Saturday, November 17, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Perkins Bakery & Reasturant not worth the trip

When my famly moved back to Canada from a posting in Germany in 1990, we picked up the vehicle in Trenton and drove accoss the continent, through the U.S., to our new home in Comox. Staying in hotels for a week was good fun for a kid, as was having every meal in reasturants. I remember one of those stops was Perkins Bakery & Reasturant, as the cooler mug stayed in the kitchen cabinet for a decade or more. So last weekend, learning there was one accross from the St. Laurent Centre, I decided to check it our for dinner.

It's an American family-style dinner, with all-day breakfast and the usual sabdwiches, burgers and entrees. During my menu pre-scouting I was drawn to the country fried steak, an unhealthy southern classic. Basically, it's a steak, battered and breaded like fried chicken, with a country gravy. Sounds crazy, I know, but I've had it in the U.S. before and it's really quite delish.

So, 45 minutes on the bus later and I'm there, and looking over the menu as a mere formality. Except, what the what, I don't see the country fried steak. Asking the waiter if they have it, he looks at me incredulously, like he cannot imagine such a thing could possibly exist. Disapointed, I settle on the steak medallions with mushrooms, corn and tater tots.

Let me start with the good. The tater tots were crispy and delicious. After previously blogging about pitching tater tot poutine to Parliamentary Food Services, I had been craving tater tots and htis ticked the box. And the corn was good, with the light application of peper adding a certain something.

But those are two sides that are hard to screw up. You don't order a steak dinner for the sides -- you order it for the steak. And this steak simply sucked. I ordered it medium, it was well done -- no pink in evidence. And it was clearly just the lowest possible grade of steak they could buy. Not saying it was tough or grizzly, it just didn't taste good at all. I'm not expecting The Keg here, but they could have done signifigantly better.

So, left with a poor taste in my mouth, I decided to give them a chance for redemption with desert, ordering the Peanut Butter Silk cake.

It was OK, but nothing to write home about. The peanut butter portion of the cake was tasty and so was the choclate base, and I enjoyed it much. But the crust was industrial and bland, detracting from my enjoyment of the rest of the cake.

The reasturant was semi-busy with mainly senior citizen couples, and probably hadn't been renovated since the last time I was at a Perkins in 1990. Despite not being busy, service was spotty -- waiting far too long for a drink refill, with my empty glass perched on the edge of the table, before finally having to flag someone down.

Not worth the price or the trek; won't be back.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Centretown Donair & Pizza

While I did sample several authentic Halifax donair while I was there last spring, word on the street was there's a place in Ottawa that offers the nearest thing you could get outside the Nova Scotia capital. So one weekend, rather than heading to Bank or Elgin in search of nourishment, I went west over to Bronson and Centretown Pizza & Donair.

It's casual and unfancy, with a TV showing football, a quiet bar, and basic seating in sufficient quantity. They have the usual pizza items, but I was here for the donair, which featured prominently on their menu, with promises made on its Halifax-style authenticity.

I ordered the large donair, easy on the onions, and a pop. It took a little longer than I'd expect given there was only one other table there (a family on a birthday outing) but eventally my foil-wrapped donair came.

It was fine. Tomatoes, easy on the onion as ordered, a generous quantity of meat, and sweet sauce. The meat was OK, but could have been more seasoned I felt. Tony's took the prize in that regard. This one was probably on par with Johnny K's. I don't have enough experience to fairly judge its authenticity, but it was fine I guess.

It did solidify one revelation for me, and that's why I rate shawarma over donair: I don't care for the sweet sauce. Give me the garlic sauce any day of the week. Maybe if you could give me the garlic saunce on the donair, that would work for me. But I've decided the sweet sauce is not for me, it doesn't fit with what I want from a pita meat sandwich.

Until that fateful day, I'll stick with shawarma.

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Eating up the Hill: The days are numbered for the Parliamentary Reasturant buffet

Members and staff got a sneak peek at the newly renovated West Block on Thursday, which will take over many of the functions of Centre Block in January when the latter shuts down for a decade (smart money bets the over) of renovation. While much of the attention rightly has been on the goregous new atrium House of Commons chamber, I had some serious questions for Parliamentary Food Services.

View from the speaker's chair in the new West Block House of Commons. The plywood desks will be swaped for the real ones in Centre Block during the next recess.
The new cafeteria is smallish, although slightly larger than Centre Block's. Longish, narrow, and a bit tight. Very minimal natural light. The food service area gives off a similar vibe to Valour's. It is certainly not the successor to the old giant West Block cafeteria; that would be, and remains, the Wellington Building cafeteria.

I did chat with the cafeteria manager, and, in the spirit of this month's Poutine Fest in Hill cafs (excluding, per usual, Justice) I pitched my idea for tater tot poutine. I had it at the Chicken Farmers reception at SJAM and it was ah-mazing. He listened with interest and pledged to look into it. Or he just humoured me. Anyway, if you see it on the menu soon, you're welcome, Parliamentary family.

Tater tot poutine with chicken. I had two plates. Amaze-balls.

Anyways, the more newsworthy conversation was next door at the new space for the Parliamentary Reasturant -- they're side by side and share a kitchen. It's signifigantly smaller than its predecessor -- maybe a third of the seating -- but includes a bar and a wine rack. No natural light at all, which they tried to make up for with some classy artistic touches. It feels a bit like a swanky wine bar.

