Saturday, March 25, 2017

Food round-up: Chicken Farmers, Irish buffet and turkey a la king

I've fallen behind in my food blogging, so allow me to catch-up with some quick hits from recent food-related activities.

Chicken Farmers of Canada

This reception at the Chateau Laurier on budget night was actually a joint event by the Chicken, Turkey and Egg Farmers. I didn't know this until informed by an MP on the bus on the way there. I hilariously quipped which event comes first, the Chicken or the Egg? And he shamelessly began using the line as his own. As this is a non-partisan political food blog, I won't name names.

For me, the chicken came first, as I followed the advice of a friend exiting the reception, who told me to enter the room and go "to the left." After chiding him for cultural appropriation, I did just that and joined the line for the chicken station.

On offer were chicken meatballs, chicken sliders and chicken poutine. The sliders were lightly seasoned white chicken on a fresh roll and got the job done. The chicken meatballs were on point. There were different poutine options available but I went with the traditional -- fries, curds and gravy -- which pulled white chicken, of course. I'm not usually a big poutine guy but the fries were thin and crispy, and the chicken made it feel heartier and more interesting than a usual, boring poutine.

After I polished off the Chicken Farmers' finest, I ventured to the opposite corner of the room where the Turkey Farmers were holding shop -- nice to see such collegiality among poultry producers.

Among the offerings were bacon-wrapped turkey, turkey wellington, traditional sliced turkey with gravy and stuffing, and some sort of turkey sausage round.

I was beginning to fade at this point, but did try to power through. First of all, anything wrapped in bacon is amazing, and the hint of bbq sauce was a nice accent. The turkey wellington added a nice bit of bread to a carb-heavy reception. The turkey sausage was a bit dry, while the sliced turkey was good but the stuffing was not the style of stuffing I prefer.

I don't know what the Egg corner had on offer, as I was done for the evening and unable to complete the poultry trifecta. It was an enjoyably meaty evening though.

St. Patrick's Day Irish Buffet

The themed buffets at the Parliamentary Restaurant continued earlier this monthwith their Irish-themed St. Patrick's buffet. I'm 1/4 Irish (I like to say it's my biggest 1/4) so naturally I had to check it out and see if there was anything beyond potatoes.

Well, it was green as the plate shows, from peas (with cheese) and salad to broccoli pasta salad. That was all fined. Their was a meat main attraction -- which I was thankful for as there isn't always -- but I found the corned beef just meh. But I don't really care for corned beef, so maybe it was excellent for corned beef. The Shepard's Pie-stuffed potatoes were something I haven't seen before, although it was an amusing combination of two staples of Irish cuisine. The highlight was the potato cakes which were tasty, although not as tasty as (1/2 Irish) Dad used to make.

Turkey a la King

Tasty comfort food from the Wellington Building cafeteria that warms the insides on a cold winter's day, and the delicious and healthy steamed broccoli almost distracts you from how bad all that turkey gravy is for you. Yum.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: That last one was actually chicken vol-au-vent. It was like two months ago, so forgive me. Other comments stand.

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Saturday, March 04, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Pho Fridays at the Wellington Cafeteria

I've written before about the Made to Order Bar at the swanky new Wellington Building cafeteria. It's omelettes in the morning and alternates between pasta and stir fry at lunch, and is the best thing about the new caf. On Fridays though, the rotation is broken up with made to order Pho. And on this past Friday, I finally had the chance to check it out.

I should mention I'm not a Pho connoisseur. I've long held the position that soup is not a meal, and I've not frequented a lot of Pho cuisine out in the real world -- if I'm going out to eat, I usually want something a bit more substantive. But I was game to give it a try.

Much like the stir fries and pasta, your custom Pho starts with your choice of proteins -- assuming you're not going vegetarian. Shrimp is a new addition to the Made to Order Bar this week -- I'm told there was previously an issue with someone in the office above having a seafood sensitivity but that the ventilation issues have now been resolved -- and chicken and beef were the other choices. I opted for the chicken, and into the pan it went with a some oil and a generous dollop of diced garlic.

There were more than 10 fresh veggie selections, and they're too numerous to mixed. But mushrooms, lettuce, sprouts, green onions, peppers, broccoli and onions were among those that went into my Pho. Possibly more vegetables than I usually eat in a week...kidding...a bit.

After having a chance to saute and meld together, it goes into a bowl of noodles and is topped with your choice of a vegetable or chicken broth. I naturally went with the chicken, and took the creation to a table to dig in.

The result was a flavorful bowl of deliciousness. The fresh veggies were excellent and crisp. The chicken was a bit dry, as I usually find their chicken to be -- when I do the stir fry I usually do the beef, and the pasta with sausage. The broth was tasty; the noodles didn't seem to integrate well with everything else.

It was a tasty lunch, but I left still somewhat hungry. Soup is good, but it's still not a meal.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Finally a brunch that's more lunch than breakfast

As faithful readers will know, I'm a regular at the Parliamentary Restaurant's now near-weekly (they need the revenue, I think) open to the masses Friday buffet brunches. And if I have one regular complaint, it's that these brunches are often more breakfast than lunch. And for me, that's an issue. I'm a lunch guy.

I don't like eggs, so that eliminates like 80+ per cent of the more exciting or even standard breakfast options. Rather than an all-day breakfast, I'd be excited about all-day lunch. That's why I liked breakfasting at Denny's while travelling -- I can order off the full menu in the morning, I'll eat pancakes if I have to, or french toast in a pinch. But when it's going on noon, show me the lunch.

