and bringing them back to the facility for processing. I've never really been a raw oyster person though, so I was keen to give the fried oysters a try. They were fine, but not something I'd go out of my way to order. Just not my jam.

As there was going to be a delay with our entreers with the kitcken was backed up, they brought us a complementary chacutiere tray to occupy us during the wait. Much of the stuff was fancier than I usually eat, but I enjoyed the  Ossabaw pork and the roast garlic.

When we had our fill of chacutiere , our mains were ready. I had ordered the Chinook salmon (ocean wise, of course) with smoked Albacore tuna rice. Now, I was concerned about the rice as I don't really like tuna. I asked the waiter and he said it was prety tuna-ish but that I'd enjoy it, so I decided to go fot it.

Maybe he got them to make it without tuna and didn't tell me, or maybe it's high end tuna with no tuna taste, but I got no notes of tuna out of this rice brick that served as the bed for my perfect morsel of salmon. Instead, all I got was baked, cheesy deliciousness. The salmon was pink, flaky and perfec, tand the accompanying vegetables cooked perfectly and fresh.

A pricier meal than I usually eat but a very nice Christmas treat, made tastier knowing we were supporting local producers. No room for desert, just a walk along the harbour on the way back to the hotel to burn a little off.

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Saturday, December 08, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Capitol Burger at Queen Street Fare

A little over three years back in Ottawa and I've lunched at about pretty much everywhere I want to lunch within walking distance of the Parliamentary precinct. So, when Queen Street re-opened to two-way traffic this week and my bus to work was re-routed (to link up with the Parliament O-Train stop which looks like it may actually open at some point) I was happy to see that Queen Street Fare was nearing completion -- and indeed, opened to the public on Friday on Queen between Bank and O'Connor, right accross from the CBC.

I read a breathless preview about it in the Globe & Mail a few weeks ago, that described it as some sort of new concept in commercial office building food delivery they're calling Ottawa's first Food Hall. Sounded like a fancier food court to me, but whatevs -- another lunching option is always welcome.

So I popped over for an early lunch on Friday, hoping to avoid the combined lunch rush/new thing rush, and just barely managed to do so. I would say my earlier take as a fancified food court was borne out. There are a number of different reasturants available, all non-chain operations which is a nice change from a standard food court. I found the layout a bit hap-hazzard with some tight corners to navigate, even were there less people milling about. There's a mix of large communal tables, smaller tables and bar seating.

There are a variety of options, including tasty-looking Mexican and grilled oven pizza places I will try in the future. But this day, I had my sights set on Capitol Burger Counter for a burger. Claiming inspiration from the Capitol Theatre which stood on this site until 1970 as a concert venue, its a basic burger, fries and shakes stand -- although the shakes weren't available on this day -- made with locally-sourced ingredients.

I decided to pass on the fries as they didn't seem as thin as I tend to like, although they did look crispy and possibly twice-fried. I ordered the Bacon Project -- as did nearly every person in line behind me -- which is basically a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato (I held the pickes) and their thousand island-inspired special sauce. And for the bevvy, it's all glass bottled options. I opted for a bottle of Pepsi which appeares to be the sugar and not fructose-sweetened variety -- which was nice, as Diet wasn't available.

With the open kitchen I could watch them preparing my order. The brioche bun gets a smear of butter before going into the toaster which was nice, although the bun was cold by the time the burger caught up. The beef comes from the fridge in little balls which go onto the grill to be flattened by a griddle -- it reminds me of Smashburger, which I had a few times in trips to Los Angeles. (Smashburger side note: their Filipino owners, who also own Jolibee, told me they do plan to bring Smashburger to Canada in the future).

I seemed to have caught them at the beginning of the cycle, as I had to wait while they grilled about 10 burgers from scratch, with my order at the front of the line. But maybe 10 minutes later, I had my burger and Pepsi on a metal tray and went to a communal table to dig in.

I mentioned the bun earlier. While I enjoyed the chew of the top contrasting with the toast of the bottom, had lost its toaster heat; but it was still good. A burger comes with two patties, which I'd guess work out to a quarter pound in total. It was tasty and juicy -- not quite Burger's Priest, but certainly the best burger for blocks -- but I felt like $15 for a burger and drink, no fries, pushed the boundaries.

