Thursday, October 12, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Lasagna at Cafe Colonade

It's my own fault, really. Cafe Colonade is renowned for having some of the best pizza in Ottawa. So when I found myself there for dinner a little while back, I had to go and order the lasagna.

You have to be in the mood for pizza. I just wasn't in a pizza mood that night. And while I don't often order pasta at restaurants -- doesn't always feel like it's good value -- I was hankering for a hearty, warm the insides slab of meaty lasagna.

The bread course was a warning sign for me. Now, I know that not everyone bakes their own rolls in-house. Hardly anyone does, I'm sure. But is it too much to ask that you pretend that you do? Lie to me a little, I'm saying. Take the bun out of the plastic, warm it a smidge and put it in a basket or something. Maybe put the butter in one of those little butter thingies. A little effort is all I'm asking.

The Caesar salad was fine. I liked the garlicky dressing. But powdered Parmesan and no bacon? Again, they could try just a little harder, it seems like.

On to the main event. My first thought was mmm, cheesy. My second thought was, why is there meat sauce on the side? As I dug in, I discovered it's on the side because it's not on the inside. Is this lasagna deconstructed or something? Did they run out of meat lasagna, and give me a slice of veggie with meat sauce on the side? I dunno. But it was awkward to try to reconstruct my lasagna on the go. Maybe this is how they do it in Italy?

Next time, I'll have the pizza.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Eating up the Hill: A hike to Hintonburger

I don't try to be negative when I do these reviews. I'm generally a pretty easy person to please, cuisine wise. But as I catch up on my food blogging, it seems I had a number of underwhelming meals in a row this summer. Today's entry is an unnecessarily pricey Hintonburger.

During my stay-cation this summer I decided to venture out on transit to some of the spots I'd heard about, but aren't in my usual neighborhood. I'd heard much about the burgers at Hintonburger -- best in Ottawa, they say -- so one weekday I grabbed my Presto Card and began the trip to the trendy Hintonburg neighbourhood. It's somewhat Queen-Westish but less pretentious.

Hintonburger certainly isn't a fancy place, but that's a plus. It was pretty quiet though, with not many customers on this weekday afternoon. It being a nice summer day, I placed my order and was told they'd bring it to me on the picnic tables outside.

I got the Hintonburger combo, which is a six ounce patty with bacon,cheese and BBQ sauce, as well as fries and a can of pop for $15.50. With the $2 fee to upgrade my fries to onion rings, it rang in at $17.50 before tax and tip.

So let's call it $20.

For a burger, onion rings and a can of pop.

That's insane.

The burger was good. Patty was a bit small, but it tasted good. Crispy bacon. Good bun. Onion rings were excellent. Pepsi instead of Coke, but whatevs.

But $20?

Not sure they'd even try that in Queen West.

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Sunday, October 08, 2017

Eating up the Hill: Hunter Schnitzel at Bier Markt

Down the block from the office on Sparks Street is a franchise of Bier Markt, which I would probably visit more often if I liked beer. But I don't. Sometimes, however, duty calls, particularly during patio season, and I visit this Belgian-inspired restaurant. And I'll just say, there's a reason they don't call it Food Markt.

I'm sure the beer is great. Lots of varieties of beer. Dark beer. Light beer. Micro this, macro that. I don't know. Like I said, I don't like beer. I do like food though, and Bier Markt always leaves be underwhelmed.

It's not that the food is bad, necessarily. It's well prepared. It's just that it's both pricey, and limited in variety. I always seem to be left with just a few reasonable possibilities, and it often comes down to the schnitzel.

Now I lived in Germany for four years, and went back for another three months on exchange during high school, so I love my German food. Jaeger Schnitzel with Spaetzle was my go-to when the family went out for dinner. I remember my Cola Light used to cost more than my Dad's beer, but that's Germany for you.

They do an approximation of this at Bier Market, but it's not quite right. Maybe the Belgian version is a bit different, I don't know.

You start by choosing your schnitzel, chicken or pork. Pork is the more authentic choice, but either is fine. You can choose two sides from a list that includes fries, fingerling potatoes, Emmental cheese spaetzle, mashed potatoes, cabbage or market veggies. Not sure how authentic a choice mashed potatoes is, but the rest are reasonable. I go for the spaetzle and the market veggies.

Finally, you can choose your sauce. Or go sauceless, I suppose, but that would just be weird. A squeeze from a lemon wedge is an authentic choice, which I guess inspired the Capers and Lemon option. Tomato Jam does not seem German or Belgian to me, but Stout Pan Gravy would work. I go for the Hunter Sauce through, expecting the mushroomy Jaeger Sauce of my youth.

Instead, it's more like a mushroom gravy without the mushrooms. There are onions and cherry tomatoes (I don't recall the latter from schnitzels gone by) but no mushrooms. It's in enough quantity to complement the well-prepared and crispy cutlet, but the lack of mushrooms is a glaring omission.

On to the sides. The market veg is market veg. It's fine. It's vegetables, They're cooked properly. Besides whatever nutrients, it's less carbs to put me to sleep two hours later.

As for the spaetzle, it's fine, but it's nothing at all like what I remember. They sometimes have spaetzle in the Parliamentary Restaurant too, and it's also made like this. Small pieces of noodle instead of the long, stringy, more spaghetti-like formations I recall from Germany. Do they do it differently in Belgium? I never really experienced Belgian cuisine. I think we stopped for breakfast once on our way to catch a ferry in Holland, but that's about it.

Anyway, filling if pricey at $24, and tasty enough if not particularly authentic.

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Saturday, October 07, 2017

Eating up the Hill: When we weren't watching they completely changed how we make tacos

I'm taking a temporary pause from my Hill and Hill-adjacent food blogging to discuss an incredibly important food-related topic: a massive and unannounced under the radar change to the fundamental physics of taco meat preparation.

Ever since I began cooking regularly in my later teenage years (a very fair trade to get out of doing the dishes) one of the regular staples of my cuisine has been tacos. And a regular filling has been ground beef. It used to be the affordable choice, but now it seems like chicken has gotten cheaper and it can be hard to find medium ground beef -- never mind the more affordable and once plentiful regular ground beef. But I digress -- the disappearance in ground beef choice is another story in and of itself.

I have made the seasoned ground beef so many times I would rarely bother to read the instructions on my packet of Old El Paso or President's Choice taco seasoning. I'd just brown the ground beef, drain off the grease, add in the seasoning powder and a cup of water, bring it to a boil and then leave it to simmer down while chopping tomatoes and green onions, grating cheese (though now I'm all about the pre-grated bags) and all the other necessary taco prep.

Then, one day recently, on a whim I looked at the back of my packet of taco seasoning. To my surprise, decades of taco science had been thrown upside down with entirely new instructions: toss your ground beef in a heated pan, add the seasoning and some vegetable oil at the start, mix it together and brown it. No water, no browning first. And more oil? )Is this because all I can find now is lean ground beef?) What sorcery is this?

When did this change happen? I don't know. Could have been last month, could have been a decade ago. Did I miss a public consultation period? Was there an explanation given? Had taco scientists made a breakthrough to improve flavour dynamics, or had Old El Paso and President's Choice been co-opted by big vegetable oil?

The new method works well enough, I suppose. It's faster than the previous method, although I'd argue the previous method -- in addition to being less oily -- produced a saucier meat. Are people today not willing to spend an extra 10 minutes in prep for saucier taco meat?

Myself, I may go back to the old ways. Some advances are not for the better. Good tacos take time.

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