Always start with salad.
So I was quite pleased when, not only did the Parliamentary Restaurant offer a "Fire and Ice" buffet on my birthday a few weeks back, they broke with the usual tradition and offered a more lunchy, meatier fare.

The highlight was definitely the buffalo chicken wings. Now, I like me some chicken wings. The best I've ever had are definitely Duff's Famous Wings, which has several Greater Toronto locations. Nothing in Ottawa compares (am open to suggestions). The Hill cafeterias have wings in their regular menu rotation -- they are crap and should be avoided. So I was pleasantly surprised these were a different wing all together. A bit of crisp and not overly saucy, but flavourful and cooked right -- I ate many.

Unlimited chicken wings = unlimited awesome.
I passed on the chili because chili without beef is ridiculous. The spicy beef and vegetable stir fry wasn't particularly spicy or saucy, but it broke up the rounds of chicken wings.  The cheese and bacon scones were fine, but I really enjoyed the grilled pineapple sprinkled with cinnamon. I like me some pineapple.

Chili without beef? What is this, Soviet Russia?

Just a meh stir fry. 
The deserts were hit or miss. Fried dough with cinnamon sugar? Stale. Chocolate-chili cupcakes? Holy crap those were delish.

Chocolate-chili cupcakes? If only I hadn't of had so many chicken wings.

Did't sample the baked apples but I applaud the concept. Fried dough was stale.
Really though, this buffet for me was all about the chicken wings. Have those every week and it's winner winner chicken dinner.

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Saturday, February 04, 2017

Eating Up the Hill: The #AlternativeFacts Taste of British Columbia at the Parliamentary Restaurant

Every couple of Fridays, The Parliamentary Restaurant allows the unwashed staffer masses inside for a buffet. And when I heard that last Friday's buffet menu was "Flavours of Canada: British Columbia" I, as a BCer, was obligated to make the trek up the Hill.

This is the second in what I surmise will be an ongoing series of provincial-themed menus -- you may recall the Taste of Newfoundland (but not Labrador) a little while back. I didn't have the authority to comment on the authenticity of that one, but as a BCer in Ottawa, I can definitely say this was not the flavour of my British Columbia.

Let's take a look at the menu. Curried veggie noddle salad? OK, we do have a large Indian population so that's a nod in the right direction. House-made granola? Now you're trafficking in stereotypes. Sushi? OK, I'll give you that one -- although you can't say California Rolls without California.

Most of the breakfast stuff is just standard breakfast stuff. Pancakes aren't particularly British Columbian. And putting smoked salmon on the eggs benny isn't really trying too hard.

Perhaps the closest to BC cuisine was the "side stripe prawn and oats, risotto style" which was delicious, even if I've never had it on the left coast.  And the Huckleberry Crisp was a good nod to the Okanagan, even though it had the consistency of soup. As for the cinnamon sticky buns, which I enjoyed, while I do have find childhood memories of the Aunt Bob's Cinnamon Rolls at the Driftwood Mall, we also had A&W in BC and that doesn't make it the flavour of BC.

If it was just a buffet without aspirations of reflecting regional cuisine, I'd give it a 6/10 -- where was the metaphorical beef, y'all? But as it was supposed to reflect the cuisine of the greatest province the grace of God put on the face of the Earth -- and failed badly -- it merits just 3/10.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Made to order pasta in the new Wellington cafeteria

After much anticipation, the cafeteria in the newly renovated Wellington Building opened its doors to the Parliamentary public last week. They had actually been open earlier getting ready and testing appliances and what not -- I offered my taste-testing services but, sadly, the offer was declined.

It was worth the wait though. Bright and airy, with big windows bringing lots of natural light in as well as views of Bank and Wellington streets, there is plenty of seating in the new cafeteria with a mixture of open tables and comfy booths. It was actually pretty busy for lunch much of the week, but I'm sure the novelty will wear off as people try it out and return to their own buildings.

Wellington seems designed to replace the old East Block cafeteria which, I vaguely recall from my last Hill stint well more than a decade ago, was the go-to Hill caf offering more than the standard fare. Wellington has several things you won't find in the regular caf -- for example, pizza slices every lunch hour, and a made to order omelette bar during breakfast.

During lunch, that made to order bar will be alternating between pasta and stir fries and, on Fridays, Pho. I'm looking forward to Pho-Fridays. And to sampling the stir fry. But this week, I ended up trying out a made to order pasta dish.

 Now savvy hill diners will know made to order pasta isn't exactly new to the Hill. It's long been a staple in the Centre Block caf, but only in the afternoon during sittings, after the lunch service. Pierre Poilievre is such a regular that the pasta maker knows his standing order by heart -- I offered to let him pass me in the pasta line one day, but he graciously declined.

Now, however, made to order pasta will be a regular option in the Wellington cafeteria on alternating days, so I'm looking forward to having it more regularly -- even if it does take a little time.

There were quite a few protein options available -- I opted for sausage, but chicken and bacon were also available. Quite a few veggies too -- mushrooms, cucumbers (what? -.ed), red onions, green onions, bell peppers. Do I want garlic? Of course I want garlic, good sir. It can be finished with a meat sauce, a red sauce, pesto -- I went with roseta. Or is it roset? Google is failing me. Red sauce with cream.

If I have one note here, it would be to offer more variety in pasta selection. With all the choices in veggies and proteins, there was only one pasta on offer -- penne. Penne is a very overpowering pasta which is not usually my first choice. It would be great if they had a second, more subtle choice, like shells or spaghetti.

Still, a hearty and satisfying lunch. Looking forward to the return of Parliament next week, and to stir fry and pho.

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