On a side note, it wasn't super-clear what to do with the glass bottle -- into the organics or paper recyclables bin? -- so I left it on top, with the trays.

Still, a tasty lunch and in interesting concept. I'll be back for future lunches to try out some of the other options. There's also several bars on site, and it turns into more of an entertainment venue in the evenings, with live music and what not.

A welcome addition to the downtown Ottawa lunch scene, which is certainly in need of innovation. And a Popeye's Chicken, as I continue to lobby for at every opportunity.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Everything is small at Pudgyboy's but the price and the wait

The south-east corner of Bank and Macleran in Ottawa's Centretown has been somewhat of a deathspot for reasturants. I've lost track of the food spots that have come and gone in that spot since I moved back three years ago. There was a BBQ spot I didn't get a chance to try before it shuttered. Most recently it was a pizza and shawarma place, two things you can get at a dozen other nearby spots.

The reasturant corner of death.
So I figured I should try Pudgeyboy's before it too gets killed off. And last night, in a spur of the moment decision, I decided to hop off the bus and give it a try.

It's theme is everything small. Different kinds of sliders. Small fries and tots. Mini donuts. Mini chicken and waffles. Small, unhealthy comfort food. It's an interesting concept, and one sure to be popular with the late night partyers at nearby pubs and clubs -- it's just a few doors down from Babylon.

Inside, it has a dinner feel but with a modern touch: all ordering is via two touch-screen kiosks. It's the same machines and software that McDonald's uses, reformatted for Pudgyboy's. But unlike McDonald's, you cannot choose to order or pay at the cash instead, as there is no cash. So kiosk only, debit or credit only. The kiosk does offer lots of customization options -- I removed the sauces and picked from my mini burger.

Lots of customization opions at the kiosk.
The food may be small, but the prices sure aren't. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger slider for $3.99, a flakey chicken slider for $3.29, a cheesy tater tots for $4.49, and a diet pepsi (one side, equivement to a medium) for $2.39. The total cost for this meal, taxes in? A princely $16.00. Definitely more than I would spend at McDonald's, and for less food. I could have saved a bit if I'd ordered a slider trio combo, but still ... and the appeal of the concept is trying lots of different small things.

Swallowing my sticker shock, I sat down to wait for my order. And wait. And wait. Two people were working in the kitchen, which is part of the dining area and visible to diners. They seemed to be cooking each order from scratch, and not working too far ahead. There were only two other dinners in the reasturant, but several Uber Eats drivers did come in to pick up orders.

A diner feel with an open kitchen.
I inquired after 20 minutes or so, and finally, 25 minutes after ordering, my meal came. After all that, the two sliders weren't that hot, as I could see them sitting on the counter waiting while they fried the tater tots.

So finally, lets discuss the food. As I said, could have been hotter. The beef was a touch overdone, but had a good grilled taste with the cheese and bacon. The fried chicken slider was tasty. The tater tots, as befits the price, were not mini at all, but were huge and probably designed to feed a group of people.

Mini food. Not pictured: big bill.
So, in conclusion, decent food and fun concept, but waaaaay over priced and poor service. I don't blame the guys behind the counter -- they needed more help, and maybe better processes to handle the volume, particularly from the food delivery services.

If it lasts that long, I may be back in a few months.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Eating up the Hill: A Newfoundland shed party

Any Atlantic Canada-themed parties are always ones to circle on your Parliamentary reception circuit calendar, so the Newfoundland Shed Party got an early RSVP from me, and drew me up the street to SJAM on a chilly evening instead of retreating to the comfort of my couch.

I didn't stay too long and so I missed the Prime Minister proving his Newfoundland singing chops -- nearly 70 per cent of Telegram readers rated his performance as "Wicked, b'y" -- but I did dig into the food and drink for my faithful readers.

It was rather seafood-heavy, which I'm good with, and my first sampler platter was mini lobster rolls, and a skewer of scallops over some sort of dark grainy risotto.