Something is missing from this new Parliamentary Reasturant.

I asked, for me, the big question, as I stood with the reaturant manager and peered around the room: where will the buffet be? Then, my heart fell. There's no space for the buffet, she told me. They're now serving over priced gourmet breakfasts, she told me, but I'm not a $20 eggs guy. I'm a $20 all you can eat meat-filled buffet lunch guy. But those days are sadly, coming to an end.

In addition to the popular post-caucus, member-only buffet lunch Wednesdays, the Friday staff-invited theme buffets have become a popular treat for member and support staff and their guests. Some friends and I are regular buffet lunchers, and they usually run out of reservations by Wednesdays. They will be missed.

So I was determined to savour this past Friday's Mediteranean Treats buffet back in the OG Parlamentary Reasturant, as I know it's the final countdown.

The days for the Parliamentary Reasturant buffet are numbered.

The weekly themes wll vary although many of the menu items remain consistent. What I look for when I examine the buffet menu on a Monday is meat. Some menus skew more towards breakfast/brunch. Lots of quiche and stuff like that. I want lunch though. A meaty lunch. Veggies, yes But meat = value.

This week's buffet ticked the boxes for me and I quickly booked a table. Roast lamb, chicken wings, Greek sausage, check, check, check.

The lamb was surprisingly tender, wings tasty and plentiful, and the sausage a tad dry but still well spiced. I don't know how many of the cheese pie things I had, but it was a bunch and they were delicious. I had just enough Greek salad and roast vegetables to keep up appearances.

You don't win friends with salad.

Alllll the wings.

Sausage and delicious flaky roles of delicious melty cheese.

Desert was a miss for me, but that just left more space for cheese pie. Excellent value received for $19.50 plus tax and tip. I shall savour the remaining weeks, and some day look back sadly on my buffet (minimal) salad days.

Plate one of ?

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Eating up the Hill: Piri piri chicken with corn on the cob & chips

As part of the Parliamentary Cafeteria's menu revitalization they've been introducing more ethnic dishes, or at least ethnic-inspired dishes. One of the new offerings fits this category: piri piri chicken with corn on the cob and chips.

As a fan of Nando's, the Portugese chicken chain out of South Africa that's popular in England, I already enjoy the piri piri chicken so this was a must-try. And I've had the corn at Nando's so I'll assume that's authnic as well. The chips, I dunno. Maybe with some piri piripowder.

This was a new entree so the server was a bit confused at how much chicken to give me. I watched with disapointment as, after consulting with a colleague, the pound or so of chicken she had originally scooped out for me was whittled down to a few hundred grams as she weighed it on a scale.

Was left with less chicken than I'd have liked. A full cob would have been nice too. Still, it was tasty chicken, though it could have been spicier, and the corn was a nice healthy touch. Some piri piri powder on the chips would have been excellent. Did try to soeak some of the excess sauce up with them.

All in all, will try again.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Pricy tacos at El Camino

I've been hearing I must try the tacos at El Camino for a few years now, and despite their Elgin Street locaiton being just down the street from me, I had never gotten around to making the trip. That changed this weekend, when I decided on a late taco dinner.

Perhaps my delayed visit was due to subconcious disapointment that they had taken over the space that once housed Maroush, the acknowledged by those of fine taste best shawarma in Ottawa for many years. Or maybe it was that they weren't open for lunch on weekends. More the latter, I think.

I'd read online of service issues, but I went late evening and was seated right away on a high top chair that was inelegent to get myself into. The lighting was rather dark, making it difficult to read my newspaper -- my solo dining companion.

I ordered three tacos -- a beef, a chicken and a crispy chorizo. Rather that come out all at once, the chorizo came out first maybe 10 minutes after ordering, then a 10 minute pause, and then came the chicken and beef. Would have prefered them all at once, and don't see why they wouldn't be served together.

I'll start with the two soft tacos, which came last. The chicken was standard pulled chicken tika, seasoned nicely, with an assortment of fresh veggies on a fresh soft small tortia. Was pleasently surprised to find that the beef was not ground but was actually steak, making it probably the best value of the three tacos I had. It also came with a slice of avocado.

I was surprised to find the chorizo taco came in a hard shell. Sure, it said crispy on the menu, so yeah, but I guess I was thinking maybe the chorizo was crispy, which in hindsight I realize doesn't really make any sense. The sausage was prety finely sliced to the point of losing its character, I felt, and not standing out as I would expect it to.

There were squeeze bottles of two different sauces provided, a milder green sauce and a hotter red sauce. The red sauce tasted pretty hot when tested on my finger, but actually blended quite nicely with the taco toppings when applied to be complementary, and not overpowering.

I enjoyed the three tacos which were well-prepared with lots of fresh ingredients that went together well. However, at $6.75 a piece they were definitely on the pricy side. I passed on the interesting tequila-focused cocktail list, as $14 for a cocktail is well over my comfort level.

Instead, I ordered the churros with salted caramel for desert. Delicious, fresh, crispy, cinamony, and an excess of salted caramel sauce for dipping. Sinfully good.

A very tasty meal in a dark and noisy reasturant. Food over ambience. But at $35 with tax and tip for a meal that didn't include a drink (they were out of Mexican coke, sadly) I likely won't be back often.

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