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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Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Eating up the Hill: Anthony's on Bank

The need to go to the Glebe after work one day last week to stock up on furnace filters (it's called adulting, people) led me to decide to make an outing of it and try the wood oven pizza from Anthony's on Bank, a spinoff of the more trendily located Anthony's on Wellington. According to some rando Food Network guy it's one of the top 12 pizzas worth travelling for in Canada. That seems like a suspicious number, but what the heck. I do like a good napoletana pizza.

It's not a huge place, but it wasn't difficult to get a table in the midweek early dinner hour. The wood oven is visible from the tables -- unless, like me, you had your back to it. Not a fancy place, but clean and nice enough.

It's a tight menu with six red pizza options and three white, plus a few miscellaneous items. I debated having the appy meatballs as a side, but decided to focus on pizza. Typical Italian fare, and light on meat. I opted for the Gianni, which came with mozza, fior di latte, ricotta, hot salami and olive oil. Basically, three kinds of cheese, and salami.

The pizza came perfectly toasted and crispy. The salami was in good quantity, but I wouldn't have minded it more dispersed rather than four large slices. I enjoyed the different textures of the cheeses, and it was all a very tasty combination of flavours with a nice thin crust. I didn't care for the provided oil I dipped my crusts in; it was a bit too petroleum-y for my taste.

I'll be back in the future when I have an authentic pizza craving, and may try the meatballs too.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Donairs and seafood in Halifax

Spending a few days in Halifax last weekend for the Liberal biennial convention, I decided to make the most of my limited outside meal opportunities by focusing on the local specialty -- the Donair -- and the proximity of the ocean to eat as much seafood as possible. The nearer I am to saltwater, the more fish and seafood I eat.

My first seafood meal came not long after arriving in town late Thursday evening, as I wandered down to Stayner's Wharf in search of what my grandfather always told me was brain food. I had expected a more extensive seafood selection, but settled on the Cajun haddock with pineapple salsa. It came with rice with black beans & tri-coloured bell peppers. I don't care for beans so the rice didn't do much for me, but the haddock was excellent. The cajun spice was spicier than I expected but no complaints from me, and the pineapple salsa was a nice tough. Alas, in my hunger I neglected to snap a photo.

While box lunches were on offer Friday in the Laurier Lounge at the convention, I opted to order in from Tony's Donair and Pizza. One regular (medium) donair, and three donair egg rolls with donair dipping sauce (two were for a friend).

I'll begin with the egg rolls. While the meat was good, the dough was too chewy to be enjoyable and I found the sweetness of the donair sauce a bit much when dipped with an egg roll -- it's better dispersed at a lower ratio in a donair.

Moving on to the donair, my only negative note is too much chopped raw white onion, bunched up together -- it distracted from the experience. The meat was tender, succulent and tasty, the pita fresh. And there was tomato for variety. It was a lot of meat for a medium, and after the egg roll was more than I could eat. Will hold the onions next time and it will be perfect.

Usually when I visit a steakhouse, the steak is mandatory. But after afternoon appies in the Laurier Lounge and Peace by Chocolate at the Judy Party, when I joined friends at The Barrington Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, I opted to go for something a little lighter -- the Lobster Mac & Cheese. Hey, in my mind it's lighter.

It was truly delicious. Decent amount of cooked lobster, actual elbow macaroni (restaurants putting mac & cheese on the menu but actually serving penne or some damned thing is a long-running pet peeve), creamy cheesy goodness, piping hot, bread crumbs, mmm delish. It was the steak of pastas.

On Saturday for lunch, rather than trying for donair delivery or venturing to one of the recommended donair shops (all a taxi drive away) I decided to go to an establishment a block away: Johnny K's Authentic Donair. After Tony's the day before, I immediately regretted not sticking to the recommended options (King of Donair was next on the list).

The regular (medium) was smaller than the Tony's regular. While I held the onions which was great, it's all about the meat and the meat just did not hold up to Tony's. There was enough of it, but I found it processed-tasting, lacking in flavour and a bit dry. In the Ottawa shawarma world, we've long known too many places will try to compensate for dry meat with more sauce. In a good shawarma, you don't need to go heavy on the sauce when you have tender, succulent seasoned meat that can be the star. I think the same holds true with donair.

Speaking of which, with shawarma I always go for the garlic sauce over the sweet, and the sweet donairs served to confirm this choice for me.

