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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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Flavours of Canada (Atlantic) buffet

I've missed the last few fancy buffets at the Parliamentary Restaurant, including the buffet meant to welcome the arrival of spring -- probably appropriate, as spring has yet to actually arrive in Ottawa. Still, when an Atlantic Canada theme was offered up last Friday as part of the restaurant's Flavours of Canada series a visit was definitely in order.

As an Atlantic buffet there was definitely a heavy seafood component, so with unanimous consent I waived my usual no seafood unless I can smell saltwater rule and dug in.

Beginning with the salad table, I wearily eyed the Ice Shrimp Salad but decided to pile some on, along with some macaroni salad -- passed on the marinated mussels. The macaroni salad was standard reliable fare but the Ice Shrimp Salad was a pleasant surprise -- better quality shrimp them I've had in some time.

Next up were some cheese and crackers -- standard Hill fare but I was glad to see my favourite rye cranberry crips were back -- they don't make an appearance at every buffet. In fact, sometimes they don't put out any crackers at all to accompany the cheese. While they're always happy to bring crackers on request, which I appreciate, the crackers are more of a must than a nice to have.

I passed on the Scotch Eggs because I don't like eggs. This was a very eggy buffet -- Atlantic Canadians must love their eggs -- as I had to puck egg chunks out of the macaroni salad too. I passed on the Cheddar Cheese Quiche for the same reason. Often, I can do the quiche if it's a crispy quiche, but this was a particularly eggy quiche.

Which was OK, because it meant more space for the Glasgow Glen Peppercorn Gouda Mac and Cheese. It was delicious, and I had several helpings which left me wishing an afternoon nap was possible. Now, the waiter teased us by saying it was lobster mac and cheese which, along with being culturally appropriate, would have been freaking awesome. The cook quickly corrected him though. Maybe next time.

And capping off the entree round was Baked Nova Scotia Salmon with egg sauce. After inquires were made, this was confirmed to be farmed Atlantic salmon. While I am, of course, fiercely loyal to wild BC salmon, in the interests of diplomacy I still partook -- after all, fish is brain food and these are challenging times. It was good, but salmon should still be grilled -- after bring caught in the wild in British Columbia.

For desert, already fighting the urge to nap after a mac and cheese overdose, I limited myself to a slie of Haskap Berry Pie. It was good; an appropriate palate cleanser.

An enjoyable lunch, and it was food to see the dining room packed more than usual. But next time, less eggs, more meat please.

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Saturday, May 06, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Stick with the egg rolls at the Golden Palace

At Carling and Woodroffe, the Golden Palace Restaurant is well outside the radius I usually stick to for my Parliament Hill-adjacent food blogging. But their egg rolls are an Ottawa institution, so consider them as a constituency week, extended-lunch if you're driving option.

I first had the Golden Palace egg rolls at a Senators game, where you get two very meaty egg rolls cut in half with some plum sauce for somewhere north of $7. Not great value but hey, it's a sports stadium -- everything is marked up. They've since expanded their sports egg roll empire to the Air Canada Centre and the Bell Centre in Montreal, so there must be something to it. I do enjoy them, and it's a pleasant change from the usual stadium fare of hot dogs and chicken fingers with fries.

Momentary divergence with a plea for sports stadium food services decision makers -- knock a dollar of the price and sell me the chicken fingers without the fries, please. I'd pull the trigger more often.

Anyway, when various unimportant reasons brought me out to Carlingwood Mall on a day off last week, I decided to stop in to the restaurant that laucnhed this sports egg roll empire: the Golden Palace.

It's a nondescript restaurant in a commercial strip, and inside is a good size with stereotypical decor and tiling out of the sixties. There is a decent-size line of people waiting for take-out egg rolls, and I move past them and am invited to take a table. It's about half-full for the Thursday lunch hour, a mix of working people and seniors.

I peruse the menu and decide it's fairly clear they don't really cater to the lunch crowd. No separate menu for the lunch hour, just the same entrees as for dinner, all priced well north of $10. For someone looking for some variety (a meat, a veggie, some rice) the only option is to turn to the dinners for one, of which there are only two to choose from:

A. Won ton soup, egg roll, chicken chow mein, sweet and sour spare ribs, steamed rice, almond cookie; or
B. Won ton soup, egg roll, chicken chow mein, BBQ spare ribs, chicken fried rice, almond cookie.

Not the choices I would make if I had to choose, but not wanting to see how much they would ding me for substitutions I decide to pay the extra $1.80 for the fancier rice and get option for B for $21.80, and add another egg roll for $1.90.

The soup came first. The good was the won tons, nice and meaty. But the large slices of celery were more suited for a ranch dip than a soup, and the broth wasn't particularly flavourful.

The egg rolls didn't disappoint. Perfectly cooked to a golden crispy crisp, filled with meaty goodness. The house made plum sauce was watery and lacking punch, but I really should have just ordered a half dozen egg rolls and had that for my lunch. Deliciousness.

What to say about the mains? Well, there was a lot of each dish (excluding the ribs), so that's something. Although for a $20 lunch, there should be. Let's dispense with the ribs: not good. Overcooked, low quality meat, uninspired sauce. As for the chow mein and rice, it was decent with an acceptable amount of chicken breast in each. But they were just meh -- I've had much better Chinese in Ottawa.

And the end of the day, will I come back to Golden Palace? Probably. But only for the egg rolls. They are divine. The rest isn't worth the trip.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Eating up the Hill: These fish tacos were a mess

Fish tacos have been on the parliamentary cafeteria menu for some time, but it never really occurred to me to order them until, while in line one day at the made to order stir fry station, I noticed one pan was being used to fry to order two fillets of fish, which were then moved from the pan into two waiting taco shells. So, the next day, I returned.

Each tilapia fillet is freeze-packed individually and cooked fresh with each fish taco order. The pliable corn tortilla shells are toasted into a hard-ish taco shell form over the stove, and then filled with the cooked fish and topped with slaw and chipotle sauce and two lemon wedges. I think it came to something like $6 for the two, which is more than reasonable.

Taking the fish tacos to my table with a side of chips and two glasses of water (have now gone 15 days without a Diet Coke, as of this post) I begin to dig in. First bite I'm thinking hmm, this is good, slaw tastes crispy and I like the flavour the lemon adds, but no fish yet. On to bite two...and the shell loses structural integrity, the contents having soaked through and fallen out the bottom and left my hands a mess. Trying to protect my shirt, I attempt to eat it as elegantly as possible and begin to regret not getting utensils.

These fish tacos were almost pretty good. The fish isn't overly fishy -- I dislike fishy fish -- but could have used some seasoning -- a little pepper would have gone a long way. The slaw is good and the chipotle and lemon make for a pleasing flavour profile. But you've got to maintain structural integrity. 

I'd suggest they revamp this dish with soft shells and they may just have something.

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