I enjoyed the appetizer-sized lobster rolls, on proper buns compared to the non-traditional croissant my lobster roll in Halifax was served on. The scallops were fine, but I thought they could have been hotter. The risotto (was it really risotto?) was fine, though unnecesary.

Over to the other side of the room, and I procured a piece of yellow tail flounder and several scallops on toothpicks, in a lemon herb sauce.

These scallps were bigger, better seasoned, and as they were individually placed on the bottom of the heating tray, much hotter and more enjoyable than those on the other side of the room. The flounder was an understated fish, well cooked and, while it could have used a little more seasonng, quite enjoyable.

There was one non-seafood table in the room, from which I procured two rabbit empanadas (I was semi-reluctanly served a second empanada by special request) and a small cup of beef soup with a ravioli.Well, half a ravioli.

The soup and ravioli didnt strike me as anything extraordinary. Beef broth and a few scallions. The ravioli seemed a little undercooked.

The rabbit empanada, however, was delicious, thanks in part to the cream and jam. Mmmm. I could have eaten many more, but I felt I was pressing my luck asking for two the first time.

On the spirits side, gin from The Newfoundland Distillery was the highlighted offering. I'd not really had gin before and don't usualy drink hard liquour without mix, and sometimes you'll get a hard time for mixing. Still, in the spirit of Snoop Dogg, I figured I would ask about sipping on some gin and juice, laid back. They had no juice, but recomended mixing with the locally produced Third Place Tonic. Offered a choice of regular or Seaweed Gin, I decided to go all-out and go with the Seaweed.

I was prepared to not like it at all and abandon it after a sip, but it was surprisingly not bad and I finished it without complaint. It's not something I would order regularly, but gin and tonic can now be added to my list of cocktail possibilities.

And then I went home to my couch.

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Perkins Bakery & Reasturant not worth the trip

When my famly moved back to Canada from a posting in Germany in 1990, we picked up the vehicle in Trenton and drove accoss the continent, through the U.S., to our new home in Comox. Staying in hotels for a week was good fun for a kid, as was having every meal in reasturants. I remember one of those stops was Perkins Bakery & Reasturant, as the cooler mug stayed in the kitchen cabinet for a decade or more. So last weekend, learning there was one accross from the St. Laurent Centre, I decided to check it our for dinner.

It's an American family-style dinner, with all-day breakfast and the usual sabdwiches, burgers and entrees. During my menu pre-scouting I was drawn to the country fried steak, an unhealthy southern classic. Basically, it's a steak, battered and breaded like fried chicken, with a country gravy. Sounds crazy, I know, but I've had it in the U.S. before and it's really quite delish.

So, 45 minutes on the bus later and I'm there, and looking over the menu as a mere formality. Except, what the what, I don't see the country fried steak. Asking the waiter if they have it, he looks at me incredulously, like he cannot imagine such a thing could possibly exist. Disapointed, I settle on the steak medallions with mushrooms, corn and tater tots.

Let me start with the good. The tater tots were crispy and delicious. After previously blogging about pitching tater tot poutine to Parliamentary Food Services, I had been craving tater tots and htis ticked the box. And the corn was good, with the light application of peper adding a certain something.

But those are two sides that are hard to screw up. You don't order a steak dinner for the sides -- you order it for the steak. And this steak simply sucked. I ordered it medium, it was well done -- no pink in evidence. And it was clearly just the lowest possible grade of steak they could buy. Not saying it was tough or grizzly, it just didn't taste good at all. I'm not expecting The Keg here, but they could have done signifigantly better.

So, left with a poor taste in my mouth, I decided to give them a chance for redemption with desert, ordering the Peanut Butter Silk cake.

It was OK, but nothing to write home about. The peanut butter portion of the cake was tasty and so was the choclate base, and I enjoyed it much. But the crust was industrial and bland, detracting from my enjoyment of the rest of the cake.

The reasturant was semi-busy with mainly senior citizen couples, and probably hadn't been renovated since the last time I was at a Perkins in 1990. Despite not being busy, service was spotty -- waiting far too long for a drink refill, with my empty glass perched on the edge of the table, before finally having to flag someone down.

Not worth the price or the trek; won't be back.

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