For dinner, after the Prime Minister's speech I met a friend down the street at The Five Fisherman, where they had a more extensive seafood selection than Stayner's.

I began with the Nova Scotia seafood chowder, and it was the best chowder I've had in recent memory. Creamy and packed with quality fresh seafood. Tasted home made and not processed. Flavourful broth, chunky scallops. shrimp, clam, mussels and scallops -- the in-shell clam was a nice touch. A chowder I would fight to make sure you say it right -- chowdah!

Next up for the main was more haddock -- they like their haddock in Halifax. So did I, though. I cannot find the menu description online, but it was a delicious creamy sauce with plenty of haddock and fresh veggies. Delish.

Going for a walk behind my hotel in the evening I came across a desert place specializing in cheesecake, called the Sweet Hereafter Cheesecakery. They had me at cheesecake. My slice of chocolate peanut butter cheesecake could have used more peanut butter, but it was sinfully rich and, washed down with a tall glass of cold milk it was a great cap to the evening.

Finally, on Sunday, after touring the excellent Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21 and walking along the waterfront, and discovering King of Donair doesn't open until too late for me to get my shuttle and taking a taxi to Pizza Corner seemed an unjustifiable expense, I turned to Google for Lobster Roll recommendations and kept walking down the wharf -- making sure to step out onto a pier for authenticity's sake before taking the obligatory Barret's-themed photo -- to visit Salty's.

Yeah, so I was told we'd cruise the seas for American gold?
Its waterfront location offered a great view, but I got a bit of a tourist trap vibe I didn't get from my other seafood stops. Still, after inquiring of the market price I went ahead and ordered the lobster roll.

It came on a croissant, which doesn't seem traditional though it was a tasty pastry. I was not impressed with the paltry amount of lobster I got, maybe half of what I had at Barrington's for roughly the same price. It was tasty, but not great value. The salad was a standout, highlighted by the stewed red peppers and a tasty raspberry vinaigrette.

Knowing that this wouldn't hold me until a late dinner back in Ottawa though, part way through the main I ordered a seafood chowder. It was disappointing after the amazing chowder at Five Fishermen the night before. Bland broth, filler potato, not enough seafood. There were two shrimps, but otherwise it tasted generic and processed.

And with that, my meals were at an end. Farewell to Nova Scotia!

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Saturday, April 07, 2018

Eating in the Dominican: Oregano Dominican Fusion

I’m well outside my usual food blogging radius, currently spending a week at the Emotions Playa Dorada resort in the Dominican Republic, but there has been some interest in some food blogging from these warmer climes. So I shall attempt to indulge, as far as my packed vacation schedule (sitting by the pool, and then sitting on the beach), as well as my patience typing on an iPad permits.

There are several a la carte reasturants on the resort and no reservations are required, which is a nice change from other places. Last night I had dinner at Oregano Dominican Fusion, to sample the local cuisine. I’m told that Dominican cuisine is highly influenced by the immigrants that have reached its shores, and has Creole him characteristics with African, Spanish and Taino influences. Also, they apparently use lots of Oregano and this is what makes them so happy or something.

After ordering my three courses, they brought me a courtesy appetizer plate of mini empanadas, cheese balls, and some sort of croquette I was unable to place, with a lukewarm tomato soup for dipping. I liked the empanadas.

I began with an an an appetizer, described as a “long pork sausage with guava berry honey, aged rum and mashed yucca.” I have to admit I was expecting a little more sausage than the three little pieces I was served. As I would come to see though, they were serious about their plating. The sausage itself was tasty, with hints of Oregano, unsurprisingly. I could not detect the subtle flavours of guava and rum promised in the description of the sticky, syrupy sauce, but it was fine.

On to the main, and over several options I went with the “beef fillet with demiglace flambeed with mamajuana and accompanied with a sweet potato soufflĂ©.” The need was cooked to medium as ordered and was deliciously tender. I couldn’t get much out of the sauce other than an acceptable beef jus, and the vegetables were all cooked properly. It was enjoyable, and filled me up.

Thankfully, dessert was as small as the appetizer, so I had room left. I had ordered the “Dominican Fusion” and was presented three little spoons of direct pudding-type things. One was a rice pudding, the other had a corn base, and the third was a dulce de Leone. The ride pudding was passable, the corn one was a nice change as I cannot say I’ve had many corn-based desserts, and the caramel-y dulce was tasty too.

Tonight, either Mexican or Italian.

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