Saturday, June 15, 2019

Eating up the Hill: The Buffet is back, but no, not really at all, actually

Like most Hill dwellers, I was a big fan of the semi-weekly Friday buffets at the old Parliamentary Dining Room in Centre Block. A long table filled with sumptuous salads, meaty entrees, and sinfully sweet deserts, all for an affordable $20 or so. So I was sad to break the news some months back that, due to space constraints in the new location in West Block, the buffet would be no more

So it was with some joy that I greeted the adverts that began appearing on the Hill a few months back heralding the return of the Friday buffet -- with a decidedly egg-heavy brunchy menu -- but a buffet nonetheless. My dining companions couldn't synch our calendars until yesterday, the last brunch of the 42nd Parliament -- but with excitement we journeyed to West Block to participate in the return of the infamous buffet.

Settled into our seats, we surveyed the dining room and saw one small circular table containing several bowls of salad, a fruit tray, and a selection of cheeses and crackers. "It's that it?" we wondered. "Where's the beef." At our place settings we found a menu that described the salads, and listed several entrees and deserts, which we couldn't find on any nearby tables.

After beginning with a salad round (plated below) I enquired with one of the servers what the dealio was. He explained that the salad was help yourself, and the you could select and order one entree and one desert. "Only one?" I asked forlornly. "Yes, just one," he confirmed.

As I swallowed my disappointment, we proceeded to discuss buffet logistics. He noted a large buffet table in the small restaurant would cost a third of their already limited seating capacity. I asked if they had considered booking one of the committee rooms across the hall -- unused on Fridays, or the foyer in front of the rooms to place buffet stations. I was told they were looking into those options, but as it would involve diners crossing a sometimes high-traffic hallway, security was raising concerns and would, in the end, have the final say. I would say the chances of it happening are faint.

So, not being a big egg guy, and, while I would have liked the beans as a side, I opted for the short rib poutine. I'm not a big fry person, but it was really the only feasible non-egg option. 

It was OK. The gravy was rich, the beef was rather clumped together, the cheese curds excellent, the fries uninspired. I left some fries uneaten not because I was full, but just because they were meh.

My colleagues all had the crab cakes eggs benedict and pronounced it excellent. In a buffet scenario I would have had a few of the crab cakes as well, leaving the extra eggs for egg lovers that followed in the buffet line. Sadly, that was not to be.

On to desert, which sounded delicious based on the description. Sadly, it disappointed as well. I should have gone with the crepes. I expected it to be served hot, but it was cold to lukewarm. The pastry or whatever you was to call it was spongy, the cream filling bland, and it was swimming in not particularly tasty chocolate sauce. I ate one of the three before deciding this wasn't a good use of the calories I was surely expending here, and I stopped.

So, sadly, no, this was not the heralded return of the famed Parliamentary Buffet. Baring an unlikely change of heart by security, that will need to wait 10-15 years for the re-opening of Centre Block. At best, this is a prix fixe with a small salad bar. Which can be OK in it's own right, but is not the buffet I was expecting. I may return with the correct mindset, but I would like meatier, more substantive entree options to make it worthwhile.

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Eating up the Hill: Prime Ministerial lamb chops

As the clock winds down on the 42nd Parliament, it's reception and garden party season in Ottawa. And on Wednesday, Liberal staffers gathered at 24 Sussex for a garden party hosted by Prime Minister Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau at his childhood home.

Last year the party fell on a damp day, but this year it was a perfect summer evening -- sunny, and not too warm, so everyone didn't need to congregate under the tent.

I counted four food stations not counting desert, although I didn't sample everything and only got a couple of photos. So let me run you through the menu.

I passed on the deep-fried cauliflower, for example. Seems to be on trend these days, but no thank you. I also heard tell of deep fried bison bites, but did not find the source of said bites. I also heard mixed reviews.

A Syrian caterer was back with falafel and what they called Syrian pizza; I sampled the latter after a very long line. It was a folded piece of roti (made on site) with cheese and veggies inside. Very tasty; I would have liked more.

I did manage to get a photo of the grilled chicken taco, served with a lime wedge. Very tasty, the grilled chicken was very flavourful and not dried out.

But my absolute favourite was the tandoori lamb chops. While  I came through the line at this station, there was a manager or someone insisting that everyone be given two, for which I was grateful as they were so good. Juicy and flavourful, served with a bit of slaw. The diced peanuts drizzled over the chops added a very complementary texture and flavour.

I heard from a few people that lamb chop-related mishaps are leading to dry cleaning bills; luckily, I managed to escape unscathed.

These lamb chops were the real change this garden party needed.

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Eating off the Hill: Berlin streetfood comes to Ottawa with Wolf Down

Ottawa is the town where shawarma is king. Don't believe me? We have Shawarma King and Shawarma's King within a few blocks of each other -- yes, two different reasturants. Ottawa has a new challenger though for meat sandwich supremacy -- ironically, nearly across the street from Shawarma King -- and it's straight out of Berlin: Wolf Down.

Located at 380 Bank Street (and James) in Centreton, this new start-up is dedicated to one dish, and it's classic Berlin street food: the döner sandwich. You can also have it in salad form, should you for some reason choose to. You can choose your protein:  chicken, beef or tofu; your veggies: lettuce, cucumber, tomato, onion and cabbage; and your sauce: secret (a mayo herb combo, basically) or spicy. But that's about it; other than your drink, that's the menu.

I've been to Berlin twice in my 40-ish years, and it's a great city. And I have fond memories of what I recall as the döner kebab. Brought to Berlin by Turkish migrant workers, this quick and easy lunch soon took the city by storm. My first trip to Berlin was in 1994, as part of a three-month exchange stay in Germany during high school. The German government took the Canadian students to Berlin for a few days and, after a morning of touring, would drop us off somewhere central and peel us each off a 10 (was it euros or marks in 1994?) to go find lunch on our own. I remember always buying a doner kebab from a truck for 5 and turning a nice profit on the meal.

My next trip to Berlin was as part of a work conference with German software company IDS Scheer (no relation, I don't think) in 2008 and, that trip, I was all about the currywurst: chopped sausage mixed in a curry ketchup. So good.

But back to Wolf Down. While it will set you back $11 instead of $5 (granted, some inflation in 25 years is inevitable), it's still pretty good value that will leave you satisfied. The Art-Is-In Bakery sesame-crusted bread has a nice chew, the veggies are fresh and plentiful, and the meat (I had the beef) is well-seasoned. It's another take on the donair, familiar to Halogonians -- same meat, different veggies and bread. And, important for me, a different sauce -- I'm not a fan of the sweet donair sauce.

The feel of the reasturant is industrial, and it's wide-open -- but with limited seating. There's certainly space for a few more tables to be added, and it was pretty busy on this second day of opening, as the Ottawa rain chased people inside. Ordering is quick but prep takes a little while. And, something I didn't see on the web site -- they're cashless.

Also of note, my bottle of water came in a little Wolf Down cozy. I don't know if I was meant to keep it; I left it on the counter just in case. But a cute touch.

I enjoyed my sandwich, and will likely be a regular, particularly as it's two blocks from my condo. A welcome, and healthier feeling, alternative to the ubiqutous Ottawa shawarma. I would like to see them expand on the Berlin theme though, and, if they decide to add a second menu item, please make it currywurst. Then you'd never get be out of there...

An industrial vibe.

A close-up before I began wolfing it down.
Veggies are great, but I love the point when you're down to mostly delicious beefy goodness.

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Sunday, February 03, 2019

Eating off the Hill: Wild Pacific sockeye salmon at Avenue Bistro in Comox

I mentioned in my last review that the last time I had risotto, it wasn't that great. However, the salmon was excellent, which brings me to my post-Christmas dinner at Avenue Bistro in Comox, when I was back in British Columbia for the holidays.

Formerly the Jolly Giant convenience store, the space on Comox Avenue has been renovated and remodelled to house this reasturant, which spcializes in locally-sourced ingredients. Love the concept, but they didn't execute it as well with ingredient explinations on the meny as they did at 10 Acres.

Anyeay, there have been a lot of cool new reasturants popping up in the Comox Valley since my younger days, and I try to visit one each time I'm back.

I'm all about the seafood when I'm back in BC -- nearer the source, after all -- and while they probably don't buy their fish at the wharf, Avenue Bistro is just a few blocks down from where the fisherman sell their catch  in Comox. So, seafood was on the menu for me.

I began with the seafood chowder, which was generously stocked with house-smoked wild sockeye salmon, shrimp, cod, mussels with freshly-baked focaccia bread. Mmm, delish. A flavourful broth with sooo much delicious seafood. I hate when they serve you a thin broth where you have to search for the seafood and they use potato as filler. Definitely not the case here, so good.

Sadly, I can't be as effusive with my praise of the entree. I ordered the Wild Pacific sockeye salmon with risotto verde, roasted veggies fennel tomato relish and beet straw garnish.

First, the good. The salmon was delicious and cooked perfectly. Wild really does taste better, and Pacific salmon is the best salmon. The roasted veggies were tasty. But I did not care for the fennel tomato relish, just not to my taste.

And the risotto verde? Never again. There was a very strong taste -- maybe cilantro? -- that just did not agree with me. I love risotto, but whatever this overpowering ingredient was just ruined it for me.When I had my leftovers for lunch the next day, I added a generous helping of cheese to the risotto to cover the taste.

A welcome addition to the Comox Valley dining scene, but if you don't like cilantro, or whatever it was, avoid the risotto verde.

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Saturday, February 02, 2019

Eating off the Hill: Come to the Canadian Club for the economy discussion, stay for the baked salmon

My friend Danielle had an extra ticket for a Canadian Club luncheon last week and, knowing I'm someone who tries to luncheon on a daily basis, she invited me along. It was a snowy day, but lunch awaited so off to the Chateau Laurier I went.

The discussion was on the economy, moderated by Canadian Twitter celebrity economist Mike Moffat. Jobs, trade, housing affordability, policy, all were topics of discussion. But come on, this is a food blog. I know what you're here for.

We began with a perfectly servicable salad. Leaf mixed greens, shaved carrots, and so forth. I've come to embrace the trend of salads with nuts -- adds a nice bit of texture and makes it seem more substantial -- the pecans included with this salad were a welcome touch.

As we discussed the West Block renovation we moved on to the main course, baked salmon with a cream sauce on asparagus risotto, with perhaps a few pieces of turnip or something similar. The risotto was a marked improvement over the last time I had risotto (which I realize I still need to report on, so, spoiler alert I guess), and the combination of the salmon (a known brain food) and the deep discussion of trade policy meant I left the room feeling slightly smarter than when I had entered.

The highlight of ths lemon cake was the mixed berry compote, which says something right there. The cake itself was dry, not particulatly lemony and, while the photo doesn't show it well, unnaturally yellow. Still, I tried to finish most of it in the interests of science before Ubering back down Wellington Street.

Oh, and the economy will either be great, bad, or ok. We'll see.

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